Thursday, June 26, 2014

Ugliest of Americans

The solstice has passed and this thing called ‘summer’ is underway. After a quarter-century in Los Angeles the meteorological changing of the seasons on the East Coast is still surprising to me. With the rising temperature and school vacations the travel season is underway. It is the season of ugly Americans – a pejorative description of American behavior on foreign soil. People who expect a different place to have the same amenities, values and traditions of home and are vocal about it are pigeon holed as loud, obnoxious and arrogant American tourists. Having been abroad and both participated in such behavior and observed it, the United States is not well represented in such situations. As embarrassing as that can be, however, it pales in comparison to ugly, arrogant and misguided American foreign policy.

The U.S. has been at war for most of its history. Presidents Harding through Hoover (1921-1933) oversaw the longest period of peace. After that, World War I and all of the subsequent wars, military conflicts have moved the United States into such a global role that in many ways America is the policeman to the world.

The nuances of a particular conflict should be looked at on their merits. Defending a friend/ally or supporting a particular regime over another at least provides a choice between two specific options. More recently the conflicts have given way to something far more troubling. Nation Building – where America comes in and instills what the Administration thinks is best. (Congress has little say, other than budgetary, so policy is really up to the executive branch.)

In Afghanistan, a country that was conquered by Alexander the Great in 330 BC has been in military conflict non-stop since 1978. Americans (like Russians before them) have tried to instill its own sense of government over that of the citizens. Neither succeeded.

President George W Bush (43) campaigned heavily against an interventionist foreign policy. He said: “If we don't stop extending our troops all around the world in nation-building missions, then we're going to have a serious problem coming down the road. And I'm going to prevent that.” After the attacks of 9/11 he changed course, saying that circumstances required America to instill its values around the world to defend itself. His successor continued the drive to Americanize Afghanistan and has increased troops, spending and training on what he describes as the “legitimate war.” Recently he has indicated a deadline for all troops to leave that country, much to the horror of some.

President Obama actually fulfilled his campaign promise to “end the war” in Iraq. In December 2011, the ninth year of the conflict, all U.S. military personnel left the country. There remain at least 7,000 military contractors on the ground – paid for by private enterprise under contract with the Defense Department – but official U.S. soldiers have been gone from the country. Last week Sunni protestors reignited the sectarian violence that has defined the country for decades.  Hundreds of U.S. troops have been sent in to "observe."

Former prisoner of war and chief GOP warmonger John McCain attacked the administration over its “losing” Iraq. He ultimately wants troops to be used to restore the ‘peace’ that had been imposed on the country during a near decade of U.S. control after the invasion. This idea is the ugliest of American stereotypes – thinking that we have the answers to every country’s problems and will use our strength and might to impose it. That’s not democracy. That’s imperialism. And it’s un-American.

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