It was Lech Walesa who said that the greatest export of the United States ought to be Human Rights. American grade schoolers are taught our Revolution over two hundred years ago inspired the French Revolution and marked the beginning of the end of Monarchy, and perhaps Colonialism. Of course this is not true except in a vague sense, as both of these political concepts linger today in figurative and even literal forms.
Human rights and reforms toward liberty and equality were certainly not invented by Jefferson, Adams, et alia. The origins of legislated self-evident truths, such as religious tolerance and protection from the abuses of nobility, takes us full circle, back to Medieval Poland, even before the Magna Carta was signed by an unwilling regal hand. Yes, Uncle Sam seems to be a faithful descendant of age-old human family values, but perhaps a bit slow to inspire older and younger brother nations to take up the cause. The Monroe Doctrine is perhaps the closest thing we’ve done to actively encouraging self-determination, but is sadly counter-balanced by the more recent hypocrisy of placing of, funding, and allying with dictators of all colors during the Cold War.
It was the 20th Century that showed the real decline of the British Commonwealth, and ceding India — a quarter of the world’s population at the time — was no small loss for the Windsor Family. A half-Century of Leftist ideologies (in the true historic sense) rallied the common laborers to topple Czars and Kaisers between the World Wars, and Emperors large and small in the East relegated themselves to figurehead roles and gardening.
In this new Century, revolution seems to be spreading throughout the world now that the Internet has provided Man with the means for global awareness and dialogue. Iranian Twitter-organized protests for Democracy were the tremor before the quake that rocked Tunisia, then Egypt, which tried in vain to close Pandora’s box by shutting down ISPs. Protests have now erupted not only across the Arabic world (Yemen, Bahrain, and growing whispers in the domain of the Royal House of Saud), but in China, the last great stronghold of political oppression. (If there are protests in North Korea, we probably wont hear about it except through Wikileaks, as even the press is basically forbidden there.)
But what of America? Apart from the Civil Rights Movement and the Tea Party, government reform is never directly addressed. We spend most of the fight left in us protesting wars, public funding cuts, pensions, and special interest legislation. The “Third World” is putting us to shame. We’re more concerned with union issues and special rights that the mechanism by which they are either protected or governmentally manhandled. We can’t see past our own outstretched hands.
What we have taken for granted had to this point made us great, and there is question as to whether that greatness was squandered in our own time on the gains of an industrial-oil-military complex. Instead of setting the example on principles, we allowed the Communist PRC to dictate the world’s recognition of the Democratic ROC, made the Dalai Lama use the service entrance at the White House, and aided almost any dictator, so long as they played nice with Israel and didn’t join the Soviet “Evil Empire”.
Times have changed, though. There is no Red Threat since Walesa led Poland to a solid freedom once again, Gorbachev discovered the joys of Capitalism via Walmart, and Reagan’s shout was heeded by the people themsleves when the Berlin Wall fell. The regimes we created either turned against us and got invaded (Iraq, Afghanistan), or kept really quiet after 9-11 (Libya’s Khadafi). And now the dominoes are falling into a pattern beyond any predictability.
Perhaps the Islamist dream of a pan-Arabic Caliphate will come true. But it doesn’t seem so, at least not in any fashion reminiscent of times past. While Turkey is swaying politically from the staunchly secular toward the theocratic, the Muslim Brotherhood — the heterogeneous voice behind most of the upheavals — has a message closer to our own Founding Fathers than the Islamophobic caricatures eagerly ready to fill the gaps in our imaginations.
The common denominator in this newly christened “Jasmine Revolution” is not Islam or Arabic pride, but democratic reform — free and fair elections, and a cleanup of beaurocratic excess and corruption. Maybe they are not only embarassing us with their zeal for what we think of as an inherently “American” values, but we have a lesson to learn as well about handling our own affairs if our own government goes to far.
President Obama, to the expected implicit dismay of the entrenched diplomatic machine around him, has managed to avoid interference in foreign sovereignty while declaring unambiguously that power to the people is an inevitable, unavoidable concession. And this is not Bush-esque pontification toward some “Axis of Evil”, but directly squarely at our own allies.
All this is happening with the US Dollar being contested as a world standard. The standard of living is rising quickly in India thanks to micro-banking, and even in China as it grows in it’s own demi-Capitalist Perestroika. As the British Empire passed the torch of global hegemony to us, in the last century, to whom will it go in this one?
The no-longer-sleeping dragon of China is the favored bet but has a way to go; India has yet to become fully awake. The European Union (kicking off with protests in Greece), has only proven that government housekeeping is unsustainable, and that beaurocratic quantity is often inverse to quality, a lesson we Americans seem adamant not to learn before it’s too late. A united Middle East could set the stage for Armageddon with Israel, or it could be a power to be respected.
What is the real question is not who’s turn it will be so much as what legacy we will leave for them. There might be less time than we think to make amends where we ought and cram in good deeds before final judgment. How will America be remembered when the time comes for us to find a new, less dominant place in the world? In hindsight it will be apparent what world we live in will be very dependent on our own international legacy.
There is another possible outcome. If the days of superpowers are replaced with a balanced global cooperation — if the fundamental rules of the game change or the game of power itself is discarded — then what we do and have done will lend much to the nature of a world government. Will it be a consolidation of power or a humanity-wide social contract inviolable by any state? Have we inspired the common man to empowerment more than we have enslaved him to a bureaucratically dictated fate?
Whatever world our grandchildren inherit, the future has one certainty. For better or worse, perhaps both the idealistic and profane, the lessons we have taught the world will come back to us. We all shall sow what America has reaped.