Thinking Out Loud on American Elections and Rex Americana

November 10, 2006

I find it fantastic (fantastic as in peculiar -not fantastic wonderful) that so many non-Americans eagerly follow elections in the US -even midterm congressional elections- as if it had some real, tangible impact on their lives. Even more fantastic is the fact that even a midterm congressional election in the US is bound to have some real, tangible impact on the lives of people living as far away as Qarghenatu and Timbuktu. Which is why even those who are not, ought to be paying more attention to it. And ‘impact’ not in its ‘chaos-theory’ sense; where everything impacts everything else in the vast, interrelated cosmic web, and where a flapping of butterfly’s wing in the Amazon will unleash the seasonal monsoons in the bay of Bengal. No. Rather in the very predictable and calculated way that people who vote for their representatives expect them to take actions and make policies that will impact their lives -except that in this case, those whose lives will be so critically impacted will not have voted for the representatives who just got elected.

This is why I really don’t understand it when I get quaint smiles and shrugs when I suggest -with utmost seriousness- that it is about time we granted suffrage and voting rights (in American elections) for all people, period -we are, afterall, living in a Rex Americana –if not exactly a Pax Americana. Yet. But I also know that brilliant ideas always pass a period of incubation wherein the conservative soul that is a hallmark of the human condition becomes ready to accept what at the time seems revolutionary. Someone as ahead of their times as I am has to resign himself to this tragic fact.

Which brings us to: What should the rest of us, as the empire’s more disenfranchized subjects, read into the recent Democratic victory in both chambers of the US Congress?

The good news is, we don’t have to wait as long as our enfranchised fellow Americans to see signs of change. While they have to wait years and maybe decades wherein such domestic issues as universal (which in America stands for National) healthcare, the growing trade deficit, the composition of the judiciary, and such other issues pass through the labyrinthine legislative process, we already know the direction that the central issue closest to our hearts will be taking -American foreign policy. The direction of change is revealed in the fate of the two personas: Donald Rumsfeld and John Bolton. The two men are among the top communicators of the empire’s will to its subjects: and both are set to leave office soon.

I argue that this amounts to a reversal of fortunes for those of us in Afghanistan, Iraq, and a handful other places. We, the inhabitants of the more turbulant precincts of Rex Americana should not fall into the trap of feel-good cosmopolitanism and multilateralism that, say the French, or worse, some among Americans are so adament about. What they are calling for is a recipe for foot-dragging, diplomacy (which most of the times stands in for dialoguing important issues to the point of irrelevance), and inaction. What is in our interest is a strong and forthright American policy and the ability to project American power into the farthest corners of the world with rapidity and effectiveness -call it the ‘Rumsfeld doctrine.’

Consider, if you will, the case of Darfur. I have long since abandoned following the issue and am not sure whether the talking heads over at the UN have yet made the semantic leap from ‘acts of genocide’ to ‘genocide’ itself. Does not make a difference. It has been years that the helpless Africans of this unfortunate part of a country they did not have anything to do to be a part of are being massacred, terrorized, raped, and humiliated -with impunity. The Tutsis of Rwanda fared a lot worse waiting for help that did not arrive -the Germans dragged their foot in delivering the APCs that the Belgians would have driven to stop the genocide the the French were helping the Hutus to perpetrate. The same for minorities under the Taliban in Afghanistan. All in all, a tall tale of injustice with impunity. Now consider, if you will, the Kurds of Northern Iraq. Since the imposing of the ‘No Fly Zone’ by the US at the end of the first Gulf War, they have not had to deal with the bloodthirsty tyrant that massacred them in Helebca and used chemical weapons on them – Iraqi Kurdistan is now the safest in a country beset by violence and, some argue, is set to be the region’s next Israel. Speaking of which, take the case of Israel itself -a young nation in the middle of hostile neighbors, and yet the region’s most technologically advanced and democratic.

Now all of this is bound to raise some eyebrows. And I will admit to mine being raised as well (which happens often when I ruminate and think out loud -the whole and only point of this blog, really.)
You may raise your eyebrow and point to ‘American hypocrisy’, or American complicity in many of these instances.

Well, what do you expect when you endow the US with the same legal stature and rights (and hence responsibilities) in the world as Guinea Bissau and North Korea? This kind of treatment binds US to acting on the same level as them -that is, a narrow-minded fight for an ill-understood notion of ‘national interest’ and living up to lower standards. The world -and no less, American citizens and policy-makers- ought to set a higher standard for America’s place in the world. Anybody with the quaintest notion of child psychology understands that you can’t get a child act serious by constantly putting him down and treating him like a kid. How is America any different?

More seriously, who in the world thinks that all nations are equal? What does this word -nation- mean anymore? And isn’t it about time that a system of inter-state relations that was put in place somewhere after the Peace of Westphalia in the mid-17th century -and was dictated by the European continent’s own idiosyncratic conditions- was changed and abandoned? Rummy was right -Western Europe is old, and it is dysfunctional, and thanks god it is dysfunctional -or we would all be Belgian and French and British colonial subjects, as opposed to subjects of a benevolent empire whose identity is based on a universal idea rather than a racist or social-darwinist understanding of the world.

In my humble but strong opinion, America’s destiny, its right place in the world, is hostage to a giant misunderstanding. This misunderstanding is based on a non-existent notion that the sooner the inhabitants of IR departments in universities around the world (including many American universities) wake up to, the better. It is time people became serious about the anachronism of “international relations.” To speak of such a category any longer resembles beating a dead horse in the same way as to understand the world in East vs. West categories. There was a time when inter-state relations in the known world were defined by the Peloponesian conflicts, and a time when the known world was an arena of empires and civilizations, and a time when the known world was plagued by the Great Powers wars, and the World Wars and the Cold War -now, it is a Brave New World: welcome to Rex Americana. Sure, we are not exactly at the end of history, but that does not mean we are not at a radically different stage of history- an American moment in history. And don’t let anyone lead you to believe that history goes backwards -as does Samuel Huntingdon. He is right to say that inter-static relations are a thing of the past and that the world today is defined by a different set of relationships -but he is again in the grip of a misunderstanding when he postulates that such a world is an arena of civilizational contests -again an anachronism in the age of globalization.

Point to any instance of the international community’s failure in the aftermath of the Cold War and I will tell you how America was paralyzed by the petty diplomacy and bickering of other nations and the limitations of international institutions. When not paralyzed by the inaction of others, it fell victim to its own hangover of back when it was one other young country among others, and acted selfishly -or did not act at all. And I will argue that many American statesmen who are not very forward-looking in their views still suffer from a Cold War syndrome and try to find some sort of an imaginary foe to make their world simpler. The simple and hard facts are that America is without peers, and it should own up to the responsibilities that comes with this position. This means bypassing outdated channels to act on Darfur. This means holding Israel responsible for its wrongdoings, because Palestinians also live in an American age. This means acting decisively to fix Afghanistan and Iraq -and not the reactionary policies that the Democratic leaders are calling for. Pull out? A historic injustice, advocated by those who understand very little about history and America’s place in it. This is not anymore between American and its state alliances -it is not a state-centric world anymore. It is between America and ordinary individuals who live in an American moment in history. I will agree whole-heartedly with Alexander Cockburn and Tariq Ali and assorted other leftists of the New Left Review that this is an empire -but not with their understanding of ‘The Empire’ that is confused with its historical precedents. What we should do is to expect more, not less, of America.

Call it my neo-neo-conservative moment.