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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Out of Our League (10.6.08)

We all like leagues - the major leagues, the NFL, the NHL (a few people at least), 20,000 leagues under the sea, math league, the company kickball league, a league of extraordinary gentlemen.

The League of Democracies, an ill conceived body brandished by McCain with some supporters from both sides of the aisle, is one that has no place in this world. The idea has garnered limited discussion and media focus, even in a climate desperate for refreshing and effective foreign policy change. Essentially, the League of Democracies is an assembly of democracies from around the world joined to collectively steer foreign policy, security, and global issues (health, education, etc.) and eventually replace the UN.

The idea comes to the surface with seemingly noble intentions. Of course, a new union of nations spreading democracy around the world, what a sound and bold idea, right? But, these intentions are deceptive. The League of Democracies is just another vehicle for the U.S. to assert its "exceptionalism" and impose its notion of democracy on foreign landscapes. Under U.S. stewardship, the League will certainly look to push the U.S.'s agenda, protect the U.S.'s interests, and look only to incorporate countries of the U.S.'s choice (only those democracies that have been U.S.-friendly); this runs counter to the integration and collaboration that the world is yearning for. Moreover, as the U.S. has gone against the grain of UN consensus in both identifying and resolving key international issues over the past 8 years, it now has floated the League as an alternative to continue its cowboy approach. Does the U.S. really expect any country to come on board when it has alienated and devalued so many countries' views and opinions?

This authoritarian motive is so flagrantly dressed in the notion that the U.S. is the "best" and "knows best." First off, what Americans must fully accept is that in 50 years, the U.S., while still boasting the world's strongest military, will not possess the world's largest economy. China, and likely, India will handily surpass the U.S. It has less to do with America becoming a weakling and more to do with the the laws of large numbers; with each country having more than 4 times the population of the U.S. and productivity and innovation quickly approaching, and in some cases surpassing, that of the U.S., China and India are bound to gain ground quickly. What U.S. leadership needs to embrace is that being the "best" in the world is not having the strongest military or economy, it is 1) working the "best" within an integrated world framework and 2) being the "best" in developing innovations to improve global conditions. Secondly, U.S. leadership needs to fully understand that democracy does not need to look and feel like the U.S. everywhere in the world. This superficial patriotism of "country first" is not only backward thinking, it's pushing the U.S. backwards. Since when does patriotism run counter to cooperation? Since when does it go against a more intelligent, sophisticated, and integrated world view?

In addition to having fundamentally flawed motives, the League of Democracies overlooks many "details," including the world's regional economies and histories. Just because a group of countries shares the political orientation of democracy does not mean that each member will, all of a sudden, naturally pursue common interests and goals, especially those common to the U.S. Democracy is just the surface, rooted in an array of religious, historical, and economic factors. Like so many conservative ideals, The League of Democracies pulls the visceral strings of Americans, but obscures context and ignores underlying complexities.

While the League of Democracies is impressive in scope (and certainly the world needs new and bold ideas), it lacks the proper motives and thoughtfulness to unite the world and promote freedoms. The UN has its many serious deficiencies, but the League is not the answer and the long-standing UN should not be replaced. We need leadership to put together innovative alternatives to existing UN structures and policies, making the organization more efficient, inclusive, and integrative. The U.S. does not have to be so insecure, nor does it need to be a bully.

I know it's cliche - the idea that the U.S. needs to simmer down its ego, partner with the world rather than perpetually believe that it is the "best" - but then why is this ideal still so out of reach for so many Americans and even a U.S. presidential candidate? They always say in these presidential debates that "America is a beacon of light." Let's make sure this light keeps burning and reaches even farther.