The United States and the World – guest series post by Hamza Khan

America! A Lament.

Over the course of the past one hundred years, the United States has become our world’s indispensable global actor. This was more or less a mistake of history; at the turn of last century, America had no interest in global power or dominance. There was no end in sight to the British, French or Russian empires at the beginning of the 1900s, the sick man of Europe and caliphate of Islam seemed to continue to stagger forward as the Ottoman empire; China had begun a wretchedly painful and slow modernization as the world’s oldest continuing civilization and Japan was on the brink of becoming an international power.
Our nation’s only enduring foreign policy was the Monroe Doctrine, which secured the right of the rest of the Americas to choose their own future without European intervention, but was later subverted for the purpose of allowing the US’s intervention in the affairs of Latin America and the Caribbean. America was a mute power on the world stage, and preferred it that way.
Then came the Second World War after the failure of America’s well intentioned 14 points to protect and avoid further conflicts following World War One. The failure of President Woodrow Wilson to secure the rights of self-determination for new nations, prop up the imploding Ottoman Empire, and avoiding an overtaxing punishment of Germany in 1918 ended America’s foray as a global power. But with the failure of the Anglo-French alliance to keep Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan at bay from world domination through militarized force, America found itself more or less tricked into the default role of defender of the free world.
But how free? At the end of hostilities in 1945, America refused to allow blacks and whites to serve in the same military units. Jim Crow was rigidly enforced in the south, where white German prisoners of war were allowed to roam freely in and out of towns for work, while blacks could not be served at many white-owned restaurants. Racism was prevalent, and multiculturalism was limited to a choice between lard or Crisco as the food shortening of choice.
Today, America’s role as a superpower that saved countless lives in Kosovo and Bosnia is eclipsed by the erroneous invasion of Iraq and the ever-growing budget and financial crises that have gripped the country for nearly six years. Today, our nation’s black citizens have been joined by an explosion of legal and not-so-legal immigration from Latin America to the United States in being our country’s most underserved citizens, with many still languishing in poverty and struggling to makes ends meet in our difficult economy. American citizens who have allegiance to our flag in support of terrorism and armed warfare against our country can be killed on a foreign battlefield by American forces, with the government neither accepting responsibility for the killing, nor confirming the practice. The price of leading the free world has been a guilty crown, some would say, weighed down by the blood and difficulties faced by Americans in times of undeclared war* (like in Vietnam and Korea), and the unjustifiable subsidies paid to multi-national corporations and banks while middle and working class Americans are threatened with foreclosure and tax liens.
It is true that on the one side, America has finally embraced a diverse, tolerant present and future where all people are welcome to make their lives and find their American dream. But so much of our future has also been robbed from us by the cost of two undeclared wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that were not paid for by usual means of a war-tax. Furthermore, the Democratic agenda of tax relief for the middle class and universal healthcare, while ambitious, are incomplete measures that offer little substantive relief for Americans who need an impetus to work and become entrepreneurs. Take for instance this harrowing fact: 78% of all new jobs have been generated in the United States by family owned firms. There are over 5.5 million family-owned enterprises in our country and an astonishing 40% are passed down to future generations of the same family. This is why so many hard-working immigrants from across the world have found success and security in America as a place where consistent hard work does pay off.
But that dream of stable wealth and return on investment is under jeopardy from our banking industry. Banks are designed by default to make incredible profits from small amounts of capital. A car loan may carry interest in the double digits. When a person is done paying for a home even a bottom-barrel rate of interest, they would have nearly paid double the value of their home, with a significant portion of their income that might have helped pay for their own or their children’s college tuition being eaten up in interest payments.
So where does that leave America and Americans on the world stage? Cold and embittered. Americans have not seen upfront the terrible cost of war in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Iraq just to name a few. In our eyes, our nation invested billions of dollars and thousands of American lives to help provide the same opportunities we Americans take for granted to the masses of the Muslim World. Yet, the response has been violent resistance, the murder of our ambassador in Libya and attacks on our embassies when a deranged Arab creates crude videos attacking the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
It is with great sadness that I have witnessed my country, whose goal upon inception was to be the light of democracy and human rights as enshrined in our own constitution, has been unable to find its voice within the 100 years it has been muscular on the world stage. The one great hope we have within our borders has been my generation. Generation Y’s willingness to question and challenge the dogmas of the past and empower ourselves, both within and without government, to make effective change in the world around us. What remains to be seen, though, is whether or not we can rise above the petty and often demoralizing tactics employed to further domestic political agendas at the cost of good governance.  Perhaps in the next 100 years, America might find its true voice as a world power, to deliver freedom and justice to all in need of it.
Hamza Sarwar Khan is an American political scientist, interfaith activist and entrepreneur. He is a practising Sunni Muslim, whose parents emigrated to the United States from Lahore, Pakistan. Khan He has been featured in The Baltimore Jewish Times, Christian Science Monitor, The Muslim Link, and several leading blogs for his work as an unapologetic supporter of Muslim-Jewish dialogue and the Middle East peace process. Khan consulted for congressional and gubernatorial races in 2010 and 2014, and established Khan & Associates, LLP as a social media communications and political consulting firm in 2010.

*Editor’s Note: Unfortunately, due to the United States’ extremely limited recognition of international law, for domestic purposes the US constitution gives Congress the power to declare war, and not the UN the power to decide what US law considers a war. Therefore, the last war declared by Congress was WWII. This has huge legal ramifications: if the US does not declare war, there is no war tax, no draft, nothing. That means, war is funded by debt and only a limited number of Americans are routinely affected by it. 

More in this series: AustraliaColombiaSouth AfricaSpain

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