We have become a nation consumed by fear, worried about terrorists and rogue nations, Muslims and Mexicans, foreign companies and free trade, immigrants and international organizations. The strongest nation in the history of the world, we see ourselves besieged and overwhelmed.
Having spooked ourselves into believing that we have no option but to act fast, alone, unilaterally and pre-emptively, we have managed in six years to destroy decades of international good will, alienate allies, embolden enemies and yet solve few of the major international problems we face.
In a global survey released last week, most countries polled believed that China would act more responsibly in the world than the United States. How does a Leninist dictatorship come across more sympathetically than the oldest constitutional democracy in the world? Some of this is, of course, the burden of being the biggest. But the United States has been the richest and most powerful nation in the world for almost a century, and for much of this period it was respected, admired and occasionally even loved. The problem today is not that America is too strong but that it is seen as too arrogant, uncaring and insensitive. Countries around the world believe that the United States, obsessed with its own notions of terrorism, has stopped listening to the rest of the world.
More troubling than any of Bush's rhetoric is that of the Republicans who wish to succeed him. "They hate you!" says Rudy Giuliani in his new role as fearmonger in chief, relentlessly reminding audiences of all the nasty people out there. "They don't want you to be in this college!" he recently warned an audience at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta. "Or you, or you, or you," he said, reportedly jabbing his finger at students. In the first Republican debate he warned, "We are facing an enemy that is planning all over this world, and it turns out planning inside our country, to come here and kill us." On the campaign trail, Giuliani plays a man exasperated by the inability of Americans to see the danger staring them in the face. "This is reality, ma'am," he told a startled woman at Oglethorpe. "You've got to clear your head."
The notion that the United States today is in grave danger of sitting back and going on the defensive is bizarre. In the last five and a half years, with bipartisan support, Washington has invaded two countries and sent troops around the world from Somalia to the Philippines to fight Islamic militants. It has ramped up defense spending by $187 billion—more than the combined military budgets of China, Russia, India and Britain. It has created a Department of Homeland Security that now spends more than $40 billion a year. It has set up secret prisons in Europe and a legal black hole in Guantánamo, to hold, interrogate and—by some definitions—torture prisoners. How would Giuliani really go on the offensive? Invade a couple of more countries?
I agree. The United States lived for decades with the possibility that the human race could be almost completely obliterated at any moment if the Soviet leader got an itchy button finger. Today, we've let our media and politicians terrify us into overreaction at some two-bit terrorists who managed one spectacular attack that killed fewer Americans than have died in Iraq.
Somebody has got to stop the madness, but the Republicans are outdoing each other in their hawkishness ("We ought to double Guantanamo!") and the Democrats are stumbling over each other to prove that they can be as crazy as the Republicans.
One of the main reasons I hold such hopes for Obama is that I think he might be able to straddle that line of assuaging peoples' fears while not engaging in a counterproductive foreign policy to achieve it. George W. Bush has played directly into bin Laden's hands and, I'm sorry, has done more harm to America than those 19 terrorists did on 9-11.
I'll leave you with one last quote from Zakaria's article:
Such overreactions are precisely what Osama bin Laden has been hoping for. In a videotaped message in 2004, bin Laden explained his strategy with astonishing frankness. He termed it "provoke and bait": "All we have to do is send two mujahedin ... [and] raise a piece of cloth on which is written 'Al Qaeda' in order to make the generals race there, to cause America to suffer human, economic and political losses." His point has been well understood by ragtag terror groups across the world. With no apparent communication, collaboration or further guidance from bin Laden, small outfits from Southeast Asia to North Africa to Europe now announce that they are part of Al Qaeda, and so inflate their own importance, bring global attention to their cause and—of course—get America to come racing out to fight them.