America the Missionary?

Posted on 20. Oct, 2011 by Stephan Helgesen in Politics

Americans are the consummate proselytizers. Scratch the surface of an American patriot and you’ll find someone committed to the Constitution, Bill of Rights, free speech, unfettered gun ownership, religious freedom and a missionary zeal to ‘spread the word’ about our political and economic system.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to share a good thing. We do it all the time like when we offer a timely stock tip or a suggestion on where to buy the best chilies. Trying to infuse the sleeping minds of foreigners with the American Dream is a tougher challenge. For starters, there are people who believe that we shouldn’t even bother to talk about  ‘American Exceptionalism’ abroad until we have it 100% right here. My answer to them is, “If we wait until we get everything 100% right we’ll all be pushing up daisies from the Elysian Fields.”

We must accept that America is a work in progress. It’s an idea and a promise that is omnipresent AND one worth sharing with the rest of humanity, now. Truth is, we’ve been promoting America ever since the first letter from the first American settler found its way back to the ‘old country.’ From that moment on, we’ve been sending the message that America is truly something different, something special, and something worth experiencing for one’s self.  America is different for everybody, and that cannot be said of many countries or systems around the world.

Each of us creates a world for ourselves with the essential building blocks of the free enterprise and democratic system that we are given just for being born here. We form it, squeeze it, paint it, tear it apart and rebuild it again from generation to generation, but underneath it is the freedom TO rebuild it the way we want it. Try that in China or Burma, North Korea or Iran.

Throughout history we’ve seen empires gobble up their neighbors’ treasure, redraw boundaries, subjugate people to corrupt monarchies, dictators and ideologies like Aryan Supremacy, Fascism and Communism.  None of these empires or ideologies could survive or thrive on the merits of their ideas alone. They needed the might of their militaries and the threat of violence to succeed and grow. Not so with Democracy where the confluence of our personal freedoms and collective responsibility merge to create true American Exceptionalism.

America hasn’t been shy about marketing its model abroad nor about using all manner of technologies to do it. Remember Radio Free Europe and the Voice of America? Both were essential to our WWII and Cold War era efforts to promote hope to millions of oppressed and downtrodden people around the globe. The results were impressive. The Cold War ended without firing a shot, and regimes crumbled opening the way to freedom for millions of people.

There is a nagging question about some of America’s missionary efforts, though. It centers on the aspect of extra-territoriality.  Should the United States sponsor groups in other countries that are set on overthrowing their own governments? Foreign policy experts are split on that issue. One group says that such investments or even incursions into sovereign countries are defensible if the regime they’re undermining was not put in power by free elections or if the regime oppresses its own people.

The other group believes in the Laissez faire principle – that governments must be allowed to rise or fall on their own without interference from outside sources.

Our founding fathers only supported our right of revolution not the rights of citizens of other countries to revolt. That presents us with a dilemma. If the world neighborhood starts deteriorating, giving way to increased lawlessness perpetrated by people with weapons that could destroy our house, should we not react? If the answer is yes, then how?

There is a third group, however, and it is not policy driven. It’s motivated more by logic and strengthened by the principles of good salesmanship, and it may be worth listening to with renewed interest. Basically, it believes that the best way to sell anything is to make sure that the buyer believes he’s initiating the purchase.

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