Indifference to global developments is not a new phenomenon in America’s public life. In recounting the story of the Council on Foreign Relations, Colorado College political scientist David Hendrickson, writing in “Foreign Affairs,” noted the relative ignorance among officials and the public about the world. Of the former he said the U.S. State Department, in the wake of World War I, lacked the “detailed knowledge of European conditions that would be required for redrawing, as fairly as could be done, the map of the world.” Of the citizenry of the day, he said “American domestic opinion was returning with a vengeance, to the insular habits that had long characterized it,” citing as evidence the “Philadelphia Record’s” comment in 1928 that, “The American people don’t give a hoot in a rainbarrel who controls north China.”
It may be a case of, “Gentlemen, we have run out of money; it’s time to start thinking,” variously attributed to Winston Churchill and physicist Ernest Rutherford, but the need to reform Saudi Arabia’s oil-dependent economy has actually been the subject of “thinking” for decades.
The throngs of Egyptians who have taken to the streets in the Arab world’s most populous country are shaking the foundations of regimes across North Africa and the Middle East with scant hope America will emerge from this new crisis with a winning hand, much less breaking even.
The unrest and violence that has erupted in more than a dozen countries across North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia has refocused Americans' attention on two different but not disconnected historical movements in the Muslim world. The first is the campaign of terror launched by Osama bin Laden and an alliance of militant Islamic warriors who have sought to expel the West from Muslim lands, oust pro-Western dictators and unify those lands as a single Islamic nation for over 15 years. This movement, initially supported by America and its allies when it was used to dislodge the Soviet Union from Afghanistan in the 1980s, metastasized into the Al Qaeda terror groups that eventually attacked the United States on 9/11. The toll in American blood and treasure has been over 10,000 lives and trillions of dollars in damages and the cost of U.S. led wars.
The tide of revolt that has swept the Arab World in the last two months has been stunning in scope, intensity and importance. From the Atlantic Ocean to the Persian Gulf autocratic regimes have been shaken and some have fallen in an historic reformation of how Arab countries will manage their affairs. This transformation, dubbed an “Arab Spring,” has also stunned foreign policy making institutions in the United States as America’s values and interests are increasingly at odds with each other.
We Americans consider ourselves to be among the most generous people on the planet and when it comes to individual charitable giving that appears to be the case. Americans give three and one-half times more per capita than the French, seven times more than the Germans and 14 times more than the Italians, according to a television news magazine story by John Stossel. When asked about Americans’ giving in response to the Haiti earthquake in January, Cass Wheeler, who knows something about raising money as former CEO of the American Heart Association, said, “When you think about this country, the spirit of volunteering time and making contributions is really a part of our fabric.”