Sunday, February 25, 2018

Let America be strong

The United States remains the “indispensable’’ nation and American “exceptionalism’’ is a fact of modern life. Nothing immoral here. We have always had competition for resources and power among tribes and nations; and superpowers have always inevitably emerged, from pre Colombian times and onwards, including the Inca, Aztec, Roman and British Empires.

And the global balance is always in flux. Sometimes there is multi polarity, like before the second world war; or bi polarity, after the Iron Curtain descended; or unipolarity, as we have now. Indeed up to recently, one view postulated America was in decline and we were heading for a multi polar century with players like Brazil, Russia, India and China ascending the superpower ladder. But the Great Recession intervened. China might still get to the top by 2050 but for now the US remains pre-eminent. Its economy is gaining strength, the shale revolution has made it even more attractive for investments and a future energy powerhouse, the dollar is unchallenged as the world’s reserve currency, and notwithstanding budget cuts, its military might remains supreme.

We should be thankful that America is today’s sole superpower. For all its misdeeds, it remains a force for global good. Imagine life today had the Soviets won the Cold War or, tomorrow, if a Chinese imperium becomes the global determinant. We need America, the strong.

So Americans should be more discerning in choosing their presidents. After Bill Clinton, they have not done well. George W Bush and Barack Obama have been inadequate commanders-in- chief, both contributing to the present global crisis. When ‘W’ and the ‘neocons’ invaded Iraq with no clear long term objectives, they removed the authoritarianism which held an artificial state together and paved the way for the horrendous sectarian conflict today. When, over the last six years, Obama and the liberal left downplayed the US international role, they weakened the stabilizing influence we have had since 1945 and which prevented the world from unravelling as it is now. Two flawed foreign policies in succession, one without depth of understanding, the other lacking conviction in America’s global role. Bush was reckless and too eager to use America’s military might. Obama has seemed uncomfortable, almost embarrassed by it.

But Barack, the intellectual, succinctly articulates the US role: “America must always lead on the world stage. If we don’t, no one else will. The military is the backbone of that leadership. But just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail.”

It’s a pity he always tilted to one extreme and has been minimalist in deploying military resources when world stability demanded more. President Obama hides America’s power, when its visibility would prevent chaos. He withdrew all forces from Iraq, letting it fall apart, and he refused critical early support to the Syrian insurgency, allowing space for the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) led by the “feared and fearsome’’ Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, presently creating mayhem in the Middle East, pitting Sunnis against Shias and drawing Shiite Iran into the conflict. President Obama has now sent 275 soldiers to Baghdad to protect US personnel. How ironic. Had he left the minimum 15,000 troops in Iraq that his generals recommended, he would have ensured that the trillions spent, the 4,500 American soldiers killed and the hundreds of thousands wounded would have been worth something. He would have stabilised Iraq and carved a pivotal place for America in a region coming increasingly under the influence of Russia and China. But under President Obama, America’s foreign policy is “contraction and retrenchment’’.

No wonder, elsewhere, Russian aggression against Ukraine continues, threatening European stability; China asserts sovereignty in the South China Sea, escalating bitter territorial disputes with other Asian nations; Japan, under Shinzo Abe, is moving towards “military normalisation’’ and aggravating China and South Korea ; Pyongyang threatens a fourth weapons test, forcing neighbours to contemplate developing nuclear weapons; Pakistan has had to go on full military offensive against jihadists in North Waziristan; Libya is on the brink of civil war; Yemen remains a breeding ground for radicalism and terrorism; and Islamic militancy is on the rise in Africa including Kenya and Nigeria where Boko Haram has captured 20 more girls.

President Obama knows the threat to the world of this growing global instability. He acknowledges that “in the 21st century, American isolationism is not an option.” He believes “in American exceptionalism in every fibre of my being.” So why not let America be strong?

Ralph Maraj, playwright, former foreign affairs minister.