Friday, December 28, 2007
Singing Hallelujah with the Fear in Your Heart
Let's hope we don't ever learn the answer to that.
For the past few years, America has been alienated from the world. We have all read the yearly polls with the same damning numbers. But on one issue, the United States and the world agree: majorities everywhere expect things to improve markedly after George W. Bush. Whether it's in Europe or Asia, the refrain from politicians, businessmen and intellectuals is the same. "We don't hate America," one of them told me recently. "We hate Bush. When he's gone, it will be a new day."
But will it? The question will be put to the test in a year, when a new president enters the White House. [...]
Ever since the attacks [of 9/11], the United States has felt threatened and under siege and determined to carve out maximum room to maneuver. But where Americans have seen defensive behavior, the rest of the world has looked on and seen the most powerful nation in human history acting like a caged animal, lashing out at any and every constraint on its actions.
At the heart of this behavior is fear. Americans have become scared of the new world that is emerging around them. As long as this atmosphere of fear envelops U.S. politics, it will surely produce very similar results abroad. Washington's real task, therefore, is to combat such unthinking emotion.
Yet the opposite is happening. Republicans are falling over each other to paint an atmosphere of dire threat that requires strong, even brutish action to protect the American people. Democrats, while far less guilty of fearmongering, have been afraid to combat this hysteria.
Consider the top GOP candidates to replace Bush. On the campaign trail, Rudolph Giuliani endlessly repeats his mantra that "we are facing an enemy that is planning all over this world … to come here and kill us." Mitt Romney has explained that while "some people have said we ought to close Guant?namo, my view is we ought to double [the size of] Guantanamo." And John McCain sometimes sounds cavalier about bombing Iran—despite the fact that, if it happened, it would be the third U.S. war against a Muslim country in seven years.
The notion that the United States today is in grave danger of sitting back and going on the defensive is bizarre. Since 2001, Washington, with bipartisan support, has invaded two countries and dispatched troops around the world, from Somalia to the Philippines, to fight Islamic militants. It has ramped up defense spending by $187 billion—more than the combined military budgets of China, Russia, India and Britain. It has created a Department of Homeland Security that now spends more than $40 billion a year. How then would Giuliani go on the offensive? Invade a couple more countries?