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Xen and the Art of Empire Maintenance

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Xenophobia: unreasonable fear or hatred of foreigners.

Paris: They don't like the U.S. here. It's not personal. Except for an occasional rude snot, the French are friendly to individual Americans. They're not xenophobes. They just don't like our government. Regard George Bush as an obnoxious paysan.

What's new? A lot of Americans also believe that Bush is a blundering peasant. Particularly those of us who don't spend hours each day glued to Fox News. What's changed is that France, Britain, and most of the other EU countries have moved on beyond dislike. Learned they can do without us. America's become the obnoxious cousin with the drinking problem that everyone tolerates because they're family. We continue to have our place at ceremonial occasions. Still show up in group photos. On the surface we appear to be part of the family. Only, we're not. We've become etranger. The French have grown tired of trying to figure us out. Given up and gone their own way.

Why should we care what the French think? One obvious reason is that we want them to buy our products. France, with 60 million people, is a big market: the number one tourist destination in the world. Where we're losing market share. Compared to the situation five years ago, there are demonstrably fewer American products here: We drove across France on l'autoroute and saw no American cars. Listened to the radio and rarely heard an American group. Sure, there are still U.S. movies and computer products, but go into the typical super marche and most of the household products are either non-American or those made by huge multinationals, like Proctor and Gamble, which have factories in the EU. The market presence of the U.S. is diminishing.

The same phenomenon is happening in other EU countries. While America played king of the world, the EU and developed countries such as China moved on. Decided they can compete with us economically and culturally. As a result, the U.S. is no longer numero uno.

Unfortunately, most Americans don't get this. Still believe that because we can kick ass whenever we feel like it, our global supremacy is assured: That American empire rolls on. That the party's not over.

History will record the decline happened on George Bush's watch. Attribute it to a bellicose policy that emphasized military might. Laughed at strategic planning. Reduced the role of diplomacy to participation in ceremonial events. Assumed that when we acted unilaterally in the Middle East, it had no impact on our relationships in other spheres of interest. That the world's consumers like to deal with arrogant xenophobes.

George Bush and his cronies have saddled America with a national policy that doesn't work. Rather than assure supremacy, it's produced decay.

The Bush Administration is still fighting the cold war. Acting as if we're engaged in an arms race with the Soviet Union. Substituted "terrorists" for "Soviets." Painted the world as white and black: us against them. Encouraged the Fox-fed masses to hunker down in fortress America. But the Soviet Union is gone. And, there isn't an arms race anymore. Terrorist groups, such as Al Qaeda, are competing with us primarily for hearts and minds, not weapons.

The game the developed world is playing has changed. And the U.S. hasn't adapted. We're still playing checkers while most everyone else is playing chess. The impact becomes clear when you compare the United States and France.

The U.S. is a much bigger country: 296 million people versus 61 million. Still, France's budget expenditures, $1.14 trillion, are almost half of ours, $2.47 trillion. What's different is how the two countries spend their money. Last year, the U.S. devoted $518.1 billion to the military. France, which has the number three military budget, spent $45 billion. The U.S. spent 21 percent of its budget on the military; France spent 4 percent.

This difference in the way the two countries spend their money affects not only the quality of life of their citizens, but also their competitiveness in the world marketplace. France has the world's number one health care system; the U.S. is number 37. The French offer free pre-school beginning at age 3 and a free college education. The French transportation infrastructure is vastly superior to that in the U.S. And on and on. France leads the U.S. in planning for the future. They're building intellectual capital. We're building guns.

That's not to say France is a perfect country. It's not. Many of the social problems that plague the U.S.-immigration, racism, and classism, among others-also beset France. The difference is that France is preparing for the global economy. And the U.S. is not.

The policies of the Bush Administration haven't produced global supremacy. Haven't prepared us for the new world we live in. A world where competition is based upon intellectual prowess not military might. A global economy where the U.S. must reach out to consumers, not piss them off.

Xenophobia may be a great word for Scrabble. But it's not the basis of a viable foreign policy.
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Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.
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