Wednesday, July 27, 2011

America, god-king of the world

Gyanendra [the former King of Nepal, deposed 2008] felt he had a natural ally in a pugnacious White House. He felt spurned when he was ignored. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized he was right. Gyanendra's position in Nepal was the same as Washington's position in the world. Most of Nepal's difficulties (backwardness, poverty, war) stemmed from the inequality that still prevailed in the kingdom, and Gyanendra was the one who benefited most from that uneven system. Substitute the world for Nepal and the White House for the king, and the same broad logic held true. Many of the world's problems (backwardness, poverty, war) came from inequality, and the US was the country that benefited most from that uneven system.

Gyanendra was intelligent and ambitious. He recognized a God-King in the twenty-first century was an anomaly. He knew he was the problem. But he enjoyed power and genuinely believed he could help his people. Talking with his enemies wasn't going to improve his situation. Talking could only mean talking it all away. So he chose to fight.

Were these the same impulses guiding the West? If they were, it would explain why our leaders' responses to globalization often appeared to be so inappropriate. And there was some evidence to suggest that Western governments did realize that they, or at least the comparative richness of their economies, were the problem, and one that related to violence. What were the trillions of dollars spent by the West on overseas aid in the developing world, if not an implicit acknowdgement that the system of global income distribution was unfair? What was the deployment of hundreds of civil affairs specialists among the 800 Special Operations soldiers at the US anti-terrorist base in Djibouti, if not a Pentagon admission that Africa lacked and that, if unaddressed, such yawning deficits produced unrest? What were the billions of dollars spent on reconstruction of Iraq and Afghanistan, if not an acceptance that quenching the fires of insurgency took wealth as well as war?

Like Gyanendra, the White House would never talk to terrorists. But beyond the old objection that talking to terrorists only encouraged others, was there another reason? That negotiations could only mean weakening the Western position? Again, there was evidence to suggest so. Look at Bush administration intransigence on climate change. Or the European Union steadfastness on preserving unequal terms of trade with Africa. Or look at the war on drugs, or the war on terror. Those seemed to show a preference for fighting, rather than diplomacy. In the late years of the Bush administration, critical newspaper columnists disinterred an ancient word to describe this overconfident, uncompromising, often damaging stance: hubris. That sounded a lot like Gyanendra.

What was clear was that Gyanendra's unilateralism – his hubris – added fuel to the fire in Nepal. It had been the same for the Bush administration in Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia.

[Selected extracts from "Falling Off the Edge" by TIME foreign correspondent Alex Perry, Macmillan, London, 2008 (ISBN 978-0-230-70689-7)]

Submitted by Frank.

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