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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

We Aren't the World

Foreign flags

We, as americans, exist in this broader place called 'the world.' The world is a place where different governments exist, people have wildly divergent political opinions, and everyone -- canadians included -- talks funny. Given what a diverse place the wider world is, it's surprising to find that certain opinions seem to be universal. Among those universal opinions is that George W. Bush shouldn't let the door hit him in the ass on the way out.

At least, that was the one of the conclusions I came to looking through translated editorials and news articles at Watching America -- a great site that translates both the crazy and the sane from several languages and several countries around the world.

As the world's only -- if creaky around the edges -- superpower, events in the US are a matter of public opinion in every corner of the world. What we do and say is watched and commented on worldwide, to an extent that few other countries are. Our old cold war rival China is closely watched, as is the remanent of the USSR, Russia. Japan, being an economic superpower of the moment, gets a lot of space on the business pages. But the big political mover and shaker in the world is the US.

First up is an editorial in the german paper Frankfurter Rundschau that, with the exception of one word that doesn't translate well, could've been written in Cedar Rapids.

What is it that has the entire world talking so enthusiastically about candidates like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, when the election is still 15 months away? No small part of this peculiarly early start can be explained by the internal acceleration of the modern world, the "Devilish Speeding-Up [Veloziferication]" as Goethe complainingly called it - that satanic force which ensures that every year, the world turns a little faster. And since the advent of the Internet and cable television, it turns a little faster every week.

But there's another that may be much more important: The Bush era has come to an end long before its formal conclusion. In the wake of the rapid purging of the U.S. President's authority, an unparalleled political vacuum has developed. Inside the United States, this has provoked the early election campaign; and for the rest of the world, this has brought about the (pleasant) anticipation of a new beginning after Bush.

As I said, "don't let the door hit you in the ass" is a common attitude toward our president worldwide. The decline of Bush's power may not be as complete as Frankfurter Rundschau puts it, but the truth is that he's now only a few steps above a caretaker. No one looks at Bush -- with still more than a year to go in his final term -- as a president with great things still in front of him. As a politician, Bush is a man without a future. What was his to accomplish -- for good or for bad -- has already been accomplished.

One problem with being the world's oldest existing democracy is that sometimes the old girl has her 'senior moments.' Presidential candidates represent political thoughts wandering through our collective mind and, in presidential races, many of these notions from the fringe of our nation's subconscious are psychotic.

Case in point, right wing lunatic Tom Tancredo. "If it is up to me, we are going to explain that [a terrorist] attack on this homeland of that nature [i.e., nuclear in nature] would be followed by an attack on the holy sites in Mecca and Medina," Tancredo said. Yeah Tom, holding Islam's holiest sites hostage would sure go a long way toward calming people who are permanently freaked out. Why, it wouldn't piss off extremists even more than they are now at all. The guy's got all the intelligence of a cinderblock. Although cinderblocks are, at least, useful.

You can imagine how that played abroad.

Pak Tribune, Pakistan:

ISLAMABAD: In the National Assembly on Friday, opposition and ruling coalition members protested remarks by U.S. Republican Presidential hopeful Tom Tancredo, who said that Muslim holy sites should be bombed. The MPs demanded that the Government clarify its position on whether the War Against Terror - which our army is fighting - is really in the national interest, or just part of America's agenda.


Speaking on a point of order, MP Farhana Khalid Banori said that the Government should adopt a clear and strict stance on this anti-Islamic statement.

The Federal Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Sher Afghan Khan Niazi informed the house that the U.S. Republican Presidential hopeful's statement is a serious matter. Tom Tancredo, he said, is mentally ill, and that we have the capacity to protect the Islam's Holy sites. He said that a unanimous resolution to this effect would be passed in the National Assembly soon.

Luckily for the entire world, the vast majority of americans, Democrat or Republican, agree with Sher Afghan Khan Niazi -- Tom Tancredo is mentally ill. He's got as much chance of winning the election as the aforementioned cinderblock. But he's also a stupid, stupid man and with his brief turn in the international spotlight, he's managed to damage our reputation, reinforce fundamentalist opinion worldwide, and cause nations to question their alliances with us. Smooth, Tom. Presidential material, you're not.

Other candidates have made comments that can only be described as simpleminded. Take Democratic hopeful Barack Obama's statement that "If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets [in Pakistan], and President Musharraf won't act, we will." The pakistani newspaper, The Nation, brings up an unfortunate reality.

Considering Washington's ultimate goal of rooting out terror, it will have to act more constructively and rationally. The tribesmen are religious conservatives - in other words sticklers for outmoded traditions and with an abysmally low literacy rate. With this reality on the ground, ruthless measures to curb their sympathies for ethnically-identical Pushtuns [Taliban] would prove counterproductive.

To change their mindset will require an extensive program of social and economic development and, indeed, a complete review of American policies toward the Muslim world.

In other words, invade the Pashtun region and the Taliban tells everyone, "See? Didn't we tell you?" Pakistan is a nuclear armed country with a barely stable (and illegitimate) government. Pakistani Dictator and ally-of-convenience Pervez Musharraf has survived several assassination attempts as it is. Further destabilizing the country could put nuclear arms into Taliban -- or, at least, Taliban-friendly -- hands. A hard line with Musharraf is probably a good idea, but he has his own realities to deal with. He probably could do more and should be pressured to do it, but he can only reasonably be expected to do so much. Pakistan is a bottle of nitroglycerin and you don't use a hammer to deal with it.

As we go into the elections, it pays to remember that we're also citizens of the world. We take up only 6% of the world's land area and 4% of the world's population, yet we have unprecedented military and economic power. Like it or not, the next president really will be the leader of the free world -- although this is much less true after Bush than it was before.

As citizens of the world, we need to remember that the world map isn't divided into two sections stamped "USA" and "Places That Don't Matter." We have a responsiblity and it's a responsibility we've taken on voluntarily. We didn't become the only surviving superpower by accident -- it was by design. It's easy to make simpleminded or crazy statements that may play well at home, but other people are listening and the ripple from a bad idea put across in a debate in Iowa may become a tsunami by the time it reaches a foreign shore.

The next president will inheret a foreign policy nightmare, FUBAR because of Bush's idiotic policies. It's important for good people to fight for that position, but it pays to take care that your fight doesn't make things worse along the way. People are paying attention -- worldwide.


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