Two nations have held general elections. In Venezuela, Hugo Chavez has won a landslide victory. In Egypt, incumbent Hosni Mubarak has also retained power.
What am I to make of this? Do I honestly think that these two nations have held corruption-free elections? Do I think that these two nations have democratically elected governments?
The answer is... I don't know. And the reason is quite simple - the United States of America has criticised both nations in the past for their electoral and democratic shortcomings.
Yes, that's right. It is because the USA has questioned their commitment to democracy and freedom that I can now no longer generally accept that these nations are actually against democracy and freedom.
In short - if America doesn't like them, then maybe they're not so bad after all.
Of course, such an attitude is wrong. Thinking objectively, it is obvious that these two nations need to be kicked in the butt for failing to reach certain standards of democracy and freedom. And, of course, America is a great example of what democracy and freedom are all about.
Yeah - it's that last part which has me worried. The fact is that, many years ago, I actually believed that. As a result of the Bush presidency after 9/11, I no longer accept that America is the paragon of freedom and democracy.
It's not just the way in which the invasion of Iraq was promoted - it's what has happened all over the place with the things that America has been doing. Take, for example, the hidden CIA interrogation cells. There has not been a shred of evidence yet that has disproved the media's discussion of these entities. Outside the law of their own nation, these cells "interrogate" subjects with no set of laws to restrict any unethical behaviour. As a result, many former prisoners have come forward with anecdotal evidence that they were, in fact, tortured. Moreover, leading political figures - most notably Vice President Dick Cheney - have argued that these CIA interrogation cells should not be subject to military rules governing prisoner abuse.
Look, the fact is that America are supposed to be "the good guys", while the people they fight against are supposed to be "the bad guys". Of course the "bad guys" like Osama and Saddam used torture, suicide bombers and chemical weapons to do what they needed to do - but that's because they're being "the bad guys". When the supposedly "good guys" start using the same techniques, then the question needs to be asked - are the "good guys" actually good?
Of course, as someone who respects the study of history, I cannot make any clear delineations between "good guys" and "bad guys". All I see are "angry guys" who may or may not be acting in the right way.
And this, of course, is where America fits in. When Condeleeza Rice flies around the world condemning the use of torture and telling other nations how they should run their countries, she does so from absolutely no moral high ground at all. Americans may not see it, but the rest of the world sees such rank hypocrisy. They also discover that visits from the US Secretary of State are not actually for their own benefit, but for the benefit of US politics. After all, who cares if Rice turns up in some foreign country, insults everything they believe in and causes mass anger? It's not going to affect the US opinion polls. Crowds of angry Middle-eastern people burning badly-made American flags will do nothing to affect the latest newspaper polling.
Americans pride themselves in believing that America does stand for the moral high ground. Americans honestly believe that the US constitution is a wonderfully liberating document that has brought their nation peace, prosperity and honour. America, its citizens believe, is an example of what a truly free society should be.
The strange thing is that so many people out there beyond the US borders believe this as well. It's not that they're "foreign patriots" - it's just that the values that America promotes and holds dear are universal.
The problem is, of course, that the international perception of America has been severely degraded since 2001. Many non-Americans are now losing faith in what they thought America represented. While no non-American would admit to loving America above and beyond their own nation, they could at least agitate for changes in their own nations to accept values that are accepted as the norm in the US. Not any more.
It's not that the US isn't liked or disliked - it's the fact that America is no longer trusted. The US is supposed to be an example of what democracy, liberty and opportunity are all about. George W. Bush has systematically dismantled such notions. All the work done by decades of patience and hard work on both sides of US politics has been undone in the nearly five years that the man has resided in the White House.
If you're an American reading this, please understand. I woke up on September 12th, 2001, to hear the most horrific of news reports. I rushed to the TV, turned it on, and saw what had transpired in New York. I was devastated. I cried in horror and pain as I saw those images.
In the days after 9/11, the world response to America's plight was astounding. People all over the world made their way to US Embassies and Consulates. Here in Australia, as well as in many European nations, candles and American flags were placed by non-Americans over the gates and fences and entranceways of US government buildings. People even hung up American flags in their windows.
There was also the case of the German warship that passed by an American one soon after 9/11. The sailors on the German ship did a "Manning the rails" ceremony for their American allies - an honour only afforded important politicians and heads of state. The German sailors did this deliberately in order to show their American allies that they stood by them in such a tragic time.
It's hard for Americans to comprehend this - but in the weeks and months after 9/11, the entire civilized world stood by America in a way that has never occurred before or since. It wasn't just the politicians, it was ordinary people. Ordinary people from nations all over the world saw the pictures of 9/11 and were horrified. This attack on America was an attack on the entire civilized world. Although we could not experience the horror as our American friends had experienced it, we felt as one with America. 9/11 was an attack on us. Has there ever been such a feeling of oneness between America and the rest of the world? I doubt it.
And George Bush blew it.
All that hope that we had placed in America as being the paragon of democracy and freedom has been systematically erased by the Bush administration. We thought we could trust America to not stoop so low as to torture prisoners. We thought we could trust America's intelligence services to report accurate and unbiased information to those in government who needed to know. We thought that the US President would not mislead the American people when it came to such serious matters as war. We thought we could look to the US as an example of what is right and true - and we have been bitterly disappointed.
For all our bitching and our ranting, most non-Americans do want a strong and free America. We may not like the accent or the TV shows or the professional "sports", but we do want values. We don't want to love America, but we do want to respect and trust America.
But, in these dark times, we can't even do that.
How many people in my country have been secretly "rendered" by the United States and flown out in a private aircraft and then tortured in some other country? I have no idea, but I'm sure it has probably happened. Many non-Americans are wondering about this now, and their anger and mistrust is burning. This is not some sporting event where US athletes have taken steroids, or some "free-trade" agreement which favours US businesses over foreign ones - this is something far more serious.
No one, especially myself, ever really had a blind love affair with everything that is America. Nevertheless, we could at least point to the values that America promotes as being synonymous with our own.
Now we can't even do that.
America is not trusted anymore, nor is it respected anymore. The world is mourning a great loss of faith.
From the One Salient Overlord Department
© 2005 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License.