HEIDELBERG, Germany—One week into the new year and having the spent the better part of the last three and half years away from my homeland, I am surprised how strongly I identify as an American and feel a share of responsibility for how disastrously astray my nation has gone.
I am no Pollyanna. I don’t believe the United States suddenly abandoned the Constitution or deviated from some golden age of benevolent foreign policy during the Bush years, dark as they were. Beneath the patriotic apologetics, our national history has always been flawed and imperfect, sometimes horribly so. But the speed at which the nation is deserting the best of its stated ideals and the self-righteous denial of the last few decades deeply saddens me because I fear my nation has passed the point at which the mistakes can be corrected, the evil undone.
As an American, I experienced no greater disappointment in 2009 than the performance of Pres. Barack Obama, even though I had few hopes for his administration after the bailout of Wall Street he rallied for before becoming elected. Yet he still managed to come up horribly short even in the areas in which he pledged to make a difference, starting with healthcare reform and an improved strategy for Afghanistan. For those who were still clinging to the preposterous notion that the Democratic Party could contribute to a progressive future, I truly hope that Obama drove the final nail in that coffin for you so that we can look outside the two-party system for hope and justice.
The United States will not survive much longer as a global empire and I expect to witness its continued disintegration in Afghanistan, the historical boneyard of empires, during the next year. For those who would charge me as pessimistic, my response is that the descent is already underway. Look no further than the staggering federal deficit, immoral wage and income equality, a stubborn refusal to accept the challenges of global climate change, the insane insistence that the federal government exists primarily to transfer public wealth into private hands, and the presence of warmongers and profiteers masquerading as a defense industry and responsible citizens. The die is cast, and without the political will to reverse the tide, the only unknowns are when and precisely how.
Almost everyday working in Kabul I hear Americans decrying the waste, corruption and incompetence of the Afghan political economy, yet there is little willingness to address the same problems, albeit manifested differently, in the U.S. political system. In Afghanistan, corruption exists on every level, from top to bottom, whereas the rot is concentrated at the top tiers of U.S. society among those with the audacity to call themselves leaders.
I refuse to surrender hope for the future, but I do not look to 2010 with optimism. Tom Engelhardt and Nick Turse, in a recent article for TomDispatch.com, remind me why:
“According to military expert William Hartung, the Pentagon budget has risen in every year of the new century, an unprecedented run in our history. We dominate the global arms trade, monopolizing almost 70% of the arms business in 2008, with Italy coming in a vanishingly distant second. We put more money into the funding of war, our armed forces, and the weaponry of war than the next 25 countries combined (and that’s without even including Iraq and Afghan war costs). We garrison the planet in a way no empire or nation in history has ever done.”