Why should we care about America's debt-ceiling crisis?
An internist from Rochester, N.Y. e-mailed me in early 2003 to ask why I, a columnist at the Toronto Star, was writing so many columns opposing an imminent U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. "What business is it of yours what we do?"
I'm sure readers of this blog often wonder why it covers the U.S. as closely as it does.
The answer to my pen-pal in Rochester was that the Bush Administration was threatening Canada with punitive trade actions if we didn't join the "coalition of the willing" in Iraq. (Not overtly, mind you, but we know how to read between the lines drafted and spoken by our sole neighbor.) Also, Canadian and U.S. armed forces have worked hand in glove most of the past century, learning each other's methods, testing each other's equipment (Cruise missiles were first tested on the Canadian Prairies), and more often than not sharing foreign-policy aims.
The answer this time is that a U.S. default come Aug. 2 will, in the view of most economists across the political spectrum, in America and around the world, is that a U.S. default will trigger a double-dip recession. Because Canada's export-driven economy is overly reliant on exports to the U.S., any further softening in an already weak U.S. economy will bring yet more misery to Canadians, even as we recover from the horrific aftermath of Made-in-America housing bubble.
On a more far-reaching note, our American friends should contemplate how in the past decade the U.S. has diminished itself in world regard.
America proved defenseless against 9/11. It took the U.S. 10 years to track down Osama bin Laden, whom evidence shows could have been taken out back in 2001, but a U.S. president eager to assume perpetual wartime powers chose not to pull the trigger. In Iraq, the U.S. showed the world it is incapable of managing an occupation of a foreign country. At home, it proved itself incapable of preventing the loss of one of its own great cities, New Orleans. America's regulatory laxity and a financial sector with no sense of patriotism, only greed, willfully plunged the entire world into an unprecedented credit crisis and resulting Great Recession worse than any downturn since the Depression. On Obamacare, a watered-down version of the universal health care all other advanced nations have had for decades, grassroots resistence to sensible improvements in Americans' way of life threatens to wreck an initiative that is, in the view of others, merely a catch-up measure. America is a laggard in climate change, in which we look to the likes of Denmark and China for leadership.
Churchill observed of an America he loved that "It will do the right thing after exhausting all the alternatives." My outlook tends to be bleaker still. In 1963, speaking out against the Vietnam War, Martin Luther King said in his latest re-reading of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, the "parallels I saw with the U.S. are astonishing."
There are no guarantees that God's manifest blessings on America will prevent its eclipse. And it's not that the U.S. will be overtaken by others. The rot is internal. Rome was finished long before the Visigoths showed up.
No country is in better position than the U.S. to reverse its decline and lay claim to the 21st century, as a leader in social justice and every type of technological innovation. And for the past decade, no major country has seemed more intent on undermining its future with self-inflicted wounds.
Which would be of only passing interest to some non-Americans save that the U.S., when it goes awry, is still uniquely capable of wreaking havoc on the rest of the world.
That's why what America does is very much our business.