4th of July
Fireworks behind statue of liberty

In international strategic discussion a hot topic is the challenge posed to US dominance by China in the coming years. However the leadership position of the USA is increasingly under pressure not so much by external competition as by its own policy failures, internal weaknesses and problems.

Democracy was supposed to be the biggest strength of the USA giving it a permanent edge over authoritarian regimes, but the USA democracy today is so deeply troubled today—in fact has been for several years now– that it is increasingly seen to be losing the undoubted advantages that democracy brings.

Those wielding enormous power here have been abandoning essential democratic practices and norms with alarming frequency. Rival groups are seen less at constructive debates than at each other’s throat. The urgent need for long pending democratic reforms revealed by repeated crisis situations has gone unattended. The widely pervasive and highly damaging influence of the arms industry as well as big corporates in such critical areas as energy, health, agriculture and food is proving to be extremely harmful for the country as well as the world. The policy processes and policy makers have been highly corrupted and as a result, the welfare of the nation, its people and world is repeated violated.

Despite the availability of brilliant talent and expertise, the ability to harness these for the most rational, evidence based response to serious problems has diminished, leading to entirely avoidable increase in distress. Meanwhile, more self-goals are scored in foreign policy than those by rivals, with not much evidence of timely corrections being made.

This situation understandably attracts much criticism. The USA must distinguish between two types of critics. At the risk of some over-simplification, one type of critics merely see increasing problems of the USA as sooner or later leading to a collapse, while the other category hammers at the flaws only to press for genuine remedial actions to be taken at the earliest. The second type of criticism is more relevant as it continues to emphasize the welfare of the ordinary people of the USA, and a policy mix which will help US people people and promote the welfare and safety of the world as well. Such an approach should also emphasize the need for more systemic change.

The USA emerged from the Second World War with many well-wishers and admirers all over the world, but this soon started getting eroded rapidly by its needless, avoidable aggressions, starting even before the war ended with the avoidable use of nuclear weapons .In the period since then its flawed policies, which caused millions of avoidable deaths and much other immense distress, have led understandably to much hostility. Such hostility exists even among the people of several allied countries. In fact some people even look at the USA’s multiple problems more with glee than dismay as signs of a destructive power marching towards doom. However this attitude cannot be supported, as it ignores the most urgent concerns of world peace and stability, much needed also for resolving the many-sided environmental crisis. While the flaws of USA policy have been massive, there should be untiring efforts to reform these as otherwise consequences can be too terrible to contemplate, not just for this country but for the world.

The other category of critics feel deeply distressed at the increasing problems of the USA, arguing also that these retard the progress of democracy and peace in the entire world. They realize the urgent need and importance of the biggest military power being able to resolve its internal problems in conditions of peace and stability. It is also hoped that this will create essential base conditions for sustained efforts to check climate change and protect environment. In brief, these critics want the USA to be at peace with itself and with the rest of the world, and call for a wide range of reforms to ensure this.

As a critic in the second category, I would like to focus on some basic reforms. First of all, the USA needs many important reforms to emerge as a fair, just, transparent democracy where people are well-informed on basic issues and their informed opinion finds actual reflection in policy choices. This needs electoral and governance reform on the one hand as well as education reform and public campaigns, involving much creativity. A multi-party democracy will be more useful in the USA instead of two political parties dominating the scene and often blanking out real alternatives altogether by mutual agreement. Policy makers must be free from excessive corporate influence and the political funding system should be reformed in significant ways. Electoral processes should be much less expensive and free from the grip of big money. The so-called think-tanks need to function with much more public accountability and transparency. There should be clear limits to high concentration of corporate power and there should be much stronger mechanisms in place for preventing its misuse.  Simultaneously, foreign policy should focus on promoting democracy and peace in the entire world within the limits of a nation’s capacity, in transparent ways and in accordance with international law, involving also allies and the United Nations. Organizing coups and conspiracies against democratically elected foreign governments should be given up entirely and for all times.

Thirdly, it should recognize reduction of socio-economic inequalities as an important component of democracy, both at home and abroad. The USA must give much more attention to reducing internal, many-sided social and economic distress which has increased to a significant extent in many contexts, and is rooted in increasing inequalities. This should be attempted with emphasis on more sustained solutions instead of just providing short-term relief.The focus must be not just on checking symptoms, but on tackling real causes of this distress.

At the same time, emphasis should shift to diplomacy rather than aggression for resolving serious external problems, with special emphasis on disarmament relating to WMDs. This will also release more resources for checking social distress. The USA with its impressive universities and social movements can and should try to emerge as a world leader for innovative actions in such important areas as environment protection, renewable energy and holistic approach to improving physical, mental and spiritual health.

This is the path which will restore to the USA its lost position as a leader of democracy which provides real hope to people of other parts of world facing repression. With its vast economic and intellectual resources, it can also emerge in a leadership role for reducing social distress. This, and above all a real commitment to world peace with justice, is how its critic friends would like to see the constructive, healing role of the USA in an increasingly troubled world. What needs special emphasis is that peace at home and abroad should contribute to each other and both should be pursued together.

Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now.His recent books include Planet in Peril, A Day in 2071 and Protecting Earth for Children.

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