Bring back America’s better half

The U.S. is a global power, and it can remain powerful basically through fair mutual relationships with other nations. While we influence many events in the world, our economic prosperity is also partially rooted in other nations, and in the age of globalization American interests ultimately cannot be protected by militarization of foreign policy. In global relations, America has helped the people of some nations to achieve better lives, but at the same time it has also recognized and supported some of the most brutal regimes in the world. In recent years, because of abuses at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, the U.S. has lost much of its credibility as an advocate of human rights and democracy.

With the end of the cold war and the demise of the former Soviet Union, a great hope arose that America would move toward its “better half”—humanistic and democratic—at both the domestic and global levels. Yet, U.S. actions in the past few years have once again displayed the dark side of American foreign policy. In this presidential election, the world anxiously wishes to see America’s “better self.” The unprecedented popular excitement and participation during the current primary season shows that the American people are hoping for a deep and genuine change, and so it is important to ask which candidate most closely meets the fundamental needs of the time.

Republican Senator John McCain wants to continue the current foreign policy, which is characterized by militarization of world politics and economics. Like President Bush, his main issue for energizing the voters is creating fear and portraying himself as an iron fist and the only candidate who will use military muscle to stop foreign terrorists—as if President Bush hasn’t already tried that in vain. Uniting the nation based on foreign threat has already cost this country thousands of lives and billions of dollars with no result, and it has created more hostility against the U.S. and definitely less security for American interests around the world. Why should we continue on an obviously failed path? The era of military empire expired long ago, and economic empire has been replaced by a world of multi-polar and regional powers in the past two decades.

Either Senator Clinton or Senator Obama, if elected as the first female or African American president, will turn the page in the history of our nation and begin a new chapter. However, neither race nor gender is the main question of this election. The main issues are the related factors of the economy and the war in Iraq. Other concerns such as health care, immigration, and security are linked to these issues. Also, in this election America needs to elect a president who will drastically change the negative image of the country. Hillary Clinton, though a very articulate and knowledgeable candidate, cannot represent a genuine change because she supported the war and has not distanced herself from the Bush administration’s militarization policy. She also did not disassociate herself from Senator Joseph Lieberman, who shares more views with John McCain than with the Democratic Party.

Our nation desperately needs a president whose image and merits can heal the deep wounds created by the lies, secrecy, demagoguery, lobbyist scandals, and deceptions that pushed us into a costly war and created a disastrous economic situation while favoring particular interest groups and the ultra wealthy.

We need a leader whose image and policy can repair the damage done by the Abu Ghraib scandal in eyes of Muslims and Arabs; a president who can show consolidation with these nations to regain the lost trust in the international community. Such a crucial and humanistic gesture, which President Bush has failed to exercise, would make the withdrawal of our military forces from Iraq smoother, and the world would respond favorably to a leadership in the White House that reduces religious tension between Christians and Muslims , which is a major threat in our time. Other nations want to see an America that, when it acts as a policeman in the world, acts fairly.

The world does not want to see another leader in the White House whose goal is to show how tough we are by using military muscle against other nations. We have tried that and failed, and almost the entire world warned us ahead of time of our error by refusing to give a United Nations sanction to the invasion of Iraq. Our militaristic mentality has done serious damage to our interests in the world and definitely cannot resolve the serious, multi-dimensional global problems that we face. Instead of imposing democracy in other countries with military force, we need to show our authoritarian allies the advantages of democracy and help the people in hostile countries to establish the social and cultural fabrics of democratic society.

Barack Obama, with unique characteristics that intersect with these imperatives, meets the needs of our time better than anyone else. Obama in the White House would help the world to see the better half of America, a democratic and humanistic America.

Kazem Alamdari teaches in the Department of Sociology at California State University, Northridge. His latest book is Why the Middle East Lagged Behind (2006).

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