Dr. Yahya Kaloko
The New Global Realities: An Inconvenient Truth
“Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.”
The concept of Superpower in the post-cold war and 9/11 eras is becoming a moribund. The geo-political definition of Superpower, according to Wikipedia is “a state with a dominant position in the international system with the ability to influence world events and its own interests”. According to Professor Lynn Miller of National Security Affairs at the United States Naval Postgraduate School, the basic components of a superpower are measurable along four axis of power namely military, economics, politics, and culture. These four attributes need to be strategically integrated and utilized to strengthen the whole.
In post World War II and Cold War scenarios, the current global dynamics within the framework of Superpower politics are revealing inconvenient truths for the countries recognized by some as the only remaining superpowers, the U. S. leading the pack. As a superpower, America is caught in a crossfire, particularly so with the emergence of the Donald Trump administration. It is torn between the foundations of democracy, i.e. the belief of human liberty and justice for all; moral obligations to the international community; and protecting its own selective interests.
It is also worth noting that contemporary American value electives are fraught with opposing strands, and the challenge is felt between the need to practice democracy, exercise power, and promoting the “common good” within international community frameworks. However, America’s unilateral stance on many international issues, e.g. application of the doctrine of Preemption starting from the George Bush Jr. presidency has in some ways created mixed feelings between the U. S. and some of her traditional Western allies. Another issue relates to the controversial international stance in opting out of the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice, but demanding other countries to comply with international mandates. This is seen as disingenuous to say the least. To some extent, such actions are also threatening the “self-evident” American moral values.
The Trump administration has even muddied the waters further based on its dubious relationship with America’s main global foe – Russia, which Trump regards as an ally, and undoing decades old traditional strategic geo-political interests. Trump’s insatiable desire to undo much of his predecessor – Obama’s main global achievements in his eight years as president is also causing ripples in traditionally West European allies, e.g. in treaties like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and Climate Change. Also, America’s actions at the United Nations based on beholden strategic global interests, especially in the Middle East, sometimes hold the organization hostage. Just recently, President Trump in efforts to satisfy a campaign promise opted out of the Cuban agreement signed by Obama, strongly criticizing Obama’s decision even though many American businesses requested him not to do so.
Some of these actions are creating inherent moral and leadership challenges, with long-term consequences for America’s global leadership role. The inherent unilateral actions taken by the U. S. in the last two decades are affecting her leadership role and her superpower image around the world. In some of these actions, Russia and China are taking full advantage of U.S. global strategic lapses with repercussions for her global leadership. In Cuba for example, Russia, China, and some European nations are currently investing heavily to maintain strategic advantage especially in a country the U. S. has maintained sanctions for over half a century. China is also flexing her muscles globally, in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and in South America, strategically entrenching herself, and filling the leadership vacuum created by U. S. foreign policy miscalculations. China’s robust economic growth and financial muscle are providing her advantages even in some traditionally U. S. strategic strongholds. Its military build-up in the South China Sea is a case of concern for many U. S. allies in the region.
On the issue of Democracy, America’s decision in supporting selected “allies” even at the detriment of democratic processes raises very serious questions about her belief in the foundations of Democracy and moral obligations to the international community. Laudable democratic processes in some parts of the world, e.g. Algeria in the early 1990s when the FIS, an Islamic organization was unconstitutionally blocked by the military from the democratic process because of fear that it could win the will of the people. In 2006, Hamas clearly won a decisive victory in democratic elections against her main rival FATAH in the Gaza Strip, but were never recognized as legitimate to rule because of their dispute with Israel. A military overthrow of an elected government in Egypt, followed by a brutal suppression, loss of life, gross violations of human rights, but with the exception of Senator McCain’s criticisms, never faced condemnation and ostracization. The people in these areas are left with the feeling that their democratic choices are only recognized if the West agrees with their choice of leaders. How can one define Democracy in those terms of engagement?
But the greatest threat facing America as a superpower is not external, but within, i.e. from her citizens. A series of American secrets leaks exposed vulnerabilities in the country’s top secret information network, a strategic global asset America needs to control events around the world. It is very alarming when some American citizens boldly betray the trust of their nation using both military and civilian sources. First Army Private Manning provided highly classified information access to Wiki leaks, information which was later published online, creating great mistrust between America and some of her strongest European allies. Next was Edward Snowden who stole highly classified material, absconded overseas, and currently a guest of the Russian government, America’s main geo-political foe. Man other non-state actors are busy in exploiting not only private, but even U. S. information networks.
In 2016 America’s greatest pride, its democratic process and the peaceful transfer of power, widely admired globally, was allegedly violated, hacked by Russian Government operatives, and in the view of many Americans, catapulted Donald Trump to the U. S. Presidency. The most damning aspect of these actions as alleged is the complicity of some of Trump’s campaign officials in the hacking of emails, information which was used to tilt the election in favor of Trump. It must also be very worrisome for America’s global eminence if her main competitor (Russia), allegedly colluding with some U. S. citizens, using cyberspace, succeeded in manipulating American democracy and its final outcome. The enemy within in these circumstances poses the greatest threat to America’s superpower status. America’s weakness in managing top-secret intelligence information networks, have serious consequences in efforts to have the upper hand in the covert world of superpower politics.
Social Media and other information network platforms have also made it very difficult for powerful governments like America to control narratives. Moreover, transitional generations in a shrinking planet discount to some extent the use of military power to achieve objectives. Leaderships in very strong Western democracies like the U. S. are sometimes constrained from taking military action internationally, if the action is perceived at home as not serving the national interests, depending on interpretation. Interestingly, this is where other nations like Russia and China are again becoming more globally assertive. Leadership in those countries determines and carries out actions without strong socio-political opposition. Unfortunately for America, it is constrained by the tenets of her Democracy and the Constitution, making it somehow difficult sometimes to compete with Russia and China when using military force.
Inherently, America’s global military dominance is slipping. For the most part it is only reacting to world events other than preempting their eminence, even with the application of the Preemptive doctrine. Her military capabilities and assets are overstretched, making it very difficult for preemption to be a viable strategy to defeat the bad guys and regimes marked as pariahs to her interests and the global community. For the past 16 years, the U. S. seems to be fighting wars of attrition, and winning them has become more elusive than ever, just like her involvement in Vietnam. Evidently, gone is the era when a country can gain dominance based on military might and subjecting conquered nations to its culture and civilization.
America’s belligerence is creating more problems not only for herself but for the world at large, and to such an extent that our planet is becoming ungovernable. The methodology used in fighting the global terrorist threat is begetting more generations of terrorist. The application of the doctrine of Preemption as a prelude to create a more stable world has backfired greatly because of missteps and other miscalculations. As a result even some of the great powers in Europe are becoming more vulnerable and very susceptible to terrorist attacks. Interestingly America so far does not seem to have a plan, capable of countering and eradicating these threats. But notwithstanding these problems, America is still using the same mindset that has failed to deliver objectives. The leadership rhetoric is pushing towards further military engagements with countries like Iran and North Korea.
Moreover, changing global dynamics especially within the framework of the terrorist menace have to a large extent led the U. S. to shift its focus largely towards protecting selective interests at the expense of moral obligations to American constituents and the international community. It is sad to note that the U. S. Military is been led to fight wars and create global chaos without the political leaders taking responsibilities for the outcomes. It is very easy to hear U. S. politicians and leaders condemning other nations in the Middle East as generations of terrorists when in fact what all these generations have ever known and reacting against is U. S. bombs and other surrogates destroying their civilizations. The action of America and her allies is largely responsible for the creation of these terrorist groups.
On the economics and financial fronts, the U. S. declared wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East have proved to be very costly, with no end in sight. To support these war efforts, America is indebted to China, and every year, politicians of different stripes haggle over the issue of more international borrowing through Debt Ceiling mechanisms, to pay bills already incurred.
It is therefore worth noting that the exercise of power and the common good are mutually exclusive, even though politicians tend to equate them. Invoking the views of the father of international relations theory, Hans Morgenthau (1978), he states “In the combination of political wisdom, moral courage, and moral judgment, man reconciles his political nature with moral destiny.” According to Amstutz (2008), even though moral values are an essential part of international relations, however political realism is a dominant paradigm in international relations. Interestingly, could these philosophies provide cover for political expediency especially when it comes to superpower leaders making judgments on good and evil options? Could this serve as the calculus for intervening in one conflict and not on another even though the dynamics may be the same? How about the issues relating to global dominance, influence, and projecting power to protect interests? Lastly, are the moral options exercised by superpower nations contributing factors to their demise and global instability?
The above questions are worth pondering over. Possible outcomes to some of these questions could be highlighted in the opinion of Andrews (2008), stating that just like the notion of an unregulated market, a country that sees itself as the only superpower is prone to go astray. That been said, it is difficult to see how a superpower and a global economic giant can continue maintaining dominance, influence, and project power on a worldwide scale when it cannot reconcile conflicting priorities, changing global environments, and dysfunctions.
Consequently, the self-evident realities America is facing are emblematic of Samuel Huntington’s prescriptions of decaying societies, stating that “Political decay thus occur when institutions fail to adapt to changing external circumstances, either out of intellectual rigidities or because of the power of incumbent elites to protect their positions and block change.” This is an inertia slowly besieging America in particular.
Inherently, the absence of actual and factual foreign policy discourse in American society is creating misplaced passions and identities. To some extent, it sometimes causes the constituents to misconstrue the true nature of their circumstance in the global arena, predicating a feeling of Exceptionalism, and failing to come to terms with reality, even when fortunes change. An example was in Nazi Germany during Hitler’s reign. This brings to the forefront the so much talked about American Exceptionalism which is becoming nostalgic. Even though domestic and global realities have changed, many politicians and other like-minded individuals or groups still use it to define America.
But American Exceptionalism, from the perspective of the economics axis of power is under assault, reflected in a dying American dream. Wealth disparity in America is constantly flaming socio-economic conflict and class warfare. With a top 1% of the population controlling over 90% of the country’s financial resources, wealth creation is no longer for the faint-hearted. From accelerated annual adjustment of debt ceiling increases, shrinking household and average incomes, increased poverty and unemployment rates, crumbling infrastructure, and a dysfunctional political environment, it is apparently difficult to see how America in the long run will continue to maintain global economic leadership and dominance. For example, in one county in South Dakota – Oglala Lakota County, the Household Income Per Capita is $13,647; Average Income Loss per Year of Childhood Residence is -$483.97; and a Poverty Rate of 52.3%. These dynamics are common in the Mississippi Delta, the Carolinas, and the Dakotas regions.
But it is worth highlighting how the U. S. got herself in this kind of predicament, just like former empires. Three main reasons for the dilemma of sorts relate to its post 9-11 approach to combat terrorism; the inability to question the behavior and motives of those it agrees with; and a tendency for entities like the neo-cons bewildered by only past glories, e.g. American Exceptionalism, refusing to acknowledge the driving motivations of non-state actors, and how much the world has changed. This is not an attempt to emulate the behavior of the inhuman acts of non-state actors. They are barbaric and have no place in the modern world. But failed strategic policy and military decisions created room for their emergence and the global carnage.
In overcoming any existential threat like the one posed by non-state actors, one needs to understand what motivates their recruitment and actions. The analysis must not be subjective, with the notion of using military might as the only solution to perceived problem solving. It must be based on sound reasoning, and strategies to defuse, contain, and neutralize the threat. A global leadership blinded by power, position, privilege, and prestige, will end up creating very perilous global environments.
Moreover, America’s self defeating approach in resolving for example, regional conflict with global dimension, is when the conflict is trivialized to a “we versus them” religious and/or cultural dimension, notwithstanding the inhuman carnage and the theological knowledge that we are all God’s creation. Implicitly backing inhuman behavior of those considered close friends, and not listening to what other allies say inherently affects global leadership stature.
But in all fairness, it is worth noting that the ghosts of America’s past, i.e. the evolution of the American experiment as a country and the treatment meted against Indian tribes, trade in human cargo, the subsequent segregation of the races, and the tribal plantation apparently makes it difficult sometimes to criticize friends and other vested interests. From that perspective it could be difficult for some Americans to be comfortable in condemning the inhuman actions perpetrated by some stronger nations against other people fighting for self-determination, human liberty, and justice for all, values that represent the foundations of American Democracy.
To conclude, it is worth stating that there is an urgent need to awaken the American human spirit of whatever persuasion to its true collective moral purpose and moral destiny. A divergent space exists between economics, politics, and morality, especially within the realm of superpower politics. However, economics approach as relates to cost and value must be considered in promulgating and enacting both domestic and foreign policies. The creation of value must not only be quantified in terms of financial gain, a “them versus us” syndrome. It must also ensure sustaining the moral foundation of American democracy, i.e. the belief of human liberty and justice for all.
As a superpower, America must ensure both its domestic and international status is a “force for good”, one that is inspiring and emulative to the rest of the world. A superpower that finds itself in the current perilous environments will find it difficult to be effective in influencing world events. Rather than solving world problems, much of the world sees America in the current global environment as problem creators, the wrath of which is borne in many parts of the world. The U. S. must consider the effects of the value she creates both in military, economics, politics, and culture, as modicums of hope not only for America, but for the rest of the world. She must also consider before waging wars the inherent opportunity costs, both the financial and the moral impediments involved. If military might is not only an option, but on the forefront of almost every consideration to solve problems, and not considering the economics, politics, and cultural equations, then our planet will continue to slide towards anarchy, a situation which even America’s superpower image cannot control.
America and its coalition of allies’ actions in Iraq and Libya, for example, must be reassessed and review lessons learned for posterity. In Iraq for example, it is almost fifteen years since America invaded the country. Despite efforts at democratization, the country to a large extent is under siege by bad state actors created by the power vacuum that ensued. Libya is also undergoing suffering of unimaginable proportions. Religious, sexual violence, and disparaging human rights abuses have escalated beyond unheard of proportions in comparison with the relative peace and stability some of these regions had under dictatorial rule.
From economic, political, cultural, and moral standpoints, are these countries better off now than they were under the reign of their deposed dictators? Are the surrounding regions safe now than before these invasions? Is the rest of the world safer now than before Western adventurism? From an opportunity cost perspective, are there any better opportunities created from the impasse? If so, are there costs that might outweigh the benefits? Are American or other global businesses benefitting in real terms from the inherent chaos created? How has the rest of the world benefitted in the aftermath. Lastly, how does America hope to consolidate her superpower status in such a slowly deteriorating global crisis? Does she have the will, capabilities, and assets to change the unfolding planetary problems? If America has to borrow money from the Chinese, a geo-political competitor, to fund wars and destruction, what financial and moral values are created in the process? How can American culture assail the ill-will created between nations? These are questions worth pondering over, and I do not think America currently has answers to them.
Lastly, President Trump’s approach to America global leadership is creating a lot of apprehension both with her allies, and the rest of the world. Even though he may only lead for a maximum of eight years, however the dismantling of decades’ old American strategic global leadership and relationships may be greatly impaired. Attempts to slow or stop the winds of change in America will only be temporary. They cannot be permanent. But eight years could be enough time to cause a lot of damage to U. S. global leadership. The ensuing challenges depend on how America’s geo-political competitors and foes will react to occupy international leadership vacuums created in the process. With all intents and purposes, the eventual successor to Donald Trump will have a lot of challenges in mending broken trust within U. S. society, her allies, and the rest of the world.