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Monday, 4 February, 2002, 18:40 GMT
Is the US a force for good in the world?
US President George W Bush has delivered his annual State of the Union address.

His special guest, Afghan interim leader Hamid Karzai, heard the US accomplishments in recent months - such as the overthrow of the Taleban regime and the ongoing war on global terrorism.

But critics of the US fear its unaccountability and apparent indifference to international protocol indicates a clear abuse of its powers.

They say excessive bombing in Afghanistan and the treatment of prisoners taken captive by US forces points to an arrogance in its handling of global affairs.

Does the US deserve praise for its altruism in the global sphere? Or is self-interest and ambition ultimately its prime motivation?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

The US is now essentially at that point of world domination that Britain was prior to World War I. Perhaps this is why there is such an empathic link, even beyond the immense commercial connections, between the two nations. The arrogant do not see themselves as arrogant, but simply "right". Arrogance is not the sole prerogative of the US by any means (witness the terrorists), but combined with US military, media and commercial might, it is great cause for concern. This latter is especially so given the studied attempt by the "power structure" to keep the vast majority of US citizens undereducated and awash in "bread and circuses".

I will give my best to the USA in return

Satyakam Misra, New Jersey/ India
As an Indian living in New York City, it feels funny to hear from fellow Indians and others who criticize the USA for its so called arrogant economic and military stand as a superpower. Well here is a simple point to make: IF my country had treated me right, I would never have left India and come to US for a better life. And sure as hell I have one here. And I will give my best to the USA in return. God bless America. It is very easy to criticise America for its arrogance but do not forget whatever America does is for its own people's good and this same policy has made it the No.1 power today.
Satyakam Misra, New Jersey/ India

The US enforces, be it through aggressive diplomacy, sanctions, or military action, the ideas of democracy and capitalism in the belief that they are correct. They may not be, and certainly they may not be universally applicable. The US involves itself in the affairs of other states, such as a decade-long quagmire of a war in SE Asia, black operations in the Middle East in the 1970s, and the Somalia debacle, while espousing political sovereignty and territorial integrity when it is attacked in turn.

It decries colonialism, but has in turn colonised states such as the Philippines. It bids for freedom and liberty, yet infringes upon the liberty of others by involving itself in their domestic affairs. It believes it is always right (as do many of its citizens). Does the US deserve praise for its altruism? I don't see any altruism. I see merely meddling Americans.
Chris, UK

We are damned if we do and damned if we don't! As for our pushing our culture on others - if you did not buy it or want it, it would not be in your country. As for looking out for our own self-interests - are any of you saying your own country does not. Be honest - no matter what we do somebody, somewhere is saying it is the wrong thing, not enough, not soon enough or something else. Take a look at your own countries before you cast the first stone.
Ellen, USA

The US is not intentionally playing a force for good. It is fighting against the so-called forces of evil for its own interests. If someone is having some benefit of it, it is not effect, but the side effect. It was the US, pentagon and the CIA that produced the mujahideen whom today they label as terrorists or forces of evil. These people destroyed Afghanistan and turned the country in to ruins. They killed thousands of innocent people in Pakistan and Kashmir, but our heroes did not react until they were themselves attacked. Even today they are showing no response to the Israeli atrocities, and the miseries of Kashmiris. Therefore it is inappropriate to call US a force for good.
Dr Abbas, Pakistan

While it's tempting to vilify the US in an attempt to exonerate our places of birth, we westerners outside the US must recognise that our current lifestyles are intimately tied to US fortunes. They may be the enforcers, but all western citizens profit from this global system at the expense of the 'undeveloped'. Therefore, I cannot accuse the US without recognising that my own luxurious lifestyle is furnished by US, meaning western, policies and attitudes.
M. Smith, Canada

By World Bank estimates the US accounts for one third of all economic activity in the world. This remarkable number is not derived from old world imperialism/colonialism/hegemony, instead Americas growth has been fuelled domestically, with external trade accounting for only 11 per cent of US GDP. Many countries rely on access to American markets to drive growth. In the last half of the 90's continued US growth helped drive growth abroad both the EU and Asia.

The US is unique historically, in that its rise to the world stage was not accomplished through traditional methods of annexation or colonialism, but was instead driven primarily by domestic innovation.

There is very little need or want domestically for the US to acquire possessions or involvement overseas. As stated already, the US is concerned primarily about its own self interest. Any nation state that doesn't wouldn't be around. America unfortunately is a victim of its success. The US economically, technologically dwarfs its neighbours; that whenever the giant moves the repercussions can be felt throughout the world.
Kirk Smith, USA

We try to do the best we can within our human limitations

Bob, USA
The population of the USA is comprised of people of all races and creeds, from the four corners of the world. What those people, "good" or "bad, bring to our country in their attitudes, ambitions, hopes and dreams, is what makes the USA the way it is. The dominant motivation for emigrating to the USA has always been the desire for freedom and a better life. We have no desire to return to the way things were for us in our countries of origin, and are very protective of what we have here.

Being the most powerful nation on earth is not always a comfortable position. As long as we hold that place in global society we will always be open to criticism. Perhaps some time in the future another country of group of nations will be the most powerful, and then we can criticise them! Americans are not perfect; nor is any other race. We try to do the best we can within our human limitations, and if that isn't enough for some people then, so be it; that's their problem.
Bob, USA

Having spent time in America, I'm reluctant to be critical of Americans because they are very likable. In my experience Americans are more generous than many others. However, they have far less ability to see how they are perceived by the rest of the world. I am frequently reminded me of what Marlene Dietrich said of Americans: They are so naive they're almost saintly. Though Americans mostly set out to be a force for good in the world, the imperfections in the political and economic system means that something quite different is the result. Not many of them are good at recognising those imperfections.
Patrick Connolly, New Zealand

Self interest (economic and political) has always been the cornerstone of U.S policies. Sometimes self interest is promoted under the disguise of friendship, and at other times animosities are engineered towards achieving the objectives. Arabs or Far East are concerned about stationing of U.S troops there, and Bin Laden's main struggle was against U.S bases in Saudi Arabia. But in reality U.S troops are stationed even in Europe to maintain U.S hegemony, under the disguise of friendship.
With the increased role of EU, the US has more causes to be concerned. Let EU ask U.S troops to leave their soil, and then they would also know the realities of US friendship. Iran, Iraq, Pakistan were all best buddies of U.S at one time. Now it is the turn of India which is seeking US friendship.
Ghulam Mohammed, Bahrain

Some of the actions that the US has taken are commendable

Kashif Khan, Pakistan
Some of the actions that the US has taken are commendable and it does consider the developing world. Yet some want the US to impartially solve all problems amicably and this will improve it's stature in the world overall
Kashif Khan, Pakistan

The US government like other governments of the world primarily looks out for the interests of its citizens. At times our tactics do get rather heavy-handed and we need to learn from the example set by other democracies. Our nation has power, but lacks the history and wisdom of countries like the UK. Some within the Bush administration understand this. Others do not. But, there is hope that our country as a whole will mature from all that has happened since September 11. Our country is an adolescent compared to Europe and an infant compared to Asia + the Middle East.
Greg, USA

As a US taxpayer, I see my earnings going to support people all over the world - money for food, development, medical aid, defence, etc. The US should stop being the nanny, policeman, and welfare pipeline to the rest of the world. The rest of the world doesn't appreciate it. What other country is a bigger 'force for good' in the world? We should let the rest of the world take care of itself since that's what it wants.
Chuck, USA

The USA is a force for good but it is not perfect. Many mistakes have been made in the past, but like the recovering alcoholics, the first step is to admit you have made a mistake and the second is to work on not ever making it again. No country is perfect.
Juan Perez, USA

Few other countries in the world, Canada and New Zealand are other notable exceptions, apply a moral dimension to their foreign policy calculus.

Sascha, New York
Let us be clear. Democracy is a political system that undeniably serves the welfare of its citizens, however imperfectly, better than any other. Capitalism is an economic system that raises living standards and pulls all countries out of poverty. To witness its total success you need only witness the total lack of viable alternatives.

Whether US policies are good or evil is open for debate. Does the US look after its national self-interests? Of course. All countries do. However, few other countries in the world, Canada and New Zealand are other notable exceptions, apply a moral dimension to their foreign policy calculus. The US rebuilt its two principle enemies from WWII, Germany and Japan, and provided those citizens a standard of living and freedom unknown in all their previous histories. Hardly the actions of a vengeful, arrogant power. The US provides Egypt with as much economic assistance as Israel every year, as well as fighting three recent wars on behalf of Muslims.

My opinions are just that, opinions. However, it is undeniable that the US is a symbol of hope and of freedom, both virtues most people would classify as "good". If you do not believe me, I would refer you to worldwide immigration statistics going back 100 years. People have been "voting" with their feet and dreams, as hundreds of millions emigrated to the US and to this day still see the Statue of Liberty as the beacon that it always has been and will continue to be.
Sascha, New York, NY, USA

The irony is that, the US while pursuing her own self-interest/ambition, is a force for good in the global sphere. Open markets, freedom of expression, global security (ie, the destruction of al Qaeda) and the establishment of the League of Nations and the United Nations benefit all people around the world.
Sam, USA

The US is economically strong and feels that it is superior to all the countries and wants others countries to follow what it dictates to them. Basically something is wrong with the US foreign policy towards developing countries. Until and unless the US tries to convince the Muslim world that the US is not against Islam and Muslims, whatever it tries to fight terrorism and bring about peace in the world is in vain.
Albert P'Rayan, India

The US can only be a force for good if it behaves like a big brother through gaining the respect of other people and nations, not as a bully which it has unfortunately become. Perhaps with the continuous rise of China as a global power, the US may think again?
Atehar Mir, England

The people of America should not be blamed for the arrogant acts of a few corrupt men

Darwin Hall, USA
America has the potential to become a force for good in the world. To blame the recent abuse of power and disregard of international protocol on the USA, as a whole would be wrong. The only ones who should be held responsible are President Bush's administration and the heads of the Republican Party. The people of America should not be blamed for the arrogant acts of a few corrupt men.
Darwin Hall, USA

I find it amusing to think how na´ve some people are when they tend to classify countries as "good" or "evil". Throughout history, countries have been driven by commercial and military interests, and the United States is no exception. Unfortunately for America, future historians will not rely solely on CNN archives. "Human rights" and "democracy" will indeed find a mention in the history textbooks of the future, but only in the context of how these concepts were exploited in the pursuit of oil and markets.
Nausherwan Lahori, Lahore, Pakistan

In spirit, the US is not really the democracy that it claims to be. It is basically a plutocracy with the external trappings of a democracy. The long list of corporate and political scandals (Enron is the latest) stand as proof of that assertion. The only redeeming factor is its commitment to freedom of speech. Unfortunately (and maybe quite deliberately), this freedom is regularly abused by the corporate-owned media to drown the voice of reason and conscience in endless self-glorifying rhetoric.
Devang Mehta, India

The US is a poor leader if one at all

Dr Sharad Kumar, Birmingham, UK
The United States is a hegemonic power that has prospered at the expense of the world by using up most of the global talent. It uses 50% of the world's fossil fuels, largely guards its own interests and is standoffish, aloof and given to dehumanising other peoples. The US was an altruistic power once (Marshall Plan years etc) but even then was only concerned about its own power base. In this day of globalisation, the US is a poor leader if one at all.
Dr Sharad Kumar, Birmingham, UK

The US is not a force for good, it is simply a force for the interests of its corporations and citizens. An increasing portion of the population feel we have no obligation to play global policeman nor to facilitate the development of other countries. As to Sharad Kumar's amusing comments of the US "using up most of the global talent", I feel that it is self explanatory to all but the densest: they come to us. Last time I checked, the US Special Forces weren't abducting software engineers from India, however skilled they may be.
Victor, USA

Since the end of the Cold War, the US has most definitely become a force for good. As the world's most powerful democracy, it is well placed to unite all civilised nations of the world. There is no longer a West versus East syndrome.
Rahul Mahajan, UK/ India

In its single-minded pursuit of free market capitalism, the US has directly and indirectly wiped out the cultural heritage of people around the world. It has the dual nature of protecting the rights of its citizens while stripping the same of its neighbours.
Prasannakumar, UAS


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