die Tageszeitung, Germany
States of America
By Konrad Ege
There's a suspicion that in America people don't really grasp – or perhaps don't want to admit – that the lights of 'the shining city on a hill,' as Reagan called America, have gone somewhat dim lately.
Translated By Ron Argentati
27 December 2012
Edited by Kathleen Weinberger
Germany - die Tageszeitung - Original Article (German)
It's not easy to understand the U.S. at the outset of pragmatist Barack Obama's second term in the White House. The U.S. seems to be having a tough time getting its stuff together. Republicans block passage of a budget while economic inequality grows larger. Despite Obama's impassioned speeches about gun violence, the problem is seen largely as impossible to solve. The appearance of the U.S. delegation at the global climate summit in Doha was a tragedy. Furthermore, New York and New Jersey, despite persistent traffic jams in the direction of Manhattan, can't seem to agree about building a new tunnel under the Hudson River.
At the beginning of the 1980s, when President Ronald Reagan promised that it was “morning again in America,” people glanced across the ocean toward Europe and made the diagnosis: Eurosclerosis. The Europeans were seen as incapable of making decisions and reforms. However, such medical parallels never quite fit. Nevertheless, if one wanted to play doctor today and give the United States a physical exam, one might arrive at a diagnosis of Alzheimers which, according to the medical journals, is characterized by “a progressive deterioration of cognitive performance, which usually goes with a decrease of daily activities.”
People of a certain age ask whether one knows one has Alzheimers right from the outset. There's a suspicion that in America people don't really grasp – or perhaps don't want to admit – that the lights of “the shining city on a hill,” as Reagan called America, have gone somewhat dim lately.
They cling desperately to statements assuring them that the U.S. is the greatest nation on earth and still believe their nation is a “rags to riches” country. Obama often says that what makes Americans special is the belief that those who work hard and are responsible will be rewarded with success, while those who aren’t only have themselves to blame.
An Empire Creates Its Own Reality
American foreign and military policy is based on the idea that the United States is “number one” and must remain so. One recalls what a high-ranking official in the George W. Bush administration once told New York Times journalist Ron Susskind: “We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.”
The recently fallen CIA chief David Petraeus – ostensibly brought down by an extramarital affair – expressed something similar in his doctoral dissertation: “What policymakers believe to have taken place in any particular case is what matters – more than what actually occurred.”
However, if you want to be number one, it's going to cost you something. The U.S. military budget has more than doubled between 2001 and 2011. Nearly 3 million uniformed and civilian employees serve in the armed forces and Defense Department. The People's Republic of China apparently gets by without anything similar. As reported in The Washington Post, there are over a thousand U.S. governmental entities and nearly 2,000 private companies involved in the war on terror.
The National Intelligence Council, an organization made up of representatives from 17 intelligence services and agencies, predicted in its “Global Trends 2030” report that America's “unipolar moment” of American hegemony would come to an end in that year.
Presumably, the United States will remain “first among equals,” but the power structure will change noticeably. One chapter of the report deals with “the limits of hard power,” i.e., military power: “Power almost certainly will shift more toward multifaceted and amorphous networks composed of state and non-state actors that will form to influence global policies on various issues.”
The Arms Industry Wants Short Term Profits
The military is currently undergoing a restructuring with the emphasis on economizing; the armaments industry, however, is stonewalling. It is interested primarily in short-term profits. Abroad, it would be called corruption: An analysis done between 2004 and 2008 showed that 80 percent of retiring U.S. flag rank officers got jobs in the defense industry and ultimately supported politicians campaigning for office.
Especially striking is the fact that the nation seems incapable of dealing with environmental issues. United Nations experts issue dire warnings and the World Bank talks of a 4-degree increase in average global temperatures by the end of the century. Scientists generally agree that human activity significantly adds to global warming. Something must be done.
Obama agrees, but that has little effect. People are far more proud of the fact that the International Energy Agency predicts that the United States will soon be able to supply all its own energy domestically thanks to fracking and access to oil reserves previously impossible to exploit for technological reasons. Climate activist Bill McKibben says the oil industry has bought one political party and intimidated the other.
The average citizen might naïvely believe that high-level decision makers stick to their own beliefs when it comes to the nation's best interests. This hasn't been the case in the United States for quite some time.
The Rapacious Elites
The economic elites have become more radical, more ruthless and rapacious. In addition, they have become more short-sighted in their arrogance that they will somehow be spared from the consequences of their actions. The elites don't think that their lights will ever go out. The Republicans have managed to convince many that the government is their enemy and that many parts of it should play no future role in daily life.
Yet it was Barack Obama, not Mitt Romney who was elected president in November. Now the real debate about America's future will start. But at least one issue will receive little attention: guns. The proposed restrictions on future sales will hardly be useful; there are 200 million to 300 million guns already in private hands.
Fear and mistrust can indeed be symptoms of dementia as well.
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