In his latest book -- "America's Promise Restored: Preventing Culture, Crusade and Partisanship from Wrecking Our Nation" -- columnist and strategic thinker Harlan Ullman delivers a scorching indictment of self-inflicted wounds that have now imperiled democracy itself. The Katrina and the Dubai World Port fiascos are just two among dozens.
The sheer magnitude and scope of the dangers, challenges and problems facing the United States have never been greater both at home and abroad. The explosive ingredients putting us at risk combine the excesses of culture, crusade and partisanship. Popular culture has distorted and corrupted politics from governing to seizing power by destroying the opposition. The adversarial nature of politics is out of hand. Its purpose used to be good government. Now it's an attack weapon that has crippled the democratic process.
The unalienable right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness has become alienable. For a politician to tell his/her constituents the truth in a democratic country -- here the United States is no exception -- is to ensure defeat at the next election. A guaranteed laugh line outside the Beltway is "I come to you from Washington, our bilingual capital where truth is now the second language... seldom spoken." The war on terror is misguided because the causes of terrorism are ignored. Terror, ideas and ideologies are al-Qaida's main weapons against which conventional forces are powerless. Iraq is the greatest geopolitical catastrophe in U.S. history. It robbed us of the moral high ground. The crusade in the Middle East to democratize Iraq has unleashed the forces of extremism and totalitarian political ambitions.
A resurgent Asia, immigration, soaring debts and deficits and skyrocketing expenses for retirement plans, health care and energy are but a few of the acute problems that elude bad government. The gap between obligations and resources grows unbridgeable with two wars, Afghanistan and Iraq, climbing past the half trillion dollar mark and a defense budget of $500 billion a year that now exceeds what the rest of the world spends on defense, including Russia, China, Europe, South and Southeast Asia, and the Middle East.
Broken government stems, in large part, from the strength and growing influence of special interest groups and lobbies that all too often represent political extremes and narrow constituencies that agitate outside the mainstream.
Ullman suggests five broad remedies to dysfunctional government:
-- To get the public to engage the government through the ballot box when only just over half of eligible Americans vote, make universal suffrage for national elections mandatory. A vote need not be cast but all should show up or send in an absentee ballot.
-- Make government accountable by bringing Congress into the 21st century by reducing, streamlining and modernizing the committee system (DHS now reports to 88 committees and subcommittees). Introduce a Sarbanes-Oxley-type of law to compel members to certify they have read and understood the legislation on which they are voting. For the executive branch, senior officials would have to certify the figures submitted in proposed legislation were accurate and if later proved erroneous by a large threshold, the law would become null and void.
-- Restore the balance between the protection of the nation and civil liberties with a view to removing the stain of Abu Ghraib and the treatment of enemy combatants. Suicide bombing and other forms of terrorism, the apparatus belli of the weak against the strong from time immemorial, are just as much of a weapons system as satellite-guided precision ordnance. A Code of Conduct for fighting the global war on terror is vitally needed. Simultaneously, the civil liberties commission proposed by the 9/11 Commission must be put in place with officials confirmed by the Senate. The objective is to balance national security with civil liberties, thus protecting Americans by safeguarding constitutional guarantees.
-- Urgently needed is a strategic construct that objectively integrates the realities of a globalized world with our society at home. This framework must be based on knowledge and fact, not ideology or rhetoric, and must address the causes as well as the symptoms of the challenges and issues that lie ahead.
-- Create a National Security University to focus on a framework of "peace, partnership and prosperity" to replace the successful Cold War structure of containment, defense and deterrence. Fix the disjointed interagency process by which government makes its key decisions by turning the Defense Department's National Defense University into such a National Security University open to all appropriate agencies of government, including Congress and staffs.
Ullman recalls a relevant passage from the Declaration of Independence which had already foreseen America's current predicament and what to do about it: "Governments... deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the right of the People to alter or abolish it and to institute new Government."
It is not a cry for revolution, Ullman says in "America's Promise Restored," but for restoration of a sacred promise. The right question to ask, of course, is whether the spirit that animated and motivated our forefathers exists in today's America.