Is the Obama administration a presage of the U.S.’s new role in the world? And does the tea party movement wish to resurrect something irretrievably dead?
American politics is distinguished by many characteristic traits, thanks to which the average European perceives it as peculiar, idealist and even downright naïve in its faith in the goodness of man and his power as an individual. These specific traits have created in the U.S., from its very beginnings, various deviations and crises (e.g., the slaveholding of the “founding fathers,” creators of the famous “All men are created equal”; or the fight against racism, which lasted up until the 1960s). In the spirit of these phrases, America pursued its domestic and, by its rejection of isolationism during World War I, its foreign policy as well. And let us agree that, whether we are fans of America or not, it has quite fundamentally and significantly changed the world in this manner.
However, after the Cold War and the end of the bipolar world, the U.S. has not been able to find its new place. Under George Bush, Sr. it remained an America of bold mottoes, but those mottoes were already disputable and outdated. When President Bush, Sr. expressed his desire for a “new world order,” he aroused polemics on whether the world would grow weary of this order, even supposing it was feasible. The vision of American-Soviet divisions doing battle in Iraq or the suitability of the U.S. for the role of the global cop called to mind the unhappy times of the Vietnam War and the antiquated philosophy of Wilsonianism, slowly giving way to a global balance of power.
The arrival of Bill Clinton meant for America and its denizens a time of prosperity and peace, since the U.S. more or less managed not to get itself involved in any conflicts (other than the incident in Somalia, when a unit of American Rangers and Army Delta Force came under siege during the abortive operation aimed at capturing Mohammed Farah Aidid, one of the key “warlords” in a Somalia which remains dysfunctional to this day — everyone has seen the wonderful film “Black Hawk Down,” the title of which epitomizes the entire operation). This prosperity, however, left the United States unprepared for the worst crisis of American power in the world, a crisis which has continued into the present.
On Sept. 11, 2001, after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center buildings in New York, the U.S. closed ranks and George Bush, Jr. declared war on global terrorism. Bush’s genes, to put it succinctly, couldn’t be denied and together with the trauma following the aggression of the Islamic terrorists, created a destructive combination. America consequently got entangled in the two “Bush wars,” one of which is destructive in terms of its doubtful results and utter lack of gains for the U.S., the other unwinnable by any president or general. Both wars have nonetheless robbed America of its energy and money in a multi-polar world, which doesn’t remotely resemble the one in which America was an excellent player and leader. China is smothering America in spite of its economy, which rests on a shaky foundation — but China nevertheless fulfills its task of weakening America by 100 percent. New powers like India and Brazil are practicing nuclear diplomacy and, along with Turkey, are courting Iran. Israel's casual assumption that America will stand continually by its side leads Israel at times to make unnecessary mistakes and escalate tension in the Middle East. And finally, America is being weakened by the European Union, which has sent out signals of independence and sparked something of a renaissance on the old European continent.
As if that weren’t enough, President Barack Obama currently faces massive criticism from both ends of the political spectrum. Obama, so they say, is not tough enough, is a spendthrift, is not decisive but weakens the U.S. with his dialogue with previously scorned states. American voters would do well to realize that their president has his shortcomings, but after Bush any less interventionist approach to foreign policy is more welcome, healthier and more realistic. To those of us in Europe, his oft-criticized health care plan is something completely fundamental that the state should guarantee — sometimes even to an exaggerated degree. That is not the case in America, however, where a relatively unfathomable number of people have either never been to a doctor or have been to one only once every 10 years — not by their own fault, but due to the fact that they cannot and never will be able to afford it. In the same vein, it is not fair to criticize Obama for his positive approach to the mosque in New York or his courtesy to other cultures as such. If all religions are free in America, then he is right in allowing moderate Muslims to build a mosque near ground zero, site of the hideous tragedy of Sept. 11, caused by a perverted understanding of Islam. Obama, however, is attempting to build a following with moves that are very disputable and ineffective. Taxing banks and pumping money into the economy at the expense of a balanced budget has caused the United States to have at present one of the greatest levels of public debt in its history.
Commissions and experts are sounding the alarm, but one expects that Obama will not heed their advice and will continue in his unsuccessful crusade against unemployment at government expense.
Similar motifs were behind the rise of the movement of the dissatisfied citizens who called themselves the tea party. A congenial conservative movement without big leaders, emphasizing the constitution and traditional values, it was the driving force behind Obama’s latest debacle, that of the lost congressional elections. Its candidates even pushed out Republican candidates, who themselves shifted even further to the right. This fresh breeze on the political scene has definitely enlivened the closely watched duel between Republicans and Democrats, whom even Americans could no longer tell apart and who have lost the last remaining vestiges of the public trust. The tea party is decidedly a movement which prefers interesting and considerable values, but in its position it is slipping towards an old-fashioned and antiquated ideology of hard-boiled conservatism, which has already moved by evolution to the center-right. The tea party, however, seems not to have noticed this. It protests against health care reform, which affects a large portion of America in a positive way and propagates values which, through their exaggerated faith in American infallibility, have gotten the U.S. into a crisis; out of which there might develop in the United States a more innovative and healthier society suffused with a more realistic concept of politics and policy.
And what is precisely a more realistic policy? Partly we mean the absence of Wilsonianism, which today has no use or place. The global balance of power, and the cooperation which follows from such balance, is already beginning to influence international relations. States behave like people, which means that they are fallible and make mistakes; balance provides a brake of sorts, and together with the multi-polarity of today’s world, it points out the path which foreign policy should take — i.e. the absence of interventionism and messianism, which has done so much harm to the United States. Fortunately, the Obama administration at least shows signs of this.
So, what will become of America? Obviously it will have to adjust to the fact that the American empire no longer exists, or, if it does exist, it does so to a very weakened extent. American influence has been diluted among China, the EU and the new powers situated on the horizon. These states or associations of states have created a counterbalance to America and brought the world into a new era. The United States can no longer play the role of world cop and does not have either the right or the power to do so. It is questionable that it will try to do so. Let us Europeans learn a lesson and consider the U.S. as a reliable partner to whom we are grateful. The other party must, in turn part, acknowledge the EU as an equal partner and treat the EU as a collaborator — a collaborator against terrorism and instability in the world (these phenomena exist and a multi-polar world cannot prevent that).
The main thing is to keep one’s feet on the ground.