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3 Jul, 2015

4th of July Message to the U.S.: No Empire Lasts Forever

Commentary by Imtiaz Muqbil, Executive Editor, Travel Impact Newswire

The travel & tourism industry is one of the first and worst to be affected by all kinds of crises, be they environmental, economic or geopolitical. In an era of predominantly man-made global crises, the global leadership cannot shirk accountability. The United States claims to be the global leader, but there is no democratic way of holding it accountable nor voting it out. That has to change.


Twenty-six years after the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, and 16 years into the 21st century, all the euphoria about this being a century of peace, sustainability, equality and justice has evaporated. Every week sees a fresh eruption of chaos, uncertainty and instability.

If such turbulence were to strike any one society, company, community or country, it would be normal for a self-respecting leader to assume responsibility. When corporate profits decline and shareholders revolt, the CEO has to step down. When democratic countries fail to deliver on their promises, elections lead to a change in governments.

As this is now a perfect storm of global crises, it would be logical to ask which global leader should take the blame.

It would not take long for fingers to be pointed at the self-proclaimed global leader, the United States. I repeat, self-proclaimed. The undisputed fact remains that the U.S. claims to be a global leader because of its economic and military power rather than by any democratic process.

Certainly, no global election has ever been held to decide which country should lead the world. As there is no such process, there is no accountability, no check-and-balance mechanism, and worse still, no way for those who oppose U.S. “leadership” to freely and peacefully vote the United States out.

That in itself has become a root source of enormous frustration. A country that preaches freedom and democracy is in fact a self-appointed leader of a global quasi-dictatorship that is becoming increasingly paranoid, insecure and repressive.

On June 23, the Pew Research Centre released a report analysing the results of a global public opinion poll about the U.S., China, and the international balance of power, as well as key issues in Asia. The topics surveyed related to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the U.S. role in fighting ISIS, the image of the U.S. vis a vis China, and the use of torture, otherwise known in U.S. spin-doctor parlance as “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

Although the poll covered a sample size of 45,435 adults aged over 18 in only 40 countries, it gave some indication of how the global public perceives U.S. policies. The results ranged from very supportive to very opposed. Either way, they underscored a simple fact: You may be affected by U.S. government policies in some way or another every day, but there’s not a damn thing you can do to change them, nor can you hold anyone accountable.

In the years ahead, that will prove to be entirely unacceptable, especially when one looks at what the world is in for after the 2016 U.S. presidential election. None of the candidates are even remotely worthy of “global leadership”. Yet, their policies will affect us all.

In one of my now defunct columns gagged in July 2012 by the Bangkok Post, which claims to be the “newspaper you can trust,” I wrote that the U.S. is no longer country it once was. The most potent proof is that journalist-activist Julian Assange has been self-incarcerated for three years at the Ecuadorian embassy in London because he dared to publish damaging cables exposing the lies, double-standards and hypocrisy of the U.S. government in international affairs. The actual whistleblower, Chelsea Manning, is also in jail.

Had the leaked cables been those of the Russian or Chinese governments, the U.S. government, corporations and media would have hailed the whistleblowers as heroes valiantly standing up for human rights, freedom and democracy. Obviously, that does not apply when it is the U.S. being exposed for violating human rights, freedom and democracy.

How the cables turned the tables. Thirty years ago, the U.S. government was backing and hailing the former Soviet Union’s Nobel Prize winners Andrei Sakharov and Alexander Solzhenitsyn as dissidents fleeing the wrath of communist dictators. Today, Julian Assange is the “dissident” seeking refuge from the wrath of the U.S., the “Land of the Free.”

Everywhere, there is growing evidence of the shortfalls of U.S. “leadership”, and the need for accountability and change.

If climate change has become such a catastrophic crisis, which country is responsible more than any other for emitting greenhouse gasses? Those gasses were spewed out over several decades, especially in the former days of cheap oil and gas-guzzling monster cars. By whom?

As conflict and insecurity rages worldwide, which companies are profiting from it? Which country is the biggest exporter of military hardware? Has the biggest defence budget? How much of that country’s GDP and export earnings are driven by the military-industrial complex? If the trillions of dollars squandered on wars over the last two decades had been invested instead in meeting the Millennium Development Goals, would the world have been a better place?

If geopolitical peace is proving elusive, the inefficacy of the United Nations, set up after two of the bloodiest wars of the last century, purportedly to promote global peace, bears some responsibility. Which country has cast more vetoes in the UN Security Council than any other, especially on the Israel-Palestine issue, arguably the longest-running and thorniest conflict of the past three generations? Which country long ignored the nearly unanimous votes cast in the General Assembly in favour of a lifting of the Cuban embargo, before finally having to bow to the inevitable and reverse course?

If economic uncertainty is the order of the day, should international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank be held accountable? Which country holds a majority of shares and hence voting rights in both institutions? Which currency dominates the global financial system? Which country is the world’s most indebted, for an amount probably a hundred times larger than Greece, and ballooning by the minute?

The world is undergoing a transition like never before. The years to come will see a face-off between a declining American Century versus a rising Asian Century, with the second half probably being the African Century.

No empire lasts forever; all fall victim to their own hubris and arrogance. As I wrote in another of my columns gagged by the Bangkok Post, “Unjust rulers always fall. Always.” The only question is whether they realise their time is up and exit peacefully, as the Soviet Union did, or take everyone down with them.

On this Independence Day, the U.S. needs to indulge in some heavy-duty Soul-Searching about its future. Millions around the world have lost trust and confidence in U.S. “leadership”. They have the undeniable right to demand peaceful, democratic ways to bring about change – change they can believe in.

Unless the U.S. begins to practise what it preaches, and put into place mechanisms to facilitate that process, it will face mounting opposition to its self-proclaimed “leadership” and the many means and channels used to maintain that status.

As the many revolutions throughout history have proven, trying to bribe, blackmail or bludgeon the opposition away will be an ultimately losing proposition.