by Zafar Bangash (Reflections, Crescent International Vol. 37, No. 3, Rabi' al-Thani, 1429)
No one could have expected that, less than two decades after the demise of the Soviet Union, the world’s “sole superpower”, the US, would also be close to collapse. This is the result of “imperial overstretch”, extravagant spending and grand larceny by a small coterie within the ruling elites at home. Soon after the Soviet Union disintegrated, a group of rightwing zealots—the neo-conservatives—started talking about “full-spectrum dominance” and preventing any rival power from emerging to challenge the US’s hegemony. While most Americans and people elsewhere looked expectantly for a peace-dividend, the US war party launched ever more extravagant weapons-buying sprees. The US defence budget (more than $500 billion per annum) is greater than the budgets of the next hundred countries put together. Even so, its dismal performance in both Afghanistan and Iraq has clearly shown the limits of US technological and military superiority.
A closer look at the US’s military performances in its many wars of the last 60 years reveals a clear pattern of failures. Apart from short, limited wars against tiny adversaries—Granada(1984) and Panama (1989)—the US military has been soundly defeated everywhere. In Lebanon (1983-84) and Somalia (1993-94), and now in Afghanistan and Iraq, America’s technological superiority has been made irrelevant. The reason is simple: it is not the gun but the man behind the gun that determines the outcome of battle. America may have the most sophisticated weapons, but its soldiers are not the bravest people in the world. They are good at torturing men, women and children, and at little else. Abu Ghraib, Bagram andGuantanamo Bay provide ample evidence of this: American soldiers are cowards when they are fighting people who are not afraid to die. Soldiers used to an easy lifestyle of sex, drugs and drinking are hardly likely to be able to face the rigors of real battles far removed from Hollywood movies.
True, arms merchants make fortunes by selling their lethal wares, but wars are a drain on a state’s economy. In the last eight years, the US economy has suffered grievous blows, thanks to the ill-conceived policies of George Bush and his neocon allies. David Walker, recently retired head of the Government Accountability Office, has warned of a fiscal train wreck. The USnational debt, already at $9 trillion, will increase by another $2 trillion over the next five years; almost half this debt is owed to foreign creditors. Walker has warned that if the UScontinues with this policy, ageing “baby-boomers” and health-care costs will reduce the government “to doing little more than mailing out Social Security checks to retirees and paying interest on the massive national debt.” That is not all. There are also deep structural weaknesses in the US economy. The sub-prime mortgage crisis, the collapse of Bear Stearns and its takeover by J P Morgan Chase through hundreds of billions of dollars shovelled by the Federal Reserve into Chase are all signs of the impending economic meltdown.
Two factors have combined to make the US’s collapse imminent: imperial overstretch and financial meltdown, much like the erstwhile Soviet Union before its collapse. America’s ruling elites are too arrogant to admit the failure of their policies; at the same time they are too greedy to care much about the suffering they cause to other people while lining their own pockets. A small group of people is still getting even richer, but the deepening recession (which might even turn into a depression) and the costs of war are pushing the US toward a point of no return. During the “cold war” the West (led by the US) used to boast of its “freedoms” and contrast them with the lack of freedoms available behind the “iron curtain”. Now the UShas also been exposed as a fascist state.
What is the role of the Islamic movement in all this? The Red Army was defeated largely because of the sacrifices of the Afghans; the US army’s defeat is taking place at the hands of the same Afghans, and also now the Iraqis. Will Muslims miss another opportunity and allow their sacrifices to benefit others while they remain idle spectators? With the roaring failure of capitalism, the world is in desperate need of an enlightened agenda that Islam alone can offer. But policies are not formulated in a vacuum; they must be based on sound ideas. Islam has such ideas; it is deen, civilization and movement all in one. It requires vision and willpower on the part of ulama’ and other Muslim intellectuals to provide an alternative choice of civilization to humanity. It is not enough merely to applaud the demise of another superpower; we must offer errant humanity a way out of endless wars, indiscriminate killings and the resultant suffering of millions of people. Nor is it possible to rescue the world using the faulty tools of Western thought. Muslims must return to the pristine teachings of the Qur’an and the Messenger of Allah (saw) to find guidance and wisdom to apply to the myriad problems facing our world today. We have no alternative.