Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Exchanges about US status in the world on BBC WHYS

At 02:54 AM on 24 Feb 2007, Mark wrote:
Just go anywhere where there is no freedom or democracy, talk to the people who have lived their lives there and you will have little doubt about what you've taken for granted like breathing air all your life. One thing you often notice is their fear just talking about it. They often point out what few freedoms they do have, dismiss the importance of the ones they don't, and try to change the subject as soon as possible. A typical example, are interviews with women in Saudi Arabia broadcast in the last year or two but you could talk to people in Iran or China and hear the same.
The subject of freedom and democracy in America is as vast and complex as the study of the workings of its laws and government, its entire history, what it took from the civilizations it evolved from like English common law, how the founding fathers grappled with the problem of creating a government which would be effective but could never become a tyranny, how they envisioned the future, and how Americans adapted their system to changing circumstances over the past two centuries. America is the world's oldest existing democracy. America is not like any other country. It is a radical experiment in human relations still in progress. Its meteoric success rising from thirteen remote obscure colonies in an endless hostile wilderness to the world's pre-eminent power some have foolishly and mistakenly likened to the Roman Empire during its brief history would have astonished those who created it. Most people from the outside have a superficial understanding of it at best, and more often than not don't really understand it at all. We haven't devoted much time or effort explaining it to them while others have fed them nothing by lies. I think the most common mistake they make is that they fail to see that America's success is a consequence of its democracy and freedom and not the other way around. Those who aspire to match it materially such as China, India, and the EU have failed to see that democracy is the vital prerequisite, the one they in fact ultimately reject no matter what they say or call what they have instead.

· At 04:48 PM on 24 Feb 2007, Abdelilah Boukili wrote:
To Mark who says, “Those who aspire to match [USA]materially such as China, India, and the EU have failed to see that democracy is the vital prerequisite.”
It might be agreed that China is still undemocratic because of its one party system and its records on human rights. But India is a relatively democratic country.
What is not understood in your comment is when you also include the EU as a part of the ring of undemocratic countries. There no disagreement that Britain (Which is an EU member) is the cradle of democracy that inspired many around the world. Magna Carta (dating to 1215) was the oldest statement of power sharing at that time between the English king and the noble class.
So singling out the USA as the most democratic country in the world while ignoring the democratic practices in other countries like UK and Germany amounts to zealous patriotism which wrongly belittles the achievements of other democracies.
· At 05:45 PM on 24 Feb 2007, Mark wrote:
Abdelilah BoukiliIndia a democracy? Baloney. Not when hundreds of millions are trapped in poverty forever by a corrupt government which has institutionalized discrimination against half the population which are women, lower castes, and non Moslems. Where are their representatives screaming in congress and in the courts for their rights? You can't have democracy in a nation as corrupt and bureaucratic as India. The formality may be there, the rhetoric may be there, but the substance of it isn't. India's prosperity is for a minority paid for on the backs of the majority, paid in hopeless poverty, unacceptable wages, unacceptable working conditions, unacceptable pollution of their environment, and no democratic recourse for redress of their grievances.
Britain a democracy? Baloney. Not with a House of Lords, an official religion, and a Monarchy. Not when there is no separation of powers between legislative and executive branches. Not when the nation's sovereignty has been partially ceded to an unelected unrepresentative bureaucracy in Brussels and half the nation can hardly wait to cede the rest of it. Not when everything anyone does winds up taxing them out of business. Drill a hole in a piece of wood, stick a screw in it and give it half a turn and it is taxed. The power to tax is the power to destroy. Britain is prosperous only by comparison to its even less democratic counterparts on mainland Europe and ALL of them have skated by on not spending anything like their fair share of the cost of their military defense for over 60 years relying on the American taxpayer to foot the bill for them. Look at the HYS comments on the proposed "son of starwars" missile defense shield. Those in Britain who want it expect one more free ride on the back of Uncle Sam meaning the American taxpayer. The smartest people in Britain...aren't there anymore having left for more hospitable climes.
Germany democratic? Ask the Turks and other foreigners who live there and do much of the dirty work. If they were there ten generations, they'd never be accepted as real Germans.
Were it up to me, America would pull all of our forces out of Europe, Japan, and Korea and let them buy their own defense. Then we'd see just how prosperous they really are. America has wasted trillions on these ingrates.

At 02:50 PM on 26 Feb 2007, Abdelilah Boukili wrote:
To Mark,
You seem to equate democracy with material prosperity. USA, despite its economic power still has sections of poor people. Not all Americans are prosperous, not to mention states which don't share the same amount of material wealth. In the US, there are still poor among blacks and Hispanics. According to the latest statistics, 20% of the Hispanics live under poverty line. Nobody, despite all this, questions American democracy as it still gives opportunities to everyone to rise to top.
You seem to want everything to be on American model, which won't necessarily work in every part of the world. UK is a true democratic country despite its House of Lords as its members have advisory role and not a compelling one. In the USA, you have aspects of monarchy in disguise. There is the Bush dynasty, Clinton dynasty, not to mention the Kennedy dynasty. In business, there is the Ford dynasty, just to give an example.
Saying that Japan can't defend itself is wrong. If the Japanese have the technological skill for unlimited inventions, they can invent the weapons they need, including nuclear ones. You seem to forget that electronic equipments in many of US precision arms, especially those guided by satellite, are of Japanese origin. Look around you in the USA and see how many Japanese products are around, contributing to the welfare of the American citizen.
As for UK, is this the way to thank her for standing by your country in military operations, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan. As for the missile system, this time it's the US that needs UK as they can intercept any missile attack directed at the it.
When you say, "Were it up to me, America would pull all of our forces out of Europe, Japan, and Korea and let them buy their own defense. Then we'd see just how prosperous they really are.", you are just for US isolationist policy which has never worked for it. Shall I say, let all international financial institutions pull out of the US and see how prosperous the US will be without international trade?

At 09:02 PM on 26 Feb 2007, Mark wrote:
Abdelilah Boukili I do not equate democracy with prosperity. My comment was in response to Owen Bennet Jones' interview of Sir Christopher Meyers who was Britain's ambassador to the US for 5 years and quite smart. Jones asked Meyers why America was so rich. Meyers got it wrong when he said it was because America had a head start on everyone else. This was obviously false since Europe was long established a thousand years before America was even discovered and civilizations like Egypt and China had many thousands of years head start themselves. What I said was that America had become the wealthiest nation partly as a result of its democracy and not the other way around. The only headstart it had was to be the oldest existing democracy existing today.
As I understand the House of Lords, it can veto or modify legislation passed up to it from the House of Commons. What kind of democracy can there be if a group selected only from the privileged few has ANY control over legislation? And what kind of democracy is if not belonging to the official church automatically makes you an outsider? What about all those EU laws made by bureaucrats and unelected EU members which govern so much of British life that Britain must take specific exception to it if it doesn't like it, assuming that it can opt out at all? How can a nation which can't exercise complete sovereignty over itself be a democracy? As for American dynasties, President Bush Sr. was elected for one four year term, his son for two. President Clinton served two terms, his wife "might" be nominated to run. Are those dynasties? There are rich families in the US which seem to have some of its members enter politics for extended periods and even members of different generations. Are these dynasties? It depends on your definition. Often great wealth in a family dissipates through inheritances over several generations so that eventually, their descendants are only marginally richer than most. The Rockerfellers are a typical example. All nations have their wealthier families which have greater political influence than most. The US has been waging a war against this (and losing) with tactics such as campaign finance laws. It's sure to continue.
Japan could build up a military to defend itself if it wanted to. It is IMO the second most advanced technological society in the world. But the cost would be enormous and it would make other nations in the region such as China and North and South Korea which remember Japan's imperial past very nervous. They are happy to sit back and let Uncle Sam do it for them...and for American taxpayers to foot the bill too.
Britain's contribution while notable are usually barely much more than tokenism. In combat whether in WWII or Afghanistan or Iraq, it's the US which does the heavy lifting. The UK had about 40,000 troops in Iraq, mostly in Basra a much easier assignment than Baghdad and the Sunni triangle. It is now at about 7000 and will drop to about 5500. The US had about 140,000 before the surge and is now up to about 160,000. Britain is debating whether or not to get rid of its nuclear submarine fleet. It would rather count on the free US nuclear umbrella.
Were the US to pull out of international trade, the entire world's economy would go bankrupt. The American consumer is 2/3 of the largest economic engine in the world. You can't get rich if you don't trade with the US, just ask Cuba. Much of the production in places like China and the rest of the third world was bought and paid for by Americans. It is only because the US allowed them to import their goods into the US at low tariffs that they could compete and ultimately drive most manufacturing overseas in the first place.
If the US were to pull its military out of places like Kosovo, Southeast Asia, Iraq, Afghanistan, chaos would ensue. There would be nobody else to take up the slack. American trade isolationism called protectionism resulted in the great depression all over the world (Smoot Hawley act) and American military isolationism resulted in World War II and would have resulted in World War III. But when America does get involved, it is called an imperial hegemonic empire and the world's policeman. For America, there is no winning, it will not be liked so its best bet is to be feared. I hope Mr. Ahmadinejad feels that way but it doesn't look like it. He's making a big mistake, just like Saddam Hussein did, just like Slobodan Milosevic did.

· At 09:19 PM on 26 Feb 2007, Abdelilah Boukili wrote:
To Mark,
I think we will continue to disagree on how the world should view the USA. The USA has come to be what it is now through its openness to European culture, especially that of UK, since its foundation to the time when it started to export its own, influencing the rest of the world.
As for your question -"What kind of democracy is if not belonging to the official church automatically makes you an outsider?"-it's true there are debates in UK about dropping the condition of being a member of the Anglican Church to be a Monarch. But in UK, members of different churches hold key positions. There are Catholics and Protestants working side by side. The Queen and PM Tony Blair aren't of the same church. He's a Catholic. JF Kennedy was the first to break the WASP domination in US policy when he was the first Catholic to be elected as President of the USA. In the USA, it is still a condition that the President should be a believer. Up to now only Christians have been presidents of the US. Up there is no sign that US will have a non-Christian president. It will be a precedent if an atheist comes to the White House. This is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future. So religious affiliation is a condition to be head of the executive in both countries.
It's true UK is having a small number of troops in Iraq compared to that of the US. But its first deployment amounted to 40,000 troops. Imagine what a stretch over the US army could have been if UK hadn't contributed in such a number. Now the Iraqi army can defend the south of Iraq better thanks to UK and its training of them.
Militarily speaking, US has played great role in world peace since its first intervention in World War I. It had interventions in Serbia to prevent ethnic cleansing in this country against the Muslims who were victims of genocide. Nobody denies that it has fought many wars for world peace. But at the same time, it turns a blind eye to what is taking place in other places of the world when its interests aren't threatened. It seeks alliance with democratic and undemocratic ones as long as they serve its interests. You may say US can't be an omnipresent policemen in every place of the world. Its political necessity that makes US decide when to go to war.
Concerning international trade, it has now become intertwined. One event in an economic group affects the others. A plunge in US economy will send shivers to the rest of the world. The same applies to US economy if world economy shrinks.
What I personally see is that America needs the world and the world needs America in the spirit of mutual understanding and cooperation.

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