World News and Trends: Stubborn problems afflict America

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Stubborn problems afflict America

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On the surface, March was a very good month for the ambitions of President Barack Obama. First the health-care legislation he called for passed the U.S. Congress, and shortly afterwards a deal to reduce nuclear arsenals was concluded with Russia.

But will cuts in military spending even begin to pay for the enormous costs of his health-care legislation? Will America ultimately have to trim its defenses much more to deal with its incredibly high national debt? Is Washington still on a slippery slope when it comes to lowering its debt level to a reasonable amount?

Bronwen Maddox, chief foreign commentator for The Times of London, summed up the American debt conundrum: "To cut a budget deficit that reached a record of $1.4 trillion in 2009, defence is an obvious target. The share of costs going to military personnel is rising—and that will squeeze the amount free for new equipment. It inevitably undermines any willingness even to contemplate new wars" ("America Counts the Cost of Going to War," The Times, March 29, 2010).

As if to underline a determination to pull back on American military power, on April 6 President Obama announced a dramatic change in U.S. policy, allowing U.S. nuclear retaliation only if America were attacked with nuclear weapons. His new policy forbids U.S. forces from using nuclear weapons to retaliate against non nuclear countries even if the country were to be hit with biological or chemical weapons or crippling cyberattack. At the same time he announced that America would not develop any new nuclear weapons.

On another front, an international report strongly indicates that American educational standards are slipping. Said New York Times correspondent Sam Dillon: "One of the world's foremost experts on comparing national systems has told members of the U.S. Congress that many other countries are surpassing the United States in educational attainment, including Canada, where he said 15-year-old students were, on average, more than one school year ahead of American 15-year olds" ("Many Countries Pass US on Education, Global Experts Say," International Herald Tribune, March 11, 2010).

The enormous educational advantage the United States had over other nations after World War II has evaporated with time. Andreas Schleicher, a senior education officer at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), stated, "Among OECD countries, only New Zealand, Spain, Turkey and Mexico now have lower high school completion rates than the U.S." (ibid.).

Foreign policy is another area of serious concern. Jay Solomon and Peter Spiegel focused on some of America's diplomatic difficulties in a Wall Street Journal article written from Moscow. They pointed out that "leaders from Brasilia to Beijing sling arrows at the Obama administration ..."

They also stated that "a string of public rebukes of U.S. foreign policy in recent weeks, from Jerusalem to Red Square, is highlighting how the global goodwill U.S. President Barack Obama enjoyed on taking office last year has often failed to translate into foreign-policy wins ...

"White House diplomatic initiatives aimed at wooing adversaries such as Iran, Syria, and North Korea into renouncing their weapons systems and support of terrorism are also showing little signs of progress" ("Nations Decline to Follow U.S.'s Lead," March 22, 2010). (Sources: The Times [London], The Wall Street Journal, International Herald Tribune.)