Aug 4, 2010

Global Perspectives of the International Team at AAI: Part 3

Director’s Introduction - Albert Santoli

Asia America Initiative is devoted to global peacebuilding, especially in the Asia Pacific region. In our field programs, such as the Philippines, we emphasize interfaith efforts between Muslims, Christians, and tribal peoples. In our Washington office, our intern research teams are comprised of students from many countries and cultures. At the conclusion of our summer session, AAI’s Washington interns that hail from Singapore, Malaysia, Korea, the Philippines, and the United States share their perspectives on the current global milieu and their hopes for the future. This is the 3rd installment of the series.

Commentary Part 3 by Vanessa Foo

The United States is the greatest symbol for democracy and liberty in the world. Even today, the attraction of “The America Dream” brings many foreign students and workers to its harbors. However, the past decade has shown entropy within the population and in the international reputation of the United States. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars have exposed the flaws in U.S. foreign policy. In my opinion, U.S. policymakers are sometimes hindered by the lack of depth of information and future-mindedness. The 90s was consumed by a wave of short term, commercial dealings with the international community, and even today, many times, the U.S. lacks the foresight to implement long-term planning into its foreign policy and programs. As we have seen, spending gargantuan amounts of money on foreign aid is mostly ineffective and breeds further problems.

The U.S. places too much emphasis on the notion of democracy and institutions, often forgetting to realize the cultural aspects and historical traditions of the people they work with, and the depth of instability in those regions. A hundred years is just a page in the book of the thousand years of history many countries in Asia have had. There is a dichotomy here: While the U.S. preaches democracy and human rights, it often attempts to impose its own Western-brand of government on places like Afghanistan and Iraq, using indicators like Western-style elections to determine ‘success’ in a region. However, in doing so, it inhibits the people from taking actions from the grassroots level to rebuild their own society, based on their own beliefs and culture. Imposed democracy through unstable institutions is not real democracy.

The U.S. has needs to defend the core values from which the nation arose and that Americans (want to) believe in. The blunders of recent administrations have caused a loss of credibility within the American population and international community. Not only does the government have to reevaluate how it represents the values for which it is supposed to stand for, but apply these values of freedom, liberty and democracy to its foreign policies. In the South China Sea, the U.S. needs to stand up for freedom of the seas and disallow China from throwing its weight around in the region. China’s economic activities, such as basket deals with Southeast Asian nations, may peg the future of these states to China’s own success. Allowing China to control the strategic trade routes through the South China Sea will hurt U.S. influence and presence in the region and the stabilizing force that many countries rely upon. The diminishment of U.S. influence will have ripple effects through the global economy.

In the name of democracy, the U.S. needs to stand up for the rights of the people. This value needs to be promoted through foreign aid programs. Institutions and physical infrastructure are important, but the U.S. cannot let the voices of the people to get lost in the abstract notion that top-down democracy (such as Iraq and Afghanistan), democratic institutions and development must go hand-in-hand. Power plays and military force only generate fear and paranoia, and engaging in this dysfunctional downward spiral only breeds negative consequences.

By allowing communities a stake in their own futures and taking a flexible and open-minded approach, the U.S. can facilitate the building of international commonwealth where different cultures have their say with the goal of prosperity and peace for all. This will require dialogue and careful strategic long-term planning that incorporates the voices of tbe people at a grassroots level. While this is an idealistic view, I believe that it is the kind of world that we all need to aspire to.

Vanessa Foo
AAI Intern, Summer 2010
Saint Joseph's University'11

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