The United States of America: The great satan or beacon of democracy?

Jun 18, 2023
Double exposure image of the Statue of Liberty and the American flag.

Since Australia has mortgaged its future to this nation it is worth debating the matter.

The preambles to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution as statement of ideals are inspiring but the reality is far from these ideals. It is true that the Americans fought a civil war partly based on abolition of slavery but three quarters of a century after landmark civil rights legislation, only one percent of CEOs are black. Anyone who has lived in Washington metropolitan area and travelled on the red line of the metro can attest to the racial divide. Travelling from the affluent suburbs of Bethesda to the city, the clientele is predominantly white. The train loops through the city and back into the poorer suburbs of Maryland where the passengers are mostly black and visibly poorer.

America’s actions post World War II were impressive. The Marshall plan and similar actions in relation to Japan were instrumental in converting the vanquished enemy into staunch allies. The Bretton Woods Institutions, The United Nations, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund have benefited the world (but then I am biased having spent seventeen years of my life working for the World Bank). Each have their critics, but there are few among the developing nations that have benefited from their programs that would not agree. The more advanced countries have been able to borrow money from the World Bank on similar terms as to wealthier nations. The less developed have qualified for highly concessional credits or even grants. Similarly, IMF support has saved many nations from bankruptcy.

Yet these institutions are not perfect and still bear some of the stains from their inception:

The United Nations: The General Assembly is representative but the Security Council with the victors of World War as permanent members is not; it is dated and there seems no way of rectifying the situation.

Similarly, the World Bank is hampered by the unwritten rule that the president should be American. Efforts have been made to correct this with a Korean American and an Indian American occupying the posts for two of the last three appointments. But in the process the brilliant Nigerian Ngozi Oconjo Iweala lost out to the detriment of the Bank. Also, the World Bank has become more bureaucratic and overly concerned with reputational risk. Reviewing recent project documents of the World Bank and China led Asia infrastructure Bank, the latter’s approach is more in keeping with present day norms.

IMF: This institution must be respected for its rigour but it has faced many criticisms too numerous to list here. I side with Joseph Stiglitz the Nobel Prise winning economist and former chief economist of the World Bank who maintained that conditionality “was reflecting the interests and ideology of the Western financial community.”

Post war the Kennedy’s (sons of wealth) grew into the job. As Jeffrey Sachs pointed out in Pearls & Irritations, John Kennedy, having stood up to most of his cabinet and the generals who favoured nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis, in his short presidency was a peace maker. Some people say that Robert Kennedy was even more so and Edward Kennedy after the events of Chappaquiddick redeemed himself in later life. Those who deserve honourable mention are Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton (for their efforts attempting to achieve “Peace in the Middle East”), George Mitchell and John Kerry for his work on the JPOA and current environmental credentials.

Perhaps, the greatest criticisms of the USA are of its self-appointed responsibilities as the world’s policeman. While this may have had had some positive consequences, the overwhelming view is that this has been detrimental to international stability. The US has been at war for ninety four percent of time since independence and involved in the de-stabilisation and overthrow of governments that do not share its version of democracy. Possibly, the most egregious demonstration of this is in relation to the events leading up to the invasion of Iraq. During the Iran-Iraq war, American hatred of Iran, emanating from the Iranian revolution was such that Rumsfeld and Cheney (who later became key proponents of war with Iraq) backed Saddam Hussein on the principle that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. When Iraq invaded Kuwait, possibly based on incorrect advice from American Ambassador April Glaspie, the USS expelled Saddam from Kuwait but left troops stationed in Saudi Arabia. The continued presence of American troops on Saudi land then led to the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the second Iraq war with the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives and instability in Iraq which has lasted to the present.

Vietnam is another instance of the US’s straying far from its own borders this time drawn in by Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies, an unfortunate precedent since Australia has been drawn into later wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and now Ukraine. Again, hundreds of thousands of lives were lost this time both American, Australian and Vietnamese before America realised its folly and retreated in disarray.

While considering America’s actions on the international stage they must be condemned for continued support to Israel despite its actions towards Palestine in the land that it occupies (largely because of the influential Jewish lobby) and towards Cuba because of the influential Cuban lobby in Florida.

One often hears that Franklin Roosevelt was one of the greatest American presidents and that is probably true. But let us not forget that the New Deal was in response to the Great Depression, which originated in America and had disastrous effects internationally including Australia. In later years there have been several financial meltdowns each originating in the US and resulting from inadequate regulation. The exceptions are the Asian financial crisis and the oil crises originating in Arab states. Currently, Australia and most of the world are experiencing inflation which can be largely blamed on the Ukraine War precipitated by the US.

Associated with the self-appointed role as the World’s policeman, according to Al Jazeera, America controls more than 750 bases in eighty countries and spends more on its military than the next ten countries combined. Global US military deployment data published in the Conflict Management and Peace Science Journal, indicate that the US had around 173,000 troops deployed in 159 countries as of 2020. In Australia according to the same source, there are seven bases and 1,085 troops. It seems we are already a US dominion.

The claims that the US is morally bankrupt have credence. The country is polarised between hard right extremists on the one hand (characterised by the events of January 6, 2021) and others who claim to be liberal but in practice are not so liberal. It is difficult to say which version of America, Australia is signing up with. According to Gun Violence Archive (GVA), 2021 became the worst year for mass shootings since GVA began tracking them in 2013, with 690 shootings across 44 states and Washington, DC. The continued lack of action on gun control despite the daily reports of mass shootings based on the flimsy excuse of the second amendment is appalling. Lobbying by the National Rifle association is largely responsible. Opponents to gun control take the second amendment out of context; it actually states: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

In conclusion, it must be acknowledged that the high moral stature that the US adopts is unfounded in recent years. More to the point Australia does not know which version of the United States it will be dealing with. Even, the better versions are not attractive.

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