Tuesday, March 14, 2006


Is the U.S. Public Turning Isolationist?

Does anyone else sense it?, because I certainly do. Furthermore, I think
the writing is on the wall for anyone who cares enough to look and the
U.S. politicians, in particular, had better take notice. The people of
the United States are shifting their concerns inward toward domestic
affairs after years of “outward orientation”, both economically and
politically as well as militarily. I think Iraq has a lot to do with it,
but also hurricane Katrina, the Mexican immigration issue and a host of
other salient US domestic problems. Even the whole Dubai Ports World affair
reflects what seems to be this growing trend “inwards”. Juxtapose these
rising domestic concerns with what is perceived as the insistent
determination of past and present US administrations to involve the
country in and “police” the rest of the world and I think we might be
witnessing a major “tectonic shift” in US public outlook that may if not
determine at least significantly influence the next presidential election.

It is widely known that the current Bush administration has been totally dominated ideologically (until recently) by the Neo-Conservatives which many see as being encapsulated or exemplified by the “Project for the New American Century.” Critics have called it a plan to establish American economic and military hegemony in world affairs following the “vacuum” left by the collapse of the Communist-block. The invasion of Iraq was certainly a part of that agenda as the first step in spearheading a wider democratic tranformation of the Middle East that would ultimately benefit the US. President Bush has said as much to the American public on numerous occasions.

Regardless of what one may think about the Neo-Conservative outlook or its
proponents, it is hard to escape the feeling that the entire “project” has
collapsed after colliding with the brick wall that is the Iraq debacle.
Conservative icon William F. Buckley Jr. is the latest and perhaps most
important in a growing number of conservative leaders to have criticized
the war, even going so far as to call the effort a failure. One need
only look at a whole slew of polls over the last year related directly or
indirectly to US policy in the Middle East to get the distinct impression
that large (and growing) portions of the American public feel the policy
is flawed. Advocacy for democratic change in the region has come up
against a stark reality: Hamas in Palestine, the inroads made by the
Muslim Brotherhood in recent Egyptian elections, Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon, not to speak
of the prospects of an Islamic theocracy in “liberated” Iraq. The US
public is inevitably asking if this is what their blood and treasure has
be expended for.

When people in the US look abroad they see a similar if not analogous
scenario in the economic realm that also affects them directly. In the
Far East, they see monumental economic developments taking place in China
and India. To the US public, the citizens of these countries are the
beneficiaries of an “outward economic orientation” or globalization
endorsed by alternating US administrations (both Democrat and Republican)
which translates into the loss of US jobs. To them, the scenario doesn't
look much different closer to home within their own hemisphere. Look
south and on the one hand you see a significant political shift of the
leadership in Latin America if not towards anti-American stands at least
towards policies at odds with the US. In the realm of economics and
trade, witness the resistance there was toward the Central American Free
Trade Area (CAFTA) as well as to other regional trade initiatives.

As I indicated above, when you juxtapose these international developments
with a series of domestic “problems” as perceived by the US public, I
think there is fertile ground for (lets say) a populist US candidate that
eschews the international ambitions of the country in favor of
an overwhelmingly domestic focus on solving such problems as immigration,
healthcare, disaster preparedness, poverty, jobs and corruption. I think
a growing number of Americans are asking: “Why must we take care of the
rest of the world when we cannot even care for our own?”

While this shift in US public sentiment may be imperceptible to some, I
can assure you it will become painfully obvious if (or rather when) an
economic downturn rears its ugly head in the US. Already, January's trade
deficit has been called the largest monthly imbalance yet for the country
and the day of reckoning might just be right around the corner. While
concerns about the deficit have been around for quite some time, most
economists agree the gap will have to be brought down eventually. The
question is whether it can be managed smoothly (ie a soft landing) without
creating much hardship or not. In the event of a sudden and painful
downturn, rest assured that the American public will make itself heard
unequivocably regarding whether the country should or shouldn't have such
a prominent role in world affairs.


Wednesday, March 08, 2006


International Women's Day

Happy International Women's Day!

Note: Sorry I haven't been posting very often. The semester has been quite a demanding one for me so far, plus I am looking forward to participating in the Latin American Studies Association's XXVI Conference.

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