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Friday, July 29

Liberal Democracy: Achieving balance between the civic person and the private person

"Hi Pundita,
I think you might enjoy my proposal for a "post-modern paternalism" as move towards a more holistic mindset of what it takes to create healthy government; I would certainly appreciate your critique. Basically, I am trying (in my own small way) to shift the development debate from institutions and confrontation to values and relationship. Does that align with what you see as being needed?
Dr. Ernie in California"

Dear Dr. Ernie:
With regard to your desire to shift the development debate from institutions and confrontation to values and relationship -- well, the entire concept of development in this context is G2G -- government to government. So it's really not possible to shift the debate away from institutions.

With regard to confrontation -- it's just because the US government spent more than a decade avoiding confrontations at the United Nations that we now find American values under literal fire.

The US government's desire to fit in with the group, to go along with NATO allies and support globalized business at any cost to American democracy, has put us in the position we are now: in a very hot global war.

So, for future reference, we should remember to confront situations before they require a military solution.

But Pundita gets your drift and appreciates it: as private citizens we should strive to create relationships that are based on our personal value system. Yet if 9/11 has taught us anything, we should also pay more attention to our civic duties.

If we can't serve in the military or National Guard, we should do what we can to support the troops, even if it's only sending an occasional letter of thanks. If we can't serve in the police or fire department, we can join neighborhood watch groups and donate what we can to organizations that support the fire and police organizations.

The United States of America has a society that allows citizens to do pretty much their own thing: pursue their private goals and follow the beat of their own drum. Yet not even the world's most powerful society can remain strong, unless there is a strong sense of civic duty that transcends politics and personal values. That's what it means to be a citizen.

We could all do with paying more attention to the meaning.

I suspect from reading your proposal that you are working at the micro-level or want to work at that level -- as you observed in "a small way." Pundita is a big fan of micro-level development projects. However, when I write about development I address the macro-level: the multilateral development concept and in particular the development bank 'model' and how it relates to US foreign policy and defense.

I've given considerable discussion to the topics simply because the American public is very poorly informed about them. Americans have not been on the receiving end of multilateral development projects and policies, so it's quite understandable that the topics have flown under the radar of the public's awareness.

Pundita has done everything but stand on her head to warn that actually America has been on the receiving end, only in ways that are not readily apparent until one is very familiar with the topics.

I've done the same in my writing about TOC (transnational organized crime) and corruption in government, which have also received little attention in the US media, and I've pointed out the link between these topics, multilateral aid and development, foreign policy and defense.

In short, there is a matrix of situations that critically impact US military defense and foreign policy but are not treated as such, either by the media or the US government.

I'm happy to report that since I started this blog in November 2004 there has been some progress at the government level in officially recognizing the matrix. And when Paul Wolfowitz came to the World Bank, he named government corruption as the greatest threat to democracy since the Soviet communist threat, which certainly helped back up my argument.

However, the World Bank is still refusing to allow an independent audit -- they claim they'd have to change their charter for this to happen. To my knowledge the same issue is not even on the table for USAID, the "America" desk at the State Department, and the US Congress.

So we are still a very long way from addressing in any meaningful way the issue of corruption, and its intersection with US-backed development lending and aid.

I appreciate your interest in the Pundita blog, which came about because of one essay I wrote about development issues. Many readers are initially drawn to the Pundita blog because they learn of a particular essay that deals with an area of their special interest, such as development, the democracy doctrine, terrorism, US-EU relations, and so on.

However, from letters I've received, it seems that most who visit this blog regularly learn by reading through the Pundita archives, or by browsing the Pundita 'theme' links posted on the sidebar, that I am dealing with a range of issues connected with US foreign policy in the 21st Century -- or what I think should be considered a vital part of foreign policy for this era.

In this I am following the direction laid down by America's president and commander-in-chief. President Bush has said this is to be Liberty's Century and that he wants the US government to take the lead in actualizing this ideal. In other words, he wants to see genuine democracy take root around the world. So I ask, "How to make this happen?" then I try to examine the obstacles and where we are now in relation to the goal.

This approach tends to neglect news about US relations with individual countries; I have given considerable attention to China, Russia and Mexico only because I see them as textbook illustrations of US foreign policy failures in dealing with less developed countries and/or emerging democracies.

And I've given almost no attention to news about trade issues because that aspect of US foreign policy is well known to the general public.

Also, I've given a huge amount of attention to a matrix of situations that are so outside the general public's awareness and media discussion as to be completely off the radar, but which profoundly affect US foreign relations.

I don't know how to term this matrix, except maybe to call it, "What Americans and especially Americans in big business, the news media, State Department, Pentagon, Congress and the White House need to know about peoples in really old cultures who are stuck in their ways and very proud, and who know they have to change their ways but who don't appreciate peoples from very young cultures who act like know-it-alls just because they're rich."

I sense from the wording of your proposal that this matrix is also of interest to you. If so, let it be known that we here in Pundita-land -- this would include even the squirrel member of Pundita's foreign policy team -- applaud all intelligent efforts to bridge the old-young gap in US foreign policy relations. It is this gap, rather than the communism/ capitalism, democracy/ despotism, WTO membership/ nonmembership gaps that is the most important one for American foreign relations to bridge.

I am also hugely interested in the connection between US news reporting and foreign policy; indeed, if I were two people I would have a blog that is dedicated to the topic. There is a tremendous amount of expertise in this country that can't connect with foreign policy situations because Americans with the expertise are simply unaware of the situations.

The truth is that a very small number of people have been running US foreign policy and a small number of academics have had a huge impact on foreign policy -- including the defense component.

These people and their actions are almost totally off the radar of American public awareness. They operate behind a screen of public unawareness, although since the rise of the blogosphere a little light has pierced the screen.

Much more light is needed; many more Americans need to get involved in monitoring the actions of these people and the organizations that employ them. I have been known to use the literary equivalent of a one-ton boom to get across this point.

As to how the few have gotten away with so much for so long, because the US news media has had a long-standing policy:

If it doesn't have to do with battles between Democrats and Republicans, then Americans should be focused on sports, entertainment, weather and the sleaziest crime stories.

That, I submit, is the true reason the vast majority of US news media outlets have trashed the US invasion of Iraq and hate the idea of a global war on terror: good coverage of international issues costs buckets of money unless you're real smart like John Batchelor, who clearly has no trouble doing good coverage on a virtual shoestring budget.

So while the majority of Americans can recount in minute detail the Scott Peterson and Michael Jackson trials they still can't find Damascus on a map, much less Basra.

How the American electorate is supposed to oversee foreign policy conducted by the government of the world's lone superpower nation under such circumstances -- I dunno, Dr. Ernie. I just don't know.

So that's the Pundita blog: we spend our time pushing peanuts across a sawdust floor with our nose. By sheer dint of effort, we direct our readers' attention to stuff that goes on behind the major media's white noise screen.

If I were three people, perhaps I would have a blog that deals solely with the multilateral development angle in US foreign policy. And if I were four, I'd surely have a blog that only tracks instances of government corruption and the moves of international crime syndicates.

But for now I am focused on sketching the big picture of foreign policy in what is a new century for the West.
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