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Why America is still the best bet for world leadership

By Thanapathi
These are indeed extraordinary times. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall that heralded the end of the Cold War, no other series of events have had the potential to change the geopolitical map of the world as the events currently unfolding in the Middle East. Within a matter of weeks, we have seen two dictatorships toppled and many more threatened. For the most part, these have been internal revolts of people chasing away their long-standing leaders with minimum orchestration or interference from outside.

The end of the dictatorships in Egypt and Tunisia are significant, considering that both these regimes were strong allies of the West, particularly the United States. Given a choice, the US would have preferred if Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia would have remained in power. These two leaders have brought about stability to their countries during the long years of their rule. Mubarak in particular was one of the most closest allies of the US in the region, joining its wars against Iraq in 1991 and 2003, providing intelligence for its fight against terrorism, assisting in dealing with captured enemy combatants, i.e, translated to mean torturing in Americaís behalf, and most importantly maintaining good relations with Israel, the USís primary ally and the protection of which is the most important foreign policy objective in the region.

Yet, when the people of Cairo and across Egypt rose against the 30 year dictatorship of Mubarak, the United States backed the peopleís right for freedom. The Washington administration seemed to oscillate during the initial stages of the revolution, calling for a peaceful gradual transition from Mubarak to his second in command Omar Suleiman, the intelligence chief of the country who has much blood on its hands. However, eventually when it was apparent that the protestors will not be satisfied with Mubarak being replaced by his erstwhile deputy, President Barak Obama came out with a call for democracy in Egypt.
There are no guarantees that a democratic Egypt would be servile and follow the US dictums as the Mubarak regime did before. There is a reasonable possibility of democratic Egypt being taken over by more fundamentalist Islamic elements that would be against the US and Israel. Yet, the stance taken by the US against its national interest is an indicator that it still carries the moral virtues of what is required to be the leader of the free world.
One may argue that the US policy was opportunist, having failed to secure the Mubarak regime it chose to be on the winning side. Yet, the fact the silence of other major nations in the region and across the globe towards the demands of the Egyptian people make it clear that the course of action taken by the US was not entirely an
obvious choice.

Dictatorial regimes
The role of the main contender to US hegemony, China, during the Middle East upheaval is an obvious contrast. China has in recent years been the main backer for autocratic regimes across the world. Propelled by its insatiable appetite for resources, the Chinese government has sought to enhance economic relations with the worst dictatorial regimes in the world. From indicted war criminal Omar Al Bashir of Sudan, the egocentric Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe to Than Shwe, the military dictator of Burma all these tyrants have benefited from the lifeline thrown by the Chinese. Libya, Iran, Syria and the Gulf Arab states have also attracted Chinese investments and billions of dollars worth of trade that keeps their non-democratic regimes in power and people in subjugation.
While western nations have been equally ambitious to further their close relations with oil rich monarchies and dictatorships, they have at least attempted not to give a blank cheque to these autocrats to violate every perceivable human right of their citizens. As witnessed in Libya many European nations had made significant inroads in to that country since 2003. Italian, French and British leaders have met with Muhammad Gaddafi in recent years, given billions of dollars and attempted to mend fences all in the hope of securing lucrative oil deals. The difference however with China is that they have made these overtures without any demand for reform from the autocratic regime in Tripoli.

Reformed face
As a result of the need to attract western investments Libya has been attempting to remake its image as a nation that is a state sponsor of terrorism and a country. For the last few years it portrayed itself as a country wishing to prioritise on development as a partner with the West. In 2004 it gave up its nuclear weapons programme, stopped aiding Arab terrorist groups and made attempts to normalise relations with the US and the European Union by projecting the sons of Gaddafi, Saif Mutassim and Hannibal as the new reformed face of the country.
Hypocritical as it may seem, China does not demand such reforms, even superficially from the many autocratic regimes it deals with. Instead it gives them a blank cheque of approval as long as they stick to their part of the bargain to provide China with a continuous supply of resources.
Such lack of responsibility towards the wellbeing of the common people of those countries, long suffering under tyranny, shows that China is still not ready to play a role as a global leader in international affairs. While every country in the world has a right to prioritise its national interest above else, those who lead the world and wish to take over that role have a greater responsibility to uphold universal norms such as the respect for the rule of law and the maintenance of basic levels of human rights.

Emerging power centres
The events that are unravelling in the Middle East have proven why the world is not ready for a power shift from the current status quo of a system that is dominated by liberal democracies. For all its part China, Russia, India, Brazil and even Turkey which make up the emerging power centres of the new century have remained silent in the wake of the toppling of dictatorships in the Middle East. This has proven that these countries, championed as the new poles of global power are still not ready to take over their role as world leaders. They are still isolated within the cocoon of national interest calculating the best deals for them as individual nations rather than furthering what is best for the international system. While the rise of the rest is apparent and a unipolar world dominated by the United States is in transition, the events of the last few weeks is a reminder that the leadership of the civilised world still belongs to nations that adhere to the fundamental norms of civility.