[GLOBAL EYE]Time for the pause that refreshesOn the evening of January 31, U.S. President George W. Bush is to deliver the 2006 State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress. Following the established tradition of American democracy, Mr. Bush will present the administration’s plans for the year as the chief executive of the federal government to the members of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
According to the U.S. media, this year’s State of the Union address will focus on domestic issues, such as recovery of dynamism in the economy and in education, rather than foreign policy issues.
One might ask if the Roman Empire distinguished domestic policies from foreign affairs. But depending on the administration’s center of balance, the priorities of specific policies can change. If the media reports were right, Mr. Bush is finally turning in the right direction after six years in office. The fatigue of the empire has accumulated to a level beyond which the United States can handle.
Like the old saying that a mother with a large brood never has a peaceful day, the United States has too much on its plate. With its influence stretched across five oceans and six continents, the United States hardly spends a day in peace. As the sole superpower in the world, displaying global leadership is inevitable in a sense, but an excessive sense of duty and ambition has worn out the country. Moreover, the war against terrorism, which has been pursued out of grudges and vengeance since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, aggravated the weariness.
Already in its fifth year, the war against terrorism requires enormous resources and manpower, and as it turns into a prolonged war of attrition the public is growing less and less supportive. Although the Bush administration has succeeded in preventing another terrorist attack on the continental United States, terrorist acts, both small and large in scale, continue to occur around the world, from Madrid to Bali and from London to Baghdad. As adverse side effects of the war against terrorism, the Bush Administration is continuously accused of human rights violations involving unlawful detention, torture and illegal eavesdropping.
Because the distribution of national resources is distorted due to the government’s demands, the competitiveness of traditional industries has grown weaker and the twin deficits in trade and the federal budget have grown bigger than the United States can handle. As a result, Asian nations with a competitive edge in manufacturing are making up the U.S. deficits with the profits they make from selling goods in the United States, and the dangerous structure is being repeated. The global economy is barely rolling within the growing balloons of the U.S. deficits, which could explode at any minute. The educational competitiveness in science and engineering in the United States is now being challenged, and some departments might have had to shut down if it were not for students from China and India. Social polarization because of income disparities in America is the worst among the developed nations. Because of the energy-gulping habit that has already been established among Americans, the concerns for instability in supply and demand for oil constantly holds back Washington’s foreign policy decisions.
At this juncture, most U.S. citizens are feeling tired and frustrated. In the latest opinion poll conducted by the Los Angeles Times, 61 percent of American citizens answered “no” when asked whether they think things in the United States were generally going in the right direction. Sixty-two percent of the respondents said that the United States needed a new direction.
In the 2002 State of the Union address, President Bush branded Iraq, Iran and North Korea as an “axis of evil.” In the 2005 speech, he proclaimed that spreading liberty and ending tyranny were the new missions of the United States. While procedural democracy is spreading in some parts of the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, it cannot be considered a triumph of Mr. Bush’s mission because oppressive rule continues in the countries that Washington had designated the “outposts of tyranny.”
Washington needs to take a step back from the excessive sense of mission it has voluntarily taken on. No matter how much brute force you have, the world does not change as you wish.
Sometimes, a leadership of tolerance and generosity is more effective than a leadership of oppression and punishment. What Washington needs now is quiet self-deliberation and refreshment rather than intervention and involvement. I hope Mr. Bush’s State of the Union address reflects the changes the United States needs.
* The writer is an editorial writer and traveling correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Bae Myung-bok