Opinion: America must be honest about its failures

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WASHINGTON DC (Project union) – September marked a new year in the Jewish calendar, for schools around the world and in diplomacy, with the United Nations Annual General Assembly in New York. The new years are duly filled with new resolutions, which tend to involve the renewal of one’s commitment to specific goals. But while it is usually individuals who engage in this practice, organizations or even nation states can do the same.

In fact, the idea of ​​a New Year’s resolution is one way of understanding President Joe Biden’s UNGA. speech September 21. The United States, he said, “ushers in a new era of relentless diplomacy; to use the power of our development assistance to invest in new ways of raising people around the world; to renew and defend democracy. He anchored these goals in values ​​that were “written in the DNA” of the United States and the UN: “freedom, equality, opportunity and belief in the universal rights of all”. And he invoked respect for human dignity, individual potential and “the inherent humanity that unites us”.

Honesty about the past

Biden’s speech proposed a wide range of resolutions to renew American leadership in the world on issues such as health, climate change, nuclear non-proliferation, counterterrorism, conflict prevention, infrastructure. in developing countries, food security, equality and the fight against corruption. He specified that these objectives will be pursued within a framework of both universalism and multilateralism.

But something was missing from the speech. For resolutions to hold, they must be based not only on visions of the future, but also on honesty from the past.

Biden has been clear on many of the biggest problems the world faces, and he has decided that the United States, along with its allies, will play a leading role in solving them. But he should have signaled a real departure from past practice by expressing a greater willingness to learn from America’s own recent failures.

For example, by touting the US contribution of $ 15 billion to the global pandemic response and 160 million “hopeful doses” of vaccines to others around the world, Biden might have recognized that more than one seventh of the 4.7 million reported COVID-19 deaths worldwide were in the disproportionately large share of the United States, reflecting its own inability to fight the coronavirus for most of 2020. To date, Strong political divisions continue to ensure that pockets of the country remain fertile grounds for the emergence of new variants.

Moreover, when Biden spoke of his administration’s admirable and genuine commitment to tackling climate change, he could have recognized that the United States bears a disproportionate share of responsibility for the problem. It has been a major source of greenhouse gas emissions for over a century, and its flawed political system has prevented it from engaging in international agreements for more than four years in a row. .

Eternal wars and corruption

When Biden raised the question of America’s “eternal wars”, he could have recognized that these wars have claimed many lives. more civilians than soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even as the United States left Afghanistan, American drone operators by mistake killed an aid worker and seven children.

When Biden described corruption as a “threat to national security” that “fuels inequality, siphons a nation’s resources, spreads across borders and generates human suffering,” he might have added that the billions dollars that the United States poured into Afghanistan and Iraq provided fuel. for the very corruption he condemns. And he could have recognized that the US government knew as early as 2011 how corrupt the Afghan government had become, but decided not to expose or prosecute bad actors.

The reason to be more honest on these matters is not to wallow in America’s flaws and failures. Rather, it is about recognizing the complexity of the problems America faces and its own complicity with them. By making it clear that the United States understands how difficult it will be to move forward and that much will depend on their own behavior, Biden can signal his intention to move beyond the rhetoric.

After the murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis Police in May 2020, many US businesses and institutions issued statements condemning systemic racism, as if the problem was just “out there”, floating around in society. But as many people of color were quick to point out, tackling the problem requires leaders to recognize and confront racism within their own organizations. The same logic applies to nation states that have set their sights on global issues.

Another reason to be more honest is to lead by “the power of our example,” as Biden put it in his inaugural speech. Although his UNGA speech never mentioned China and explicitly disavowed any intention to seek a new Cold War, he drew a clear line between (admittedly flawed) democracies seeking to uphold the values ​​of China. UN and authoritarian states that violate them at will.

Individual rights

This line does not separate countries full of good people from countries full of bad people, or good governments from bad (after all, many democracies are poorly governed, including in cities, states, and parts of the U.S. federal government. ). Instead, the distinction is between countries that are dedicated to individual rights and those that are not.

China, as its constitution makes clear, is explicitly committed to a socialist system, placing power and property in a collective of the people. Yet in practice, the main difference between free and non-free countries is the ability of the people to hold their government to account, and thus to close the gap between what governments say and what they say. make.

A New Year, when and as we mark it, should be an opportunity to assess this gap with radical honesty, and to use that assessment to guide a renewed commitment to professed ideals. If our leaders did this, the annual UNGA would be very different.

Anne-Marie Slaughter, former director of policy planning at the State Department, is CEO of think tank New America, professor emeritus of politics and international affairs at Princeton University and author of “”Renewal: From the crisis to the transformation of our lives, our work and our politics ” (Princeton University Press, 2021).

This comment was posted with permission from Project unionAmerica must be honest

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