Not America’s finest hour - Roedad Khan - Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Americans don’t like to be reminded of Commodore Mathew Perry because he conjures up an Imperial image that makes them uncomfortable. Perry appeared in Tokyo Bay on July 8, 1853 with four ships mounting more than sixty guns and nearly 1000 men, carrying a list of demands and an ultimatum from President Fillmore. The Japanese were overwhelmed by Perry’s firepower and yielded. Historians agree that President Fillmore sent Perry to Japan largely because America needed oil - though back then it was the oil from whales found off the Japanese coast!

The invasion of Iraq, the only secular, modern, progressive socialist state in the Islamic world, was, as everybody knows, premeditated, unprovoked, cruel, unjust and avaricious. Iraq was not involved in 9/11, posed no threat to the United States, was dead against Al Qaeda and had done no harm to the United States or its citizens. And yet, Iraq had to be invaded because it had oil. And what is worse, it is Muslim. If Saddam didn’t have oil, he could torture his citizens to his heart’s content. Other leaders in the Islamic world do it everyday with the blessings of the American President.

John Quincey Adams, then Secretary of State, summed up American policy in 1821. “Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled there will her (America’s) heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.” Today, contrary to John Adam’s advice, America stalks the world in search of monsters to destroy.

Today the US is once again in an expansionist mood, moved by the lure of oil in Libya and the notion of Manifest Destiny to export democracy and Western civilisation to the Islamic World. Anyone can see what is happening in Libya. It is nothing less than a war of colonial conquest fought for oil, dressed up as a crusade for western life and liberty. Nobody believes that what compelled President Obama to act so quickly was the immediate prospect of mass atrocities against the people in Libya. Today the dominant view in the Islamic world is that Americans are attacking Libya not to protect civilians, not to spread democracy but to steal Libya’s oil.

Once we thought this one-of-a-kind American president could do great things. In his inaugural address he focused more on ‘soft power’ and told the Muslim world that he wants “a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect”. All that seems to have changed. When millions of young students gathered in Tahrir Square in Cairo, President Obama jettisoned America’s ideals and placed himself on the wrong side of history. He decided to side with the Pharaoh right to the very end. Many questions come to mind: Why did Obama react so slowly to the democratic revolution in Egypt? Why did he maintain support for Mubarak so long? Why did he move more cautiously in the present crisis than did President Reagan in moving away from Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines? Why was President Obama so slow to embrace the young protestors? Why President Obama didn’t come out more strongly and more quickly on the side of the protestors? And last but not least, why is Obama not supporting the democratic revolutions in Bahrain and Yemen and supporting despotic rulers in these countries? Why doesn’t he stop the use of brute force against unarmed, innocent protestors in these two counties? Why has he turned a blind eye to the monsters in Bahrain and Yemen and the atrocities they are perpetrating? Why is he on the wrong side of history in Bahrain and Yemen?

Two hundred years ago, America caught the imagination of the world because of the ideals which it stood for. For decades the United States has played a unique role in the world, because it was viewed as a society that was generally committed to certain ideals, which Americans were prepared to practise at home and defend abroad. Today Americans seem to have forgotten America as a source of optimism, as a beacon of liberty. Today America’s example is tarnished with military adventurism and conflicts abroad. For the first time America’s commitment to idealism, democracy and liberty, worldwide, sounds hollow, hypocritical and makes people laugh. Today the United States is self-centred, preoccupied only with itself, and subordinating everything else in the world to an exaggerated sense of its insecurity.

America does not care for democracy in the Islamic world and has no intentions of bringing about radical, political, social and economic changes in the region. The American diplomat (late) Richard Holbrooke pondered this problem on the eve of the September 1996 election in Bosnia. “Suppose the election was declared free and fair and those elected are racists, fascists, separatists or religious zealots. That is the dilemma”. Indeed it is, not just in Bosnia, Algeria, Turkey or Pakistan but in the entire Islamic world. No wonder, Obama’s speech in Cairo about bringing democracy and freedom to the Islamic world, has fallen on deaf ears and left people cold. It is now abundantly clear that no country in the Islamic world will ever be allowed by the United State to be truly democratic for one simple reason: were free, fair and impartial elections, the essence of democracy, the inescapable sine qua non, held tomorrow in the Islamic world, the resulting regimes would almost certainly be anti-American, anti-Israel, and pro-Islamic. No wonder, America didn’t accept the result of a free, fair and impartial election in Algeria.

Though it rejects imperial pretensions, America is perceived in the world as peremptory, domineering and imperial. The war on terror is used to topple weak regimes. History will hold America and its president responsible for undoing one of its noblest dreams. What many friends of America find hard to understand is how America, upholder of the Rights of Man and the beacon of liberty, could be transformed so quickly into an Imperial power. The world sees America as an aggressor acting in support of the oppressors.

Today the Islamic world is a prime target for America, the latest imperial power, virtuoso in the art of smashing Islamic countries and establishing its control over the remains. It has all the requirements to make it the perfect American target. It has enormous natural resources; it has a rotten socio-political system in an advanced stage of decay and decomposition; its rulers are corrupt, despotic, authoritarian, unresponsive to the prime needs of the people, accountable to none; it lacks the will to defend itself because what its rulers represent is not worth defending; it is highly vulnerable to attacks; a coup de grâce, or a coup de main, a powerful kick and the entire rotten structure will come crashing down. At relatively little risk and cost, America can gain strategic advantages in the Islamic world and place itself increasingly in position to control the world’s resources and life lines. The aim is to gain control of the energy treasure house of the Middle East and the Gulf.

Democracy, freedom of choice, rule of law and human rights, are highly desirable American goals but their priority has obviously diminished since September 11. Many in the Islamic World are wondering: why is Obama pushing democracy only in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya? Why is he advocating democracy only in authoritarian regimes that oppose America and not in authoritarian regimes that are pro-America? Today American policy towards the Islamic world, as described by Thomas Friedman, renowned American columnist, is ‘to punish enemies with the threat of democracy and reward its friends with silence on democratisation’.

The writer is a former federal secretary. Email:,

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