Friday, 11 April 2014
Author / Source: KAZI ANWARUL MASUD
Speculations are rife about the resumption of another cold war or even repetition of Cuban Missile Crisis following the Russian annexation of Crimea. But in a rational world where adversaries possess nuclear weapons to destroy the world many times over such dystopian nihilism should be avoided at all cost.
One has to ask whether after the dissolution of the Soviet Empire and consequent flight of the former East European countries to join the European Union and NATO on the borders of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin could have tolerated an Ukraine to be a member of NATO and the EU. One could argue ad infinitum about the freedom and liberty of nations to choose its destiny. Yet Finlandazition during Leonid Brezhnev’s time, attacks on Hungary and Czechoslovakia by then Soviet Union and forays into Granada, Panama( albeit Noriega was a despicable fellow), failed attack on Cuba during Jack Kennedy’s Presidency , and the invasion of Iraq on false ground trashing Michael Walzer’s Just and Unjust War theory by President George W Bush make the UN declaration of the inviolability of nations’ sovereignty and territorial integrity to be treated as mythology.
Neocons who primed Bush jr to invade Iraq while pundits like Bernard Lewis and Samuel Huntington played the tune of crusade on Islamic civilization are extant and surviving. Firm in the belief of American Exceptionalism( though with varied interpretation) some still believe that that the US remains indispensable for maintenance of global security.
One could recall President Obama’s response to candidate Mitt Romney in April 2012 when he said “It’s worth noting that I first arrived on the national stage with a speech at the Democratic Convention that was entirely about American exceptionalism and that my entire career has been a testimony to American exceptionalism,”. Obama echoed Seymour Martin Lipset’s (Godfather of the term described in his book- American Exceptionalism: a Double Edged Sword”) conviction. Lipset recounts the factors accounting for American Exceptionlism as liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, populism, and laissez-faire.
“There can be little question,” Lipset writes, “that the hand of providence has been on a nation which finds a Washington, a Lincoln, or a Roosevelt when it needs him. When I write the above sentence, I believe that I draw scholarly conclusions, although I will confess that I write also as a proud American. But I should hasten to add, not as one who thinks his country is better than other democratic societies, but as one who believes that the greatness of free polities lies in their institutionalization of conflict, of the continued struggles for freer and more humanely decent
Its roots can be traced to the early Americans like who saw America as a special land where humankind could “begin the world over again” by establishing a political society built on new, progressive ideas. The framers of the Constitution built on this idea in 1787. Thomas Jefferson and others fearful of the degradation of others believed that with eternal vigilance, the United States could be prevented from succumbing to the same vices that had destroyed other great nations.
Providential and republican ideology thus combined to firmly entrench the idea of exceptionalism at the center of American national identity. Most American leaders have believed in American exceptionalism. In Strasbourg France in April 2009 President Obama compared his belief in ” in American exceptionalism” with that of the British and of the Greeks. Being enormously proud of his country and its role and history in the world Obama felt no need for “America (to) be embarrassed to see evidence of the sacrifices of our troops, the enormous amount of resources that were put into Europe postwar, and our leadership in crafting an alliance that ultimately led to the unification of Europe. We should take great pride in that. And if you think of our current situation, the United States remains the largest economy in the world. We have unmatched military capability. And I think that we have a core set of values that are enshrined in our Constitution, in our body of law, in our democratic practices, in our belief in free speech and equality that, though imperfect, are exceptional”. Vladimir Putin however chastised Obama for referring to American exceptionalism in Obama’s speech on Syria. According to Putin “It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation,…There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.”
What a change from Karl Marx’s religion being an opium of people ! Americans shrugged off Putin’s objection, perhaps, because throughout the world’s difficult days, particularly in the post-second world era, the Americans by and large were seen as the savior though a large chunk went under Stalinism with all its consequent brutality. But then domestically it has been argued that the abolition of slavery, the end of legal segregation, the resistance to racial or gender preferences, the rise of entrepreneurship or the religious nature of moral compass and , major trends or significant events in American history often stem from one or more of the five major tenets of Seymour Walter Lipset.
It has been also argued that the concept of individualism runs much deeper in American society than many other European or Asian nation which perhaps explains in part why trade unions remain relatively weak and insignificant unlike their European counterparts. It also accounts for the lack of any substantial socialist movements in American politics. For the world at large some people to be accepted as exceptional just because of the power their country possesses can be discomforting.
Tom Barnett a Professor in the US Naval College and Donald Rumsfeld’s military “transformation” guru in his book The Pentagon’s New Map thinks that ( as explained by Karen Kwiatkowski) nations conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men and women are created equal cannot long endure. So it’s time for the old ways to perish from the earth — the U.S. and the world need “new rule-sets.”Barnett insists that there are no exit strategies in Iraq and Afghanistan and that “the world is divided into a culturally and economically connected Core and a disconnected Non-Integrating Gap.
It needs a post Cold War “rule-set reset” to ensure that the disconnected ones — states and individuals — are not excluded from the game. The security of the international system is the new American responsibility. We must organize and act in a way to combat violence originating, for the most part, from individuals and groups operating from the disconnected Gap”. Barnett’s views are terrifyingly Orwellian and should be rejected outright. The US may remain the preponderant military power for the foreseeable future yet one must recognize that the post-cold war “unipolar” moment was transient and the world is not looking for Charles Kindelberger’s hegemonic stability where an assertive hegemon can act as a stabilizing force in international relations.
If one were to look at the UNGA resolution on Crimean referendum one would find that powerful emerging players like China, Brazil and India were among the 58 countries that abstained from the vote, and many more of the 193-country assembly did not participate at all.
This does not augur well for the likes of Tom Barnett and his philosophy to bring in line individuals and nations from “disconnected gap” barring of course the terrorists of all varieties.
The contrary argument can be found in Robert Kaplan (In Defense of Empire-The Atlantic-April 2014) in which he cites Harvard historian Niall Ferguson’s argument that the British Empire enabled a late-19th- and early-20th-century form of globalization, tragically interrupted by a worldwide depression, two world wars, and a cold war. Apart from the Hapsburgs of Austria and Ottoman Turks known for their relative tolerance and protection of the minorities Kaplan argues, from Rome’s widespread offer of citizenship to its subject peoples, to France’s offer of a measure of equality to fluent Francophone Africans, to Britain’s arrangement of truces among the Yemeni tribes, to the epic array of agricultural and educational services provided by the Europeans throughout their tropical domains—Britain’s Indian Civil Service stands out—imperialism and enlightenment (albeit self-interested) have often been inextricable…. the critique that imperialism constitutes evil and nothing more is, broadly speaking, lazy and ahistorical, dependent as it often is on the very worst examples, such as the Belgians in the 19th-century Congo and the Russians throughout modern history in Eurasia.
Perhaps most coherent description of the present day world has been given by Harvard Professor Joseph Nye jr in which he predicts that ” We do not live in a “post-American world,” but neither do we live any longer in the “American era” of the late 20th century” . Joseph Nye adds that in terms of primacy, the United States will be “first” but not “sole.” but agrees with the projection of the National Intelligence Council that although the unipolar moment is over, the United States probably will remain first among equals among the other great powers in 2030 because of the multifaceted nature of its power and legacies of its leadership.
“Simply put” Joseph Nye says , “the problem of American power in the 21st century is not one of a poorly specified “decline” or being eclipsed by China but, rather, the “rise of the rest.” The paradox of American power is that even the largest country will not be able to achieve the outcomes it wants without the help of others” ( American power in the 21st century).
The writer is a former Secretary and ambassador