End of the era of US exceptionalism

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Zafar Bangash

Muharram 06, 1433 2011-12-01


by Zafar Bangash (Editorials, Crescent International Vol. 40, No. 10, Muharram, 1433)

In contemporary global politics, two ingredients are considered essential to project power: wealth and military might. The two are inter-related. Obviously, without wealth, military hardware cannot be acquired and without military might, wealth can neither be protected nor additional amounts accumulated. There is also a third factor: the power of iman (faith-commitment). This, however, is a factor unknown in the West because the practitioners of statecraft and military planners abandoned it a long time ago. Not so with Muslims, but we will return to this shortly.

Recent global events have made one point clear: the US no longer can claim exceptionalism in global politics. From uprisings in the Muslim East to the financial crisis gripping the US and Europe and Washington’s inability to do anything about either confirms the end of the era of US supremacy. Even in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the US invested so much money and military hardware, the results, from US perspective, are dismal. The Iraqis have told the Americans to pack their bags and leave by the end of this month. In Afghanistan, after years of brutal conflict and attempts by the US to browbeat Pakistan into toeing its line, the Americans have finally admitted that without Pakistani help, it cannot get out of the mess. In fact, the US has also called upon Afghanistan’s neighbors to help stabilize the country. This is a far cry from the heady days of “you are either with us or against us” mantra that George W. Bush pronounced so arrogantly in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. What this means is that not only the global order crafted by the victors of World War II but also US primacy within it, have come to an end. Only its final rites remain to be performed. Power, primarily economic but also military, has irrevocably shifted away from the US.

True, Washington’s armchair warriors and warlords, aka neocons, refuse to accept this reality but America’s Manifest Destiny is no longer tenable. Iraq and Afghanistan exemplify America’s military defeats that have contributed in large measure to its financial ruin. True, the banksters and thieving CEOs of major corporations must also be held accountable but in the past such malpractices were glossed over by the US plundering of others’ resources. No more. For the first time, American military adventures have failed to bring in war booty to fill its coffers. “No more wars of choice”, in the memorable words of former US Defense Secretary Robert Gates just before he left office. He was speaking from experience by serving in two successive administrations. For the neocon warriors, the failure is not that of the military but President Barack Obama’s lack of nerves. They accuse him of refusing to use more firepower and continue the policy of aggression that has made America the most hated country in the world.

Armies march on their stomachs, as an old saying goes. Maintaining large armies requires huge budgets. Advances in technology have made these largely redundant but the new gadgets are even more expensive. This is precisely how the arms merchants want it; the more expensive toys the generals and admirals have at their disposal, the more profit the merchants of death make. The US wages wars to use these weapons and therefore, necessitates the need to acquire more of them, as well as to grab other people’s resources to satiate its rapacious appetite. That was precisely the purpose of invading Afghanistan and Iraq. In neither place did the US and its equally aggressive European allies imagine the intensity or tenacity of the resistance they would encounter, hence the severe financial problems.

The US financial meltdown has spread to Europe as well. Portugal, Ireland, Greece, Spain (appropriately dubbed PIGS), and now Italy are all engulfed in such severe financial crises that they threaten the very survival of the euro as well as the European Union. And there is nothing the US can do to rescue its European colonial brethren. There is no possibility of a second Marshall Plan. If there is no money to get out of the mess at home, what chance is there to help others across the Atlantic? Washington politicians, in government and Congress, are clueless about how to get out of the mess. Indeed, most members of Congress, themselves millionaires, have directly contributed to the financial crisis by handing out billions to their masters on Wall Street. There is not only disappointment but also outright cynicism about American politics. This is evident in the Occupy Wall Street Movement, made worse by the manner in which peaceful protesters have been brutalized by the police on orders from city officials that in turn take their marching orders from Wall Street executives.

It is also interesting to note — and this must be the unkindest cut — that newspaper headlines ask whether China, not the US, will come to the rescue. This confirms the seismic change that has occurred in global politics.

We must, however, address the other factor that is absent from Western thinking: that of iman. It transcends military and financial power. Both in Afghanistan and Iraq, the resistance did not match US-NATO firepower or depend on astronomical sums of money. What they lacked in material terms, they more than made up for in determination and sacrifice inspired by iman. The same factor was evident in Iran’s eight-year war against Iraq, Hizbullah’s resistance against Zionist onslaught in 2006 and Hamas withstanding the three-week bombardment of tiny Ghazzah in 2008–2009. True, people cannot fight tanks and planes with their bare hands but when confronted by a hugely unbalanced situation, the first thing to do is not panic. Material considerations alone do not determine the outcome of a struggle. If this were the case, the Americans would still be in Vietnam, the Russians in Afghanistan and Israel in Lebanon. The Americans have been taught this lesson all over again in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The lesson for Muslims is clear. Material superiority alone is not enough. Muslims struggling for their rights must rely on the strength of iman. This is a far greater weapon than anything the US can muster. America’s demise proves this again.

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