Global Policy Forum

The American Conundrum


By Dr. Zeki Ergas *

Share the Worlds Resources
September 17, 2007

In the 111 years between 1890 (the brutal murder of the Dakota Indians) and 2001 (the punitive expedition to Afghanistan after 9/11), there have been throughout the world 133 interventions by the U.S. (direct military, or hatched by the C.I.A. with local collaborators) which resulted between 12 million to 16 million people losing their lives. 70 of those interventions took place after the Second World War - Johan Galtung [1].

Assuming that the overall, overarching, goal is to build a better, sustainable, world, this essay attempts to answer the following two questions:
1. Why is America part of the problem, and not of the solution?
2. What can be done about it?

I try to answer the first question in the three sections below: The American Idea, The Two American Stories, and The Three Global Scenarios.
As for the second question, I believe that the answer is in the hands of the American people, and more specifically, the American civil society, from which, it seems to me, could come, in the near future, the impetus for positive change in America.

The American Idea
After the American Founding Fathers - Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, Washington... - wrote the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution, Americans came to believe that they were a Providential Nation with a Manifest Destiny. In other words, that they were a Nation entrusted by God with the Divine Mission of spreading Liberty and Democracy around the world. Therefore, at some level, it is true that the American Nation is based on a grand or lofty Idea, rather than a National Culture.

The original, native or indigenous, American Culture was of course destroyed by the European settlers or immigrants. For a long time, it was believed that these European settlers or immigrants would fuse or merge into an American Reality defined primarily by the (American) English language, and liberal-capitalist and consumerist values; that was (and still is) known as the Melting Pot theory. Later came the Patchwork theory (which was added to the Melting Pot theory) according to which it was acceptable for the European immigrants to hold on to their original cultures as long as they learned (American) English and adopted the above-mentioned American values; a Good American thus could have a double loyalty: to the American Reality, and to the culture of his (or her) old homeland.

In the course of time, and especially in the last century or so (see the Galtung quote above), this American Manifest Destiny, or Divine Mission, of spreading Liberty and Democracy around the world, has been very badly discredited by the doings of the American Empire. But most Americans, brainwashed by a constant and relentlessly effective propaganda machine (called these days the Media, and dominated by the national television networks of ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX and CNN), continue to believe, despite all the evidence to the contrary (see below), that: one, America, in a world full of tyranny, is a Beacon of Liberty; two, American democracy, whatever its faults, is still the best on the planet; and three, given the overarching importance of the noble task of disseminating Liberty and Democracy around the world, it is sometimes inevitable - and legitimate - to use overwhelming military force - and that that is why the United States has more than 800 military bases around the world, and 'task forces' led by gigantic aircraft carriers ply all the oceans of the globe.

The Two American Stories
America as a beacon of liberty, America as the best democracy on earth, and America having to use force sometimes to serve the causes of liberty and democracy: these are the three axiomatic beliefs that, in a nutshell, form the first American Story. I think that it can be best described as America-as-a-nice-guy story, and has a large ingredient of myth. Those nations that 'buy' it are America's friends; those that do not are not its friends, and often are its enemies. This story of America-as-a-nice-guy, however, needs to be completed by a second story, that of America-as-a-bad- guy, which has a large ingredient of (hard) reality. That second American Story largely coincides with the tale of the promotion and protection of the interests of the American Big Business (also known as Corporate America); it is the story of the implacable control of the sources of energetic and mineral resources, and of the preservation of markets for America's finished products, around the world.

Undeniably, Corporate America is responsible for the very high standard of living enjoyed by a large majority of the American people (a significant minority of 15 per cent are poor). But, in this era of neo-liberal globalisation, that very success may contain the seeds of its own demise or destruction. For two extremely important reasons: one, the American Model is highly wasteful - to give but one example, the U.S. consumes half of all gasoline burned by motor vehicles in the world; and two, that Model cannot be replicated in the rest of the world and, therefore, is highly unjust and dangerous. Just to mention China, to have that country (which has a population of 1.3 billion) enjoy a standard of living comparable to that of the U.S. would require the energetic and mineral resources of no less than four, or even five, planets Earth. And China is not alone in that quest for high standards of living, India, with a population of 1.1 billion, is close behind, as are Russia and Brazil and, ultimately, are potential players all the other important countries playing the game of globalisation, i.e., Turkey, Indonesia, the Phillipines, Pakistan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Iran, Venezuela, and so on. The evidence continues to mount that the consequences of this unlimited economic growth and a wasteful way of life could be, owing to global warming, growing inequalities and the risks of a world war, devastating for humanity and the little planet on which it lives, probably well before the end of this century.

The Three Global Scenarios
Broadly speaking, three Global Scenarios appear possible: two are, optimistically and pessimistically, extreme; and one is moderate, somewhere in between the other two. According to the optimistically extreme scenario, the economic and political leaders of the rich and powerful countries will suddenly see the light, and show unprecedented foresight and wisdom, and take all the necessary measures and decisions, which will be implemented on time, to reduce pollution drastically, stop nuclear proliferation, and the eradicate extreme poverty, and the world will be saved in the nick of time, before it is too late. According to the pessimistically extreme scenario, the powers that be of this world will fall criminally short of doing what needs to be done and, as a result, a great catastrophe will befall humanity, probably in the form of a Third World War, which will break out, perhaps as early as in ten to fifteen years time, and destroy Human Civilisation as we know it. Samuel Huntington in his famous book, the Clash of Civilisations, presented a similar scenario. I do not believe, however, that the Big Clash will be between the Christian West and Fundamentalist Islam, but rather (as I argue in another essay entitled, Globalisation. Rising China and declining America. Is War Inevitable?) between a declining American Empire (and its allies) and the rising great power, China (and its allies).

That Nightmare Scenario is, of course, to be avoided at all costs. But can it be avoided? What would happen if the U.S. decides that it has no other option (to maintain its high standard of living) to launch a war against China? Japan and the European Union would certainly side with the U.S. But what about Russia? Can Russia afford to let China be destroyed? Probably not, because with China out of the way, Russia could be the next target. And what about India that sits between China and Russia? History teaches us that sooner or later all empires must decline and fall. It would be foolish to think that the American empire is an exception to that rule that has known no exception throughout history. But there are influential and powerful people in America who believe that America is an exception. They are known as the neo-cons. Will they be allowed to carry the day?

Given the American attachment to their standrad of living, and the deep belief in the American Manifest Destiny, it is not impossible that they will, and the next American elections will be crucial. It is to be hoped that the American people will elect a President that is wise enough, and that the U.S., led by its intellectual elite, will it accept its fate philosophically, and reject an extremely destructive, and ultimately futile, Military Solution. But, we must also recognize that the temptation of a Military Solution will be very strong because the military field is the one in which America enjoys its greatest superiority. Be that as it may, I still believe that the third and moderate scenario - which assumes that some fronts: global warming, extreme poverty, nuclear proliferation, and the U.S. accepting a somewhat lower standard of living - is probably the likeliest. And a New World will emerge that is Multipolar, with the U.S. still a great power, but more or less equally so with China, Russia, India and the European Union - and, in the longer run, possibly, other countries, or group of countries - Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Latin America - may emerge as great powers as well. But this third and moderate solution will not, however, really solve the problem of the building of a better and sustainable world, it will only push it forward to the next century - and it will be up to the generations that will follow those of our great-grandchildren to find a durable solution.

Some analysts have argued that 99 per cent of the power in America is in the hands of Big Business and the Government that serves it, including the large military establishment. Only 1 per cent is in the hands of the Civil Society. As long as that sort of imbalance or disequilibrium exists, the future of America, and of the world, will be bleak. That will have to change. We need an American civil society that holds in its hands at least 50 per cent of the power. I believe that, despite the dismal present situation, it would be a mistake to underestimate the power of the American people, and of the American civil society. There are indications that it is beginning to stir - one example of that is the modest success of the American Social Forum that was held in Atlanta earlier this year [2]. Also, historically, there is reason to hope. When things were terribly wrong in the past, the American people and civil society have shown their mettle. Let us not forget the New Deal that followed the Great Depression, the civil rights campaigns of the Black people, and the resistance to the war in Vietnam. It can happen again. It must happen again. And perhaps will happen again in the near future. The fate of humanity and of the planet, largely, depend on it.

[1] Johan Galtung is the founder of Transcend Peace University. Among his numerous books are: Transcend and Transform. An Introduction to Conflict Work; and, with Carl G. Jacobsen and Kai Frithjhof Jacobsen, Searching for Peace. See also: On the Coming Decline and Fall of the U.S. Empire. Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research (TFF, 2004). And: William Blum, Rogue State. A Guide to the World's Only Superpower, (TFF, 2000)
[2] See the several items on it in

About the Author: Dr. Zeki Ergas, a scholar, writer and social activist, is currently rewriting eighteen of his essays that were posted on various NGO websites on the Net, including and He hopes, by the end of the year, to publish them in the form of a book.

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