The limits of US power

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Zafar Bangash

Muharram 20, 1426 2005-03-01


by Zafar Bangash (Reflections, Crescent International Vol. 34, No. 1, Muharram, 1426)

Writers are prisoners of the language they use, particulary if they wish to express ideas that run contrary to the way in which words are commonly used. There are idioms, expressions and even names that convey certain meanings and impressions, when the reality to which they are applied is very different. Consider, for instance, the country called the United States of America. It may be a military superpower but it is deeply divided along racial, social, economic and political lines internally, despite being the “United” States. “Saudi” Arabia and “Israel” are in the same category. These labels refer to lands stolen by marauding thieves who have hijacked the lives of the indigenous populations.

Beyond language, there are policies that trap people and governments into situations from which they find it difficult to escape. The US’s position in Iraq is a case in point. Many reasons have been advanced for Washington’s military invasion and occupation of Iraq: its alleged weapons of mass destruction, its atrocious human rights record, and so on; opponents of US policies say that the underlying motives were to seize control of Iraq’s oil and to advance the zionist agenda in the Middle East. While these are closer to the truth, even they do not fully describe the real reasons for Washington’s repeated military adventures abroad.

In his seminal work, Stages of Islamic Revolution, published just before his death in April 1996, Dr Kalim Siddiqui pointed out that most political systems are movements; they must show constant movement to achieve political goals. But real achievements are hard to come by, so routine activity is projected as achievement. There are some political systems—the US andIsrael now, and Germany in the past, for instance—that must constantly resort to violence and war because these are their systemic needs. If they are not expanding, they will decline and ultimately putrefy. This also explains the disproportionately high US military budget—US$420 billion, not only the largest military budget in the world, but larger that the next 20 military budgets combined. Thus it is the US’s systemic need to go to war periodically in order to sustain itself. The Iraqi adventure must be viewed against this backdrop even if things have gone horribly wrong.

The US has, however, become a prisoner of its own policies. Even while trapped in Iraq, it must claim that it is achieving victory, hence the loud drum-beating about Iraq’s elections and Condoleezza Rice’s triumphal tour of Europe, urging allied governments to jump on the bandwagon. There are also other traps into which it has fallen. The US’s threats against Iran are like the struggles of a vulture entangled in a thorny bush; the more it flaps its wings the harder it becomes for it to break loose. Despite its difficulties in Iraq, the US must continue to show forward movement; hence the rhetorical volleys directed at Iran. Bur the more the US threatens Tehran, the more difficult it becomes for Washington to venture in there, because when threatened from outside people tend to close ranks. The US may be the world’s leading military power, but never in its history has it been more isolated than it is today. The world’s sole superpower is also the most hated government; even in countries whose governments have aligned themselves with Washington, the US is extremely unpopular among the people. Muslims could not possibly have done as much to expose the US as the US has done itself.

Whatever the political concerns of the Iranian people— and they enjoy a degree of freedom to express their concerns that is the envy of people in pro-Western Muslim countries, and a more open and vibrant political debate than in the US – their hatred of the US is high, as it is elsewhere in the world. Despite the protestations of wealthy Iranian exiles in Los Angeles, buzzing around like flies near the family of the Shah, few in Iran want US interference in Iran. The late Shah’s son continues to dream that one day the US will install him on the throne inTehran, as it installed his father in 1953, but few others believe that the former monarchy has any future in Iran.

Thus, while the US’s systemic needs are to continue on the path of militarism and confrontation, realism dictates caution. The US cannot afford another adventure, either militarily or financially, while it sinks deeper in Iraq. Its military is stretched so thin that there is talk of introducing the draft; hundreds, perhaps thousands, of American soldiers have gone on leave and not reported back to duty. Financially the US is on a global life-support system; everyday US$2 billion are pumped into its economy to keep it afloat. Like the Titanic, the US has hit an iceberg; to many observers, its frantic attempts to bail itself out of trouble seem similarly doomed.

What Muslims need to do is to expose the real face of the US, and confront it so that it cannot delude itself that its problems can be solved by venturing into other lands and inflicting more misery on ordinary people. There is enough awareness globally among peoples of all backgrounds to establish a united front against US militarism and imperialism. The question is whether we can turn this awareness into a meaningful and effective political movement.

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