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

Sep 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "That long path, though, has from the start had within it one fundamental flaw. If we are to make sense of wider global trends in insecurity, we have to recognise that in all the analysis around the 9/11 anniversary there lies the belief that the main security concern must be with an extreme version of Islam. It may seem a reasonable mistake, given the impact of the wars, but it still misses the point. The war on terror is better seen as one part of a global trend which goes well beyond a single religious tradition – a slow but steady move towards revolts from the margins."
Sep 11th 2021
EXTRACTS: "Is it not extraordinary that in a country that claims to be as enlightened and advanced as ours, the combined wealth of three individuals – Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and investor Warren Buffett – exceeds the total wealth of the bottom half of Americans? One has to return to the days of the pharaohs of Egypt to find a parallel to the extreme wealth inequality that we see in in America today." ...... "The top tax rate remained above 90 percent through the 1950s and did not dip below 70 percent until 1981. At no point during the decades that saw America’s greatest economic growth did the tax on the wealthy drop below 70 percent. Today it is somewhere around 37 percent. President Biden’s American Families Plan would increase the top tax rate to 39.6 percent – a fairly modest alteration, albeit in the right direction. It is true that there was a time when the top marginal tax was even lower than it is today: in the years leading up to the Great Depression it hovered around 25 percent."
Sep 7th 2021
EXTRACT: "But Biden can’t be blamed for the rise of the Taliban, or the fragile state of a country that has seen far too many wars and invasions. The US should not have been there in the first place, but that is a lesson that great powers never seem to learn."
Sep 4th 2021
EXTRACT: "The world is only starting to grapple with how profound the artificial-intelligence revolution will be. AI technologies will create waves of progress in critical infrastructure, commerce, transportation, health, education, financial markets, food production, and environmental sustainability. Successful adoption of AI will drive economies, reshape societies, and determine which countries set the rules for the coming century." ----- "AI will reorganize the world and change the course of human history. The democratic world must lead that process."
Sep 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Although the Fed is considering tapering its quantitative easing (QE), it will likely remain dovish and behind the curve overall. Like most central banks, it has been lured into a “debt trap” by the surge in private and public liabilities (as a share of GDP) in recent years. Even if inflation stays higher than targeted, exiting QE too soon could cause bond, credit, and stock markets to crash. That would subject the economy to a hard landing, potentially forcing the Fed to reverse itself and resume QE." ---- "After all, that is what happened between the fourth quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019, following the Fed’s previous attempt to raise rates and roll back QE."
Sep 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Today’s economic challenges are certainly solvable, and there is no reason why inflation should have to spike."
Aug 27th 2021
EXTRACT: "To be sure, they have focused on their agenda, which is totally misguided—not by our own account but by the account of the majority of the American population, who view the Republican party as one that has lost its moral footing to the detriment of America’s future generations, who must now inherit the ugly consequences of a party that ran asunder."
Aug 21st 2021
EXTRACTS: "Now that so many sad truths about Afghanistan are being spoken aloud, even in the major media – let me add one more: The war, from start to finish, was about politics, not in Afghanistan but in the United States. Afghanistan was always a sideshow."--- "....the 2001 invasion was fast and apparently decisive. And so it rescued George W. Bush’s tainted presidency,..." --- "Bush’s approval shot up to 90% and then steadily declined,..."
Aug 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "The Taliban’s virtually uncontested takeover over Afghanistan raises obvious questions about the wisdom of US President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw US and coalition forces from the country. Paradoxically, however, the rapidity and ease of the Taliban’s advance only reaffirms that Biden made the right decision – and that he should not reverse course. ...... The ineffectiveness and collapse of Afghanistan’s military and governing institutions largely substantiates Biden’s skepticism that US-led efforts to prop up the government in Kabul would ever enable it to stand on its own feet. The international community has spent nearly 20 years, many thousands of lives, and trillions of dollars to do good by Afghanistan – taking down al-Qaeda; beating back the Taliban; supporting, advising, training, and equipping the Afghan military; bolstering governing institutions; and investing in the country’s civil society. .... Significant progress was made, but not enough." ....... "That is because the mission was fatally flawed from the outset. It was a fool’s errand to try to turn Afghanistan into a centralized, unitary state. "
Aug 6th 2021
EXTRACT: "But even in the US, which is more lenient than most countries, the principle cannot be absolute. Inciting imminent violence is not permitted. Donald Trump’s speech on January 6, urging the mob to storm the US Capitol, certainly came close to overstepping this boundary. It was a clear demonstration that language can be dangerous. What the internet media has done is raise the stakes; “fighting words” are spread around much faster and more widely than ever before. This will require a great deal of vigilance, to protect our freedom to express ourselves, while observing the social and legal bounds that stop words from turning into actual fighting. "
Jul 27th 2021
EXTRACT: "When it comes to the Chinese economy, I have been a congenital optimist for over 25 years. But now I have serious doubts. The Chinese government has taken dead aim at its dynamic technology sector, the engine of China’s New Economy. Its recent actions are symptomatic of a deeper problem: the state’s efforts to control the energy of animal spirits." ---- "... the Chinese economy, no less than others, still requires a foundation of trust – trust in the consistency of leadership priorities, in transparent governance, and in wise regulatory oversight – to flourish. --- Modern China lacks this foundation of trust ."
Jul 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "It seems that they are, as the last 18 months have seen a remarkable expansion of the central banks’ fields of activity, largely driven by their own ambitions. So they have moved into the climate change arena, arguing that financial stability may be put at risk by rising temperatures, and that central banks, as bond purchasers and as banking supervisors, can and should be proactive in raising the cost of credit for corporations without a credible transition plan. That is a promising new line of business, which is likely to grow. ---- Central banks are also trying to move into social engineering, specifically the policy response to rising income and wealth inequality, another hot button topic with high political salience."
Jul 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "The EU’s ambitious unilateral climate strategy will transform Europe into a trade fortress, encourage green protectionism worldwide, and give other regions the opportunity to develop using cheaper energy. And without China, India, and the United States on board, other countries will be careful not to follow the EU in its self-appointed role as the world’s green guinea pig. If Europe is not careful, it will risk finding itself in a climate club of one. "
Jul 9th 2021
EXTRACT: ".... ruminants belch and fart methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas. As a result, rearing beef cattle brings about, on average, six times the contribution to global warming as non-ruminant animals (for example, pigs) producing the same quantity of protein. ..... if projected to 2050 [beef production], would use 87% of the total quantity of emissions that is compatible with the Paris climate agreement’s objective of staying below a 2° Celsius increase in temperature."
Jul 8th 2021
EXTRACT: " .... while China’s leaders never mention it, they are just as embittered over Russia’s theft of Chinese territory in the nineteenth century as they are over the West’s imperial predations. With Western imperialism having been largely rolled back, it is Russia’s continued occupation of historic Chinese territory that stands out the most to ordinary Chinese observers. For example, the city of Vladivostok, with its vast naval base, has been a part of Russia only since 1860, when the tsars built a military harbor there. Before that, the city was known by the Manchu name of Haishenwai." ---- "There is also a demographic argument for Putin to consider: the six million Russians spread along the Siberian border face 90 million Chinese on the other side. And many of these Chinese regularly cross the border into Russia to trade (and a good number to stay)."
Jul 7th 2021
EXTRACTS: "According to a new analysis by researchers at Brown University, America’s two-decade war in Afghanistan cost it nearly $2.3 trillion. Now, Afghanistan’s neighbors – Pakistan, Iran, China, India, and the Central Asian countries – are wondering just how much it will cost them to maintain security after the United States is gone." ----- "After clandestinely supporting the Taliban as a means to undermine the US war effort, Russia now fears broader destabilization in Central Asia and beyond." ---- "Similarly, after having made nice with the Taliban, China also now fears the greater regional instability that the US withdrawal may incite. In addition to disrupting Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Eurasia-spanning Belt and Road Initiative, a revitalized Taliban could re-energize the Islamist extremist threat in China’s western Xinjiang province."
Jul 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "When former Fed Chair Paul Volcker hiked rates to tackle inflation in 1980-82, the result was a severe double-dip recession in the United States and a debt crisis and lost decade for Latin America. But now that global debt ratios are almost three times higher than in the early 1970s, any anti-inflationary policy would lead to a depression, rather than a severe recession. ---- Under these conditions, central banks will be damned if they do and damned if they don’t, and many governments will be semi-insolvent and thus unable to bail out banks, corporations, and households. The doom loop of sovereigns and banks in the eurozone after the global financial crisis will be repeated worldwide, sucking in households, corporations, and shadow banks as well. ---- As matters stand, this slow-motion train wreck looks unavoidable."
Jun 19th 2021
EXTRACT: "Xi Jinping’s call for friendship gives us an opportunity to examine Chinese politics on both the domestic and international stage. On the face of it, it suggests the possibility of rapprochement between the rich liberal democracies represented by the G7 and the authoritarian Chinese state. However, despite appearances of a call for a closer relationship, there is more than one way of being friends – and Xi’s idea might be somewhat different to what many in countries attending the G7 might expect."
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "China’s recently published census, showing that its population has almost stopped growing, brought warnings of severe problems for the country. “Such numbers make grim reading for the party,” reported The Economist. This “could have a disastrous impact on the country,” wrote Huang Wenzheng, a fellow at the Center for China and Globalization in Beijing, in the Financial Times. But a comment posted on China’s Weibo was more insightful. “The declining fertility rate actually reflects the progress in the thinking of Chinese people – women are no longer a fertility tool.” "
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: " I remember recounting fellow leaders of the story of a Rwanda schoolboy caught up in the genocide of the 1990s and now immortalized in the Kigali Genocide Memorial museum, where, in a section devoted to children, one can find his photograph and a plaque that reads: ----- David, age 11 ...... Ambition: to be a doctor ...... Favorite sport: football ...... Favorite hobby: making people laugh ...... Death: by mutilation ...... Last words: the UN are coming to save us ----- In his idealism and innocence, David believed the international community would save him and his mother. We didn’t. "