U.S. can't afford to ignore world in crisis
by Salim Mansur
Americans are understandably concerned about their economy with an astronomical debt burden now equalling the country's gross domestic product of $14 trillion, unemployment numbers still hovering close to one in 10 people out of work and the domestic market still in slump.
In the November 2010 election, Americans sent a message to Washington by electing Republicans to deal with economy as the priority. For U.S. President Barack Obama, Tuesday's State of the Union address was his opportunity to let Americans know he understood their imperative.
Americans will judge and give their verdict in 2012 on how well Obama understood their November message.
But Obama sent his own message to Americans and the world that his administration, to be focused on domestic priorities, has little interest or inclination to respond to the foreign policy challenges growing more ominous even as he spoke.
With America tilting under debt, Obama's rhetorical flourish — "This is our generation's Sputnik moment" — was Quixotic, or the unrepentant instinct of a spendthrift with empty pockets and no savings.
It might be worse — America turning inwards and its leadership clueless on how to contend with the gathering storm in the navel of the world, the Middle East, and the dire consequences in its aftermath.
In watching Obama on Tuesday evening, my thoughts took me back to the world adrift exactly 100 years ago in 1911. That was the year, as some historians suggest, that marked the beginning of the short 20th century and an end to the long 19th century.
Few today, without looking into history books, can recall who were the leaders of the great democratic powers in 1911, and what urgent issues preoccupied them.
In the U.S., president William Howard Taft occupied the White House. The British prime minister was Liberal leader Herbert Henry Asquith, and the French prime minister of the Third Republic was Aristide Briand, replaced by Ernest Monis and, in turn, replaced by Joseph Caillaux.
After the muscular presidency of Theodore Roosevelt in world affairs — building the Panama Canal, negotiating Russo-Japanese peace for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize — the Taft years were a retreat without the label of isolationism from world affairs.
In Britain, the big issue for Asquith was arranging the Delhi Durbar and moving the capital of British India from Calcutta to New Delhi. The occasion would be marked by the first royal visit of the British monarch, King George V, as Emperor of India to the subcontinent.
France, as only the French can, was torn between the politics of glory pursued by the right and radicalism of the left, with after effects of the Dreyfus scandal leaving toxic her body politic.
In the meantime, the locomotive of war gathered steam.
The Balkan crisis loomed, Italy ventured into Africa (Libya) with colonial ambitions, the Russian monarchy nursed its wounded pride as popular discontent grew stronger, and Germany prepared to steam past Britain's naval superiority.
And none foresaw how an assassin's bullet of a Serbian nationalist in Sarajevo could hurtle the locomotive of war — sending Europe into bloodletting, depression and renewed slaughter ending over a generation later when Russian tanks rolled into Hitler's Berlin.