We're all stuck with America's global responsibilities

 Anyone following responses to my notes in the Internet blog section of the Jerusalem Post, or looking over my shoulder as I read email, should perceive the anger and cynicism of those fed up with US efforts to support Israel and other places in the Middle East.



Sorry, folks, you''re stuck with us.


The area at issue extends from Morocco to Indonesia, up into some of the Balkans, much of Central Asia, and down through about half of Africa. It pretty much coincides with the spread of Islam, with tiny Jewish Israel in the middle.


There are also other American responsibilities, most prominently having to do with the Koreas,, and going south from Florida through California.


The Middle East has been especially prominent in recent decades, with oil and 9-11 having a lot to do with it.


The responsibilities for all that land and all those people comes with the American population of 300 million, the country''s great wealth, heavy involvement in the global economy, and its military power.


There is no law requiring US involvement in world affairs, just common sense. America is a target as well as a powerhouse. 9-11 is not likely to be the last effort to make Americans pay for the insults and damage perceived to have been done by its government.


Perspective rules. Americans may think of themselves as leading the enlightened of the world, helpful to people less fortunate.


Many in Israel, elsewhere in the Middle East and additional regions agree that Americans are good hearted and well intentioned. However, there are others who feel that the US is the evil empire, intent on ruling the world and trampling on the rights and religions of other people in the process. A more moderate posture is that the US is cumbersome and often ill-informed, and does at least as much harm as good.


Some who are as old as I may remember the "America go home" posters in Europe during the late 1940''s, when the US was doing a great deal to rebuild and re-civilize Western Europe.


The equivalent today are Muslims--including some of my secular and well-educated friends--who feel that the US is engaged in a crusade against Islam.


The US is stuck. It is the world power. It should be concerned about attacks on its people.

Islam is a problem, insofar as prominent--if not dominant--elements among the Muslims cite religious dogma to justify their  jihad against the West. Many of them support violence actively, or go along with it passively by avoiding any opposition to those who are aggressive. 

The United States no less than Israel is the target. One can quarrel if the United States is the target on account of Israel, whether Israel is a target on account of its association with the United States, or that both are targets with ideological and religious justifications.


American follies are responsible for making things worse than they should be. Chief among them was the invasion and occupation of Iraq, on the flimsy reasons of it being involved in 9-11, having weapons of mass destruction, and being a cruel and undemocratic regime. Also problematic was the aspiration to remake Afghanistan, a country that Britain in the 19th century and the USSR in the 20th century also failed to remake. Problems with Pakistan have grown out of Afghanistan. All the while the serious problem of Iranian nuclear activities have been left to fester and develop ever more closely to something that once achieved cannot be controlled by outsiders.


Can the United States do better?


Britain, the USSR, France, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and other centers of empires going back to the Romans, Greeks, Persians and Babylonians did not do better. Ruling foreigners has never been easy. Language and culture get in the way of understanding. Tip O''Neil may have exaggerated when he said that all politics is local. However, a great deal of politics reflects the personal, ethnic, and religious elements that are local, hidden to outsiders, and obtuse even to those who have studied them. 


There is a very long list of creative ideas about how to solve the problems of Israel and Palestine, going back to the 1920''s. Google "Brit Shalom" and continue toward the present. None have dealt successfully with the evolving politics of Palestinians and Israelis. Trying to manipulate someone else''s politics is likely to be frustrating, especially when languages and cultures (likely to be plural for each country in the Middle East) are different from your own. Moreover, any effort identified with foreigners, especially those tainted like Americans or Israelis, will be doomed from the outset.


We in the Middle East are stuck with ourselves as well as with the arrogance, innocence, ignorance, or however you want to describe the aspirations and efforts of the recent and current American administrations.


The US is vulnerable to domestic politics that opens the way to the highest office on the basis of popularity contests, i.e., presidential party primaries. Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, and Jimmy Carter were notably unprepared for world leadership.


Just as Americans are stuck with their country''s world leadership, so the world is stuck with whoever gets to the top of American politics.


There is a great deal of random luck in how particular countries and problems get to America''s agenda. Israel''s American supporters and Israel''s own leadership are better at shaping American preferences than the leaders and supporters of many other countries. But to consider Israel and its friends the prime movers of American foreign policy is grossly mistaken. Also in the mix are countries that have been Israel''s antagonists, and benefit from the influence associated with energy resources and votes in international organizations. 


Americans themselves have the most direct say about their country''s foreign policy, and for most of them it is less important than domestic issues, and less likely to attract the effort necessary to understand details and nuances.


Currently there appears to be a retrenching of the American reach overseas, due perhaps to the costly, unproductive, and destructive overreaching done by George W. Bush. There is nothing in the air that remotely resembles the inward drive toward isolationism that occurred after World War I, even though something like that is being promoted by a freaky fringe of activists who dream of unmaking history. 

America''s footprints beyond its borders are too big to erase. It''s economy is intimately involved and dependent on what happens just about everywhere. 


Russia and China are powerful rivals and provoke American diplomatic moves and the positioning of military resources in anticipation of what they might do.


The US is proportionally less powerful than when it was the only country left standing at the end of World War II. Sooner or later it may go into the decline of previous imperial giants, but it is too early to perceive or predict major changes. French is no longer the language of the world. Spanish isn''t much help outside of the American Southwest or some other American cities. Russian and Japanese have passed their prime. Hebrew is exotic. Chinese might be worth an investment. However, American English remains dominant from Shanghai eastward and around the world to Kabul.


Globalization is said to be modern, but has been present since the globe was operationally a lot smaller. 

There have been global powers since the Babylonians. But now it''s America''s turn, and Americans are not about to give up their prominence and influence, and retreat quietly to their side of the oceans.