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Must America Change?

I dispute some of the assertions and implications made by Basil Enwegbara in “Why America Must Change” [Sept. 23]. He claims (1) that the U.S. has in most cases obstructed democracy and capitalism in other nations, (2) it must lead the world in R&D investment (as if it did not already) to be great, (3) that it acts only in its interests and does not present an image of “an America that cares about the rest of the world.”

Against the first, there is the example of South Korea, which is now a free and prosperous nation, for which most older Koreans who remember the old days are grateful. Among them is my mother. I can list many other nations where the U.S. has helped to build freedom: Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, Iraq, Afghanistan and so on.

Against the second are data from the 2002 NSF Indicators on Science and Engineering. In 1999 the U.S. spent more in R&D than all other G-7 countries combined, and recent trends suggest that difference will grow even wider. Among G-8 nations, the U.S. spends a larger percentage of its GDP on R&D than all but Japan.

Against the third I offer a few recent examples: the U.S. led the campaign to help Muslims in Kosovo, where its interests were neither obvious nor compelling; the U.S. will spend much rebuilding Iraq, more than is recoverable; the U.S. has pledged billions of dollars to fight AIDS in Africa. Many criticize the U.S. for spending half to a third of what the EU spends in aid as a percent of GDP, but this neglects private aid sent with missionaries, NGOs, etc. According to the Hudson Institute, private aid is three times Federal aid. It also neglects America’s unique military role. According the Department of Defense’s Stars and Stripes, the U.S. spends $12 billion a year maintaining its forces in South Korea protecting freedom there. I do not know how much the U.S. spends in its many other deployments, like sanctions enforcement in Iraq, but it is no doubt many times more.

Mr. Enwegbara has a bold vision for what America must become. It is a vision, I believe, that America largely already is.

Shelby Jay Savage G