Progressive Writers Bloc

Recommended Reading

By Bill Becker

Bill Becker

O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us,
To see ourselves as others see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
And foolish notion.

From To A Louse, (1786) Robert Burns

If ever a nation needed the Pow'r to see itself as others see it, it is America today. And, we're in luck. In Rogue Nation-American Unilateralism and the Failure of Good Intentions, former "rock-ribbed" conservative Clyde Prestowitz makes it his mission to provide that vision out of his own extensive and expert experience with the diplomats and peoples of other countries. His credentials are unassailable-as a State Department official stationed in Europe in the '70s, he "remained a supporter of the [Vietnam] war long after many conservatives had abandoned it." Later, he became a "trade hawk" for President Reagan in negotiations with Japan. Prestowitz wrote Rogue Nation out of his deep concern for the direction the Bush administration is taking America. Just before the book appeared on the shelves, Bush invaded Iraq. Now, three years later, the book is even more timely.

Rogue Nation's chapter titles and their subtitles are something of an education in themselves. A sample:

As our giftie, Prestowitz tells us in no uncertain terms how other nations see us.

The Guardian of London: "America, the 'indispensable nation,' begins to resemble the ultimate rogue state. Instead of leading the community of nations, Bush's America seems increasingly bent on confronting it. Instead of a shining city on a hill ... comes a nationalistic jingle: we do what we want ... and if you don't like it, tough."

A British ambassador: "America always preaches the rule of law, but in the end always places itself above the law."

Prestowitz himself comments on America's self-image as a peace-loving nation: "The United States is widely seen to have interests but not friends, and to be primarily interested in material gain and power. It is in no way seen as peace-loving. Indeed, another Latin American ambassador to the United States asked: 'Peace loving? Are you kidding? No one believes that nonsense in Latin America.'"

Prestowitz goes on to educate us as to a major reason why Europe remained politically weak for so many years-that's how the U.S. wanted it, and U.S. administrations have consistently used American political and economic power to ensure that Europe remained in an "infantile" state. [No longer; a source of deep anxiety for the "America uber alles" crowd.]

He educates us on the hypocrisy of massive subsidies for U.S. sugar and cotton, paid for by the U.S. tax-payer, which prevent competition in the world market by low-cost Third World cotton and sugar producers. These poor, but hard-working Third World farmers are themselves increasingly fertile soil for anti-American ideologies, especially fundamentalist Islam.

Prestowitz opens Rogue Nation with an epigraph by Governor John Winthrop, who led the Puritans to Massachusetts: "Consider that wee shall be as a citty upon a hill, the eies of all people upon us." He closes with a chapter of the same name, City on a Hill, in which he summarizes his eloquent plea for a more decent, more honest American foreign policy, and for less jingoism from the American public. On the moral cost of Washington's intent to impose American values on the world, Prestowitz warns:

"... an American crusade won't work because it will increasingly involve us in the kinds of alliances of convenience and ruthless actions that only complicate our lives in the long run even as they corrupt our character and institutions."

He closes the book with something like a prayer:

"An America that stressed its tolerance rather than its might, its tradition of open inquiry rather than its lifestyle, and that asked for God's blessing on all the world's people and not just its own, would be the America that the world desperately wants. It would be something else, too. I'll never forget my first glimpse of Assisi, home of Saint Francis. As I turned a curve in the road just before sunset, there it was, white and shining on the hill."

We ignore Prestowitz's gift at our peril.

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