Thursday, 30 August 2007

The Greatest Let Down

A place like Australia, a safe and peaceful environment without much want and with plenty of neutrality and goodwill to others, is the place to make likely unbiased observations and judgements on those knotty and vexing international affairs. It is possible that observations are less ideologicalised, opinionated, and one-sided in this essentially social democratic entity, though sometimes Western values, political inclination, and religious blood relations do come in the way of understanding others. Overall, Australia provides a preferred place for objective views of the world and powers.

At the dawn of this new century, there were apparently familiar outpourings of heightened expectations and great hopes for a consistent display of progress and peace. Unfortunately, the first decade of the 21st century has yet indicated either. Hope is certainly insuppressible and surfaces persistently, but it is also a luxury item very often getting denied, rebuffed and dashed. In a retro view of past decades, high hopes came to be unceremoniously replaced by wanton breaches of rights and growing uncertainty of sound human behaviours.

Taking into account of cold realities of this young century, it would be more sensible to view the paths and modes Australia has persisted in a wider comparison with top players of the world and define the country’s easily unnoticed merits.

It goes without saying that the most powerful of a certain time is more likely to show the way ahead. In this case, the US has reached an unprecedented world leading position in history, and thus caused the greatest let down ever as well. Its supremacy spreads to so many areas, not only in unchallengeable economic and military might but also in cultural dominance and surge of creativity. These amazingly great feats, however, happened to reveal the vulnerable side of this lone super power in the recent past and lead people to ponder on some less obvious options in development and progress.

Let downs have the most to do with the behaviours and actions of the US. There was a time of nearly everyone looking up to the US for guidance, justice, and source of new, fashionable thinking. Such a conviction is particularly true of former socialist or authoritarian societies, where the norms and ideas differed substantially from the preferred, more enlightened ones in the US. On top of the unmatched economic and military might which suppressed open conflicts and secured stable international trade since the 1990s, the US held a position of pinnacle in the world out of its political and media power of persuasion, and made criticisms of the American way noticeably unpopular among those millions of US admirers the world over. One can be easily shocked to find many people passionately defending the US’s actions, in whatever fields of affairs, as if their own beliefs and faith came under attack. It is the life style and superiority complex of the Americans in many forms that urged people to pay homage to the US and seldom feel comfortable of challenging US policy or propaganda. Among other failed social experiments of the last century, the American way was the first to be recognised as the likely path to follow in striving for development and peace in the new century. That was grandly marked as the end of history. The magic potion is labeled and marketed Americanism.

On the vital issue of peace, the opening of the 21st century has resembled in numerous aspects that of the early 20th century. The coming century was widely expected to be more enlightened, fairer, a perfect world order in excellent shape, eliminating all violence and atrocities. There are countless international organisations where people are able to talk the talk, share their thoughts and converse in different languages. A concept of global village was tirelessly advocated and promoted by people in privileged positions. Instead, brute force in the hands of fanatics and ideologues arbitrarily determined the matters of the world, with explosive consequences and untold casualties beyond imagination. Dreams have been shattered, hopes vanished, and expectations dimmed. A peaceful environment turned out to remain mere projections at best than a reality.

One crushing disappointment of this century is undoubtedly the frightening realisation that the US as a typical democracy of the world is not genuinely working for preventing wars and maintaining peace. In fact, there have been clear signals of increasingly reckless use of force by the US since the end of Cold War, resorting primarily to military might and destruction in resolving major contentious issues. This tendency does not simply derive from an impulsive, hawkish Bush administration, but has certainly developed into a recognised and adopted policy agenda on his watch. It is understandable that politicians tend to treat the military option casually when aggressions bring desired results, and they are emboldened to sign orders to go to war with little hesitation on just cause, costs, and risks involved. As the US takes the enviable position of a lone warrior without an equal in military terms, the temptation to use force to clear every single obstacle is enormous indeed.

A single illuminating sign of this tendency is the pre-emptive strategy prominent in the
so-called Bush doctrine. This strategy is in principle an uninspiring and
meaningless one, as any one nation can propose a strategy of pre-emptive strike if feeling like it. Imperial Japan was one of the leading practitioners of this strategy, first for gaining a position of relative strength to bargain with powers and then making a big splash in the Pacific Ocean against the US forces, seen as a potential threat to Japan’s survival and blatant aggressions in the Asia Pacific. North Korea, incidentally, made a claim in the similar vine when threatened verbally and militarily by the combined forces of the US and Japan. The point is that there is virtually no possibility for many of the nations of the world to actually take military actions under the guidance of this generalised strategy, as it means suicidal self-destruction in a real application. Due to its extremely destabilising and tension creating nature, the international community had largely thrown the notion of pre-emptive strikes down the dustbin and upheld national sovereignty and international mediation.

What is unique of the US’s choice of picking up this recycled strategy is that it now feels an almost absolute assurance in waging pre-emptive strikes without inflicting considerable damages to its own interests. The US relies on overwhelming advantages in conventional and nuclear weapons over adversaries such as Russia which willingly dismantled its own strategic weapons and thus lost credible capacity for a real contest. The development of anti-missile defense systems offers additional protection for the US to take actions it desires. Military means can now crush those far-away resistance and resentment when American propaganda and image building apparently failed. Implementing this strategy based on a superior military would make wars and armed conflicts inevitable, and numerous pretensions have been put forward for the starting of wars, as long as they are consistent with the self-imposed criteria of pre-emptive strikes. This much trumpeted strategy provides an easy trigger of war, as it in fact lowers the bar of commencement of military actions and gives the US a free hand to wage wars, even nuclear wars.

Being a democracy does not exonerate the heavy responsibility involved in reapplying this war-mongering strategy. Wars have been waged by democracies on numerous occasions. This was unavoidable when early industrialised countries (democracies) fanned out to grab colonies and places of vital resources in new types of international trade. The infamous Opium Wars (twice) were initiated by the then greatest parliamentary democracy of all times, Britain. It may sound cliché to remind people of this past of democracy and colonisation going hand in hand in modern history, since people of the 21st century seem to seldom spare attention over this weird combination, it has been the truth all along. With varying degrees of democratisation and economic sizes, wars were also waged among European countries in destructive manners, including the two World Wars.

If those are distant, boring past and are not clearly convincing, then the war in Iraq in 2003 is a more recent and undisguisable case of war-waging capability of modern democracies. This war is totally unauthorised, unprovoked, unilateral, deliberate, deceitful, demoralising, and full of vengeance. The most worrying is that the causes to war are false, unjustifiable, and proved dead wrong soon after the war started. The war mongers in the US and the UK completely lost their credibility in front of the entire civilised world, as well as of savage tribal societies where the use of force is justified by simple need to survive, not by phoney accusations and slick slide shows of gathered intelligence. It was revealed that in 1939 German troops faked Polish identities to create a border attack as the excuse for invading that country. Less subtly, Japanese imperial army in 1931 blowed up a section of railways in the Chinese Northeast and started long planned military offensives and occupation right after on the pretence of being attacked. These tactics by the early axis of evil appear rudimental and childish if put side by side with those applied by the US for the war in 2003. The quoted causes to the Iraq war were more creatively and ingeniously invented and unreservedly sticked to thereafter, assisted by unprecedented blanket ban on media coverage of invasion processes. These camouflage and war triggering tactics are also marked improvements on what was displayed at the time of the Gulf of Tonkin conflict, during which alleged attacks on US warships excited Congress to pass resolutions for a full scale involvement of US forces in Vietnam. This history of spin and pretext for war strategies just replayed its routine tracks in the early 21st century. To some American elites, history does not matter, because they have gone well beyond history and its heavy burdens, and they are creating an end of history anyway, which is 100 percent Americanised.

When economic and strategic self interests are involved, there seems no certainty that a democracy would behave any better and not resort to war or any available types of brute force. It is doubly likely that politicians under a democracy know well of utilising or even mobilising public opinions for a path to war and in turn skilfully display the will of the people as a trump card and defence for their provocative actions taken. Headstrong politicians in a democracy simply whip up sentiments of patriotism, scream facing a clear and present danger, and then ride high on favourable waves of public opinions to go to war. There seems no enforceable and workable checks and balances to this extreme pattern of behaviours. Democracy, after all, is respecting the will of your own people and acting against other peoples’. Don’t mess with my men; better thresh other blokes who are not my voters.

The sense of unmatched overall power at the disposal of US governments has understandably been heightened in recent years. A country with this wide range of power tends to demand uniformity and assimilation from other forms of culture or society, since the building of the most powerful country in the history of human race ought to provide adequate proof of a common path to success. There is supposed to be just one single truth among all the mainstream trends. With this strong belief of force and destiny, a “WW Factor” emerged in the United States since the end of the Cold War. These include right wing (conservatives) and war mongering (the Hawks), reaching a peak under the Bush administration of two consecutive terms (the West Wing). Previously, these combinations under Reagan and Bush senior were less apparent, due to the Cold War and confusion over the aftermath, while this new “WW Factor” has got a firm, unparalleled hold on US politics and administration. In human history so far, a mentality of God-send and treating others as pagans is not new at all. Without exception, strong beliefs in one’s own are essentially built on sheer might and current prosperity, and ignorance of past cycles reinforces these beliefs.

This propensity of belittling others’ status is vividly displayed in often heard proclamations of “bomb you back to the Stone Age”, a senseless military threat to any force challenging or eroding the US interests of any form. This American catchphrase was heard during the Vietnam War, and, judging from the high intensity of bombing and massive scales of destruction, the meticulously designed flattening and burning tasks were carried out with little hesitation or reservation. With that brutal war behind, the US was expected to change its behaviours nicely after the end of Cold War, leaving military actions the very last resort in a more interconnected global village. Quite the opposite, in ensuing invasions and military conflicts, even those pro-US groups could not believe the insistence and recklessness in execution of such a threat for real by this leading democracy and nation of freedom. They were dumb-founded: the US is not only intentional in waging wars and invasion, but also willing to go unprecedented far extreme to achieve the goals through flattening all. Its power to crush and destroy looks great and impressive, especially on TV. Civilian casualties draw scant attention from American officials and personnel, as these are termed collateral damages along side the tracks of military machines and warrant no sympathy or even mentioning. Physically wrecking or leveling down a region is also no longer unimaginable in military plans. In the consistent traditions of US armed forces, which move battalions forward only after destroying everything standing and intend to maintain “zero casualty” for troops in conflicts, the use of firepower in offensives is unrestrained and overwhelming, in consequence causing more civilian casualties than needed be. Minimising the loss of human lives is then placed at the bottom of agenda items. Few countries are able to stand for long in this killing and destruction contest with the US.

A new phenomenon in recent wars is the ubiquitous presence of western mass media, which preach, advocate and cheerlead the causes of the all powerful in millions of seemingly persuasive ways. This is also one of the means those politicians use to the full effect for advocating their causes. The media is “mass” in the sense of reaching massive numbers of audience and endless coverage bombardment bordering on brainwashing. It is not that “mass” because it is also the tools in the hands of an exclusive club that channels desired messages out. No wonder many headlines say what the most powerful intends to say simultaneously and have people to believe. The opposite norm these days is that murmurs from the weak are shout down or silenced. What a small Arabic TV station can do in facing giant globalised networks and big name anchors? Marketing and advertising practices would suggest that the former simply stands no chance. This information asymmetry was not an occurrence in the past, since the defense of the weak and the violated existed even during the most atrocious wars and social upheavals. The overwhelming blanket coverage by one voice from the source of war has become so stifling, that there seems no place to find recourse or just judiciary. The hawks’ urge to undertake sabre rattling and military campaigns at will are then reinforced by the media’s obedience and assistance in leading public opinions and justifying overseas adventures.

The tendency towards a military option and wrecking signifies a dramatic policy turn in the US in the post Cold War era. An ultimate solution to conflicts is through use of force, after temporary and heavy-handed rounds of talks, which may serve the purpose of getting precious time for military maneuvering and logistical support. This preference is conceivable, given the US’s unmatched power and deep impatience of evident inconformity and divergence in this complex world. This slight inconvenience to one particular nation of the global community was seldom tolerated, and that leads time back to the past, times when human societies saw no alternative to might, brute force and aggression. This back to the future scene is a giant step backward, effectively abandoning international consensus and organisations built up in the last century upon layers of bloodsheds and wreckage. Is a pen still mightier than a sword? Absolute firepower, in this case it gets deadlier every year in the stocks of the US military, thrushes through the boundaries of international treaties and consensus.

Let downs occur also in the political arena, where the US and its adherents prescribed and promoted democracy and elections for solving all kinds of problems in a variety of places. If other things failed in the US’s foreign policy, at the least the concept and screaming of democracy have spread far and wide. The reality, however, is far from ideal from the blueprints of American advisers and supervisors. In a typical American way, certification of standards of a democracy is quite selective, which implies that election results or candidates unfit to the US government’s liking are deemed fraudulent and unrepresentative, and those fitting or chosen are welcomed warmly. Democracy in the form of elections has become an effectively practiced tool of “divide and rule”, following the routes trailed successfully during the British era, since there are always some sections and cliques in a political contest which tends to lean to the US for overwhelming help and generous promises. In return, they are to heed American concerns more keenly than others, to be qualified as the favourites. Those with defiance or opposing tendencies are supposed to simply disappear or be starved to death. This is a nice chance to get rid of some disliked parties through elections. Regime change is a threat of destruction and reappraisal if elections lead to undesirable results.

The US’s keen peddling of democracy overseas met with mixed results, some of them notoriously unexpected. Election results in many occasions went against the wishes of the US, such as the ones in Iran, Venezuela, and Palestine. A majority rule by Hamas, even under unbearable American coercion and manipulation, emerged against American experts’ predictions and pollsters’ surveys. In these occasions, something are curiously in common, in that the candidates backed by the US did not have a big chance to win but went ahead anyway, and elections results are bad to the US intention and desire, so that a US recognition is not forthcoming, instead, accusations of frauds and crying foul ensued. The US government would then have to decide whether to take economic sanctions or military means to change the results themselves, employing the fraud pretext. If elections cannot achieve desired goals, then other solutions will come forth in play. This thinly veiled hypocrisy surely put elections, and its peddlers, in a very bad light.

It is now apparent that the US solution to many international problems, a force-feeding of democracy and elections, is creating more instability and uncertainty. Power conflicts and internal rivalries are fully exploited. Confrontations erupted, heading towards political and economic chaos, with false hopes of a promised prosperity of later days. The costs of confrontations are borne entirely by the participants and hotheads, casualties of earth shaking political upheavals.

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