17 June 2004

What has changed?

For the last nine months, as I've lived in England, traveled around both England and Ireland, and spent time in France and Russia, I've had to put up with comments about the USA. It's pretty much become conventional wisdom that the USA has wandered far off the path of wisdom in Iraq and Afghanistan. People in countries where terrorism has taken a greater toll than it has in the USA haven't failed to notice that far more innocent people have died in Iraq and Afghanistan as a result of American actions than died in the USA on September 11, 2001.

Some Europeans point to specific American leaders as the source of the trouble; others mutter about "typical" American arrogance. Although there is much justice in their comments, I have to wonder about what role Europeans played in the tacit acceptance of outrageous human rights violations and cosy ties with dictators. Much of the world seems to want the USA to be the bad cop, doing other countries' dirty work while those other countries retain the right to criticize our arrogance.

And dirty work it is. One friend of mine in Birmingham, England, whose specialty is international criminal law, sat me down and made me listen to a list of treaties that the USA has refused to sign or honor, alliances abandoned, oppressive regimes propped up, dues unpaid, and international outcries ignored. Every country probably thinks it is special, but the USA version of specialness, our messianic exceptionalism, has global repercussions. Isn't it only a matter of time before the rest of the world finds ways to gang up on us? Since this probably cannot happen militarily, my guess is that it will happen economically.

Just as the rest of the world seems increasingly negative about the USA, I find the mood here getting uglier as well. There's a meanness in the air, exacerbated by the deep divisions revealed in the buildup to the presidential election campaigns. I find it affecting my own natural buoyancy, until I begin deliberately working against it.

This is where the church comes in ... right?

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