Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Global States of America

OK, for my first non-snarky, reasonably substantive blog post, I'm going a bit out on a limb. Stay with me if you can.

I've been kicking around these ideas for quite a while, but recent actions by President Obama on the global stage have compelled me to try and spell some of them out. Here's my central question:

What is the United States of America?

First and foremost, it is a collection of free people who live in a republic governed by the rule of law, as set forth in our founding documents, most notably the Constitution.

From the original thirteen colonies, through 19th century westward expansion, and the movement beyond the contiguous states in the mid-20th century, the physical definition of America has grown to accommodate the increasing number of peoples and territories with whom we share common interests.

Yes, as many would be quick to remind us, our hands are not spotless in this history - some of that expansion came at the expense of indigenous peoples, and through the labor of many brought to these shores against their will. We as a nation have, over successive generations, attempted to atone for these sins - and whether we've done enough atoning is not my focus today.

Rather, I'm thinking about how small our world has become - with planet-spanning communications and media, and relatively rapid travel capabilities. As we see daily, the global economy is inextricably interconnected; it's a rare customer of my software company that doesn't do at least some significant business overseas.

There are people in many places in the world that share our values, our respect for free markets and the rule of law. My question is simple: why can’t they be Americans too?

Think about the tragic joke that is the United Nations. A vast, sprawling bureaucracy, overflowing with predictable bureaucratic failings – including all kinds of gross malfeasance, and abuse of the powers of the institution to cover up that malfeasance. Worse, the UN has a strong institutional bias toward relativism and socialism; in its eyes, all countries have equal moral authority regardless of niggling details like human rights records, and the richer nations are expected to shoulder a disproportionate share of the costs of its programs, even when we don’t agree with the policies.

Why do we even participate in this circus?

There’s a growing concern that a squishy internationalism is creeping into American policy from many sources; certainly the Obama administration, with its determination to be loved by our enemies as well as (we hope) our friends, is one such source. The deference shown to non-US law by certain members of the judiciary is another. This trend, which I find very unhealthy and antithetical to the concept of American exceptionalism, has a certain faddish popularity to it these days.

I propose the exact opposite. If America is exceptional among all the nations of the world, due to its founding according to the core principals I discussed above, then there’s a really interesting prospect that – I believe – could end up being a defining force of the 21st century.

Let’s take America global.

Let’s figure out a way to say to the free, like-minded people of the world – necessarily starting with those already organized into like-minded nation-states – that we want them to be Americans too. Obviously there would be massive effort involved in figuring out all the economic, political, military, and other strategic dimensions to such a move – but in the long term, we’d be making the world more like America, rather than defensively acceding to making America more like the world.

We’ve already spent enough time talking about the UN and its failings. Assume for a minute that there was the political will to phase out all American involvement in that gassy body, including our status as landlord. What other multi-lateral institutions might be affected by a larger, more global United States?

NATO is at the top of the list. Originally chartered to provide a bulwark against Soviet expansion, notably into Europe, the organization has struggled to redefine its role in recent years. It’s an honorable group, with an honorable history, and it continues to do much good in the world. I don’t mean to lump it in with the UN – but all the politics of whether countries like Turkey should be admitted to the organization, for example, make the point that the mission has changed, as has the global context in which to consider it.

Let’s say, for shorthand purposes, that the mission of NATO is to provide security and stability for peoples that share our culture and our values. It’s an interesting thought exercise to fast-forward to a future where a larger, more global USA came to assume more of that role - with or without ad hoc coalitions of the willing on individual efforts.

As I’ve said, there are millions of questions that spill out from this exercise – with the biggest one being exactly what’s in it for us. That one would have to be answered separately in each specific case - but the benefits could be strategic, military, financial, natural resource-based, and cultural.

Many might also worry that we would further antagonize the rest of the world, conjuring up the specter of imperialism - although I think this concern could be mitigated by a very open, transparent process of allowing potential new states to join. Remember that nearly all the messy history of U.S. protectorates and territories are rooted in the conduct of wars, from the Spanish-American War in the late 19th century to World War II. Rightly or wrongly, U.S. motives in maintaining control were always questioned. How different would it be to have a public, democratic process, by which local people could debate and decide whether they wanted to join us? And of course, there would have to be an equally vigorous debate among the current American citizenry on each new admission.

It's certainly true that we have existing relationships with many countries, particularly in the area of military cooperation, that accomplish some of what I am describing here. Some of those countries might be excellent candidates for full statehood; others probably wouldn't. But the beautiful thing about this would be that we could have that debate in public, and discuss the full spectrum of potential benefits and challenges in each case - rather than have the relationship disproportionately drawn by only one element (be it strategic/military or, increasingly, economic).

Finally, of course, as an advocate of generally smaller government, especially at the national level, I recognize the irony of suggesting growing the beast in any way. Of course, I'd like to see this expansion happen in conjunction with a significant paring back of the scope of the federal government's role - focusing on protecting its citizens from external harm, providing basic oversight of free trade and commerce, and allowing the individual states (including the new ones) broad latitude in how they conduct their affairs.

Fundamentally, I think this would represent a transformative way to get out in front of the ever-increasing trend of globalism, and proactively try to define the new world in our terms. As I said, rather than making America more like the rest of the world, we’d be making the world more like America.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Nedscape 2009

A quick introduction.

I'm a longtime technology geek, CEO of an open source software company. This blog won't be about that, although if you're in the market for accounting, ERP, and CRM software, you should give it a look. I also have an irregular blog that snarkily tracks M&A activity in the ERP software space, called The ERP Graveyard.

In 1996, a couple of years after turning down a job at a scrappy young company called America Online (thought I'd hold out for more money - stock, schmock!), I had the presence of mind to register the domain name before any of the other Neds on the Internet got around to it.

Even then, my priorities were unassailable.

It's been years since I've done anything with the website, but I hold on to it for old times sake.

Back in the day, I had pages goofing on onetime Internet darling Netscape (circa '96, '97, '98, '99), Red Hat, c|net, Napster, Network Solutions, and I think the last update was somewhere around 2002 with an Enron-themed wrapup that had sort of a greatest-hits quality to it.

As you might gather from some of those links, I'm also a political conservative. I'll answer to "neanderthal" if the question is phrased politely, but I'm generally more interested in economic and foreign policy than having the government try to regulate individual behavior. Needless to say, I think the current administration is heading for the cliff's edge on all three counts.

More on that later.