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Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Kinzer

The world of threats to the US is an illusion

When Americans look out at the world, we see a swarm of threats.

China seems resurgent and ambitious. Russia is aggressive. Iran menaces our allies.

Middle East nations we once relied on are collapsing in flames.

Latin American leaders sound steadily more anti-Yankee.

Terror groups capture territory and commit horrific atrocities. We fight Ebola with one hand while fending off Central American children with the other.

In fact, this world of threats is an illusion.

The United States has no potent enemies. We are not only safe, but safer than any big power has been in all of modern history.

April 2015 by Stephen Kinzer

Geography is our greatest protector. Wide oceans separate us from potential aggressors. Our vast homeland is rich and productive. No other power on earth is blessed with this security.

Our other asset is the weakness of potential rivals.

It will be generations before China is able to pose a serious challenge to the United States — and there is little evidence it wishes to do so.

Russia is weak and in deep economic trouble — not always a friendly neighbor but no threat to the United States.

Heart-rending violence in the Middle East has no serious implication for American security.

As for domestic terrorism, the risk for Americans is modest: You have more chance of being struck by lightning on your birthday than of dying in a terror attack.

Promoting the image of a world full of enemies creates a “security psychosis” that misshapes our view of the world.

It tempts us to interpret defensive steps taken by other countries as threatening. In extreme cases, it pushes us into wars aimed at preempting threats that do not actually exist.

Arms manufacturers profit from the security psychosis even more directly than militarists.

Americans take our staggeringly large defense budget almost for granted, and lament continuously that other countries do not build as many exotic weapons systems as we do.

Finding new threats is always good business for someone.

With the United State so dominant in global politics, it’s time to secure this low-threat world.

Our strategic goal should be to keep our country as safe as it is now. That means bringing troublemaking countries out of their isolation.

Ignoring their interests, or seeking “full-spectrum dominance” to assure that they cannot rise, provokes reactions that will be bad for us in the long run. (These awe and shock carpet bombing strategies)

Last year, after Russia began encouraging upheaval in Ukraine, NATO decided to “suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation” with Russia.

Moments of crisis, however, are precisely the times when contact is most urgent. We took advantage of Russia when it was powerless a quarter-century ago.

Future peace requires taking its security concerns seriously rather than treating the country as an enemy that is always seeking to best us.

Our policy toward China is less aggressive, but beneath its surface is often a presumption that one day there must be a showdown between our two countries.

The recent deal between Western nations and Iran is being sold as the taming of an enemy — although Iran is not our enemy.

Neither is Cuba, despite the warnings of revanchists in Washington and elsewhere. Nor are most of the enemies-for-a-day that we eagerly seek, from Sandinistas in Nicaragua to Houthis in Yemen.

I recently asked a United States Navy officer what threats he believed the United States might confront in the future.

To my astonishment, he answered, “Venezuela.”

The South American country is in political crisis and careening toward bankruptcy. Its combat navy counts six frigates and two submarines, none of them seaworthy.

Yet last month President Obama designated Venezuela an “extraordinary threat to US national security.” The search for enemies can lead to odd places.

This impulse is not peculiarly American. Feeling threatened strengthens group solidarity. Some thinkers have gone so far as to suggest that since societies become more united and resolute in the face of enemies, those that have none should find some.

“It is always possible to bind together a considerable number of people in love,” Freud wrote, “so long as there are other people left over to receive the manifestations of their aggressiveness.”

Nietzsche believed the nation-state’s “profound appreciation of the value of having enemies” produced a “spiritualization of hostility.”

A young country especially, he said, “needs enemies more than friends: in opposition alone does it feel itself necessary.”

When Americans see threats everywhere, we fall into this trap.

Believing we are besieged is strangely comforting. To recognize how safe we are would require a change of national mindset that we seem reluctant to make.

(This persistent trend in US foreign policy leaning in That “All crisis at All times” should be created and invented.)

Stephen Kinzer is a visiting fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University. Follow him on Twitter @stephenkinzer.

US in decline? Take a trip abroad

Foreign travel is broadening, but not always in a positive way.

For Americans it has an increasingly painful edge. Too often it leaves us with a disconcerting sense that our country is falling behind.

In a world where competition comes increasingly from other countries, this bodes ill for our national future.

Last month I visited 4 countries that might seem to have little in common: Turkey, Iran, Germany, and the Netherlands.

All four are intently focused on global competition. Countries like these will be eating America’s lunch in the future if we proceed as we are today.

 Stephen Kinzer,   June 21, 2015

Germany and the Netherlands have highly successful, innovation-based economies that live from exports.

Turkey is laser-focused on its goal of becoming one of the world’s 10 richest countries within a decade.

Iran has suffered under decades of economic sanctions but is a young and vibrant society, poised to join the world market with a vengeance if sanctions are eased — which may soon happen.

For Americans, traveling in these countries is sobering because it forces us to confront an unpleasant truth: An increasing number of nations do things better than we do.

In an earlier age that might not have mattered because the United States commands such a huge land mass with such lavish resources, and because our political primacy was all but unchallenged. It matters now.

After the end of the Cold War, the US entered into a period of relative geopolitical decline. This was inevitable.

Never again will we be as dominant in as many ways as we were during our most powerful days.

Globalization has liberated the energies of people around the world. The global economy is more competitive than it has been at any time in living memory.

This is clear to any American who travels. (Rare are the US citizens who cared to apply for a passport)

Our history of power and prosperity has made us complacent while other countries plan more carefully for the future. Turkey, Iran, Germany, and the Netherlands are among countries that smell our blood in the water.

One of the most striking differences between those countries and the US is in physical infrastructure. Highways, bridges, electric grids, and transit systems are modern and carefully maintained.

Public art enlivens neighborhoods. It is difficult to find clusters of poverty and deprivation like those in many American cities.

The other huge difference, less visible but even more important over the long run, is primary and secondary education.

One of America’s chronic problems, steadily becoming more acute, is the emergence of a large class of poorly educated, low-skilled citizens unequipped to compete in the modern economy.

Our society does not provide equal access to good education. Students in other countries now regularly outperform Americans on standardized tests. This is a waste of our human resources — and a bad omen for our future.

In infrastructure and precollege education, just as in energy policy, environmental protection, and other areas, the United States no longer leads the world.

One reason is that many Americans seem unable to grasp the connection between taxes and services. We want a country that is “number one,” but rebel at the idea of paying for it. Financing a country is no different from financing any other enterprise: You get what you pay for.

All four of the countries I happened to visit follow the high-tax/high-service model of government.

Americans are deeply divided over whether this model is right for us. Perhaps the individualist strain in our collective DNA makes some other approach more appropriate.

No society, however, survives long when great private wealth thrives alongside public squalor. While Americans argue about how to deal with our national challenges, other countries are surging forward. To see this happening, travel abroad and look around.

Stephen Kinzer is a visiting fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University. Follow him on Twitter @stephenkinzer.

Note: The huge military budget, larger than the collective next 10 highest countries budgets, is a terrible drag on the US financial sustainability. And the unaudited military behemoth cannot  account for the loss of $10 trillion in the last two decades.

Andrew Bossone shared this link

Americans “want a country that is “number one,” but rebel at the idea of paying for it.”

Countries like Turkey, Iran, Germany, and the Netherlands — all intently focused on global competition — will be eating America’s lunch in the future if we proceed as…




May 2022

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