Earlier this month, The Nation and The Economist held a debate in New York City. Billed as "America's Role in the World: Protector or Predator," it was a wide-ranging discussion about US foreign policy, the Bush Administration, American intentions and neo-liberalism.
WNYC's Brian Lehrer was an artful moderator and Economist editor Bill Emmott a civil and informed adversary. While he and I disagreed on many issues, we did agree on the importance of independent media in this era of consolidation. CSPAN, which broadcast the debate on June 21, plans subsequent airings and is selling copies of the videotape on its website. (You can also listen and watch on your computer.) Below is an adapted version of my opening remarks:
These are perilous times, ones that raise large and fateful questions: What kind of country does the US want to be in the 21st century? Empire or Democracy? Global Leader or Global Cop? I believe that in pursuit of global dominance, the Bush Administration is endangering the world order abroad and the republic at home.
Consider that this Administration is as disrespectful of the US Constitution as it is of the UN charter. Its policies have widened the rift between the US and the rest of the globe, further inflamed the Muslim world and weakened the international coalitions so crucial to the fight against terrorism. In short, this Administration is making the US and the world a more dangerous place.
Yet, in history and politics there are always alternatives. The question is how America's unparalleled power might be used, how it might engage the world so as to become a source of hope, not fear. What needs to be stated clearly is that there is no mandate in the US for the extremist policies of this Administration. Our Foreign policy has been hijacked by a small neocon cabal, whose models appear to be Hobbes and John Wayne (in his later period, after The Searchers), which has been busily working to remake the world in its image for the last decade.
Recent polls show the majority of Americans want an America that abides by international law, that is a constructive partner in international institutions and that can work cooperatively to solve global problems. And, as we know from the unprecedented worldwide demonstrations against the war--these views are shared by a global majority--what has become known as the world's "other superpower."
So, in the short term, what makes the American imperial project less sustainable is the fact that the American public has little appetite for nation building or empire building abroad (particularly at a time when the GOP is gutting nation building at home); it is contrary to America's traditional principles.
So, maybe not tomorrow or next month, but someday not too far off we may well see an opening for a more intelligent, constructive use of American power--one that builds on America's traditions of acting in a farsighted and collective manner--as exemplified by the founding of the UN and the International Declaration of Human Rights. A leadership that wins respect at home and abroad through its commitment to global partnerships and an understanding that the key to world order, peace and prosperity is not American unilateral dominance but the strengthening of international governance and rule of law.
Think about a world in which US power would be used to:
** lead a global campaign to meet the UN's Millennium Goal of halving world poverty, cutting child mortality by two-thirds and guaranteeing every child primary education by 2015.
**strengthen multilateral and verifiable arms control treaties that curb WMDs, while at same time promoting nuclear disarmament and international demilitarization.
**End dependence on foreign oil and invest in the development of alternative energy sources.
These are just a few of the projects of a wise and enlightened power, a constructive member of the international community. Now, more than ever, US foreign policy should draw inspiration from the deep but often suppressed democratic and internationalist foundations of this nation. Borrowing a phrase from the Declaration of Independence, this Administration needs to show a decent respect for the "opinions of mankind."