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Stumbling Towards the Precipice of History - The Ornery American


Stumbling Towards the Precipice of History
By Wayne Jones April 21, 2003

We are fast approaching, if we have not already arrived at, a major turning point in history. Not American history, or European history, but world history. Never before has there been one country powerful enough to deploy forces the world over, occupy entire countries with minimal usage of troops and material, and dominate the global economy and much of the global marketplace of ideas. In fact, if not in name, we are an empire. There is no place on Earth that American military power cannot be directed towards, no foe that could outright defeat us on the battlefield (leaving out the nuclear deterrence issue, which obviously puts Russia and China on an entirely different playing field than our other geopolitical rivals). We have, for lack of a better word, emerged onto the world stage in the course of a mere 227 years as not simply one of a host of powerful nations, but the most powerful nation. Rome never had nearly the geographical reach. England had reach, but had far more sea power than land power and couldn't simply land troops willy-nilly all over the world.

With that power, of course, comes enormous responsibility. Unprecedented responsibility, such as we have never had to face up to before (or any other nation). How we choose to shoulder the burden will define how we are remembered, perhaps for all time. With all of the great power we possess, the tremendous wealth, we must set out to do great things. We must accept tasks that only a nation of penultimate power could achieve. We must live up to our potential on the world stage.

The Marshall Plan that we used to rebuild postwar Europe is the best model for the peace in Iraq, if carried out correctly. But we must go beyond that. We must turn our military might into a transformative power. There are two key regions that call most urgently for our attention. Most obvious is the Middle East. Like it or not, we are now officially in the Middle of the East, quite literally (look at Iraq's position relative to the other Middle-Eastern states). Second is Africa.

First and foremost, we must not shirk our duties in Iraq. We must apply every ounce of ingenuity, every drop of determination that we have to set the stage for a democratic revolution in Iraq, one that is inclusive of all of the various groups in the country. This is a statement of supreme arrogance, of course. Who are we to impose our government on any other country? But if not us, who? Saudi Arabia? We don't want them building any countries, thank you very much. They already did a great job with Pakistan and Afghanistan (who do you think trained the Talliban's religious leaders? We armed them, but Wahabi Islam, taught in the Saudi-funded madrassas made them fanatics). Iran? No, not unless we want the Talliban's more conservative uncle to take over most of the known oil reserves in the world. The U.N.? Well, sure. They can do just like they've done in...wait, never mind. They've never done nation building, because no self-interested nation would allow a world body to thrive that goes around building nations. The Iraqis themselves? They obviously have to be the central players, but they need our wealth and at the very minimum our legal expertise to develop a constitutional framework than can accompany pluralist interests. And we owe them quite a lot, because we played a huge role in supporting Saddam in the eighties, and now we've removed him and effectively destroyed the entire government of Iraq. This is our problem.

Next, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. No other nation has our influence over Israel, because no other nation does as much to support them. We have to use that influence to get them back to the table, and we must push through a viable two-state solution to the problem. This is going to take a lot of promises to the Palestinians, of course. We're going to have to provide infrastructure, secure loans for development, and invest in schools. And we actually have to do it, not just promise it. Of course, the other side to that is that the Palestinians have to live up to their end of the Oslo accords, namely removing from the PLO charter the stated goal of destroying the state of Israel and pushing the Israelis into the sea. If they don't do that, no one can take their professed intentions of peace seriously. We have been close to achieving this goal before, and with the right kind of diplomatic efforts, we may get there again and finally cross the line.

After the Middle East has to come Africa. Again, with our proxy wars against the USSR, we have played a large role in arming the region, but not in stabilizing it. And the tremendous benefits that this country reaped from the African slave trade are indisputable. African slaves literally built large parts of this country. We owe that continent our very economic blood. It is time for the U.S. to set an example by forgiving the African debt. All of it. Remove the burden of those tremendous debt payments. That step alone will cause an enormous increase in the abilities of the local governments to provide for their citizens. And we should make the two most critical infrastructure improvements there are: clean water supplies, and usable roads. Continent-wide. Seriously. I am not saying we should foot the whole bill. Where governments can contribute, they must do so. But we need to facilitate, and to put our money out there if there is no other funding. An African continent with clean, drinkable water will be healthier, and a continent with roads connecting it all together will be more prosperous. The last step we should take is to find some way to provide low-cost AIDS drugs to Africa. A huge portion of the world's AIDS cases are in sub-Saharan Africa. The vast majority of victims there cannot afford the expensive drug regimes that are manufactured by mostly U.S. drug companies. Given that the U.S. patent system has a lot to do with maintaining high drug prices, our government has a role in the affordability issue. Subsidies of the price differential between what the African public can pay and what the drugs cost may be one solution. Another solution may be to give tax credits to pharmaceutical companies who provide lower-cost drugs to Africa. The devastating effect that AIDS is having on the economic and social fabric of many African nations is obvious. Providing relief for the AIDS crisis, even only partial relief (complete relief would require heavy sex education courses and providing condoms, which I don't see any U.S. administration doing) will allow the African economy to stabilize, and set the stage for growth.

These are huge, bold steps I am proposing, and expensive ones, politically and monetarily. I am not saying that in all of theses cases we should help strictly based on a moral obligation (even though we have great moral obligations in both regions). We should help because we can help. What are we accumulating all this wealth for, as the world's richest country, if we're not going to do anything with it more worthwhile than buying bigger houses, fancier cars and more expensive clothes? A lot of the wealth that we accumulate as a nation and as individuals is made possible because of low wages in other countries, and cheap extraction of resources abroad. We benefit from the world, and we must give something meaningful back. If we fail in these endeavors because the jobs I have set forth are not possible, then so be it. But if we fail through loss of nerve or failure of resolve, then we have failed to give back to the world as much as we have taken. This time we simply cannot let Atlas shrug.

Copyright © 2003 by Wayne Jones

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