article with the above title in “BusinessWeek Online” (June 10th issue) caught my attention
because the title seemed to characterize the way the present administration
is conducting US foreign policy.
As it turned out, the article was concerned principally
with US economic and trade policy and not with foreign policy
as such. Nevertheless,
the title does characterize this administration’s broader foreign
policy very neatly in several important respects.
principal feature of the Enron debacle was that the company had
grossly inflated its profits by removing expenses from its books
through huge off-balance sheet borrowings.
The Enron management compounded this fraud with arrogance
and deceit, convincing investors, bond holders and investment
bank analysts that they had, like alchemists of old, converted
coal to gold. Of course, once the true picture began to emerge,
the house of cards that was Enron quickly collapsed.
current US administration has grossly inflated the reach of American
power through “wars” with paper tigers, i.e. the messianic mullahs
of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the hollow edifice of Saddam
Hussein’s regime in an Iraq that had been gutted by twelve years
of sanctions. Neither
adversary was a credible military force against the most powerful
war machine in the history of humanity, in the face of which the
Soviet empire and its own formidable war machine had collapsed.
Despite this glaring imbalance in strengths of the protagonists,
which most western commentators seem to ignore, we are now subjected
to the victory crows of an exultant right wing in the US.
can’t help but wonder whether an elephant should be so vaingloriously
jubilant over its conquest of a mosquito. One of the most profound ironies of the Iraq
war was that while the US and Britain were expounding on the behavioral
norms of “civilized nations” as contrasted with the despotic evil
of the Saddam Hussein regime, it was the US and Britain who reverted
to the law of the jungle when they couldn’t secure a UN Security
Council vote to sanction the war and so legitimize it in international
as the managers of Enron were lying to investors and bond holders
about their company’s strength and financial position, so the
administration was lying to its public and the world about Iraq’s
WMD – the public rationale for the war.
Just as the managers of Enron were “cooking the books”
through dubious accounting practices in order to record ever growing
paper profits, so the present administration has been using the
"war on terror" and the promotion of “democracy” in
the region to justify a neo-colonial policy to reshape the Middle
East to its own preferences.
And just as the managers of Enron used “carrot & stick”
to get their way with fund managers and stock analysts, so the
administration is using bribery, bluster and threats to win allies
and silence opposition to its policy in the community of nations.
the case of Enron, a global energy conglomerate built on flimsy
foundations eventually collapsed and took many thousands of people's
savings, jobs, dreams and hopes with them.
In the case of the present US administration, they have
squandered the huge reservoir of goodwill that many people throughout
the world (especially people living under totalitarian or dictatorial
regimes) had for the United States as the exemplar of liberty,
equality and justice in the modern age. It is worth remembering that this reservoir
of goodwill was nourished and deepened by the flood of sympathy
and compassion that came from around the world after September
11. The capricious use of US might is now more feared by other peoples
and nations than any other “threat,” and possibly feared more
than the terrorists it is fighting.
It is a sad state of affairs indeed for freedom loving
people everywhere that the heirs of the legacy of liberty, justice
and equality are today the most feared centurions of might without
have to ask ourselves what the long term effects of this Enronization
of American foreign policy are likely to be. Firstly, and perhaps most deleterious for global
discourse, is the open disdain of the administration for international
law. If the only global
superpower deigns to observe international law when it suits it
to do so, but will swat it aside whenever it chooses, then the
very imperative of international legality is challenged.
Smaller nations will adopt similar behavior, except that
their determinant factor for observing or flouting the
law will be whether their actions will earn the approval of the
“big guy” or not. Thus,
international diplomacy will revert to the equivalent of a school
playground where relationships are predicated upon respective
strengths and a pecking order prevails, not the rule of law.
We are already witnessing the beginning of this trend,
with the new found impunity Russia enjoys in subduing the Chechens
without any pretense of addressing their justified grievances
or the human rights violations of the Russian army in that wretched
country. The savagery with which Sharon’s Israel is
attempting to wipe out the armed Palestinian resistance to its
occupation, and the equally desperate response of the resistance
is another example of the jettisoning of legality in mediating
disputes and its replacement by the doctrine of violence and respective
outright mendacity is increasingly becoming an accepted tool of
political discourse both within nations and internationally.
Clearly, diplomacy, not to mention politics in general,
has always entailed a certain “economy with the truth,” to use
Bernard Ingham’s celebrated phrase, but outright lying was, until
very recently, not an accepted form of the art of diplomacy. The supine acceptance of the mendacity of policy
makers by the supposedly independent press
has exacerbated this trend, reducing the fourth estate to the
role of a cheerleader instead of a questioning and impartial witness.
Much of the press in the US and Britain cloaked themselves
in their respective flags before and during the Iraq war, using
“support for the troops” as their fig leaf excuse for not reporting
the war as much as cheer-leading it. They should remember the dictum that “patriotism
is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” Thus, routine deceits and patriotic conceits that were once the
preserve of dictators and juntas, have become the accepted currency
in which the spokespersons and policy makers of free democracies
the world is being drawn into “us” and “them” camps.
The western democracies increasingly view the Muslim world
with fear and distrust, while
Muslims the world over increasingly feel that that the West is
pursuing a war against them under the guise of the “war on terror.” The fears felt by the
Muslim world are echoed throughout the non-Muslim Third World
for two main reasons: (a) they have no wish for a “clash of civilizations”
between the Muslim world and the West,
into which they would inevitably be drawn; and (b) they resent
the US approach of “my way or the highway” to foreign policy as
it is applied to the issues and disputes of principal concern
to them, e.g. India’s dispute with Pakistan over Kashmir, North
Korea’s nuclear weapons program and Asia’s concerns in relation
thereto. This division
of the world into mutually fearful camps presided over by a sole
superpower that uses its might to force its will upon others makes
for an inherently unstable world order.
America cannot be everywhere at the same time, and it cannot
sustain such a global hegemony indefinitely, indeed I would argue
that it cannot sustain such a hegemony for very long.
administration is seeking nothing less than the restructuring
of global politics in the image of what they deem right and proper.
The fact that the US is the world’s only superpower (or
"hyperpower" in Francois Mitterand’s apt characterization)
appears to have convinced them that this endeavor is not only
desirable, but indeed possible.
They fail to appreciate that, despite America’s overwhelming
military might, the aspirations, history and will of all humanity
cannot be bent to their dictate. Just as in nature, an action creates an equal
and opposite reaction, so in the realm of human political history,
the action of one to impose his will upon another by force creates
an equal and opposite reaction in the other to resist and eventually
reject the imposing will. America
cannot control the world through force and intimidation, except
for short periods, but it can lead the world by the force of its
example and the cogency of its arguments. The present administration has lost sight of
this fundamental truth and we can only hope that America itself
M.I. Egal is a banker from Somaliland who is presently working
in Saudi Arabia as Director, Finance & Business Development
for Al Mutawa Sons Group. He grew up in the UK as a political
refugee, received most of his secondary education in England,
and has a BA in Economics & Politics from Warwick University,
and an MA in Economic Development from the University of London.