We’re Number 96!

Posted January 2, 2007

Categories: Articles

Welcome to the new format and location for World Beat, the e-zine of Foreign Policy In Focus from the Institute for Policy Studies. Every week we bring you a short commentary and a rundown of the latest FPIF content. This week: our Independence Day edition.

On July 4th, Americans descend into paroxysms of patriotism. There are big flags and big parades, big speeches and big fireworks. And don’t forget the big foam fingers raised high: we’re number one!

As Frida Berrigan has pointed out in TomDispatch, the only people in the United States who can legitimately wave their fingers in the air are the employees of the military-industrial complex and the energy industry. The United States is number one in the world in oil consumption, military expenditures, arms exports, and the training of soldiers overseas. Go Army! Go Texas!

The United States doesn’t, however, do so well in other indices. According to the UN’s Human Development Index (HPI), which combines such measures as life expectancy, literacy, and per capita GDP, the United States ranks number 8 in the world. We’re behind Ireland and Australia.

But the HDI is comparatively kind to the United States. Not so the Environmental Performance Index, put together by Yale University. This index looks at such measures as air quality, water resources, and energy sustainability. America comes out at number 28. Again, those pesky Irish and Australians do better than us. But this time they’re joined by Slovakia and Malaysia.

But the worst is yet to come. After all, everyone knows that the UN is anti-American and Yale University is a safe haven for Marxists and deconstructionists. Their rankings will naturally put the United States in a bad light.

So it must come as a shock to the America Firsters that the intelligence unit of the venerable British magazine The Economist has devised an index that puts the United States so far down in the ranks that even Yemen scores better. According to the new Global Peace Index (GPI), the United States ranks 96. Serbia, which was involved in wars throughout the 1990s, does better. The country of Moldova, dealing with the armed, breakaway republic of Transnistria, does better. Even the land of the killing fields, Cambodia, scored higher! Remember, this is The Economist speaking, not The Onion.

As FPIF contributor Gretchen Griener explains in Going from Hawk to Dove, the United States earned substantial demerits in the GPI for its huge prison population – 25% of all prisoners in the world are housed in the United States. Easy access to firearms also sent the U.S. rank plummeting.

External factors, too, played a role in this humiliation: “the wars and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, the burgeoning $613 billion military budget, and the nation’s vast weapons industry.” Griener adds, “The United States also earned the worst rating for the large number of non-UN deployments, a bad rating for the number of external and internal conflicts fought, and a bad rating for the transfer of major conventional weapons to other countries. The Guantanamo detentions have not helped the U.S. ranking when it comes to respect for human rights.”

Nor surprisingly, the GPI failed to generate headlines in the United States. But Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) did spread the word among his congressional colleagues by talking up the index on Capitol Hill. “We’ve got to clean up our act,” he told Michael Shanks in an interview for FPIF. “We are unquestionably the wealthiest nation in the world. But the question is, in this age of globalization, are we using that wealth and that power to help others so that we can bring them up? Or are we using that wealth and that power just to continue our power and our wealth at the expense of others?”

Exiting Iraq

This Sunday, The New York Times endorsed a rapid U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq. As the editorial acknowledges, a majority of Americans came to this conclusion several months ago. Better late than never. The New York Times, perhaps more than any other mainstream newspaper, helped the Bush administration make the case for the invasion of Iraq. Its editorial reversal may not have the same impact as CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite’s public turn against the Vietnam War. But it will contribute to the increasing isolation of the Bush administration.

FPIF military affairs analyst Dan Smith looks a year into the future and sees a possible reconfiguration of the regional balance of power as a result of U.S. misinterpretations and mishandlings of Middle Eastern affairs. “Sensing a possible change in the balance of power in the Gulf as the coalition military forces leave Iraq, the Iranians secretly approach Saudi Arabia with a proposal to stabilize the political-economic conditions in the Persian Gulf – Caspian Sea oil fields,” Smith writes in Exiting Iraq. “The core of the proposal calls for Riyadh and Tehran to pressure Baghdad diplomatically (and with the sectarian militias always in the background) to reject any form of a residual U.S. military presence in Iraq. In return, both Iran and Saudi Arabia would assist the re-development of Iraq’s oil sector, enabling the three countries to form a powerful sub-OPEC triumvirate.”

But wait, the Bush administration has no intention of heeding The New York Times and removing U.S. military forces from Iraq. The president has deliberately avoided all references to a Vietnam analogy. In Vietnam, the United States handed over military responsibilities to the South Vietnamese prior to pulling out. The Bush administration has cast around for an analogy that doesn’t conjure up images of people desperate to get on the last U.S. helicopters.
And so the administration has seized on the Korea analogy: a more-or-less permanent U.S. military presence for decades. “The consensus among military officials reported by The Washington Post on June 11 forecast at least 40,000 U.S. troops remaining in Iraq for a decade,” write FPIF contributors Anne Miller and Kevin Martin in Earth to Bush: Iraq Isn’t South Korea. “Nor would this plan necessarily change under a Democratic president. According to a recent NPR commentary by veteran reporter Ted Koppel, Hillary Clinton has privately said she expects a significant number of U.S. troops to remain in Iraq for the next ten years, even if she were to serve two terms as president.”

Talking Turkey

The Iraq War has profound ripple effects. Take the case of Turkey, traditionally a close U.S. ally. But Ankara refused Washington’s demand to use Turkey as a jumping off point for the invasion of Iraq. And U.S.-Turkey relations have continued to sour because of the support that the Kurdish part of Iraq has provided to Kurdish separatists across the border in Turkey.

As a result, Turkey is having second thoughts about throwing its lot in with Europe and the United States. It’s not just about fear of large changes, writes FPIF contributor Pinar Bilgin.

“It has also to do with how some within Turkey have portrayed the reform process as part of a Western strategy aimed at dismembering the country and/or watering down its secularism in order to render the country a better model for other “Muslim” societies to emulate in advancing a ‘Greater Middle East,’” she writes in Turkey’s European Dilemma. “The U.S.-led war on Iraq, which was justified on these grounds and made it possible (albeit in an unintended way) for Kurdish separatists to use the region as a base to launch attacks inside Turkey, provided more ammunition to those who produce such conspiracy theories. Also presented as evidence have been the discouraging remarks by some EU politicians regarding the futility of Turkey’s efforts to Europeanize given its lack of ‘Europeanness’ and the increasing pressure on Turkey to identify the killings of Armenians during World War I as ‘genocide.’”

According to a recent Pew poll that shows U.S. popularity in the world in a continued freefall, only four percent of Turks have a positive attitude toward the spread of American ideas, which puts them on par with Palestinians and Pakistanis. Turkey also tops the poll in terms of its dislike of the way the United States does business.

Turks are not the only ones who are rejecting the American model. “Pew reports that majorities of people in 43 out of the 47 countries they studied now believe that the United States promotes democracy mostly where it serves its interests,” writes FPIF columnist Zia Mian in Freedom, Democracy, and Free Enterprise? People around the world connect U.S. policies to human rights violations and widening disparities of wealth.

And what about Americans who cling to the illusion that the United States is still number one? “To hang on to what they have and try to get what they can, no matter what it takes, will mean opposing immigration reform, supporting corporations, and wanting their government to sustain the global empire that brings some benefits in the form of cheap goods, cheap energy, especially oil, and services,” Mian writes. “There are many politicians in both the Democratic and Republican parties who are willing to offer this path: their only real disagreement may be how much force to use to sustain the American way of life.”

A Real Stinker

Maybe it was the title of the last World Beat, but somehow our email distribution system failed to deliver The Bad Egg to many of our subscribers. If you want to read more about Dick Cheney and his assault on U.S. foreign policy, click here for last week’s edition.

FPIF, July 10, 2007

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