Sep 15th 2017

Is America Still A Beacon Of Light To Other Nations?

by Alon Ben-Meir

A noted journalist and author, Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is professor of international relations and Middle East studies at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University. Ben-Meir holds a masters degree in philosophy and a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University. His exceptional knowledge and insight, the result of more than 20 years of direct involvement in foreign affairs, with a focus on the Middle East, has allowed Dr. Ben-Meir to offer a uniquely invaluable perspective on the nature of world terrorism, conflict resolution and international negotiations. Fluent in Arabic and Hebrew, Ben-Meir's frequent travels to the Middle East and meetings with highly placed officials and academics in many Middle Eastern countries including Egypt, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Turkey provide him with an exceptionally nuanced level of awareness and insight into the developments surrounding breaking news. Ben-Meir often articulates

We do not need President Trump to tell us that he can make America great again. America is already great. The problem is that we are squandering our greatness by pursuing foreign and domestic policies that debase our moral authority and the values that made America great in the first place. We must change course, but for that we need leaders with vision, courage, and determination which is sorely lacking. The best and the brightest who can in fact chart a new path have become disillusioned with politics, making the prospect of renewal increasingly difficult. It is time for every American patriot to raise their voice and remind one another of what makes America a great nation and what it stands for.

The US Constitution is the backbone behind America’s greatness, and the preamble of the Constitution says it all. It declares that: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessing of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…”

Having lived in several countries in the Middle East and Europe, I know the meaning of discrimination and disdain—but here in the United States, no one is concerned about my religion, ethnicity, or sect. I am accepted for who I am today, and what I believe in and stand for.

This is the America I know–“the land of the free”–because for me the values that are enshrined in our Constitution is what makes America great. We must relentlessly protect these values to make America even greater, but we must first realize, however, what went wrong. Below, I present the ten most critical issues that America faces today; none are too difficult to overcome if we only will it.

The events in Charlottesville were a deeply troubling manifestation of bigotry and hate that became more pronounced with the election of President Trump. For a President to draw a moral equivalence between white supremacists, Nazis, and anti-Semites, and ordinary law-abiding citizens is beyond contempt. No, there are not good people among the racists who abuse their right to free speech to malign and threaten others only because of their different origin, sect, belief, or color.

America is “the land of the free,” and to preserve that we must not tolerate those who want to cleanse America of what made America a great nation—the ingathering of people from all corners of the world with their diverse cultural riches, resourcefulness, and creativity. They were embraced with open arms. This is the America I know, the land of the dreamers whose dreams often come true. We must allow no one to take that away from us.

Successive American Presidents promised, especially during their political campaigns, to fight against poverty, but they all failed. The divide between the rich and the poor is greater today than at any time in the past. The number of children living in poverty in 2015 was 14,500,000 and is growing. Millions suffer from malnutrition, perform poorly in schools, are exposed to drugs and violent crimes, and grow up angry, confused, and lost.

Instead of becoming constructive professional individuals that contribute to their community and the state, they become hopeless, jobless, and destitute–a liability rather than an asset. No, this is not the American dream. We must commit to lifting all from poverty because we can and have the resources to do it. No one should doubt American resolve–we have withstood the test of time, and we will continue to do so.

Thousands of little towns and villages far from urban centers are crumbling–successive administrations spoke ad nauseam about renewal, but renewal never came. Homes are dilapidated and crowded; young and old wander the street aimlessly. The old resign themselves to a meaningless life, passing time as time cruelly passes them. The young are despondent as they live a life of despair and desolation. Why can’t the wealthiest nation on Earth appropriate the necessary funding to restore such disintegrating places?

Why not allow the communities themselves to choose their own sustainable development projects that they can execute with outside expertise and government aid? The involvement of locals provides them with job opportunities, allows them to develop vested interests in their community, and feel empowered as human beings who can make a difference. This is a task that we must never abandon or neglect.

The healthcare system in America is broken because detached politicians never understood that healthcare is a human right. Every American, as former presidential contender Bernie Sanders eloquently articulated, has the inherent right to receive the medical care they need–and the government has the obligation to provide it. Whether it is done through the federal government or the state, no American should die because of inaccessibility to healthcare, go bankrupt as a result of high medical costs, or suffer from a curable disease.

Millions of Americans have no health insurance because they cannot afford it. We have and still are squandering hundreds of billions on foreign adventures, and much more is wasted on an inflated bureaucracy and the self-interest of officials who fight for their pet projects. There are many, like Sanders and his cohort, who look out to ensure a healthier America because this is and must be the American way.

We have become accustomed to legislative paralysis as if it were normal. Democrat and Republican leaders alike seem to view the other as rivals committed singularly to the presumed interest of their respective parties. They must be reminded that they represent all the people and are duty bound to cooperate and agree on any legislation that serves the American public. Years of deadlock in Congress point only to the ineptitude of so many Congress members whose blind ideological tenet is making them oblivious to what is good for America.

Collaboration between the parties produces better and consensual legislation that benefit all Americans. How else can we form “A more perfect union” when the zero-sum approach to politics and divisiveness reigns? America’s continuing greatness rests on leaders who put the nation’s and not their personal or party interests first–leaders befitting what America champions at home and abroad, discharging their responsibility with conviction and living up to the premise they were elected for.

Just the thought that America is the world’s leader in incarceration with more than 2,200,000 currently in prison (which represents an increase of 500 percent over the last 40 years) is simply unfathomable and unacceptable. The dramatic increase of the prison population is not related to proportionate increases in crime, but mostly related to changes in the sentencing laws that require mandatory incarceration even for petty crimes. As a result, prisons are overcrowded, becoming incubators of extremism and crime.

Nearly half of prisoners have not committed violent crimes. More than 470,000 are in jail for drug possession or abuse, and 12 percent for committing public disorder. Billions are spent on maintaining this prison system when nearly half of the prisoners could be discharged. We must invest much of the money saved in rehabilitation programs while providing them the opportunity to acquire a new profession, join the work force, and become an asset to their communities.

It is not a new phenomenon to constantly and consistently blame the media for spreading “fake news” as many officials, including the president, do so often to cover for their own shortcomings. But to use the media as a scapegoat not only undermines the freedom of the press, but subjects journalists and reporters to violent attacks by those who blindly follow their leaders. It is true that the revolution in social media made the reporting of deliberate fake news easier and more pervasive. This, however, does not suggest that all media outlets are engaged in the dissemination of fake news.

There are scores of responsible, credible, and public service-oriented media outlets that report the unfiltered truth regardless of where such reporting may lead to. This is the heart of the First Amendment. No one, including the holder of the highest office, can or should be allowed to violate this sacred right with impunity. The media’s scrutiny of public officials is essential to a functioning democracy, and America must guard and respect this “fourth branch of government” to perform their duty for the sake of all Americans.

Climate change is not a fiction–it is happening in front of our eyes, and much has been said about the indisputable scientific evidence that supports it. For me, however, given that the US is the second biggest polluter after China, it must take the lead and assume the responsibility to work hand-in-hand with the rest of the international community to combat climate change.

Just witness what happened during the last week alone: three huge hurricanes, a powerful earthquake, and wild fires and floods occurring simultaneously, inflicting damage at an unprecedented scale. To politicize climate change at the expense of the welfare and well-being of future generation is a crime—a crime against humanity. To withdraw from the Paris climate change accord is reckless, narrow-minded, and sinister. Even in doubt, America must be in the forefront to tackle the reality of global warming with its ominous implications for generations to come.

We have yet to learn a lesson from the Vietnam war, and it seems as if waging wars of choice became the American way. We invaded Iraq under false pretenses. There was no nuclear program or any nuclear facilities in Iraq. We toppled the government of Saddam Hussein, dismantled the army, internal security, and bureaucracy, and planted the seeds of civil war between the Sunnis and the Shiites which continues to rage 14 years later, giving rise to ISIS while destabilizing the entire region.

Nearly two trillion dollars were spent and 4500 American soldiers sacrificed their lives for an elusive goal along with hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. Syria was abandoned to the criminal whims of Iran and Russia while the world witnessed the slaughter of countless innocent civilians with equanimity. The longest war in Afghanistan continues unabated, and there is no end in sight. We toppled the Qaddafi government in Libya and forced Egypt’s President Mubarak out of power with the absurd notion of introducing democracy, disregarding the nature of their societies, cultures, and their political orientations. America cannot lead when it leaves chaos and instability in its wake.

Our foreign policy, which presumably is guided by our values and national interest, seems to be inconsistent and often counterproductive. Whereas we make supreme efforts to export our political system of democracy as if it were a panacea to cure all political ailments around the world, we cater to dictators–ruthless and brutal head of states who govern with an iron fist–and ally ourselves with corrupt regimes in the name of ‘national interest.’

Diplomacy and common sense seem to give way to bombastic militaristic rhetoric, leaving our friends and foes bewildered. Whatever happened to America’s leadership that much of the world needs? We simply cannot relinquish that role; we cannot abandon our moral responsibility, and we must never succumb to the caprices of anyone including the President. America has carved a special role in the world and it must now live up to it, because there is no other power that can replace America.

The greatest danger America faces today is not being attacked by North Korea or any other enemy who wishes ill for America. The danger is from within: Republicans vs. Democrats, rich vs. poor, the bigot vs. the law-abiding citizen, rampant discrimination, common human rights abuses (especially against minority groups), widening social inequality, and our leaders’ failure to do their duty as they became increasingly self-absorbed and indifferent about America’s future.

The embedded political, economic, cultural, military, and technological achievements of America remained unmatched. We must now rebuild on this strength and fight for America’s soul. This is what the American people want, and what the world expects from us.

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More Current Affairs

Dec 5th 2019
EXTRACT: "Europe must fend for itself for the first time since the end of World War II. Yet after so many years of strategic dependence the US, Europe is unprepared – not just materially but psychologically – for today’s harsh geopolitical realities. Nowhere is this truer than in Germany."
Nov 23rd 2019
Extdact: "The kind of gratitude expressed by Vindman and my grandfather is not something that would naturally occur to a person who can take his or her nationality for granted, or whose nationality is beyond questioning by others. Some who have never felt the sharp end of discrimination might even find it mildly offensive. Why should anyone be grateful for belonging to a particular nation? Pride, perhaps, but gratitude? In fact, patriotism based on gratitude might be the strongest form there is."
Nov 20th 2019
Extract: "Moody’s, one of the big three credit rating agencies, is not upbeat about the prospects for the world’s debt in 2020 – to put it mildly. If we were to try to capture the agency’s view of where we are heading on a palette of colours, we would be pointing at black – pitch black."
Nov 17th 2019
Extract: "Digital money is already a key battleground in finance, with technology firms, payment processing companies, and banks all vying to become the gateway into the burgeoning platform-based economy. The prizes that await the winners could be huge. In China, Alipay and WeChat Pay already control more than 90% of all mobile payments. And in the last three years, the four largest listed payment firms – Visa, Mastercard, Amex, and PayPal – have increased in value by more than the FAANGs (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google)."
Nov 14th 2019
Extract: "Trump, who understands almost nothing about governing, made a major mistake in attacking career public officials from the outset of his presidency. He underestimated – or just couldn’t fathom – the honor of people who could earn more in the private sector but believe in public service. And he made matters worse for himself as well as for the government by creating a shadow group – headed by the strangely out-of-control Rudy Giuliani, once a much-admired mayor of New York City, and now a freelance troublemaker serving as Trump’s personal attorney – to impose the president’s Ukraine policy over that of “the bureaucrats.” "
Nov 4th 2019
Extract: "Trump displays repeated and persistent behaviours consistent with narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder. These behaviours include craving for adulation, lack of empathy, aggression and vindictiveness towards opponents, addiction to lying, and blatant disregard for rules and conventions, among others." The concern is that leaders with these two disorders may be incapable of putting the interests of the country ahead of their own personal interests. Their compulsive lying may make rational action impossible and their impulsiveness may make them incapable of the forethought and planning necessary to lead the country. They lack empathy and are often motivated by rage and revenge, and could make quick decisions that could have profoundly dangerous consequences for democracy.
Oct 31st 2019
EXTRACT: "......let’s see what happens when we have less money for all the things we want to do as a country and as individuals. Promises and predictions regarding Brexit will soon be tested against reality. When they are, I wouldn’t want to be one of Johnson’s Brexiteers."
Oct 21st 2019
EXTRACT: "Were Israel to be attacked with the same precision and sophistication as the strike on Saudi Arabia, the Middle East would be plunged into war on a scale beyond anything it has experienced so far. Sadly (but happily for Russian President Vladimir Putin), that is the reality of a world in which the US has abandoned any pretense of global leadership."
Oct 20th 2019
EXTRACT: "Europe also stands to lose from Trump’s abandonment of the Kurds. If, in the ongoing chaos, the thousands of ISIS prisoners held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces escape – as some already have – America’s estranged European allies will suffer. Yet Trump is unconcerned. “Well, they are going to be escaping to Europe, that’s where they want to go,” he remarked casually at a press conference. “They want to go back to their homes." "
Oct 15th 2019
EXTRACT: "Assuming the House ultimately votes to impeach Trump, the fact remains that there are far fewer votes in the Senate than will be needed to convict him and remove him from office. But the willingness of Congress – including the Senate – to continue tolerating his dangerous conduct in office, including threats to US national security, is now truly in question."
Oct 7th 2019
EXTRACT: "The problem didn't start with the election of Donald Trump. Nor did it begin with the Democrats launching an impeachment inquiry against Trump. This is a developing crisis that has been growing like a cancer within our polity for at least the past 25 years. Its main symptoms are a lack of civility in our political discourse, a "take no prisoners" mindset, and a denial of the very legitimacy of "the other side." Trump didn't create this crisis; he was the result of it.   When Newt Gingrich took the helm of Congress in 1995, unlike previous Republican leaders, he embarked on a campaign not only to obstruct the efforts of then President Clinton, but to destroy him. Congress launched a series of investigations accusing Clinton of everything from corruption to obstruction of justice – with hints of even more nefarious plots to assassinate those who might pose a problem to his presidency.  "
Oct 4th 2019
EXTRACT: "As the story spreads, it grows darker. Meanwhile, Trump is trying to learn the identity of the whistleblower (who is protected by law), which could expose that person to great danger. And he is accusing some people – including Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee – of treason. My sense is that Trump fears the tough, focused Schiff. Trump has ominously noted that traitors used to be shot or hanged. And he hasn’t helped himself with members of either party by declaring, in one of his hundreds of febrile tweets, that forcing him from office could lead to a “civil war.” Trump has taken the United States somewhere it’s never been before. His presidency may not survive it."
Sep 24th 2019
EXTRACT: "But regardless of whether the Ukraine scandal remains front-page news, it will haunt the US intelligence community, which has been Trump’s bête noire since the day he took office. Trump has relentlessly attacked US intelligence agencies, cozied up to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and divulged secrets to foreign officials, potentially burning high-value sources. This behavior had already raised serious concerns about whether Trump can be trusted to receive sensitive intelligence at all. Now, intelligence leaders must ask themselves how far they are willing to go in toeing the White House line."
Sep 21st 2019
EXTRACT: "As Lobaczewski pointed out, pathological leaders tend to attract other people with psychological disorders. At the same time, empathetic and fair-minded people gradually fall away. They are either ostracised or step aside voluntarily, appalled by the growing pathology around them.......As a result, over time pathocracies become more entrenched and extreme. You can see this process in the Nazi takeover of the German government in the 1930s, when Germany moved from democracy to pathocracy in less than two years.......In the US, there has clearly been a movement towards pathocracy under Trump. As Lobaczewski’s theory predicts, the old guard of more moderate White House officials – the “adults in the room” – has fallen away. The president is now surrounded by individuals who share his authoritarian tendencies and lack of empathy and morality. Fortunately, to some extent, the democratic institutions of the US have managed to provide some push back."
Sep 16th 2019
EXTRACT: "If the Supreme Court does agree with the Divisional Court that the question is political rather than legal, it will take the UK constitution into quite peculiar territory. Prime ministers will be the new kings and queens. They will be free to suspend parliament at will, and for as long as they wish, without any judicial interference. Parliament will meet not out of constitutional necessity but in the service of the government’s interests – namely, to pass its legislation and to maintain appearances, rather than to hold it to account."
Sep 12th 2019
Extract: "The Republican Party has lashed its fate to an increasingly unhinged leader. Though three other presidential hopefuls for 2020 now stand in Trump’s way, none can defeat him. But they can damage his reelection effort, which is why the Republican Party has been scrapping some primaries and caucuses. How well Trump does in November next year may well depend on how his fragile ego withstands the coming months."
Sep 2nd 2019
EXTRACTS: "Most people think of revolutions as sudden earthquakes or volcanic eruptions that come without warning and sweep away an entire political system. But historians, political scientists, and even the odd politician know that the reality is very different: revolutions happen when systems hollow themselves out, or simply rot from within. Revolutionaries can then brush aside established norms of behavior, or even of truth, as trivialities that should not impede the popular will............ Only time will tell whether we are currently witnessing the hollowing out of British democracy. But Prime Minister Boris Johnson may well have crossed some invisible Rubicon by.......... Whatever happens now, British parliamentary democracy may never be the same again. It will certainly never again be the model that so many people around the world once admired."
Aug 29th 2019
EXTRACT: "Events such as prorogations and dissolutions happen when countries face difficult times. Therefore, because of the disastrous effects of Brexit: sterling in freefall; a recession looming on the horizon and Britain’s international standing at its lowest ebb since Suez, it is no surprise that the country is in this position now. The worrying thing is that using the monarchical power of prorogation does not solve problems – it has a history of turning them into frightening and often violent crises. There is a worrying relationship between the use of such powers and a complete breakdown in government."
Aug 28th 2019
EXTRACT: "Reminiscent of Don Quixote, Trump is tilting at windmills. His administration is flailing at antiquated perceptions of the Old China that only compound the problems it claims to be addressing. Financial markets are starting to get a sense that something is awry. So, too, is the Federal Reserve. Meanwhile, the global economy is fraying at the edges. The US has never been an oasis in such treacherous periods. I doubt if this time is any different. 
Aug 24th 2019
EXTRACT: "In fact, with firms in the US, Europe, China, and other parts of Asia having reined in capital expenditures, the global tech, manufacturing, and industrial sector is already in a recession. The only reason why that hasn’t yet translated into a global slump is that private consumption has remained strong. Should the price of imported goods rise further as a result of any of these negative supply shocks, real (inflation-adjusted) disposable household income growth would take a hit, as would consumer confidence, likely tipping the global economy into a recession."