Published November 5, 2004
Where did it all go wrong? How did it come to this? The United States seemed like such a good idea at the time. At the end of WW2, they were hailed as liberators the world over. Marshall Aid was extended to Europe, to stop the spread of communism, yes, but it is remains one of the most generous things one nation has done for others. On most of the rest of the globe, even in the Arab world, they were seen as at least a preferable choice to the old imperialist powers of Britain and France. When the US reined in the Europeans in the Suez crisis, these hopes seemed to be justified. Now, in most parts of the Arab world, Chirac is the most popular Westerner, and Americans are shot on sight. Where did it all go wrong?
When Kennedy was elected president, the United States finally seemed to be about to fulfil its great promise. Even after his assassination, it still seemed that a truly Great Society might materialise under Johnson. The United States at this point had perhaps larger reserves of wealth than any nation in history. Johnson looked determined to allow all of society to share in it, from advancing civil rights to fighting poverty to reforming the school system. And yet, somehow, he was dragged into the quagmire of Vietnam, all the money earmarked for social programs instead used instead to bomb rice fields in Southeast Asia. The opportunity for sweeping social reform would not present itself again.
In the 70´s, the United States went through a period of self doubt, reflected in its music and films. The new world power had made its first serious blunder, and a time of introspection and reflection followed. For a while, it seemed as if America was determined to learn from its mistakes. Until, that is, in 1980, a Hollywood actor was elected President and bolstered people´s confidence by ignoring the lessons. The United States set out on the road to Iraq. Where did it all go wrong?
In 1991, when I first went to Saudi Arabia in the immediate aftermath of the first Gulf War, people mistook me for an American and hailed me as liberator. At the time, Saddam Hussein was perceived as a threat to the region and the people of Saudi Arabia were glad to have American help. But conquering armies have a habit of staying in the countries they liberate. A new generation of Saudi’s grew up seeing an army of infidels in the holy land, which ten years later led to 9/11. The people I knew in the compound no longer dare leave it for fear of their lives. So much for the liberators.
As I watched the elections with my American friends Bart Paul, Ed, Ray and Harris, is struck me that these are some of the best people I’ve met here, or in any country. Why so many of their countrymen decided to vote for war they did not understand any more than I did. The current inhabitants of the United States may not have visited the same condemnation upon themselves as a generation of Germans did in 1933 when they allowed Hitler to come to power. But this is certainly the worst government to be voted into office in a democracy in the post war era. Even the very term postwar has lost its meaning.
Not only are the republicans still in control of the White House, they also control both houses of Congress and the Supreme Court. Rather than being reprimanded for his policies by the people, Bush is getting more support than ever. This does not bode well for the inhabitants of Iran, or for the rest of the world.
It may be true that Americans get the presidents they deserve. But the rest of us get the presidents they deserve as well. And we deserve better than this.