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Thursday, September 29, 2011

My Country Tis of Thee...

Since the early nineties the favourite hobby of countless commentators across the world has been "How I Hate America".

It's not a game I've ever entertained. As a man who has probably hundreds of cousins in the US due to my mixed British & Irish background, I remember that America gave a home (albeit an initially hatefully anti-Irish home) to the millions who fled famine and persecution in Ireland in order to become the most powerful ethnic group in American politics and religion. After a century and a half, the Irish are still the largest ethnic group in Congress and have contributed more Presidents to American history than any other group of late-comers: 22 in total - with both Biden and Obama having ancestors from the SAME town in Ireland! They still dominate the largest religion in the US (the Catholic Church), they still dominate the US Military, and they are massively over-represented in both the Congress and the Senate. They did well, and we back home know it and appreciate it...

Yet it is precisely because the dream of America promised so much to humanity that Europeans especially feel so let down. America was founded by our ancestors, we gave birth to American aspirations and our legal and humanitarian history laid the foundations for the Founding Fathers. America is like an extension of all we hoped for and yet it has failed miserably to abide by the ideals we in Europe have clung to since the Age of Enlightenment. Two horrendous world wars and the death of two unparalleled murderous dictatorships (Nazism and Stalinism) have taught us to always keep an eye on hatred and deceit in our political landscapes.

America is a nation of big-hearted and generous spirited people. It is a nation of collective genius and shared values of dignity and respect and what in Britain we call "fair play". Yet American politics has been hijacked these past ten years by a very organised and dangerous collection of far-right extremists who are a perfect demonstration of what can happen when an empire starts to feel itself losing control of global power. When the Irish arrived in America there was talk of End Times and anarchy, yet that group gave America the most popular presidents it has ever had - John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. Now America is being pushed towards preaching against what they see as the latest new terror - Hispanics and Islam. It seems that US politics forever lies in need of a visible enemy and yet the sensible, cool-headed public in the US always manage to see that the world isn't ending and things are gonna be "A Okay".

As the single richest zone on the planet, with the collective military force to annihilate half the globe, we deplore the short-sightedness of American governments who have successively spoken of principles of Liberty yet acted as a clumsy, out of touch leviathan incapable of recognising its own divided society.

Money does indeed make the world go around, yet historical wounds dictate the extent to which foreign governments will "play ball", as our friends in America say. Through expert diplomacy and a healthy dose of quiet humility, the British government managed to avoid a backlash from the former colonies of the Empire. Britain today has an exceptionally close bond with the former colonies through the British Commonwealth, a remarkable organisation of those nations formerly under British rule but who now come together as equals to discuss trade and cultural exchange. Sport lies at the centre of those good relations, with the Commonwealth Games being one of the biggest sporting events on the planet. Cricket is, after all, the most popular game on earth, not "soccer". Our version of racist politics, The British National Party, hasn't a hope in hell of getting a single seat in Parliament. We might mumble about race over a beer in the pub but we don't vote for extremists, it just isn't our way.

It is especially odd that the British have this relationship when all manner of massacres and injustices were committed against its subjects. Yet in comparison with the colonial powers of the same period, the British Empire was undoubtedly the most organised and open society possible; Indians could rise to good jobs in the Indian government, Nigerians could become professors in Nigerian British universities, and the security aparatus of most nations in the Empire was manned by native members. At its height, the British Raj in India was maintained with just 20,000 military personnel, an astonishing piece of information when you consider it.

Yet there has been, for the past two decades, an arrogance and myopia in American foreign policy which rested very much on its former economic prowess and not on any broader considerations of how colonial subjects might one day turn the tide. The warnings were heeded a generation ago in Europe and so most European nations set about establishing solid working ties with India and China. Nixon is owed credit for trying to bridge the gap between the US and China. Credit he never gets.

Europe is by no means innocent of foolish foreign interventions, yet there has always been a long-standing tradition of dissent in European politics which is not condemned as treason, in the manner which is used against Americans who speak out against US military actions in Asia today, for example. Since the end of the Second World War, there has never been in western European society the same violent social division one sees today in the American political zone, where Democrats and Republicans behave like Brutus and Caesar in order to take chunks out of each others' credentials.

I have loved American politics for too long to enjoy watching the current moral vacuum unfold in US politics whereby small and dangerous lobby groups are eating at the soul of America's Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. It is a shameful spectacle and it has all the classic hallmarks of an overextended colonial power in decline. Nobody wants a world where China dictates the moral law, but unless America gets its act together and stops playing God in a series of unilateral disasters, such as that which we see in Palestine, there will be no choice but to watch Russia and China take the lead in diplomacy and commerce and end up with a situation where only Europe is wealthy enough to sustain a global recession and political upheavel.

Contrary to what Mr Rumsfeld said some years ago, there is no "Old Europe versus New Europe", we are not divided by our support or criticism of the US. Why? Because the US is rapidly becoming irrelevant on the global stage; Europe no longer looks to the US as it once did and neither does anyone else.

Obama recently made a fool of himself when he referred to the British Prime Minster, David Cameron, as a "lightweight". Granted, Obama made that remark when Cameron was still the opposition leader, yet it demonstrated a growing trend in US politics to assume that leadership means making lots of noise and "sounding prime ministerial". It doesn't; successful leadership in this information age is increasingly determined by public integrity and clear vision. Whatever one might say about Mr Cameron it is hard to say he lacks integrity: he sticks to his principles and on the floor of the House of Commons his anger is genuine, unlike the eternal play acting of Mr Blair and his flotilla of PR chiefs.

If America is to lose its position as a worthwhile, relevant member state of the 'free world' then it will be a loss of its own making. If Obama and the shameless Joe Biden are to do anything in their "four more years" then let them spend that time undoing the nightmare the US Republicans have inflicted on the global search for peace and justice. A nightmare visited on the American people itself through 9/11 and an economy in virtual freefall.

Let us one day soon be proud to speak of America again, rather than with the hushed tones of embarrassment we now treat it with.

In many ways, yes, America is my country too, and it is a sad thing to loathe the government of a nation which promised so much and now delivers so little.

1 comment:

  1. I thought this was an excellent article. I followed you at The Huffington Post and love your style of writing. You're sharp, fair and to the point. Keep writing man, people need to read this stuff coz no one else seems to be writing it!!!

    You clearly care passionately about what's going on in the world and yet you don't suffer fools gladly.

    Great stuff.