This year will long be remembered and analyzed by scholars and students for the so-called “Arab Spring” sweeping the Arab world from North Africa across to the Arabian Peninsula. Simmering tensions in a dozen countries boiled over in protests and revolts toppling several regimes – Tunisia, Egypt and Libya – and pushing others to the brink. In the Persian Gulf Iran is playing an outsized role, threatening the neighborhood: sponsoring terrorism, building nuclear weapons, and dominating the scene in Iraq as America is shown the door by Baghdad. Meanwhile, 44 years of conflict and occupation in Israel-Palestine shows no signs of a solution. Indeed the threat of an American veto to a Palestinian statehood bid in the United Nations illuminates Washington’s dilemma of balancing interests versus America’s principles.
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.
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.”
Jon Stewart on the Daily Show continued coverage of the New York City Islamic Center controversy last night ("Tennessee No Evil") taking his examination of the controversy from the Park 51 Center (the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque") in Manhattan, two blocks from the WTC, to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, "18,000 blocks" from the WTC.
"They came first for the Communists and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for me and by that time no one was left to speak up.."
Why has standing up for a fundamental Constitutional protection become an act of political courage? That question was one of the least savory aspects of the primary battles that wrapped up this week for U.S. House seats and the Governor’s job in Tennessee but it sadly reflected recent political pandering and religious bigotry at the national level.
The newest addition to the seemingly unending collection of stories that you just can’t make up is the strange case of General Stanley McChrystal, who until this week was the top military man in Afghanistan directing American and NATO combat forces. The general handed his commander in chief a resignation on Wednesday after the public airing of disparaging comments aimed at American civilian leaders. But there is the unanswered question of why he joined a fight he was sure to lose, and a particularly strange part of the story is the battlefield he chose for the losing campaign. Rolling Stone.
Thanks to everyone who sent feedback about this week's column, "Memo to Glenn Beck and Fox News Media Mogul Rupert Murdoch." In it I mentioned that President Obama was giving Memorial Day remarks at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, Illinois after Mr. Beck and others on Fox News (and elsewhere) asserted that President Obama was skipping the Arlington National Cemetery observance at the Tomb of the Unknowns in favor of a "vacation." [Click on this post title to see the video.]
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.”
A wise man once told me that it’s much easier to sell people something “they think they want” than something “you think they need.” That dictum is especially apropos to the task of global affairs awareness – teaching people about the world. We are a nation awash in information resources that offer an endless stream of raw data, context and analyses of the world around us but most Americans are content to leave understanding foreign affairs, our interests abroad and international things to someone else.