“It is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.” President Bush declared this grand vision in his inaugural address in January, reiterating themes he had given in speeches over the past several months and which he again reinforced recently in the State of the Union. Although the U.S. government has long supported the spread of democracy along with freedom and free markets, Bush’s bold words have added resonance after the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. If one assumes that these values are the basis and justification for our current power — as many Americans seem to — it is worth reflecting what the logical outcome of spreading these values would mean. Honest support of the spread of democracy, freedom and free markets would mean the decline of America’s own super-power pre-eminence. Americans must understand that true victory for the liberal values the United States claims to promote means our abdication from a position of supremacy.
Despite its superpower status, the United States does not rate first in many seemingly important categories. The European Union has the largest economy in the world. China has the most people. Norway ranks highest on the United Nation’s Human Development Index. Bollywood reaches more filmgoers around the world than Hollywood. Nevertheless, in 2005, the United States still remains (as Madeline Albright once described it) the “indispensable power.” Few doubt that the combined economic, military and diplomatic power the United States projects internationally has been unrivaled since the end of the Cold War. To many Americans our power is a source of great pride, security and national identity. For them being American is synonymous with being No. 1.
This is perhaps best reflected by the inviolable position that the military holds in the national consciousness. When Howard Dean suggested during the 2004 Democratic primary that, “We won’t always have the strongest military,” John Kerry’s campaign struck back saying, “No serious candidate for the presidency has ever before suggested that he would compromise or tolerate an erosion of America’s military supremacy.” President Bush has done little to hint that he would tolerate such deterioration, either.
While addressing the United Nations in September, President Bush reminded his audience that, “Both the American Declaration of Independence and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaim the equal value and dignity of every human life.” In accepting the belief in the equality between members of humankind enshrined in these two documents, America must also accept that its power will inevitably diminish. After China and India, the United States is only the third most populous country on the planet (the European Union has more people than the United States as well). How can the United States justify or retain supremacy in relation to these countries in the long term if all members of humanity have equal innate abilities?
Some argue that people anywhere can succeed (America, after all, is a nation of immigrants with such success stories), but that it is poor governments that keep their citizens and countries back. However, it is the policy of the United States to support democratic governments, free markets and freedom around the world. As President Bush stated before the UN, “When it comes to the desire for liberty and justice, there is no clash of civilizations. People everywhere are capable of freedom, and worthy of freedom.” India and the European Union are already vibrant democracies and have increasingly free markets. If America is not the third- or fourth-strongest country in the world behind India, the European Union or a democratic China in 20 or 30 years, then something has gone terribly wrong. Either our stated values are not really the basis for our power (which invites the question of what is) or the United States has used its current supremacy to ensure that others (despite their similar values and inherent equality) remain relatively disempowered.
Of course, one should deeply question the sincerity of President Bush’s recent words and reflect upon whether America’s policies are really designed to promote liberal values. For example, it seems beyond shameful for an administration that has allowed genocide to occur in Darfur, Sudan, to make such sweeping declarations about America’s altruistic role in the world.
The larger philosophical point from President Bush’s vision for America should not be forgotten, though: The United States is working to create a time when it no longer wins the most Olympic medals, does not control the world’s financial institutions and is not synonymous with military supremacy. In this context, the current administration’s antipathy towards international law and institutions seems self-defeating. The United States should take its moment of power to strengthen and reform these international bodies so that when America’s power is surpassed, its voice can still be fairly heard and protected. The spread of America’s values means the loss of American influence. Ensuring that a value such as democracy gains supremacy, though, is far more important than ensuring the United States stays in power.
Nicholas Robinson is a second-year student at the Law School.