Why are Americaï¿½s global reputation and status declining? It is unthinkable that America would ever disintegrate like the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, its decline is unmistakable. The collapse of the Soviet Union was predictable. It arose from dictatorship. Suppressing truth in the information age became untenable. Therefore the Soviet empire collapsed. But America is a democracy. Why, then, the decline?
The fiercest criticism and the direst projections of Americaï¿½s future emanate from voices within the US itself. Leading mainline critics were inexplicably mute when Iraq was invaded. Today they are baying for Bushï¿½s blood. This was foreseen in an earlier article by this scribe, Term Two Trauma, which described how US presidents subservient to powerful corporate interests in the first term attempted unsuccessfully to strike an independent path in their second terms. They failed because they were crippled and disgraced before they could successfully challenge vested interests.
The corporate lobby has a long reach. Nixon and Clinton were two conspicuous victims of the term-two trauma. I ventured to speculate that George Bush might succeed where others had failed. Today his reputation is tattered and his ratings are the lowest. But he does survive. He continues to attempt a course diametrically different from that in his first term, though few seem to recognize this. Architects of his first term policy are all out ï¿½ Rumsfeld, Libby, Wolfowitz, Rove . . .
However, criticism of the Bush administration has not abated. It has sharpened. A speech delivered recently by Daniel Ellsberg, who served as a defence official in the Lyndon Johnson administration, highlighted this. Ellsberg caught world attention by releasing the Pentagon Papers ï¿½ official documents that exposed US policy in the Vietnam War.
In his recent widely reported speech Ellsberg said:
ï¿½A coup has occurred. ... The last five years have seen a steady assault on every fundamental of our Constitution ï¿½. There have been violations of these principles by many presidents before. Most of the specific things that Bush has done in the way of illegal surveillance and other matters were done under my boss Lyndon Johnson in the Vietnam War.... I could go through a list going back before this century to Lincolnï¿½s suspension of habeas corpus .... I think that none of those presidents were in fact what I would call quite precisely the current administration: domestic enemies of the Constitution.... That was true with the first term of Nixon and certainly of Johnson, Kennedy and others. They were impeachable, they werenï¿½t found out in time, but I think it was not their intention, in the crisis situations that they felt justified their actions, to change our form of government.... It is increasingly clear with each new book and each new leak that comes out, that Richard Cheney had precisely that in mind. . . . Iï¿½m not saying they are traitors. . . . I believe they have in their own minds a love of this country and what they think is best for this country ï¿½ but what they think is best is directly and consciously at odds with what the Founders of this country and Constitution thought . . . . Getting out of Iraq will take a long time. Averting Iran and averting a further coup in the face of a 9/11, another attack, is for right now, it canï¿½t be put off. It will take a kind of political and moral courage of which we have seen very little . . . .ï¿½
Ellsberg is echoing a large number of analysts who think an attack against Iran is inevitable and imminent. They have been repeating this for the last two years. But Iran has not as yet been attacked. It may never be. This scribe has held a very different view about the US-Iran dispute. As early as May 24, 2006 he predicted the US would not attack Iran. He conjectured that the nuclear standoff between US and Iran was a smokescreen for the quiet dialogue underway for a settlement in Iraq which would allow US troops to withdraw. There is no record of Iranian anti-Semitism, although Iran has the biggest Jewish population outside of Israel in the Middle East. America had used Israel as the conduit for supplying funds for arms to Iran during the Iraq-Iran war in the Reagan years. Ahmadinejadï¿½s ranting against Israel and the Holocaust was attributed to posturing. He wanted to reclaim the leadership of radical Islam from the Sunnis and from Osama bin Laden who had snatched it from Ayatollah Khomeini. Has he not succeeded? His latest visit to Columbia University in the US was a giant step taken towards open engagement with the US.
Regarding Iraq, this scribe had speculated that for the US a more important issue than grabbing oil was to restructure the Middle East, and had mentioned the need to create a federal Iraq with three self-governing provinces of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds. It was also suggested that this be accompanied by an equitable oil-revenue sharing agreement serving all three provinces. Subsequently Secretary of State Rice confirmed the speculation. She said it was the US goal to create ï¿½a new Middle Eastï¿½. And the Iraq government did finalize an oil-revenue sharing agreement. This scribe had also suggested that both Iran and Saudi Arabia be allowed to inter-act with Shiite Iraq and Sunni Iraq respectively. There has been growing interaction between Saudi Arabia and Iran in recent months.
Last Wednesday US lawmakers voted to split Iraq into a loose federation of these three regions. They urged President Bush to exert pressure on Iraqi leaders to agree. Both Republican and Democratic Senators voted for the measure. Nothing has therefore happened yet to dissuade this scribe from his view about the unfolding events in the Middle East. It remains to be seen, though, whether war or peace awaits Iran in the concluding months of President Bushï¿½s second term.
However, even if events in the Middle East conform to this optimistic scenario, the US is not out of the woods. Its crisis is more fundamental. It faces a crisis of identity. Unless Americaï¿½s leaders make a fundamental reappraisal of the US role in world affairs, they will continue to blunder towards creating an unacceptable empire instead of a democratic world order. There are two basic threats that confront the emerging world order.
First, the flaws of prevalent democracy have, thanks mainly to the Internet, become glaring. Democracy is distorted beyond recognition by corporate capitalism which has become its driving force. Corporations pursue profit. They lack commitment to the democratic impulse of any nation or government. They tend to ignore social accountability. And they dictate the worldï¿½s political agenda. Globalization has become the catchword for crushing peopleï¿½s democratic impulse while markets expand. Little wonder, then, that the bitterest opposition to globalization is being voiced within the US itself.
Democracy needs, therefore, to intervene more vigorously in industrial relations. A market economy at the macro level is perfectly compatible with labor participation in ownership, profit and management of individual units. Such democratic workersï¿½ units would restrain and compete with corporate capitalism. In India, two worker-owned units, Amul and Mother Dairy, have achieved outstanding results. These units have competed successfully against the top MNCs in their field. Industry can be democratized by other measures too.
The second reason for the US decline is more significant. Technological advance in a shrinking world has rendered a new world order unavoidable. There may be disputes about its nature; there are none about its inevitability if the world is to survive ecology and terrorism disasters. The US was evolving as the natural hub of a new world order. But for that development to fructify, America had to think and act increasingly as the worldï¿½s capital, and less as a sovereign state pursuing narrow national interests. The US should have emerged as the natural centre for conflict management between different nations.
This transition has not occurred. It is the misleading call for ï¿½national interestï¿½ fuelled by corporate capitalism that has created the mess in Iraq, in Afghanistan and in Pakistan. The European Union, in its original 15-member form, was the outcome of genuine democratic impulse and the most radical political development of the 20th century. Only now is it floundering ï¿½ due to its thoughtless expansion, without regard for cultural synergy among its member states. The EU pattern needs replication in South Asia, in West Asia, and elsewhere in the world. The new world order must be democratic. Therefore it must be federal. It must respect culture and history for national groupings to succeed. That is what the US as a hub for such an order could have facilitated.
The US is a land of migrants from all parts of the world. Inevitably there exists dual loyalty for the US and for the parent country among many of its citizens. This is not weakness. It is strength. It can enable the US to reach out to all corners of the world. Such inter-connectivity makes America the natural centre of a new world order. The US leadership, and thereby the US public, have failed to transform themselves to become the hub of a new democratic world order.
Unless the US leadership and public change track, Americaï¿½s reputation may continue to decline.