The US Global Masquerade

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The US Global Masquerade

by Leon Hadar by Leon Hadar

During her meetings with foreign leaders in Washington and the many world capitals she has visited recently, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sounded like a kindergarten teacher warning rowdy kids that if they won’t behave, they could end up standing in the "Axis of Evil" corner. Meanwhile, those who had learnt by heart the entire State of Inauguration Address of President George W Bush earned her admiration.

Ms Rice disparaged the Europeans for considering the lifting of an arms embargo on China – a move which, she explained, could threaten the delicate military balance in East Asia, insisting that the US regards itself as the peacekeeper in the area and would look harshly on any European interference. "It is the United States, not Europe, that has defended the Pacific," she said. She then lectured the Chinese on the need to pressure the North Koreans, and told reporters that China could be "a positive influence in the region," adding, however, that it could just as easily become the region’s biggest problem.

America’s diplomatic mission, and hers, she said, was "to guide it to the positive side of the ledger." At the same time as "guiding" China, Ms Rice has been leading an effort aimed at helping India become a "major world power in the 21st century." And when it comes to the "broader" Middle East, the US chief diplomat continued to lecture its people on the need to join the US-led March towards Freedom, which would now be marketed to the world by Karen Hughes, Mr. Bush’s former top media spinner.

In fact, Ms Rice and her aides are now grading the progress to democracy of the Middle East on an almost daily basis. Good grades are rewarded with US dollars and photo opportunities with Mr. Bush, while an "F" could bring, in some extreme cases, an American military occupation. Ms Rice even canceled her stop in Cairo to punish the Egyptian government after it arrested a political activist.

What infuriates many non-Americans, including friends of the US, is not only the patronizing America-knows-best tone of Ms Rice that echoes the attitude projected by past imperial powers towards their satellites. The most problematic aspect of the current American global approach is the continuing tension between the hegemonic US that reflects its own geo-strategic and geo-economic interests, and the idealistic and missionary pretensions that Washington exhibits.

Excusing America

Neoconservative ideologues resolve this tension by interjecting the idea of "American exceptionalism." Since America is the upholder of the ideals of freedom and democracy, then, by definition, whatever it does to spread liberty abroad, including the use of military force, should be blessed by all people of goodwill everywhere. The means to achieve those lofty goals can at times be harsh, but what counts are the intentions of the US, which, unlike those of other former global powers – Rome, the Ottomans, Britain, the Soviet Union, etc. – are to "do good" and are supposedly devoid of any element of self-interest.

Indeed, America is like the kindergarten teacher who sometimes inflicts harsh punishment on the naughty kid, but who is only motivated by a commitment to the broader public good – the teacher actually suffers when he or she is forced to discipline the bad boy by detaining him after class. But, hey, someone has to do the dirty job that would end up achieving a moral end.

In the real world, however, as opposed to the Democracy Movie produced by Ms Rice and Mr. Hughes, the US is engaged in promoting real political, economic and military interests. It is trying to contain the threat from terrorist groups, maintain a hegemonic position in the Middle East to the exclusion of other regional players like Iran, and global powers like the EU, and protect its military supremacy in East Asia against the challenge from China. Therefore, the gap between the lofty ideals it is supposed to represent and the crude interests it advances will be exposed sooner or later.

Notable inconsistencies

After bashing the "cynical" and "greedy" Europeans for contemplating the removal of a 20-year-old arms embargo on China – none of the members of the EU had been actually planning to sell any arms to Chinese – Washington announces that it will sell F-16 jet fighters to Pakistan.

Isn’t the deal going to keep American military manufacturers in Texas, the defense contractors and the guys at the Pentagon happy? You mean that you are really thinking that we are doing that to promote US global economic and military interests? Moi? How dare you? It’s all done in order to "improve regional security," Washington explains. But isn’t the move going to destabilize South Asia and force India to buy more planes? Perhaps, but then we would sell them F-16s and stability would be reestablished in the Indian subcontinent.

And what about the promotion of democracy in the "broader" Middle East? Isn’t Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf a military dictator who ousted a democratically elected government? Isn’t Pakistan an Islamic theocracy that is dominated by corrupt oligarchs and unlike, say, Iran, actually has a nuclear bomb? Wasn’t Mr. Musharraf’s top scientist selling nuclear technology to all those "Axis of Evil" types? Well – Okay. But then America is helping India, the world’s largest democracy become a "major world power in the 21st century" and that would help to contain the potential threat from Pakistan.

And that, my friends, should not be construed as "cynicism." Like your kindergarten teacher and other saintly figures, America works in mysterious ways. One day when you grow up, you’ll understand.

Leon Hadar [send him mail] is Washington correspondent for the Business Times of Singapore and the author of the forthcoming Sandstorm: Policy Failure in the Middle East (Palgrave Macmillan).

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