US of Arrogance

By Paul Wapner
Published: Thursday 15 January 2004

US of Arrogance

These are tough times to be a 'good' American. After the attacks of 9/11, the us got the sympathies of the world. Unfortunately, due to arrogance and recklessness, it squandered the good feelings and today stands alone, with its attitude towards world politics. Since the country has predominant military and economic power, it sees no reason to accept any limitations on its activities. It will work with others when its interests are at stake; it will strike out when it can't get others to follow along. This was apparent when the Bush administration formed the so-called 'coalition of the willing' to fight the Iraq war, where 'will' was defined as willingness to tow the us line. It was also evident when the us walked out of the climate change convention. The conceited attitude of the us was, most recently, evident in the way it bullied the wto to continue subsidies given to us farmers and other producers. Discontinuation of the subsidies would bring a modicum of fairness and equity to the world trade arrangements.

While it is certainly difficult to witness this from outside the us, I assure you that it is also painful to watch it from within the country. It is embarrassing to see the us ride roughshod over international laws. It is distressing to see the Bush administration strip off civil liberties in the name of fighting terrorism, roll back environmental laws to suit the interests of the industry, reward the rich for being rich through huge tax breaks and rob the future of the country by building the largest deficit in the us history. It is difficult being an American these days because the Right has so outmaneuvered the Left that many of us have given up mounting political opposition, having chosen wait out the present administration. Environmental and other progressive groups have been so systematically shut out of policy circles that there seems to be no room to shift or even engage in setting the country's agenda. Tragically, the Democrats have proved spineless. Where can the Americans turn for help?

For a while, some European nations and Russia provided a ray of hope. Their almost uniform opposition to the Iraq war undermined the legitimacy of the us actions. Unfortunately, their stand failed to translate into a long-term political pressure. European nations and Russia are now lining up behind the us to win back favour. At Cancun, the eu supported Washington's programme to pursue bilateral trade agreements and keep unfair subsidies. It even tried to force the South to follow suit. Russia is now bowing to the us pressure and is, therefore, hesitant about ratifying the climate convention. Europe and Russia are certainly unwilling to confront the us now. One wonders if they ever will.

Thus the 'burden of countering' the us and pursuing global equity and justice, falls yet again on the South. Cancun saw the emergence of the solidarity between the governments of the South and the people of the world. The union -- a coalition of the willing but not the able -- is important if not promising. The world order is not only dependent on economic and military strength but also on legitimacy. This solidarity can and must grow. The Bush administration, ironically, is doing much to help this happen. Its domestic and foreign policies reek of selfishness and increasingly blind power. As people, both in the us and the rest of the nations, continue to bear the brunt of these policies, they will be looking for forces that are able to provide political vehicles for resistance. Southern governments and global civil society can play a crucial role in providing a home for these people and enlisting them in the battle to undermine us legitimacy.

Paul Wapner is the director of the School of International Service, American University, USA

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