Wednesday, 11 August 2004

A European View on America

Dear Mr Kerry & Mr Edwards,

Let me first state that this letter only represents my own opinion and not, in any way, that of the Dutch Government or the Dutch Embassy where I am presently stationed.

In regard to the upcoming elections and all the discussions in the media on dozens of topics, I felt the urge to address several of these topics to you. This taken in perspective of the declining importance of the USA in world politics and economy and the growing aversion to the USA, from Europeans as well as citizens of other continents.

Foreign Policy

No doubt that the USA is still the most powerful and dominant actor on the world stage, but it's influence and domination is declining rapidly. Countries like China and India are gaining more and more influence, political goodwill and economic power and the "old" countries like the USA and the UK are more and more obliged to give in on matters. This is a trend that has just started and the end is not in sight yet, therefore the USA should take this serious and not dismiss this matter.

September 11th was a terrible day for the whole world, as it showed us all how vulnerable everyone can be and that terrorists are not scared to attack the (still) most powerful country in the world and that they will do everything to get attention and their will. Retaliation was without doubt and this attack could not stay unanswered, but what has happened so far? Afghanistan was bombed and invaded, which led to the flee of the Taliban, but Osama Bin Laden has not been caught yet. Iraq was bombed and invaded, which led to the flee of Saddam Hussein and his party members, but so far the country has not profited from this change at all and the aversion from the Arabic states against the USA is only growing. WMD's have not been found and Saddam just loved to provoke the western world, but posed no real thread.
Even as Dutch I wouldn't opt for going to Iraq at the moment. Retreat out of Iraq is not an option, as this would severely destabilise the situation and turn the whole Middle East into a timebomb. The problems of the fighting groups should be addressed to take away the dissatisfaction and to try to acquire a relatively quiet region. Furthermore would the USA look ridiculous for starting this "war" and leaving the country a mess. (E.g. Vietnam and Korea)

Two so-called dangerous countries impose no real threat to the USA or the world, but are repeatedly critiqued with everything they do. Cuba and North Korea are not dangerous to anyone and the only reason that they provoke is to get attention. Fidel Castro is at the end of his life, tourists from all over the world are visiting and enjoying Cuba and investors have found a new playground to build new hotels and buildings. The embargo the USA has imposed on Cuba is only harmful for the USA itself, as US investors are not allowed to do business there. If they would be able to invest, Cuba's economy would grow significantly, which would lead to less illegal immigration to the USA and an impulse for the US economy. My advice: lift the embargo and enter into diplomatic relations with Cuba.
North Korea is so small and insignificant that it poses no real threat to anyone and if than only to its surrounding neighbours and not to the USA. The government in Pjongjang only loves to play with countries of capitalism and sadly the USA decided to play along. My advice: let North Korea be for a while. It needs the Western World more than the other way around.

USA Internal Policy

In last week's newspaper: "the USA is going to spend 430 trillion USD on defence". Now I know that the Bush government took this decision, but I would like to remind you that public services in the USA are one of the worst, public schools do not provide the proper education so anyone who can afford it sends his children to a private school, proper health care and insurance are only for the middle and upper class, AIDS and social inequality are major problems, slums around large cities are growing, organised crime is evolving and many companies go bankrupt every day. It is than justified that so much money is spend on such a harmful matter as defence? Of course this is in a direct link with security and the fight against terrorism and government employs with this budget also thousands of people, but hasn't the time come to look first what should be changed within your own country, before trying to change the world?


World trade and economics have taken a fall. The IT-bubble burst and the oil price is rising every day. Positive signs can be seen as well: the economy is slowly growing again, inflation put to a halt or is reduced and countries like India and China prosper and have the fastest growing economies in the world. We can only profit from that and we should. Tarifbarriers on for example steel, are old old-fashioned and undesirable. The USA has the face the hard reality that their steelplants are out of date and that there are more productive and efficient ways. To protect this economic sector won't do any good for both the government and the steel sector as the outside world doesn't understand and reacts, and it doesn't give an incentive to the sector to modernise and improve the production.
The same more or less goes for agriculture; the WTO fought desperately to keep fixed prices, but it was and is a hopeless battle. One should accept that some countries can produce more cost-effective than others can and learn/profit from that. Countries should produce what they can produce best and keep that uptodate. A country cannot produce everything as effective as others can, so it would be foolish to keep the barriers and subsidise the sectors.


People from all over the world have great difficulties with the new security regulations the USA have imposed upon arrival to the country and airlines. Airlines have to give detailed information about their passengers to the US customs (which is a clear infringement of ones privacy) and US customs on their turn file everything and take prints and more. One should not think about what will happen if such a database would be hacked and opened to the public. These extreme measures have already caused many businessmen to cancel their trips to the USA and have their US counterparts come to Europe or Asia. They refuse to be treated as a criminal or illegal, which is perfectly understandable. What Brazil at the moment does to US citizens is not more than fair and should be seen as a clear statement against the current US security measures. Conclusion: it is taken into extreme.

Also the airlines have to have marshals on board and have fortified cockpit-doors. The first led to heated discussions and the question if an armed person would be desirable onboard a plane. The latter caused large investments from airlines and protests against these investments.
In a relatively safe and small country like Albania, the US Embassy is spending another 1million USD on fortified doors and bullet-proof glass around the whole building. One year ago the Embassy built a 3 meter high wall around the premises, but since a 6-story building was completed next to it, it has no real use anymore. Although one will not meet a single employee
from the US Embassy in town, still measures are taken. The US employees stay at their secured compound outside the city and do not get involved with the daily business here in town. This is not only seen as something idiotic (as Albanians love Americans), but also as disrespect for the Albanians and their culture. When being in a foreign country one should be as open as possible to the people and their culture and do not hide inside one's house or compound. It is therefore understandable that people start to dislike Americans due to their lack of openness and involvement and start to get an aversion to the USA. (the Dutch are on patrol in Iraq without sunglasses and helmets, to show their willingness and openness!)

Also look at the security measures that have to be taken when a high US official visits a country or event. People cannot reach their homes as streets have been blocked, everyone in a 5mile radius is checked and screened and police forces use excessive force to get what they want. Trees along roads have to be cut as they are potential hidingspots for snipers, drain covers have to be sealed and dozens of other measures have to be taken for a passage of maximum 20 seconds. I can fully understand that people get angry and despise all that has to do with the USA at a certain moment.

The USA should no longer try to govern the whole world and accept that things change and that there is a time to adapt to new situations and changes. The US' denouncement of the International Crimes Court is something that the USA should not have done, if it sees itself as a democratic country. The situations in Guantanamo Bay and the Abu Graib-prison in Baghdad have shown once more that faults are also made on the side of the USA. Wouldn't it than be fair and time to face the consequences and live up to the so-called democratic and open standards of the USA?

I know the elections are not until November, but this short paper might give you an idea of how people see the USA and what might be ideas to overcome the growing distrust and aversion to your country. Personally, I sincerely hope that you get elected and that you will be able to address the issues put forward in this paper. If I might give you a suggestion: read "The Wonder World of Jim Rogers" by Jim Rogers and especially the last chapter. It might give you some other ideas and inputs.

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