An 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.

The 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.

The 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.

One 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 law.

Just 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.

In 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 right.

We 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 might.

Secondly, 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 routinely trade.

Thirdly, 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.

This 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 hasn’t.

Ahmed 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.

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Issue Number 49
July 3, 2003

Other commentaries in this issue:

Cover Story
The Slow and Tortured Death of Affirmative Action - Redress of racial wrongs no longer public policy

Supreme Court Affirmative Action Decision

A message from Clarence Thomas to all African Americans.
View the BuzzFlash Cartoon by Eric Harrison.

GOP Bullies DC on Vouchers - No democracy for Black city

Strom Thurmond survived by Black daughter... Can the world survive "bubble" America?... DLC could be fatal to Democrats

Movies' 'Magic Negro' Saves the Day - but at the Cost of His Soul by Rita Kempley

Fear of a Black "Street" Army By Glen Ford, Co-publisher, The Black Commentator

The New York Times’ Racist Lies about Africa by Milton Allimadi, Guest Commentator

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Contents of Issue 48 June 26, 2003:

Cover Story
Obama to Have Name Removed from DLC List: Says "New Democrats" acted "without my knowledge"

Blind, Deaf, Dumb and Deluded: White America unfit for global role

Bubble USA

If it’s true, is it Black male-bashing?... Dixon confronts Georgia professors... "Bright lines" and the DLC

Republicans Go to Bat for Predatory Lenders
by Maude Hurd, National President of ACORN

Up Close - Zimbabwe
A Speech by Cynthia McKinney

You can read any past issue of The Black Commentator in its entirety by going to the Past Issues page.