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The Missing Political Debate

The US presidential elections have profound implications not just for the US, but also for the future of the world. However, it is rather disquieting for the US and the world that the US political debate does not touch upon the essence of what is really at stake.

Families, companies, institutions, and countries go through periods of rise as well as fall. The first signs of decline show themselves through inconsistency and decline in values, which can be felt long before the actual decline in power. Such inconsistencies occur either because key success factors are not adapted to the changing conditions or complacency takes over and the key values that bring about such success simply begin to erode.

No one can dispute the US role as the only super power of the world. In addition, the gap between the might of the US and those of her followers is so significant that the US may maintain such a position of power during our lifetime. Nonetheless, one should not forget the fact that many, what seemed to be invincible powers, lost their superiority over time. One such example is the Ottoman Empire which ruled over three continents and its recession began long before its collapse. The process covered a painfully long period of time, when the world witnessed horrifying wars and deep economic sufferings.

Lately values that made US successful and exemplary to the rest of world are being eroded. What is rather disturbing though is that such critical issues are not discussed sufficiently and thoroughly in the eve of elections.

What are the values that brought the superiority of the USA?: (i) respect for humans and human rights, (ii) democracy where everyone has equal voting rights, (iii) freedom of thought (and freedom of press), (iv) freedom of trade and liberal economy, (v) rule of law, (vi) liberal immigration policy and a welcoming attitude, and (vii) freedom of religious belief.

The US, failing to protect and maintain such values, may well initiate the process of losing both its power and its status as being an example to the world. As these values are the one that make the US and inconsistencies in their implementation would weaken the moral strength of the US in the hearts and minds of others.

One can already observe the first signs of neglecting such important values in US policy implementation. For example, the treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo and Abu Garib raises doubts about the US sensitivity for human rights. From a global perspective, the US insistence on not recognizing the International Criminal Court, imply that such unpleasant events are not uncontrollable and isolated events, but rather the US is insensitive to human rights of those who are not her own citizens.

When an ideal is staunchly defended only within the borders of the nation state but not elsewhere, its persuasiveness weakens. Consequently, when the US displays a unilateral approach that reflects its strength in the decision making processes of international institutions, raises legitimacy questions about democratically elected governments, and gives support to undemocratic governments for its short-term gains, she loses her persuasiveness concerning the ideal of democracy.

Unilateral policies implemented by the US after 9/11 attacks have not been criticized for a long time in the US press. This fact has recently been acknowledged by some of the leading US newspapers. This resulted in the weakening of the persuasiveness of the US in promoting the freedom of thought and press in other countries. The world started to watch new TV channels instead of CNN or Fox News, which were considered to be trustworthy until recently, and trust in internet news began to grow, despite its varied quality!!!

US subsidies, quotas, and anti-dumping duties disturb the free trade environment in the world. Some US practices have been found unfair by the WTO. The prevalence of such practices in which many developing countries have the potential to achieve competitive advantage, result in questioning of US commitment to the liberal economy and free trade. Thus; subsidies, quotas and levies given in many industries like agriculture, textile, and steel cause poorness and hunger in other regions of the world, which could be more competitive only in these areas.

Rule of law requires that for conformity with the rules to be considered as a norm, but at the same time the rules need to be fair. Being fair means “regarding others as we regard ourselves”. Placing political and economic power in advance of fairness in international practices, dissipates the potential to lead the world with values. For example, by not accepting Kyoto agreement, the US, as the most extravagant country with highest energy consumption per person in the world, is also the one that prevents a settlement on prevention of global warming. By not accepting the jurisdiction of International Criminal Court, the US is delaying establishment of global standards for rule of law.

One of the most important reasons behind US leadership in innovation, science, and technology is in managing diversity and in attracting capable refugees, who constitute the dynamo of creativeness. Seeing differences between cultures as a weakness, rather than as richness might be threatening its leadership in scientific development in the future. A recent NSF report confirms that last year there has been a decline in the number of foreign students and academicians coming to the US.

The belief that different religions are the source of terrorism and decline of cultural tolerance in effect limits the freedom of travel of those from different religions. The tendency for policy makers to use religious beliefs in formulating policies or in their speeches, discredits the commitment of the US for secular governments and freedom of belief.

In summary, US unilateralism does not fit well with the values that make up the US. Ignoring respect for people and freedoms even when they are not US citizens, or even the existence of such a perception begins to erode the moral superiority of the US. The most powerful nation in the world has to understand that sound governance is serving all humans, not merely the strong.

For sustainable development and peace on earth, the US has to comprehend how her decisions impact others and understand that good governance is, in fact, self-governance. To ensure sustainability of peace and stability, the US has to guard the values that made the US a super power and apply them consistently not only within her own borders, but also globally. In an increasingly transparent world, inconsistencies can not be sustained, at least morally. Hence, the US has to demonstrate a level of wisdom and “regard others, as she regards her own citizens and her own interests.”

Therefore, the choice of US electorate is not between Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry, but between the values that made the US what she is today and her short-term interests. For this reason, how each nominee will reflect such values in global practices, should be the essence of the political debate in the US. This choice will shape both the future of the US and the world.