Wednesday, October 9, 2013

U.S. Parochialism could come back to bite their country

There is a kind of parochialism about the United States that is quite surprising to one who has lived outside her borders for more than half a century, before crossing the forty-ninth parallel to work there for four years. It strikes one in the evening news casts which all to varying degrees trumpet a kind of unabashed nationalism, pride of accomplishment and American heroism, if not precisely exceptionalism. It strikes one in the strength of the American belief in their own culture, and their way of doing everything, unless and until some international objective instrument demonstrates their failing "grade," for instance in math and reading skills, or in upward mobility of their people.
A story in the most recent Atlantic magazine documents the role of athletics in the demise of academic education among America's teens, a role that is not shared to the same degree with any other country in the world. Competitive sports has been a staple of U.S. culture and educational practice for centuries, without so much as a nod to its negative impact on learning.
And the current government shut-down, militating against the president's trip to APEC, in spite of his announced "pivot" to Asia, his indigenous attachment to Indonesia from his youth, and the changing face and ambitions of both Russia and China, especially the latter, resulting from the extreme parochialism even narcissism of the Tea Party demonstrate America's capacity to self-sabotage.
Foreign workers who enter the U.S. are publicly declared "aliens" as if they came from another planet. They are not immigrants, or new-comers or some other less abrasive term. And their "alien" status is never far from the surface of the experience of working among American people. And the race or country of origin does not matter, given their pedestalling of their own people, practices and culture, compared with others.
For example, without knowing very much about Canada, we are too often reduced to that "pinko communist" country a phrase used by Nixon to describe his contempt for Prime Minister Trudeau, half a century ago. If there is that much ignorance and bigotry generated in the heartland of American toward her northern neighbour, just imagine how much ignorance and bigotry there would be for a culture and people with whom Americans were even less familiar. In fact, it is the American refusal to learn about the world, including the people and cultures of all countries around the world, that serves to keep American people isolated from both the positive and negative potential influences that might come from such "intelligence".
And at a time when the world is so turbulent, and requiring such an intimate and fast-flowing knowledge and awareness of the dynamics that are stirring that turbulence, this is no time to tie the U.S. president to his desk, over some juvenile political temper tantrum, as the Tea Party is inflicting on the capacity of the U.S. to govern itself.
And, make no mistake, China, for one, and perhaps others, will not be reticent to jump into the vacuum created by Obama's absence. And in the long run, that capacity and willingness to fill the vacuum could severely hurt the U.S. in her relations with South Asian countries. This time, it is only a photo-op that is missed, by that photo will be hung in many capitals in the region and referred to over the years, as the APEC conference that the U.S. president could not and did not attend because his government had ceased to function.
And what will that memory do to the level of confidence that South Asian countries and their leaders place in the U.S., especially her primary bond-holder, China.
And if the U.S. does indeed default on her debt, China can be counted on to expect a premium on any future bonds it would purchase from the U.S. Treasury.
Chicken is not a game for mature diplomats....and we all stand to lose by the parochialism that engenders it.

from npr's On Point with Tom Ashbrook website, October 9, 2013
New York Times: Obama’s Absence Leaves China As Dominant Force At APEC – “The partnership, a major element of Mr. Obama’s pivot toward Asia, is intended to achieve open market access among the 12 participants, with the United States, Japan, Mexico and Canada as the major economies. The administration was hoping that the leader of South Korea, Park Geun-hye, would announce at the meeting that South Korea was ready to join the negotiations. But South Korean officials said Ms. Park would not make that declaration in Bali.”
Wall Street Journal: U.S. Seeks to Reassure Trade Partners After Obama Cancels Trip – “Mr. Obama has canceled major overseas visits to Asia in the past. In 2010 he called off trips to Indonesia and Australia amid a debate over health care at home and also the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Last year, he skipped APEC in Russia because it clashed with the closing stages of the presidential election campaign.But his administration has repeatedly affirmed the U.S.’s commitment to building stronger ties in the region, often referring to America as a Pacific power.Mr. Kerry said scrapping the trip upended an opportunity to build Mr. Obama’s dialogues with President Vladimir Putin of Russia and China’s President Xi Jinping.”
AP: With Obama Out, Others Take APEC Stage, Sort Of – “For Obama, the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit was meant to be an opportunity to underline renewed U.S. attention to Asia as a counterbalance to China’s increased economic and military clout. But that message was undermined by the U.S. budget impasse and government shutdown forcing Obama to cancel his trip to Indonesia and three other countries. His absence was perhaps felt most by Indonesians who consider him one of their own after he spent part of his childhood growing up in the capital, Jakarta.”

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