What is America
October 30, 2002 10:18 AM   Subscribe

What is America and what is its role in the world today? Not being American, I often find myself in conflict when speaking to them about their country. Looking for a way to express my views, I find myself agreeing more and more with Fareed Zakaria’s viewpoint.
posted by Baesen (29 comments total)
Being from Korea, I found myself angrier and angrier at the way I perceived the US and its policies. Now that I am more traveled and have spent some time studying foreign policy, world history and America’s role in the world, I have gained a greater respect for what they have done in the past and for what they try and do in these modern times. I’ve gone from the bitter student only looking at my and my fellow students’ limited view to a more global view. I wonder if my home of Korea was as powerful as the US, if it would have acted as well as the US has? Unfortunately, I seriously doubt it would have.

I’m curious as to the thoughts of others? How well do you think your home country would have done?
posted by Baesen at 10:19 AM on October 30, 2002

Zakaria's essay is excellent, rightly pointing out the unique historical vantage point the US finds itself currently. There can be little doubt that many of the most promising advances in the governing of human affairs have been developed and nurtured by the US. What I fear now is that the current administration will turn its back on Democracy and Diplomacy and favor the more expedient forms of rule - Empire and Hegemony. The Bush administration seems to be embracing "might makes right" which is antithetical to one of the most important pillars of the US system; protection of the minority from the tyranny of the majority.
posted by pejamo at 10:33 AM on October 30, 2002

It's a tough job being number one but someone has to do it. Ah, the past: I recall when America wentto Korea to help the South Koreans stop the invasion of their country by the North and soon after by the Chinese. The end result is that now the South has a democracy. And the North is steeped in poverty.
America will have somewhere down the road the superpowre of China to replace Russia, and then the fun can begin to see if having 2 superpowers is so good a thing.
posted by Postroad at 10:56 AM on October 30, 2002

Being from Korea, I found myself angrier and angrier at the way I perceived the US and its policies.

Feel free to find fault with the current administration, just like most people in the United States.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 11:07 AM on October 30, 2002

I read Fareed Zakaria’s column every week it comes out. He is consistent in his writing style and in bringing a new perspective to hashed-out topics. As an American who spent three years in France as a teenager, I appreciate his unusual approach.
posted by ericableu at 11:21 AM on October 30, 2002

The Jesse Helms: "just like most people in the United States."

posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 11:30 AM on October 30, 2002

... Empire and Hegemony. The Bush administration...
It's a difficult question, whether Bush is a genuine, anti-democratic imperialist, or not. It's clear he doesn't have the utmost respect for human rights; and his creation of the pseudo-democracy/puppet regime in afghanistan doesn't point to a strong regard for democratic principles, either. Despite this, it seems to me that he isn't a full fledged fascist (say that three times fast). With Bush, it's very important to look more at what he does, than what he says. He says all manner of alarming things, inane things, and just plain stupid things; but when it comes to real actions, there is stronger evidence of sanity & intelligence (he does have some good advisors, after all). However, I don't think we've seen enough to tell if he is a fascist at heart; hopefully we won't.
In any case, there is reason to doubt that Bush could pull off anything too awful on the world scene, without Congress reining him in. He certainly can't bring about a fascist state here in the US; which is at least some sort of check on his power abroad.
posted by Mark Doner at 11:39 AM on October 30, 2002

In Canada the american influence is omnipresent; and for the most part beneficial to us.

Although there continue to be many hot spots, and there are obviously still tyrants close by; the world as a whole seems to have been struck with a sudden case of sanity.

We can only speculate what life today would be like if the Cold War balance would have tipped the other way. I suppose (just a hunch) that most of us that have the wherewithal to read metafilter are better off today because of the current american strength.

And with Dubya in office finally we in Canada don't have to be so embarrassed about our Prime Minister... He doesn't look/sound quite as goofy as he used to.
posted by canucklehead at 11:42 AM on October 30, 2002

Check out these fun numbers. What is our President doing?

Overall investor optimism has fallen steadily since March of this year when it was at 121. In April and May, the Index fell to 89 and 90 respectively. In June, it fell again to 72 before plunging to a six-year low of 46 in July. In August and September, the overall Index increased slightly to 52 and 60 before dropping to a new all-time low of 29 this month.

posted by four panels at 12:15 PM on October 30, 2002

One of the most disturbing things about GWB is that while he is acting aggressively on the world stage, he has not set out a vision of what the world of the future should look like. He speaks of the enemy that is immediately before (on that particular day), but not where are actions and attitudes will lead us 10 or 20 years down the line. What values do we project, and how will those be echoed by other countries and other communities? As we claim the right for unilateral action in the name of self-interest, so will others, first Putin, and then the neighbor with a bomb factory in his garage. There seems to be a consistent and immediate tactic here, but no strategy, which leaves me feeling that we are adrift in very dangerous waters.
posted by alms at 12:21 PM on October 30, 2002

Ah, the past: I recall when America went to Korea to help the South Koreans stop the invasion of their country by the North and soon after by the Chinese.

You have simplistic view of the Korean War. Not wanting to sidetrack this too much, may I suggest a thorough study of the preeminent book on the Korean War "Origins of the Korean War" remembering that when it was written, the USSR was still around and its records were unobtainable. After that, you might wish to look at "Uncertain Partners; Stalin, Mao and the Korean War." Those books will open up anyones eyes a bit more as to the intrigue that went on before and during the war, on both sides.

I'm still curious as to people's thoughts on their own countries. Looking at the leadership you have had since the end of WWII, how would your nation have acted if they had the might of the US?
posted by Baesen at 12:23 PM on October 30, 2002

Feel free to find fault with the current administration, just like most people in the United States.

Maybe thats true in the samwe deranged fantasy land that considers Hussein to be less of a threat to our country than our own president, but out here in reality it's not so.
posted by jammer at 12:28 PM on October 30, 2002

four panels: If investors so disapprove of Bush, then why was the market up on the thought that the GOP could retake control of the Senate?

I think looking at any of those number is pointless, because you can always find a different statistic that casts a shadow on the last.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 12:33 PM on October 30, 2002

from the article:
'The United States has no interests in the Strait of Gibraltar. Unlike the European Union, it has no special leverage with Spain or Morocco.'

from here on he loses me, to be polite. american oil company kerr mcgee certainly have interests in morocco, or more precisely in western sahara (illegally occupied by morocco for the past 25 years). they are competing with companies from other nations for offshore oil (france in particular). this may or may not have anything to do with american political involvement in morocco, but one would imagine that morocco would benefit from having the americans onside.
seems that the western saharans have also 'announced the signature of a Technical Cooperation Agreement with British-Australian exploration company, Fusion Oil, to evaluate offshore petroleum potential.'

if i had the time i believe that i could present a view point diametrically oposed to fareed's for most of the examples of american egalitarianism that he sites, with references.
maybe later, if you give me cake.

'the United States was loved, or, at least, liked'

is, or can be true. but not for the reasons fareed gives.
posted by asok at 12:37 PM on October 30, 2002

Anyways.... Great Post Baesen.... I enjoyed the article.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 12:41 PM on October 30, 2002

deranged fantasy land that considers Hussein to be less of a threat to our country than our own president

Well, let's see: Hussein is on the other side of the planet, stuck in a broke, starved desert country running on a one-product economy, with a poorly-maintained military that, while sizable for the region, has no navy and a wrecked air force. The only conceivable way he can inflict any damage on the United States whatever would be to somehow smuggle a nuclear weapon he probably doesn't have into the U.S., thereby writing his own death warrant and inviting the definitive subjugation of his country.

Our dear friend President Bush, on the other hand, is right here in the U.S., armed with a bully pulpit, the nuclear button, a pen, and a blank check.

I can see how someone lacking any sense of proportion might be more afraid of a petty dictator who can't even defend his own borders than of a man with the power to wreck the U.S. economy pursuing an illusory security, I suppose... but I can only laugh when asked to go along with it.
posted by Mars Saxman at 1:55 PM on October 30, 2002

Thanks for the pointer to this intelligent & thought-provoking article, Baesen
posted by Pressed Rat at 2:02 PM on October 30, 2002

If Saddam's such a complete fucking joke, Mars, then what the hell is he hiding?
posted by techgnollogic at 2:03 PM on October 30, 2002


I think you'd be hardpressed to come up with an effective counter to Churchill's assessment of the Marshall Plan as being "the most unsordid act in history," but give it a try anyway.
posted by Pressed Rat at 2:05 PM on October 30, 2002

asok: american oil company kerr mcgee certainly have interests in morocco

Are you implying that we're cozying up to Morocco on Gibraltar because of Kerr McGee? You think we don't have economic interests in Spain?

And if you're implying the opposite -- that Morocco is cozying up to us on the issue -- is that a bad thing? "Hm, don't want to lose economic ties, best play nice." Increasing economic interdependence is a good thing.
posted by lbergstr at 2:26 PM on October 30, 2002

In truth, who else could try and resolve such a dispute between Spain and Morocco? Since Spain is a member of the European Union, both the EU itself, and any individual members of the EU are right out. Perhaps Russia might have the clout, but in reality, only America would be capable of offering both a carrot and a stick to both countries in order to bring them to the negotiating table.

I'm not prepared to offer America such a free ride as Zakaria did. It's hegemony is not unprecidented; the Romans were just as powerful in their day. America is the dominant power, but even America today cannot afford to be without allies. Unfortunately, the current regime appears dead set on alienating as many allies as it possibly can, in it's ridiculous "war on terrorism".
posted by salmacis at 2:46 PM on October 30, 2002

Steve_at_Linnwood: If investors so disapprove of Bush, then why was the market up on the thought that the GOP could retake control of the Senate?

Someone points out that investor optimism has fallen over a period of months, and your attempted counter is a link to ONE DAY statistics about TREASURY BONDS?

The original link by four panels states: "Importantly, investors are not only less optimistic about the prospects for the stock market in the year ahead, but they are also increasingly pessimistic about future economic growth and the unemployment rate."
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 3:58 PM on October 30, 2002

Americans live in a country that at once has some of the most liberal and the most draconian laws. Live in a country with 2/3 of the wealth of the world and still have people starving in the streets. Support the worst dictators while taking to the streets over injustices that were not even committed on American soil or by Americans. Americans love and hate the world and it loves and hates them back. when you can reconcile the great mystery and paradox that is America call me from the nut house you will most surely have found yourself in.

Until that day I forward that America is a very strange place that has yet to even show how weird it can get.

It's place in the world is devil and saint.
posted by ex.pr.ni at 4:00 PM on October 30, 2002

But unilateralism is also a reversion to an older American reflex. It is, perhaps, the most venerable tradition in American foreign policy, rooted in the belief that the United States is an exceptional country...

Not to mention that the Puritan idea of "a city on a hill" is very much still alive. As long as both the president and a fairly large portion of American citizens think that God has ordained the U.S. to carry out his work, I seriously doubt we'll be able to get along with nations who deny this. See also "God Bless America" and "With God On Our Side."
posted by hippugeek at 4:35 PM on October 30, 2002

Hmmm ... that investor optimism index posted by four panels does indeed seem to imply quite a loss of confidence in the markets during the Bush presidency. Let's see, from the time he took office on Jan. 20, 2001 the index has dropped from about 78 down to 29, pretty significant.

Until you look at the last year of the Clinton presidency. Man, that index plummeted from a high of 180 on y2k to the aforementioned 78 at inauguration. Perhaps we are seeing the continuation of a trend that began in the previous administration. Just saying, y'know.
posted by netbros at 5:39 PM on October 30, 2002

Just another country.
posted by Summer at 7:41 AM on October 31, 2002

-- The United States has no interests in the Strait of Gibraltar. Unlike the European Union, it has no special leverage with Spain or Morocco

Economic interests aside (already covered by asok) the United States have important global strategic interests that could be compromised by escalating hostilities between Morocco and Spain

Morocco happens to be one of the few US friendly Muslim countries and, more important, a US friendly Muslim country in an area --the Magreb-- where Muslim fundamentalism is rapidly growing. Algeria, with its low-intensity civil war, and Mauritania, with an increasingly Islamicised military/socialist regime, can quickly become a problem and securing Morocco's friendly position is a high priority of the US strategy in the area.

Probably the Moroccans felt confident that due to this strategic "value" they would be somehow able to get away with their "liberation" of Parsley Island, an operation that would allow them to distract the Moroccan public opinion of more pressing problems and push forward the country's claims on the nearby Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla.

What they couldn't imagine is that the Spanish government --itself suffering an image crisis and having had a series of recent problems with the Moroccan government -- would prefer a quick military operation to diplomatic negotiation, leading to a rapid increase of the tension.

As for who could try and mediate between both sides, the truth is that France (a fierce economic competitor of Spain in the area) wouldn't have been considered "neutral" enough by the Spanish government. On the other side (as Salmacis pointed out), the Moroccans could not accept the European Union mediation, after all Spain is a member of that Union.

This crisis could have been another excellent occasion for the UN to quickly intervene but, unluckily, "UN" and "quickly" are words that are don't seem to be destined to be used in the same sentence...

lbergstr: again is not a matter of whether the US have more economic interests in Morocco or Spain. It has interests in both but those are more at risk in Morocco, a country with democracy still in its infancy, a growing Islamic fundamentalist movement and government controlled mining concessions, than in Spain, a member of NATO and the EU.

The truth is that, like any other country, the US do very few things out of altruism and actively or passively every country's actions serve a complicated balance of interests and long term strategy. What sets the US apart nowadays is that there seems to be little happening in this planet that cannot affect in some way or other American interests.
posted by blogenstock at 8:22 AM on October 31, 2002

Pressed Rat, i don't know much about the details of the marshall plan, but i imagine that it was not an entirely egalitarian proposal on the part of the americans.
"The Marshall Plan ... is not a philanthropic enterprise ... It is based on our views of the requirements of American security ... This is the only peaceful avenue now open to us which may answer the communist challenge to our way of life and our national security."
(Allen W. Dulles, The Marshall Plan)

which is my point.
posted by asok at 11:39 AM on October 31, 2002

forgot to say, nice post blogenstock.

lbergstr - if you are refering to 'positive economic engagement', or whatever it gets called, as a way of steering the moroccans toward acting in a 'civilized' way (say, toward the western saharans), then i'd say that prospecting for oil in an area that is illegally occupied by morocco would be a counter-intuitive move.
'"Morocco is not listed as the administering Power of the territory in the United Nations list ...".
posted by asok at 11:57 AM on November 1, 2002

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