14 July 2008

America: Do as I say but not as I do

Yesterday I wrote on an excellent bit of democratic-development theory (might I recommend you click the link or scroll down and read Realism... first); today I write on where American rubber actually hits the road. The theory is in the right lane and the rubber appears to be in the breakdown lane arguable about to run off the road.

Yesterdays article summarizes as follows: Through implementing the American ideals of freedom, human right, free markets, democracy and rule of the law, the United Stated can serve its national interest. Idealism and realism need not be divorced and can be simultaneously pursued.

If only the U.S. followed its ideals with any consistency. I ended yesterday's article asking the question, "If the promotion of our ideals weakened our international hegemony would we then see them applied with such zeal?" The answer to this question is no. No in that the ideals will not be applied at all (so zeal too is lacking).

In The Case Against the West Kishore Mahbubani lays out an argument that the West "has gone from being the world's biggest problem solver to its biggest liability". Although I don't agree with this statement, I did find the numerous examples demonstrating the disconnect between the words of the United States and its actions compelling. The examples I summarize below show the ideals of the US and how they are disregarded when following them are detrimental to national interest.

1. Invasion of Iraq
The US led invasion of Iraq to liberate the people (suffering human rights) and to promote democracy showed flagrant disregard for ideal number five, "rule of the law". Such use of force is only justified if in self-defense or with United Nations Security Council authorization.

2. Nuclear Nonproliferation
The US support of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty was created to make the world safer (while allowing the US to keep its weapons and elevated status). The treaty did with some success halt the proliferation of nuclear weapons to other states. What it did not accomplish was halt the increase in sophistication of the U.S. nuclear arsenal nor drastically reduce its size. In essence, the U.S. was able to maintain its nuclear advantage and status in the world. The world as a whole is likely safer with fewer nuclear powers though would be even safer with fewer warheads of lesser sophistication (perhaps even for the US and not just the world collectively).

3. Global Warming
The US as the most industrialized country in the world and the greatest polluter. As such, we unequivocally have the moral obligation to be the World's leader on this issue. Instead, the US is dragging its feet and is the worlds chief laggard. This issue is one of human rights and freedom as people all over the world suffer from climate change; it is also an issue of democracy as the world looks to us asking that we make a greater difference (which we ignore).

4 The United Nations
Democracy is premised by one person, one vote, equal say, equal treatment. A theme throughout these issues is a disregard for global governance in a globalized world in which our actions affect people and nations on six continents. To be Chinese, Iraqi or Columbian citizen and request a quarter-vote in out upcoming presidential election is far less absurd than you might imagine. Short of that occurring, those citizens must rely on the United Nations. Our support of democracy must extend to greater respect for the UN.


If Condoleezza Rice and the United States want to make a true commitment to our ideals, we must not only look abroad to advance them but also look within. As we take the stance that promotion of our ideals will only advance our national interest, we must ask, Will internally following our ideals further national interest? If so, then do so internally and have moral authority to promote abroad. If not, then cease claiming that our ideals and interest are complement each other.

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