Monday, September 17, 2012

America’s arrogance


With the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States has remained the last one standing among the world’s superpowers. The U.S. is still in a class of its own, economically and militarily. Though more powerful than ever, the U.S. has never been more reviled however.
Majority of the people in the Middle East, for example, believe the U.S. war against Islamic terrorism is in fact meant to secure oil or even achieve world domination. The American invasion of Iraq and the consequent grand plan to promote freedom and establish democracy has long been suspected by other countries, including America’s allies, as a convenient smokescreen to control Iraq’s oil resources.
Former U.S. President George W. Bush used to say “that the terrorists hate us because of our freedom.” But that is not true. People in the world have always admired the American free society. Everyone wants to be in America as the song suggests in West Side Story. What they don’t like is American arrogance and indifference to world opinion that is inherent in so much of its foreign policy, and which some of the time is also hypocritical and unjust.
This is not just a modern-day gripe against America. Early on during the 1950s to the 1960s, it is exactly how countries in Latin America had felt when their people were treated by Gringos sent to oversee American banana plantations or other American interests. There was hostility everywhere against the Americans – not just because of the size, wealth and good fortune of the United States. D. H. Radler called this the American talent for offending people in his article in the 1961 issue of Harper’s Magazine.
“With few exceptions, they (Americans) usually manage to make enemies instead of friends,” Radler wrote. “We do this acting as if we are better than anyone else,” he added.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is one fine example of American arrogance. He wanted President Barack Obama to be more bellicose in showing outrage and condemning the recent attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and to stop apologizing to the perpetrators of the violence that killed an American ambassador and three of his staff. The “apologizing” stuff was a misleading staple of the Romney political campaign attack for nowhere did Obama apologize for the Libyan incident or in any of his foreign policy remarks in the past.
Violent Muslim demonstrations have spread in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia over film
mocking Islam and its Prophet Mohammed. Photo by Abd Raouf/Associated Press.
Click link to view "Martin Luther King Jr.'s Speech About America's Arrogance,"
Romney like all recent Republican presidential wannabes seems to suffer from the “Tolstoy syndrome.” In the 2007 issue of Harper’s Magazine, Scott Norton described this group of war-hungry individuals as claiming to have a vision but is in fact blind. “They think they know all the answers, so they neither see nor listen. And the consequences of their misrule have been staggering,” Norton wrote. Norton was criticizing the Bush war in Iraq at that time and the belligerent positions of the Republican presidential primary aspirants over jihadist extremism, from the hawkish John McCain to the auditioning fear monger-in-chief Rudy Giuliani.
Fareed Zakaria of Time Magazine wrote that the problem with America today is not because it is too strong. But rather the U.S. is seen as too arrogant, uncaring and insensitive. There is a popular feeling that the United States is too obsessed with its own notions of terrorism and has stopped listening to the rest of the world.
Our recollection of the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq can’t be effaced from our memory during an interview of then Vice President Cheney by ABC News’s Good Morning America. Cheney was reminded that the American public, by a margin of two-to-one, opposed the war in Iraq. Showing his arrogant indifference, Cheney responded, “So?”
Mitt Romney’s criticism of Obama’s response to the Libyan incident is not so much different from his friends in the Republican Party. It is perfect arrogance, plain and simple. When criticized afterwards for his inept remarks, Romney would evade very serious question and let his spinmeisters repair the obvious damage by referring to the overall weakness in Obama’s Middle East policy, a tenuous criticism as well.
There have always been extremists in the Middle East, before and after the Arab Spring revolution that toppled three long and brutal dictatorships. Through foreign aid, the United States has attached strings to countries that will embrace American values, and reward them for protecting political and religious freedom. But much of the U.S. foreign assistance was either hijacked by the ruling despots to build their personal cache or spent in strengthening their military might. This includes humanitarian aid which hardly went to the people who were direly in need of assistance such as food, water and medicine.
To most Arabs, particularly among the youth, the appeal of fundamentalist Islam was intoxicating. Religion became a powerful medium to express their anti-American sentiment. While there was love-hate relationship between these young Arabs and the United States, nevertheless they have also embraced even some American political ideals of liberty and democracy, which became hugely popular during the tumultuous Arab Spring uprising. Even the former radical Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has mellowed and adopted the democratic promise of parliamentary reforms over continuing their violent confrontation with the state. The ouster of Gaddafi was a boon to America for it gave the flicker of hope that democracy was possible in Libya.
Anti-American demonstrations by Muslims have caught fire after killing of
American Ambassador Christopher Stevens in Benghazi, Libya. Photo by
Hatem Moussa/Associated Press.
 Writing for The Independent, Robert Fisk wrote that “With the help of our wonderful new technology, it only takes a couple of loonies to kick off a miniature war in the Muslim world within seconds.” Ambassador Christopher Stevens and his diplomat colleagues in Benghazi have paid the price for those provocateurs for choosing to raise the ire of the Muslim world through a deliberately abusive film that denigrated Islam’s prophet. That Muslims around the world are so culturally averse to criticism of their religion is not the issue. It is not the Muslim religion that is on trial, but to allow the work of some crackpot to be used by extremists to light up the flames of anti-Western sentiment just crosses the line.
Sometimes America’s arrogance in international relations has also rubbed off on the minds of a few zealots who would behave like they have been bestowed with America’s power, like its allies in Southeast Asia. The Philippine government, for one, has taken the high road in pushing its sovereignty claim over territories in the South China Sea by renaming the sea as the West Philippine Sea, delineating the waters and islands in the sea as part of Philippine territory. President Benigno Aquino III and his foreign policy advisers know full well that such a unilateral move could be taken as provocative and not in keeping with its demand for an official code of conduct between the claimant countries. For one thing, the dispute is not about who has sovereignty over the waters, but the land formations over and under the water which are still unresolved.
The Philippine government is behaving as arrogantly as the United States which has recently announced its pivot to Asia and the Pacific as the focus of its new foreign policy and military strategy. Part of the new American initiative are basing rights and rotating military presence of U.S. troops in the Philippines, which by all means is a surrender of sovereignty. Has this foreign policy pivot and military realignment by the United States strengthened the defence of the Philippines? Is this what is prompting the Philippines to be more assertive of its claims in the South China Sea (or in the West Philippine Sea as it prefers to call it), having been reassured of U.S. military support?
But as it stands, all claimant countries in the South China Sea are on equal footing. No one claim is superior or more valid than the other. If there is a window for a diplomatic solution of the impasse, the Philippines should stop behaving arrogantly like its former colonial master.

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