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Carter diagnoses the American disease 

Apr 19. 2019
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By The Nation

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Ex-president’s warning on military hegemony spot on

Jimmy Carter has stung America. But truth always hurts, and the former president had plenty in lashing out at his own nation. In an analysis that outsiders shrugged at as a statement of the obvious, but American politicians bristled over as an attack on national pride, Carter described the United States as “the most warlike nation in the history of the world” – a characteristic that had enabled pacifist China to thrive. 

Indeed, the historical record doesn’t lie. But a former US president confessing that truth is unprecedented – and also deeply embarrassing for his country’s politics. Carter told a congregation at his regular Sunday school lesson at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia, that President Donald Trump had called him for the first time to voice his concern about how China was “getting ahead of us”.

In concurring with that verdict, Carter inadvertently revealed a disturbing feature of the American mindset. The United States, its politicians specifically, hates being got ahead of. This sore point throbbed throughout the telephone conversation between Trump and Carter. Their chat exposed a hidden truth: Hegemony is the United States’ biggest source of trouble.

For starters, why be concerned if others are better? What is so worrying to Trump about another country’s success? China has built a nationwide high-speed rail network, constructed skyscrapers in record time, teleported an object to outer space, made startling advances in cloning technology and is driving global trade. And the Asian giant has not gone to war against other countries in recent memory. 

Is Trump suffering from paranoia, then? Psychiatrists say paranoiacs often fear that others will “steal” their plans and act on them first. If Trump is afraid that China is seeking to rule the world, what should the rest of the world be afraid of?

Carter pointed to gaping holes in US domestic development as a result of its “warlike” nature. He was right. Vast sums of money and resources that could have been diverted for technological advancement have instead gone into fuelling the globe’s largest war machine. As a result, the US has ended up trying to convince the world, rather unconvincingly, that China’s Huawei is a monstrous telecom company whose nefarious operations the whole world should fear.

The unhealthy US mindset has dominated its foreign policy, causing international disruptions big and small. It has diverted billions in taxpayers’ dollars, along with many of the country’s best minds, into the military-industrial sector. 

All the while, Carter pointed out, China has been building, experimenting and innovating. 

“We have wasted $3 trillion (Bt95 trillion),” he said. “China has not wasted a single penny on war, and that’s why they’re ahead of us. In almost every way. And I think the difference is if you take $3 trillion and put it in American infrastructure, you’d probably have $2 trillion left over.”

War money could have instead forged high-speed railroads, bridges “that aren’t collapsing”, highways that “are maintained properly” and an unrivalled education system, the former president added.

Carter was challenging Trump to change a deep-rooted political mindset. The US president should take heed. His focus should be on what ordinary Americans are being deprived of, rather than on what American politicians should do to prevent China from “getting ahead of us”.

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