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Algora Publishing - U.S. Team's Familiarity With the Past May Prove its Weakness
                                               For a Kinder, Gentler Society
U.S. Team's Familiarity With the Past May Prove its Weakness
William Pfaff International Herald Tribune

PARIS The year 2001 opens with the great eagle of the American "new" economy short some feathers and the republic embarrassed by the rinky-dink technology of its voting system, responsible for what is quite possibly a false verdict in the presidential election (to which the Supreme Court made its own contribution).

Mr. Bush's course to the White House followed the meanders of U.S. legalism, and the result has generally been taken with good grace. The new administration has a look of competence, since so many of its members have already done much the same jobs in the past. However the past is past, and that might prove their weakness.

The newly nominated managers of U.S. foreign relations strike one as remaining conceptually in the world of the first President Bush. They will over-prepare the United States for the dangers they used to know, and may be reluctant to recognize those of the world they actually confront.

That world already is replete with small and dirty wars, usually communal or ethnic, regionally murderous and destabilizing, which are international threats only to the extent that their political and commercial exploitation by the larger powers corrodes the international system.

There ordinarily is little to be done about them, which is why they have become the affair of United Nations or multinational peacekeeping operations - about which the United States is unenthusiastic, and at which it is not very good.

The U.S. Congress is usually hostile to thankless and inconclusive development assistance, another unsatisfactory remedy - but a necessary one - to which the United States contributes the least of any of the industrial nations.

The idea that "global governance" should advance by way of a coalition of civil-society institutions with political authorities evokes little interest in Washington, where the congressional majority is unilateralist and nationalist.

The Bush people say they want to save U.S. resources, usually meaning its military resources, for the great tasks of world security. But the actual and prospective threats to the well-being of the United States are civilian, not military. They lie in the economy, in international technological and commercial competition, in the prospect of social, demographic, and political breakdown in regions of the Third World; and while not directly threatening, they could turn the advanced industrial nations into the equivalents of gated communities.

The CIA's National Intelligence Council has released a report on future threats to the nation, but cites no serious and tangible military threat. Its emphasis is on the possible deterioration of U.S. political relations with Europe, a de facto Russia-China-India alliance against the United States and Middle Eastern upheaval following collapse of Israel-Palestine peace efforts. There is little the U.S. Air Force can do about any of them.

The report alludes to what could prove the most important trend: a developing perception of the United States as the principal contributor to the impoverishment of others, and a threat to their political and economic sovereignty.

This is a notion actively promoted by Russia and China and, in its own nuanced way, by France, but accepted on its own merits in many places. The United States is described as voracious and expansive, pursuing control over everything touching on its own interests, construed mainly as commercial.

This is interpreted as the political and military counterpart to America's existing domination of the international economy and the international financial system.

Most people in the U.S. policy community seem convinced that this sort of multifold globalization actually produces peace and international stabilization. American-style democracy, market economics, the proliferation of U.S. technologies, styles, products, cultural merchandise, its popular value system and its cultural assumptions, plus military ties - all these are held to make up a single package whose promulgation should be America's primary policy concern.

The contrary argument declares that this constitutes a megalomaniacal program for America, inherently unattainable, which will defeat itself by provoking violent counteractions. It argues that what the world needs is more, not less, pluralism of power, and more assumption of responsibility by actors outside the United States. It says that the new president needs to take a more discriminating view of where he is going than his predecessor possessed.