miércoles, 18 de marzo de 2009

Open Letter to President Obama from a Chilean Political Scientist and a U.S. Sociologist

Open Letter to President Obama from a

Chilean Political Scientist and a U.S. Sociologist

Fernando Duque Ph.D.

Professor of Political Science

Universidad de Los Lagos,

Puerto Montt, Chile


Ricardo B. Duque Ph.D.

Visiting Professor of Sociology

Tulane University,

New Orleans, Louisiana, USA


3rd Draft March 14, 2009

Dear Mr. President, popular media and specialized journals are replete with articles and letters offering advice on how you should manage the first year of your administration. There is little doubt you understand the pressing challenges ahead. With good reason you will ignore most of these well-intentioned recommendations since many will be fatally tainted by personal preferences and natural subjectivity. The following humble and respectful proposal is subjective too and perhaps has little chance of penetrating your communication filters. Nevertheless, we will state it for the sake of the historical record. First, we offer some recommendation from political theory that best frame the Herculean challenge before you. We then summarize the Hegemonic Myth and how the last decade of U.S. policy ignored political history and alienated the majority of the world’s population. We then remind you of sage advice bequeathed by the U.S. Founding Fathers and conclude by pointing to ominous clouds amassing along the international horizon.


Our first recommendation is that you and your cabinet review classical political theory. You should acquaint yourselves with the development of western political thought through the last three thousand years. One recent overview we recommend to students of foreign relations is Norberto Bobio’s “The forms of government”. [1] If you allow us, we will summarize key points from this text. Most great western thinkers agree on one very important aspect of political history: change from a corrupt form of government to a benign form of government is usually extremely traumatic and always follows an enormous economic crisis. Unless the process of change in this case is carefully institutionalized and backed by overwhelming military and political force, it often climaxes in revolution or civil war. Furthermore, the transition from “bad” to “good” government is only successful when the reformist rulers clearly understand, and are prepared to follow, the lessons of history. If these new rulers ignore the fundamental wisdom of history, the forces that sustain the corrupt status quo often regain power.

Even though your speeches to date never employ these words and arguments exactly, it is apparent your vision for the United States includes a dramatic shift from an oligarchic status quo to a dynamic democratic form of government. Your campaign indirectly criticized the ruling elite, suggesting that multinational corporations unfairly employ their political access to direct key branches of government. It is generally held that this is accomplished through a sophisticated network of powerful lobbies that help elect public officials, who in turn create public agencies and/or appoint directors, who then often regulate important sectors of the economy on behalf of these same corporations. This is commonly referred to in the literature as regulative capture. [2] Put in a more vulgar way, this moral hazard [3] is tantamount to putting the foxes in charge of the hencoop.

Given the present state of government-corporate collusion at the national level, one could argue that De Tocqueville’s ideal Jacksonian democracy only precariously survives at the local and municipal level. [4] Here, William Domhoff’s life work offers some important insights. [5] Domhoff suggest that the plutocratic oligarchy has been successful over the last half century in reducing the wealth of the working and middle classes, while increasing their wealth exponentially. Magnified by recent oil corporation profits and the credit crisis/bail out, this extreme income distribution has produced a fundamental imbalance between two crucial economic factors, global supply and demand. The first victim of this dialectical contradiction is the U.S. housing market. Recently the economic contagion has penetrated the rest of the U.S. economy and now the world economy. Not surprising, this unequal income distribution among rich and poor is magnified as this contagion unfolds throughout the Third World.

One obvious proscription to this global imbalance is your initiative of income redistribution through massive “New Deal” style public works, alternative energy technologies and state control of credit and finance. President Franklin D. Roosevelt executed a similar plan in 1933, arguably saving the country from total economic collapse. However, you face a fundamental difference. Roosevelt was a member of the U.S. aristocratic elite. He managed to maintain enough support of the ruling class, even as he campaigned on a populist platform. Consequently, the aristocratic republic was saved and had the opportunity to consolidate their oligarchic republic over the next forty years. Today you, an African-American president of immigrant and working-class parents, resides in the White House. Although professionalized in the Ivy League, you obviously do not belong to the oligarchic ruling class. Consequently, your plans, programs and policies will most likely be considered unwanted, unsolicited and an intrusion on “their turf.” Furthermore, they will consider most of your ideas a mortal blow to their class interests, a government of the rich, by the rich and only for the rich.

If your crucial programs are successfully implemented, they will represent a radical paradigmatic shift from oligarchy to democracy. The added risk to this inherent kind of rapid change, as mentioned earlier, is that a growing minority of the country has fallen under the spell of the “corrupted” elite and their incubuses. They will be persuaded to strongly reject these needed changes. The elite will use all means at their disposal to (1) co-opt you and your assistants. And failing this, they will (2) try to destroy you and your government. History is thick with cases in which well-intentioned reformers ignored this political reality to tragic consequences. An international example is the case of Chile, the homeland of one of the authors of this present essay. This is exactly what befell President Salvador Allende in 1973.[6] He misunderstood the political reality of the times and as a result he and the nation paid a very heavy price. Examples from your country’s recent history include the foreshortened Presidencies of John F. Kennedy [7] and Richard M. Nixon. [8] According to some insiders, both leaders dared to buck the military-industrial complex status quo and were summarily dismissed by the oligarchic elite.

Given the lessons of history, you may have to reconsider your well-intentioned desire for a bipartisan political approach. If you insist on this “across the isle” strategy, you could be sadly disappointed. Your presidential tenure may well mirror the populist failures of the Carter and Clinton administrations, both of which succumb to neo-liberal revolutions. If you truly want to implement your electoral mandate, you may have no choice but to rely on the full extent of federal and state institutions, as well as the brilliant Internet-driven communication system to which your presidential win owes its gratitude. The American people must be fully informed and socialized to the urgent necessity of your proposed reforms. A sustained institutionalization of change is central here. Even if all goes well initially, there may be attempts by the political right to disrupt or even halt your reforms. To face these imminent challenges, you must devote one hundred per cent of your time to the implementation of this delicate and complex paradigm shift strategy.

Simultaneous to the internal processes of change, your administration will benefit from the prompt return of military troops overseas, particularly the National Guard. With a strategic and responsible withdrawal, you will achieve two crucial and necessary objectives. First, these returning resource will insure that the forces of the reactionary right are properly neutralized, allowing a successful and peaceful process of socioeconomic change within the United States. Second, withdrawal will diffuse and perhaps help resolve many anti-American “hot spots” around the world. There are fundamental differences of interest between the United States and emerging world cultures. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the U.S. oligarchy assumed that bipolarity has been replaced by unipolarity under U.S. direction and control. The neo conservative branch of the ruling elite mistakenly believed that the new American Empire had finally replaced the hegemonic rule mythically achieved by the British Empire at the end of the 18th and early 19th centuries. This hegemonic myth, though, embodies a unique profile that the United States fails to mirror. The following section treats this in more detail.


According to Hans Morgenthau [9] and other “balance of power” theorists [10], a successful hegemon has four essential components: (1) first, the hegemon controls at least half of the global economy, particularly more than 50 percent of the world’s industrial production; (2) second, the superpower enjoys territorial rule over at least half of the earth; (3) third, its armed forces can successful police the entire world population—one soldier for every 500 global inhabitants; (4) finally, the superpower counts on the loyalty and admiration of at least half of the world’s population. Obviously, the United States does not embody the four requirements mentioned above. Even with the Unites State’s superior economic engine, the rise of the European Union, China and India suggest that point one is tentatively fulfilled at best. Furthermore, although enjoying technological superiority in logistics and firepower, the ongoing challenges experienced by the U.S. military in the Iraq and Afghanistan occupations confirms that criteria two and three are not fulfilled. Most telling though is the failure of U.S. policy to achieve requirement four, the loyalty and admiration of half the world’s population.

The neo-conservative misinterpretation of political, economic and military supremacy has pitted the United States against over 80 percent of the world’s population. This is in large part a byproduct of the U.S. plutocratic elite’s proclivity to ally itself with corrupt counterparts in third world countries. Consequently, a tiny Eurocentric minority in developing countries admires U.S. rulers, while the vast majority of the poor within these same nations despises them. This political and economic short cut to global domination has also resulted, not surprisingly, in a variety of domestic and international “blow back” incidents including the most tragic, the terrorist attacks on the twin towers, September 11th 2001. [11] Moreover, U.S. political, economic and cultural policies over the last four decades have offended a majority of inhabitants in the largest civilizations outside of the West, particularly those in Islamic, Orthodox, Sinic and Latin American regions. Below is a brief review of how U.S. policy has alienated the populations in each of these key regions.

Within the Islamic civilization, the bone of contention is centered on U.S. attempts to create, develop and support a western neo-colonial enclave in the Middle East. Furthermore, it is seen as pursuing monopoly influence over the oil and gas resources of this region and attempting to impose American cultural values across a vast Islamic region from Morocco to Indonesia. Naturally, the Muslim World has reacted with extreme prejudice. The real and proxy wars against Palestinians, Lebanese, Syrian, Iraqis, Afghans, Iranians and Pakistanis are a product of this “clash of civilization” predicted by Samuel Huntington (1993).

Regarding the Russian or orthodox civilization, the bones of contention revolve around U.S. attempts to strategically encircle Russia and its allies, perceived designs on the oil and gas reserves of central Asia and open calls for regime change in the Kremlin. However, the largest threat to Russian security has been NATO overtures to Georgia and the Ukraine, functionally transforming allies into enemies of the former Soviet. With the war in Georgia and drastic political changes in Ukraine, the Russian civilization has finally reacted to two decades of U.S.-led economic, military and political aggression. The former Soviets are reacting in the same way as Americans might react if they woke up to discover that Russia had opened military bases in Havana and Caracas.

With the Sinic or Chinese civilization, the conflict is equally as acute. The Chinese civilization is the oldest in the planet. It has for centuries administered control over Taiwan, Mongolia, Tibet and Korea. Furthermore, Sinic civilization during the dark ages in Europe was the industrial powerhouse of the world. Since 1949, they have been working to regain a prominent global position. But the U.S. elite opposes China’s rise at every turn. Once again western elites promote a regime change in Beijing, pressuring the new Chinese leadership to behave accordingly to Anglo Saxons values. Naturally, these attempts are strongly rejected by the communist party. This clash could easily escalate if not attended to with care. A conflict over Taiwan or Tibet might well be the catalyst for a catastrophic clash among a new generation of super powers.

The clash with the Latin American civilization has long been festering and has historical roots. Practically all of Latin America became U.S. economic and political satellites after the collapse of the British Empire. The Monroe doctrine was the initial north-centric policy that impacted the region. Masked in overtures of protection and mutual support, the United States functionally “conquered” part of Latin America in the early 19th century. The first victim was Mexico, which lost half of its territory. By the commencement of the 20th century, Central America, the Caribbean and Colombia also suffered the brunt of U.S. expansionist policies. Cuba and Puerto Rico were transformed outright into U.S. colonies. Since mid-century, every Latin America country has in some way been impacted negatively by U.S. interventionism. Recent NAFTA and CAFTA agreements have magnified already stressed relations among the people’s of the region. At the dawn of 21st century though, more than a few Latin-American nations have regrouped and are resisting the north, reminding some of the defiant nationalist convictions embodied by revolutionary Cuba, 1959. Today, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil are all actively working for economic independence from the north and its proxies, the IMF and World Bank. Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Chile, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and even Costa Rica are closely monitoring these ongoing developments and may soon join this anti-north trend.

The U.S. Oligarchy behaves as if the United States is the only hegemonic super power, above international laws and resolutions. This elite sincerely believes that theirs is the only interests that matter. Further, these interests are constructed as benign and congruent with the interest of all. Hence, what is good for the elite is good for the United States, thus ultimately good for the whole world. U.S. plutocratic leaders are incapable of understanding and much less sympathizing with the legitimate interest of other countries. This mixture of ignorance, pride and self-righteousness imploded many great empires of the past like Spain, Portugal, Holland, France, Germany, Japan, Turkey, Russia and Great Britain. According to Paul Kennedy of Harvard, [12] this misinterpretation of political reality, combined with an incongruence of goals and means led to disastrous wars and to inevitable destruction of once seemingly invincible empires. Unfortunately, these historical foibles are now being replicated by the U.S. plutocratic elite, as witnessed by the myriad of international conflicts they support. A deliberate and orderly withdrawal of U.S. military forces around the world will create the conditions for a sustainable solution to many of the world geo-political woes and perhaps circumvent the inevitable fall of the United States. Further, there is intellectual precedence for this type of policy and it is suggested by your own Founding Fathers.


President Obama, if your administration follows the historic recommendations of your Founding Fathers, a respect for diverse opinions and minding one’s own cultural business, most global problems might resolve themselves. To insist on a foreign policy that ignores the legitimate interests of other civilizations, while overestimating the United State’s military power is a sure recipe for decline and eventual collapse. According to Professor Niall Ferguson [13] at Harvard, the most recent example of misguided policies on this scale can be attributed to the British Empire and its decline through the 19th and early 20th centuries. To avoid this fate, it is of the outmost importance and necessity that your administration wisely adopts a “Fortress America Strategy”. Please review the sage writings of Founding Fathers George Washington and Alexander Hamilton. Institutional change, as well as modern nation building, instigated from abroad works best only in regions with a history of solid and well functioning indigenous institutions. Also important is that the values of the host nation are congruent with those of the donor nation. [14] Failing these two vital conditions, regime interventions are bound for failure. That is why the U.S. elite is losing the peace in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Your challenge is much more difficult than the one Lincoln faced in 1860. Lincoln had sufficient troops to win the war and the peace and he did not have foreign wars to win. The present economic task at home is so great that you cannot afford to be distracted by foreign conflicts. You need to put your house in order first. And then if you decide it is in your nation’s interests to influence others, do so with the most persuasive argument available: let your nation lead by example. The blunders of the last half-century are monumental and the United States has lost its moral high ground as a result. You must explain to your populous that over the last 40 years, the ruling elite have been corrupted and has ignored the values that made your country great. By trying to achieve the impossible elite dream of world domination, the vast majority of the world is adamantly calling for a U.S. retreat back within its own borders. While there is great benefit to promoting freedom and democracy abroad, unnecessary U.S. meddling over the past 50 years is the primary reason why your country is so unpopular today.

Fortunately, you demonstrate a fantastic power for reason and persuasion. But your admirable intellectual capacity will be limited by the information you are privy to. We commend your insistence on surrounding yourself with a variety of viewpoints to access to the broadest knowledge pool. The information you receive should be analyzed transparently, critically and with the highest scientific integrity and accountability in order to avoid the intelligence blunders of the recent past. Once they are drawn from critically assessed sources, and the unintended consequences thoroughly identified, your policies should be presented to the American people in the most objective and non-ideological way possible. On the whole, American citizens are intelligent, rational and highly pragmatic. Properly informed, they will support rational policies that are realistic and well thought out. The era of wrapping half-witted U.S. initiatives in moral and patriotic ribbons is worn and withered.


Mr. President, we studied carefully your book entitled the “Audacity of hope”. [15] You suggest that America should build a new international consensus in order to confront the dangers emerging in the new Millennium. You also contend the world of great power rivalries no longer exists. Unfortunately Mr. President, we regret to inform that perhaps this is not supported by present realities. Due to the imperial and expansionist behavior of the nation you now lead, particularly during the last four decades, the old “balance of power” practices and behaviors are back. As a result, the world’s present geopolitical balance resembles the one at the start of the 20th century.

The acute competition for resources and influence among great powers has returned with vengeance. We are reliving our historical past and perhaps hammering the last death nail in the coffin of Fukuyama’s dream. [16] The end of history means the end in the evolution of political and economic thought. The democratic – liberal ideology will eventually shape all governments and modern capitalism will guide economic policies in the planet. The events of the last couple of years offer substantial support to the predictions of Samuel Huntington, Niall Ferguson, and Paul Kennedy. Like our past, our present is the predicted world of expedient alliances among, and clashing interests between, great powers. But this time there are important differences. Before, competition existed among states that more or less belonged to the same civilization. The west reined supreme on the planet. Today the conflict is between different civilizations. The Anglo Saxon civilization represents a minority of the world’s population. Soon a rival civilization, the Chinese or Sinic, as Samuel Huntington refers to it, will grow more powerful. If your civilization hopes to share the distribution of world power in the future, it is imperative you accept and adapt to this emerging reality before your chickens come home to roost.


[1] La Teoria delle Forme di Governo nella storia del Pensiero politico anno académico 1975 – 1977. Giappichelli Editore Turín. 1976

[2] Laffont, J. J., & Tirole, J., “The politics of government decision making. A theory of regulatory capture.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 106(4): 1089-112. 1991.

[3] Hellmann, Thomas F., Kevin C. Murdock and Joseph E. Stiglit, Liberalization, Moral Hazard in Banking, and Prudential Regulation: Are Capital Requirements Enough? The American Economic Review. 90(1): 147-165. 2000.

[4] De Toqueville, A. Democracy in America (Free Press 2000).

[5] Domhoff, W. The Powers that be. Processes of ruling class domination in America (Vintage Books 1978); Domhoff, W.. Who rules America? How “The Power elite” dominates business, governments and society (Simon and Shuster 1983); Domehoff, W. Who Rules America? Power and Politics in the year 2000 (Mayfield Publishing 2000).

[6] Davis, Nathanial, The last two years of Salvador Allende (Cornell Univ Press 1985).

[7] Prouty, L. Fletcher, JFK: The CIA, Vietnam and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy (Citadel 2004).

[8] Colodny, Len and Robert Gettlin, Silent Coup: The Removal of Richard Nixon (St. Martins Press 1992).

[9] Morgenthau, H., Politics among Nations, 3rd. Edition (New York: Knoff 1960).

[10] Hinsley, F.H., Power and the Pursuit of peace. Cambridge University Press, 1963; Carr, E.H., The twenty years’ crisis (London MacMillan and Co., 1939); Claude Jr., Inis L., Power and International Relations. Random House, New York, 1964; Gulick, Edward V., Europe’s classical Balance of Power. (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1955); Haas, E.B., “The Balance of Power: Prescription, Concept or Propaganda? World politics, Vol. 5, July, 1953; Toynbee, A.B., A Study of History. Oxford University Press, New York, 1947; Lasswell, Harold D. and Abraham Kaplan, Power and Society (New Haven: Yale University Press 1950); Taylor, A.J.P., The Struggle for Mastery in Europe, 1848 – 1918 (Oxford, Clarendon Press 1954); Morton A. Kaplan, Balance of Power, Bipolarity and the other models of International Systems “American Political Science Review, Sept. 1957; Hume, David “On the balance of Power”, The Philosophical works of David Hume (Boston, 1854); Churchill, Winston, The Second World War: The gathering storm (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1948); Bacon, Francis, “The Essays or Counsels, Civil and Moral” in Wolfers and Martin (eds.); The Anglo-American Tradition in Foreign Affairs (New Haven: Yale University Press 1956); Kissinger, Henry A., A World Restored (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1957); Liska, George. The International Equilibrium (Cambridge Harvard University Press 1957).

[11] Johnson, Chalmers. Blowback: the costs and consequences of American empire. 2nd Edition (Macmillan. 2004).

[12] Kennedy, Paul, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000. (Vintage Books 1989).

[13] Ferguson, Niall, Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British world order and the lessons for global power, Basic Books, New York, 2003; Ferguson, Niall, “Sinking Globalization in Foreign Affairs 84(2) 2005.

[14] Eckstein, Harry, Division and Cohesion in Democracy. A study of Norway. Princeton University Press 1966 (appendix B).

[15] Obama, Barack, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream. (Vintage Books 2008).

[16] Fukuyama, Francis, The End of History and The Last Man (Penguin books, New York 1992).

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