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Paul Andersen: On America and the World

The topic of “America and the World” was only partly represented at an Aspen Institute panel discussion Thursday. Despite the presence of high-ranking experts,

the discussion ignored a critical issue on the nature of America’s dysfunctional global relationships.

America’s international posture is best described today by the Hummer, a square-nosed, blocky sport utility vehicle with a militant attitude. You can see Hummers driving imperiously around Aspen at 10 miles a gallon.



First recognized as a sexy military icon in Operation Desert Storm, the Hummer entered the American lexicon as a vehicle for conquest and hegemony. Drab olive green has never looked so good as on a Hummer raging across the desert sands.

Following the so-called “liberation of Kuwait,” the Hummer became the ironic status symbol of




American car lovers. Thousands of fossil fools demanded their own Hummers so they could wage virtual Gulf Wars on the gas-guzzling home front.

Today, the Hummer is cherished by the shock troops of American consumers who flaunt their world view in a vehicle with the worst mpg rating next to a Bradley fighting vehicle, which will no doubt become the next consumer trend.

The panelists at the Institute had little to say about the allocation of natural resources, and oil was never even mentioned as a lubricant to U.S. foreign policy. When asked to comment on American resource gluttony as a constituent part of global political instability, there was mute silence from the panel. I know, because I asked the question.

I had expected more from a panel made up of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former Foreign Minister of Canada Lloyd Axworthy, former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, U.S. Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), Secretary General for the League of Arab States Amre Moussa, Her Majesty Queen Noor, the Dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard Joseph Nye, and President and CEO of The Aspen Institute Walter Isaacson, who served as moderator.

Throughout the discussion, panelists focused mostly on protocol, specifically where it concerns the United Nations. Intervention by military influence (hard power), and by humanitarian aid and enlightened leadership (soft power) were debated from Kosovo to North Korea.

The majority of the panel agreed that the U.S. cannot go headlong into unilateral intervention with either hard or soft power, as it has during the debacles of the Bush administration, without upsetting the delicate balance of world opinion.

When I asked about resource allocation and the resulting environmental issues thrust upon the world by America, the panelists went catatonic. The discussion of hard power and soft power never touched upon the will power required to temper the gluttony of American consumers.

Why were these leaders mute about the inequities of resource allocation and global environmental impacts? Why wasn’t oil identified as a driving force in relations between America and the world? Isn’t it clear that America’s insatiable appetite for energy, raw materials and labor is a factor in world instability?

Maybe the panelists clammed up because they are in Aspen, where monster homes proliferate the hillsides sucking up energy and resources like designer black holes, where Hummers prowl the streets like a glorified occupational force, where community status is determined in part by conspicuous consumption.

Our tendency is to separate America from the rest of the world. We assign different standards to our lives and theirs. The personal choices we make belie our role as world citizens. Perhaps this is too mortifying and embarrassing to discuss in the rarefied air of Aspen.

[Paul Andersen wonders when the first Bradleys will roll down Mill Street to the citadels on Red Mountain. His column appears every Monday]


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