Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Time for Isolationism Again?

[caption id="attachment_704" align="alignleft" width="219" caption="Caption: "Well, that was a waste of time""]Caption: "Well, that was a waste of time"


This may sound like nonsense in the age of globalization, but think a minute.  Globalization is the physical manifestation of interdependence, the fact that everything is related, that actions taken in one part of the globe have unpredictable repercussions in other parts of the globe. It neither precludes nor invites isolationism, which is the avoidance of military interventions in other countries. We can conduct military operations in other countries while acknowledging economic and ecological interdependence. Alternatively, we could cooperate with the rest of the world without intervening in the affairs of other nations. Isolationism grew out of the Monroe Doctrine of 1823 which informed the powers of the Old World that the Americas were no longer open to European colonization, and that any effort to extend European political influence in the New World would be considered by the United States as “dangerous to our peace and safety."

In 1904, Theodore Roosevelt extended the Monroe Doctrine to include the right of the United States to intervene to stabilize the economic affairs of small states in the Caribbean and Central America if they were unable to pay their international debts.  This led to systematic intervention in the affairs of Latin America.  In fact, it was the Monroe Doctrine that led to our first colonial war, that in the Philippines and Cuba, ostensibly part of turn of twentieth century efforts to eject Spain from the New Continent, and known as the Spanish-American War.

When in 1914, World War I broke out in Europe, still believing in the Monroe Doctrine’s assertions of non-intervention in the affairs of other countries, most Americans were against joining the fight.  After the armistice of 1918, America again reverted to isolationism. It is widely believed that President Roosevelt  allowed the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor to proceed in order to convince the American public of the need to join the struggle against Nazi Germany, and its ally, Japan.

The rest, as the saying goes, is history.  America rose to become the dominant power of the world, and after a seventy-odd year run, the Soviet Union collapsed as a result of internal and external pressures.  By that time (1991), the world had been largely decolonized.  While the French maintained several client states in Africa, the United States eventually left the ex-French colony of Vietnam to its own devices and largely ignored Africa.

Meanwhile, as Americas remained in thrall to President Nixon’s 1972 historic trip to China, that marked the reestablishment of normal relations after more than 20 years, China quietly made its way into the modern world. By the time Americans woke up to the fact that their massive debt was in Chinese hands, China had the second largest economy after ours, contributing an equal amount to global warming, and initiating important projects in both Africa and Latin America.

The small but significant detail that has been omitted from this account is the conflict in the Middle East.  As the benefactor of the state of Israel created in 1948 by the United Nations, America has gone from being a distant on-looker to the travails of the “old continent”, only reluctantly entering the fray, to being the main player in a region that combines most of the world’s oil wealth with a societal struggle over modernity.

The Monroe Doctrine has long been forgotten, but a new doctrine outlining America’s role in the world has not been drawn up.  President Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize for tentatively making peace and denuclearization the core of his foreign policy.  Yet as a result of decisions taken by his predecessor,  American soldiers are dying in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, leaving Obama’s preference for diplomacy between a rock and a hard place.

With a little help from the military-industrial complex, 9/11 replaced isolationism with a frantic obsession with security, in which fear of Islamic terrorism   piggybacks on a century-old fear of socialism. Moderates want the United States to disentangle itself from the civil wars of the Middle East and Southeast Asia (where Afghanistan and Pakistan lie), replacing isolationism with cooperative resolution of world problems  that would allow it to improve education and health care at home. Such a foreign policy allows a countries’ resources to be beneficially divided between the needs of their people and those of the outside world.

After standing superbly apart from the travails of the world, then shaping it to suit its own needs, that is where America must ultimately place itself.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Browning of America

When President Obama has a huge tent set up in front of the White House to host a concert of Latin American groups, it’s time to comment on the news that’s been trickling out: by 2050, the majority of Americans will be former minorities: that means blacks, Latinos and Asians.

In 1989, while writing a book that foresaw the reunification of Europe and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, I did the global math.   At that time there were approximately 1.4 billion Caucasians,  825 million Arabs and Persians, 600 African blacks and 2.4 billion Asians, for a total population of 5,1 billion.

Today, the figures for China and India are, respectively, 1.3 and 1,1 billion respectively, not including all the other Asian countries, such as Indonesia with a population of 300,000 and Japan with 127,000.  Brazil has the fifth largest population in the world, Indonesia being fourth.

The U.S. has only 307 billion, Russia has 141 billion and the European Union  a little less than 500 billion.  Counting Australia and New Zealand with 26 million together, that makes a total Caucasian population of less than 1 billion.  However you care to arrange the other colors on your mental map, it’s clear that Caucasians are what I call the absolute minority on the planet, which today has a population of about 6.7 billion.  That’s a little over one seventh.

When the majority of the population of the United States ceases to be Caucasian, in a few decades, we will still be relatively more Caucasian than the world taken as a whole.  This doesn’t mean that we will be better than the rest of the world.  It means that we will need to do a lot of mental catching up to situate ourselves as one seventh of a decidedly non-white world, which I like to think of as the color of honey in all its varieties.


A propos of "From Dominos to Hopscoth", this cartoon in this week's The Nation magazine

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Nobel Hopes Obama will Stop Replacing Dominos with Hopscotch

Certainly the president's efforts to begin ridding the world of nukes is worth the prize. And with most of the war-lie action concentrated in the Middle East, it draws attention to the fact that Israel too has a nuclear arsenal.

But in terms of the big picture, the American president is being strongly advised to replace the Vietnam era domino theory (you let one country “fall” to communism, others follow”), with the game of hopscotch (vulgarly known as whackamole).

First, in pursuit of Bin Laden, we invaded Afghanistan.  But they didn’t have any oil, so our master storytellers invented Iraqi links to Al Quada and biological weapons, and we invaded that country.  Having, as our military is fond of saying “just about finished the job there”, we’re back concentrating on Afghanistan, which, after nine years, is proving, as it always has, resistant to remodeling.  But during this interval, Afghanistan’s neighbor, Pakistan, got a new, civilian government that seems to see the disadvantages of worrying more about India than about Al Quada and the Taliban, a Pushtun group that it shares with Afghanistan.

This set-up already has our under-subscribed military stretched thin.  But we’ve made it our business to carp at Iran, a country which has not given sanctuary to any terrorists, nor invaded anyone, because they MAY BE developing an atomic weapon.  We justify our concern for that by the idea that such as-yet non-existent weapons could fall into the hands of Hezbollah and Hamas, who are Israel’s enemies.

The hop-scotch terrain that has replaced the game of dominos is not quite complete: Somalia, on the horn of Africa, whence pirates have been brazenly attacking ships in open waters and holding them for huge ransoms, perhaps the oldest failed state, now appears as the next possible haven for Al Quada and Company (Senator Feingold actually mentioned this last night, stealing my thunder).

In the end, I think the Nobel Committee wanted to help Obama resist donning Superman’s cape: for this game of hopscotch, Air Force One - or even a new helicopter just wouldn’t cut it.

Friday, October 2, 2009

To Think we Used to Run this Place!

How oblivious can folks be?  I just heard on CNN that the Chicago delegation to Copenhagen was planning a party tonight.  Oh, they weren’t partying in advance of the vote,no, said Tony Harris but they were all ready to party tonight.

To political junkies like me, sports is hardly worth mentioning. But we also know that everything is political.

When I worked in the Carter State Department as a speech writer for the Assistant Secretary of Cultural and Educational Affairs, Joe Duffey, I was privileged to receive every day on my desk a slew of cables on a variety of non-classified subjects from all over the world.  I’ll never forget the one that ended with the worlds: “And to think we used to run this place.”  Whatever the issue was, is unimportant.  What matters is the person writing the report somehow thought that the United States was destined to run the world forever.

Apparently, that conviction has had long legs: Tony Harris couldn’t get over the fact that America had lost a bid to host the summer Olympics ON THE FIRST ROUND! Around the time of my stint at State everyone knew the Bob Dylan song “Blowin in the Wind”. For those who may never have heard it, or forgotten it, the refrain is: “The answer, my friend is blowin in the wind.” (How many times must a cannonball fly before they’re forever banned, How many years can some people exist before they’re allowed to be free? How many times can a man turn his head, pretending he just doesn’t see?

The question of what country would be likely to win the 2026 summer Olympics seemed to me a pretty open and shut case: Europe and America had recently hosted Olympics; China had represented Asia, hosting this year’s games. Only Africa and Latin America had never hosted the games. Africa wasn’t in the running, so that left Brazil. So much for the really obvious. For those who follow the news, equally obvious was the fact that Brazil is an up and coming economic power, one of the four BRIC nations, with Russia, India and China, that are snapping at our heels. Not to mention that Brazil’s president, known as Lula around the world, is a former worker and trade union leader who was twice elected, and who had the cojones to say to the other world leaders that it was the blue-eyed people who had caused the financial meltdown.

Recently, CNN has been advertising an up-coming series on being Latino in America (whose correct name is “The United States of America”, as we’re likely to hear more and more often). Part of the media, at least, has gotten around to telling us that by 2050, minorities will be the majority. When in the early nineties I began to write the book that eventually became “A Taoist Politics: The Case for Sacredness”, (qwhich you can order from my website, www.otherjones.com or from Amazon, I wrote:

"As those eager for modernity migrate to the northern hemisphere, its current inhabitants need to accept that the 21st century is likely to be the color of honey in its countless varieties. Those who remain in the South need to realize that neither hatred nor resignation will lead to a better future, and also, that the past is never the future, for the simple reason that life consists of partly random movement and change."

It is long past time for the Caucasians of this world to begin to adapt to the fact that we constitute what could be called the absolute minority on the face of the planet, even as the planet demonstrates almost daily how inhospitable it can be to humans of every hue.