When I think of America’s failed financial policies, its weak political leadership in the White House and Congress, and its feeble foreign policy I am reminded of a thought-provoking Thai phrase I once heard.
“Maa du kruang bin tok.” Translated it means “A dog watching an airplane crash.”
The phrase describes an event that is entirely beyond the spectator’s comprehension. It seems apropos to what is happening today in the United States.
I believe we are obliviously witnessing the historical eclipse of American power in the world. It has been ongoing for at least three decades, but it has accelerated dramatically in the past 18 months under Joe Biden’s feckless leadership.
One might argue that the decline of U.S. power began with the nation’s ignominious withdrawal from Vietnam back in 1975—an event that I personally witnessed and experienced. The decline has persisted every year since culminating most recently with our disastrous and dishonorable flight from Afghanistan.
It continues today with the Biden administration’s obvious unwillingness to protect our southern border from an unlawful invasion of some two million migrants each year–a fact which is nothing less than an open invitation for the world to violate our immigration laws.
For all of our military might—and it is considerable—America seems like some helpless leviathan. Now, with the country burdened by a $30 trillion national debt and a $2 trillion federal budget deficit we are at the mercy of those who would love to see the U.S. crash and burn. (Check out the US Debt Clock: http://www.usdebtclock.org/)
Think about it. Do you seriously believe that China cares an iota about the health of the U.S. economy other than as a market for its products? Or that Muslim nations such as Pakistan felt any allegiance to Washington’s political ambitions as American troops foundered for 20 years in Afghanistan?
No amount of American pressure or veiled threats could persuade the Chinese government to revalue its currency, nor induce the Pakistani government to cut links between its intelligence services and Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers.
The same goes for many other nations–all of which have eagerly accepted billions and billions of dollars in American aid, loans, and other economic entitlements. Do these countries need to be forever grateful for American (read U.S. taxpayer) largess? No, but given the kind of assistance they have received, it is less than gracious for them to thumb their noses at Washington as we see European nations doing today when we ask them to pay a larger share for their defense via NATO.
The sardonic words of Prince Schwarzenberg of Austria come to mind. After the Russians had helped Austria suppress the Hungarian uprising in 1849, he said: “They will be astonished by our ingratitude.”
But wait. Why not thumb their noses at Washington? After all, what can the faint-hearted weaklings who are currently in charge of Congress and American foreign policy do? And what of our president? He is not only weak, but he is also demented and clearly incapable of standing up to dictators such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping of China. How can you deal effectively with tyrants when you are noticeably incapable of thinking on your feet and uttering a coherent sentence.
We are becoming a nation of political wimps who are guided more by political correctness than correct political foreign policy. The idea that we can be everybody’s friend is a joke in a world where alliances are only valuable when they serve a nation’s economic and political self-interest. Does anybody think that the imams and sheiks of the Middle East have any real affection for America? The same goes for nations like China, India, and our closest neighbors–Canada and Mexico.
From one side of the world to the other, countries are doing what they think is best for themselves, rather than what the White House, the State Department, or the Pentagon believe that they should do.
I have traveled and worked in some 65 countries during my career as a foreign correspondent, and I can tell you that many of our so-called “friends” around the world would just as soon see us fail as succeed. Some would like to see the U.S. on its knees–the once all-powerful Goliath humbled by a world of spiteful and covetous Davids.
Americans in general and our leaders in Washington, in particular, are seen as arrogant, uninformed, greedy bullies who deserve a comeuppance. And now we are getting it.
In his book, “The Much Too Promised Land,” Aaron David Mille tells of his years as a State Department official engaged in what is forlornly called the peace process. In his book, he writes that in the Middle East today the United States finds itself “trapped in a region which it cannot fix, and it cannot abandon,” where America is “not liked, not feared, and not respected.”
Meanwhile, America’s largely uninformed populace continues blithely on, concerned more about who wins a Grammy or what overpaid self-aggrandizer wins the Oscar than how their lives are inextricably tied to nations like China that are propping up our ever-deteriorating economy with their purchase of Treasury Bills.
These same countries are also observing the deterioration of America’s once-envied culture and values. Is it any wonder that Muslims the world over despise a nation that has become narcissistic and hedonistic while growing more and more obsessed with sex, fame, wealth, and what passes these days for music.
Once, while traveling in Pakistan I was asked by a Muslim cleric why America allows women to be degraded, why it no longer esteems marriage and family, why it promotes and encourages abortion, and why it lavishes praise and wealth on entertainers, athletes, and others who contribute little or nothing to society while showing nominal appreciation for teachers who are charged with providing an education for the nation’s young.
I replied that I thought that characterization was a bit harsh. But the more I think about it, the more I wonder if the cleric didn’t have a point.
We seem to value the wrong things in America. Ask any teenager to identify 10 of the nation’s top rap artists or pop singers, and they will do it in a flash. Ask them to identify ten world leaders, and they will stop at one or two–if that many. Some don’t even know who their vice president is and perhaps 1 in 1000 will know the names of one of the two senators representing their state in Congress.
But it is not just American teenagers who would fail that test. Foreign policy is a non-starter for most Americans, who appear to be more parochial and inward-looking than ever before. This is at a time when the global real-politick is as critical to comprehend as it has ever been.
And who is at fault? The media? Yes, most certainly. But not entirely. True, today’s media are more focused on reactive, knee-jerk reporting of events than being in a position to explain them with depth and intelligence.
Too much reporting seems less concerned with providing useful information to the electorate than with attacking and undermining political figures the media disagree with or loathe. Former President Trump is a case in point. Never mind that he was our duly elected president. Many in the press were intent on burning down the presidency “in order to save it.”
Today, the media are fixated on protecting our cerebrally challenged president, rather than calling him out for his inability to lead, speak with power and clarity, and unite a dreadfully divided nation. Reporters today too often allow their political and social biases to infect their stories, rendering them one-sided and dishonest. As a result, a recent Gallup poll found that only 29 percent of Americans believe the media are trustworthy. A democratic republic cannot survive without a fair, responsible, and trusted press.
As for international reporting, it is expensive to cover the world in an era when traditional media are retrenching financially. Gone are the days when the Chicago Tribune, my old newspaper, had 15-20 reporters living around the world. Instead, as with many news organizations, it parachutes journalists into a country for a few hours or days where they inevitably produce superficial stories, and then it’s on to the next crisis.
Much of the fault lies in Washington where it behooves the nabobs to keep global politics arcane and nearly incomprehensible to the great unwashed.
At the outset of World War II, a senator was asked how the public should be informed of the progress of the war.
“We shouldn’t provide any information at all except to say who won when the war is over,” he said.
I suspect too many in our State Department and Department of Defense feel the same way, not to mention the White House and Congress.
Vigorous and courageous leadership is needed as the U.S. deals with a strange and dangerous new world–one where Washington is finding it harder than ever to impose its will on anyone anywhere and where the eclipse of American power is manifest.
Look at what is happening in Ukraine today? Russia is running rampant (albeit not too successfully) in that nation, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians and creating millions of homeless refugees. Meanwhile, China is inching closer and closer to an invasion of Taiwan because the Chinese Communist Party knows Washington cannot and will not do anything about it.
Without strong leadership in Washington, I fear that all of us will be helplessly and incomprehensively watching the political, economic, and moral crash and burn of a once-great country.
Look at how divided we are today. Violent groups suffused with identity politics are attacking one another; radical leftists attacking conservatives and vice-versa; Black Lives Matter and Antifa attacking everybody; Democrats and Republicans are unable to compromise or agree on anything; children in our schools are being taught to judge one another by the color of their skin and not, as Martin Luther King once lamented, by the content of their character.
Crime is rampant in our cities with gangs of lowlifes and criminals engaged in “smash and grab” robberies, car-jackings, and violent muggings. And why not?
They know when they are caught they will likely not be prosecuted by George Soros-backed prosecutors who value criminals over victims–especially if those lawbreakers are “underrepresented minorities engaged in procuring reparations from oppressors,” as a Black Lives Matter leader recently termed the nation’s smash and grab scourge.
Our insane, self-destructive behavior and our seemingly irreparable discord and acrimony are bringing America to her knees. We are ripping ourselves apart, and the world is celebrating our terminal masochism.
(Ronald E. Yates is a U.S. Army veteran, an author, a former Chicago Tribune foreign correspondent, and Professor & Dean Emeritus of Journalism at the University of Illinois.) His website: http://www.ronaldyatesbooks.com/
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