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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Jul 29th 2022
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Jul 29th 2022
EXTRACTS: "Right-wing media outlets including Fox News, One America News (OAN), Newsmax, and talk radio are grossly abusing the right to free speech and are causing profound, if not irreparable damage to our country at home and abroad. They have been engaged in these deliberate practices of spreading poisonous misinformation all in the name of free speech." ---- "A team at MIT, analyzing propaganda techniques in the news, underscores the use of logical fallacies – such as strawmen (the misrepresentation of the other’s position), red herrings (the provision of irrelevancies), false dichotomies (offering two alternatives as the only possibilities), and whataboutism (a diversionary tactic to avoid directly addressing an issue). ---- Whataboutism is worth considering more closely because it is becoming ubiquitous among Republicans – perhaps this is not surprising given that it is certainly Trump’s “favorite dodge.” It is one of the fundamental rules by which he operates: when you are criticized, say that someone else is worse. In an interview with Trump, Bill O’Reilly states the obvious fact that “Putin is a killer,” and who can forget Trump’s response: “There are a lot of killers. You got a lot of killers. What, you think our country is so innocent?” That is classic whataboutism. And it is also of course all over Fox News’ most popular line-up."
Jul 24th 2022
EXTRACTS: "For three hours, against the unequivocal advice of his counsel, friends, and family, Trump purposefully and steadfastly declined to give the mob he had summoned any signal to disperse, to exit the building peacefully, or to simply cease threatening the life of his vice president or other members of Congress." ------ "Trump is corrupt to the core, a traitor who deserves nothing but contempt and to spend the rest of his life behind bars because he remains a menace to this country and an existential threat to our democratic institutions."
Jul 21st 2022
EXTRACT: "For some countries, diasporas also are not new. Just ask the Russians. For three-quarters of a century, Stalin’s NKVD and its successor, the KGB, kept close tabs on expatriate Russians, constantly worrying about the threat they might pose. And now, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s security service, the FSB, is continuing the tradition. According to recent FSB estimates, almost four million Russians left the country in the first three months of this year. Obviously, FSB statistics are hard to verify. But the sheer magnitude of this year’s departures is striking."
Jul 20th 2022
EXTRACTS: "We need leaders who will be honest about our problems in the short, medium, and long term. We are becoming poorer than our neighbors, with our per capita growth and productivity lagging behind theirs. We confront surging energy prices, soaring inflation, and public-sector strikes. Our fiscal deficit is uncomfortably high. Our influence is diminished. Far from recognizing these challenges, let alone proposing sensible solutions, the candidates to succeed Johnson are trying to win votes with reckless proposals like ever-larger tax cuts." ----- "There is one exception. Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak refuses to abandon the notion that expenditure should bear some relationship to revenue. "
Jul 13th 2022
EXTRACT: "Looking ahead, five factors could make today’s energy crisis even worse. First, Putin has opened a second front in the conflict by cutting back on the contracted volumes of natural gas that Russia supplies to Europe. The goal is to prevent Europeans from storing enough supplies for next winter, and to drive prices higher, creating economic hardship and political discord. In his speech in June at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, Putin made his reasoning clear: “Social and economic problems worsening in Europe” will “split their societies” and “inevitably lead to populism … and a change of the elites in the short term.” ...... As it is, Germany is now anticipating the need for gas rationing, and its minister for economic affairs, Robert Habeck, warns of a “Lehman-style contagion” (referring to the 2008 financial crisis) if Europe cannot manage today’s energy-induced economic disruptions."
Jul 5th 2022
EXTRACT: "Fortunately, I am not alone in claiming that the survival of democracy in the US is gravely endangered. The American public has been aroused by the decision overturning Roe. But people need to recognize that decision for what it is: part of a carefully laid plan to turn the US into a repressive regime. We must do everything we can to prevent that. This fight ought to include many people who voted for Trump in the past."
Jul 2nd 2022
EXTRACT: "The Israeli philosopher Avishai Margalit described this succinctly in his book On Compromise and Rotten Compromises. In “politics as economics,” material interests are “subject to bargaining, everything is negotiable, whereas in the religious picture, centered on the idea of the holy, the holy is non-negotiable.” This, then, is why politics in the US is now in such a perilous state. More and more, the secular left and the religious right are engaged in a culture war, revolving around sexuality, gender, and race, where politics is no longer negotiable. When that happens, institutions start breaking down, and the stage is set for charismatic demagogues and the politics of violence."
Jul 2nd 2022
EXTRACT: "...EU enlargement is essentially a political decision by member states, based on a multitude of considerations that sometimes include dramatic events. Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine is such a turning point."
Jun 29th 2022
EXTRACT: "Most market analysts seem to think that central banks will remain hawkish, but I am not so sure. I have argued that they will eventually wimp out and accept higher inflation – followed by stagflation – once a hard landing becomes imminent, because they will be worried about the damage of a recession and a debt trap, owing to an excessive build-up of private and public liabilities after years of low interest rates." ----- "There is ample reason to believe that the next recession will be marked by a severe stagflationary debt crisis. As a share of global GDP, private and public debt levels are much higher today than in the past, having risen from 200% in 1999 to 350% today (with a particularly sharp increase since the start of the pandemic). Under these conditions, rapid normalization of monetary policy and rising interest rates will drive highly leveraged zombie households, companies, financial institutions, and governments into bankruptcy and default."
Jun 28th 2022
EXTRACT: "It is tempting to conclude that today’s central bankers are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Maybe if they sit tight, they will ride out the storm. Then-Fed Chair Paul Volcker was Public Enemy Number One in the United States in the early 1980s, when he squeezed post-oil-shock inflation out of the system with double-digit interest rates. But in his later years he was revered, and became a national treasure, called on to advise successive presidents in any financial emergency. ----- But central bankers would be wise not to assume that their reputations will automatically recover, and that the status quo ante will be restored. We live in a more disputatious age than the 1980s. Public institutions are more regularly challenged and held to account by far less reverential legislators." ----- "Moreover, former central bankers have joined the chorus of critics. Former Fed Chair Ben Bernanke, breaking the unwritten rule not to reproach one’s successors, has said that today’s Fed made “a mistake” by responding slowly to inflation. And Bailey’s immediate predecessors, Mervyn King and Mark Carney, have weighed in, too, with challenges to the BOE’s policy. The fabric of the central banking fraternity is fraying."
Jun 25th 2022
EXTRACT: "Public opinion in Belarus remains firmly against involvement into the war with Ukraine. Moreover, according to a Chatham House survey, 40% of Belarusians do not support Russia’s war, compared to 32% who do, while around half of those questioned see predominately negative consequences of the war for Belarus (53%) and for themselves (48%). The Belarusian military and security services are also aware of the determined and skilful resistance that Ukrainian forces have put up against Russia and the risks that they would therefore be running if they entered the war against Ukraine. This, in turn, means that the risk to Lukashenko himself remains that he might lose his grip on power, a grip which depends heavily on the loyalty of his armed forces." ---- "Ultimately, Belarus may not be on the brink of being plunged into war quite yet, but its options to avoid such a disaster are narrowing."
Jun 20th 2022
EXTRACT: "Russification (the policy of enforcing Russian culture on populations) appears to be being reinforced by ethnic cleansing. Last month the Ukrainian parliament’s commissioner for human rights, Liudmyla Denisova, informed the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, that 1.3 million Ukrainians, including 223,000 children, had been forcibly deported to Russia."
Jun 11th 2022
EXTRACT: "If Trump had his way, then Vice-President Pence would have also broken his oath to the constitution and derailed the certification of electoral votes. Our continued existence as a Republic might very well have hung on Pence’s actions that day. The mob’s response was to call for Pence to be hanged, and a noose and scaffold was erected apparently for that very purpose. What was Trump’s reaction when he was told that the mob was calling for Pence’s summary execution? His words were: “Maybe our supporters have the right idea.” Mike Pence “deserves” it."
Jun 10th 2022
EXTRACTS: "Speaking to journalist Sophie Raworth on the BBC’s Sunday Morning show recently, former war crimes prosecutor Sir Howard Morrison, now an advisor to the Ukraine government, highlighted the dangers posed by the negative – often insulting and dehumanising – statements made by some Russian politicians and media personalities about Ukraine and its people." ---- "The conditions and attitudes described by Morrison have existed for centuries: Russians have viewed Ukrainians as inferior since before the Soviet era." ----- "And, as Morrison said, stereotyping and denigrating a people as inferior or lacking agency makes atrocities and looting more likely to happen, as we are seeing in Ukraine."
Jun 9th 2022
EXTRACT: "Unless Russia realises that the west is willing and able to push back, a new, stable security order in Europe will not be possible. Concessions to Russia, by Ukraine or the EU and Nato, are not the way to achieve this. That this has been realised beyond Ukraine’s most ardent supporters in the Baltic states, Poland, the UK and the US is clear from German support for strengthening Nato’s northern flank and a general increase in Nato members’ defence spending."
Jun 8th 2022
EXTRACT: "Highly civilized people can turn into barbarians when demagogues and dictators exploit their fears and trigger their most atavistic instincts. Rape, torture, and massacres often happen when soldiers invade foreign countries. Commanding officers sometimes actively encourage such behavior to terrorize an enemy into submission. And sometimes it occurs when the officer corps loses control and discipline breaks down. Japanese and Germans know this, as do Serbs, Koreans, Americans, Russians, and many others."
Jun 1st 2022
EXTRACTS: "Like Metternich, Kissinger commits the fatal error of believing that a few wise policymakers can impose their will on the world. Worse, he believes they can halt domestically generated change and the power of nationalism. Many years ago, this is what Senator William Fulbright termed the “arrogance of power.” This approach failed in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. It is also doomed to fail in Russia and Ukraine." ------ "Not surprisingly, Kissinger misunderstands Russia. He appears to believe that, because Russia has been an “essential part of Europe” for over four centuries, it is therefore fated to remain so for the foreseeable future.The claim is completely at odds with history." ---- "Finally, Kissinger misunderstands the implications of his own analysis for Western relations with Russia. “We are facing,” he said, “a situation now where Russia could alienate itself completely from Europe and seek a permanent alliance elsewhere." ---- "But what’s so bad about Russia’s isolating itself from Europe and becoming a vassal state of China? "
Jun 1st 2022
EXTRACTS: "According to the latest figures from China’s National Bureau of Statistics, China’s population grew from 1.41212 billion to just 1.41260 billion in 2021 – a record low increase of just 480,000, a mere fraction of the annual growth of eight million or so common a decade ago." ----- "China’s total fertility rate (births per woman) was 2.6 in the late 1980s – well above the 2.1 needed to replace deaths. It has been between 1.6 and 1.7 since 1994, and slipped to 1.3 in 2020 and just 1.15 in 2021."
Jun 1st 2022
EXTRACTS: "Casualties are very high. A very conservative estimate of overall Russian losses is that they have lost more troops killed since February 24 than in ten years of fighting in Afghanistan. This implies well over 40,000 men taken out of the fight, including the wounded." ----- "Away from the cauldron of Donbas, Belarus has been rattling its somewhat rusty sabre by deploying troops to its border with Ukraine. This is unlikely to trouble Kyiv. The Belarus president, Alexander Lukashenko, is well aware that he may need them at home to shore up his shaky regime."