“I am Scared for You”

I have had some very interesting conversations on this trip, mostly with Europeans who just can’t understand Americans anymore. They wonder how we elected someone as catastrophic as George Bush, and why a good segment of our population still supports him even though he and his administration have ruined our image in the world and, more importantly, run us into a mound of debt that we will remain with us for generations. But apart from any politics, the Europeans simply don’t understand how Americans think it can keep borrowing money, running large deficits, and maintain a strong currency and economic power. The Euro has now far surpassed the dollar, and the European Union is now the largest economic bloc and trading area in the world (not the United States). So where are we dominant? Our military power and perhaps technology development. But it’s questionable whether we really are that powerful militarily in the new security environment (we are powerful in a Cold War context perhaps, but we are not in the Cold War anymore), and Europe and Asia are even encroaching on us technologically. I was speaking with a business owner here in Amsterdam last night who said to me, “I like Americans. I admire your country. But I am really scared for you. The numbers just don’t add up. We are investing money in Europe and you are spending it. That’s why our currency continues to improve and yours is declining. It’s only going to get worse.” Further, he went on to say that our economic situation combined with our international isolationism and aggressive militarism is putting us in a situation that is not sustainable. We can sanction Iran and wave our swords, but Europe will invest in them, hope for understanding and change, and make money while doing it.

Yesterday morning, I had a similar conversation with two hotel employees who just can’t understand why Americans would rather invest in a war than in health care. We are more apt to give funding to a failing war than to a program that spends little money in comparison but expands health care to children whose parents cannot afford it. As they said, “There is something inhumane about a society that thinks that way.” I know it is more complex than this, but they have a point.

And then I woke to read this editorial in today’s NYT, and I was reminded of these conversations:

“President Bush waited until he had vetoed a relatively inexpensive children’s health insurance bill before asking for tens of billions of dollars more for his misadventure in Iraq. The cynicism of that maneuver is only slightly less shameful than the president’s distorted priorities. Despite a pretense of fiscal prudence, Mr. Bush keeps throwing money at his war, regardless of the cost in blood, treasure or children’s health care.

Mr. Bush is threatening to veto most of the 12 domestic spending bills now before Congress because Democrats want to provide $22 billion more than the $933 billion he has requested. His argument? Something about the president’s responsibility to rein in lawmakers’ “temptation to overspend.”

This from a leader who turns federal surpluses into deficits, believes that the Iraq and Afghanistan wars can be financed on a separate set of books with borrowed money, and keeps having to go back to Congress for “emergency funding” because he cannot or will not tell the truth about what it is costing to fight these wars.

Mr. Bush’s latest emergency request is for $46 billion. That would bring the 2008 price tag for Iraq and Afghanistan to $196.4 billion. Starting at Sept. 11, 2001, war-fighting expenses total a staggering $800 billion or more. The nonpartisan Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments says that by the end of the year spending on Iraq will probably surpass that on the Vietnam War.”

So Europe has become less religious and less Christian in the last 50 years. In the mean time, it has become more prosperous, more humane, and more peaceful.

What do you make of that? It’s a great question. We should think about it because America is just now experiencing what has been true in Europe for some time. Perhaps a little less “religion” and a bit more humanity in America wouldn’t be a bad thing. We might even find some common sense and put aside our missionary zeal that is tarnishing us on the world stage and leading to our eventual demise. I am hopeful that we can correct our course, or I too am scared for us.

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