1 Nov, 2016
Bangkok – Of all the forces of dystopia and disruption facing the world and the travel & tourism industry today, the greatest impact will be felt by the outcome of the current U.S. elections. A few hundred million Americans (or less than 5% of the global population) will elect a man or woman who will have unchecked ability to make decisions that will affect, in some shape or form, the remaining non-American 95%. Assuming that the accusations the two presidential contenders have hurled at each other are even half-true, there is little reason for optimism that the world is going to be a safer, more peaceful place.
This lopsided quadrennial travesty is a tyranny of the minority which violates the very principles espoused by the United States. For the billions of non-Americans who can only watch and wait, it is neither democratic, nor subject to any checks or balances, nor does it face any scrutiny for transparency or accountability. Which is precisely why, sooner or later, it must and will end and be replaced with a more just, fair, inclusive, participatory and balanced system of governance in a globalised world.
The growing global chorus for a dismantling of this might-is-right system, and of course, the United States’ resistance to it, is setting the stage for the conflicts and confrontations that will shape the emerging world order over the next few years. This will have a far bigger impact on travel & tourism than environmental, technological, financial or economic disruptions.
In just its first two decades, this century has seen two U.S. Presidents, both of whom served eight years in office. The 21st century began with a grand plan designed to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals. Within months, it had been overtaken by 9/11 and the “War on Terror” which dominated the first presidency. Today, as the second president prepares to exit, not a single travel & tourism forum is devoting any time to evaluating the results of these two presidencies. Why? Under a normal process of democratic discourse, it would be perfectly justified to analyse their words and deeds, and see how they impacted the way we live and work, for better or for worse.
In Oct 2009, the outgoing President was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize, just eight and a half months into his presidency. He had not done much then to earn it, but he had promised “Change You Can Believe In.” As the first African-American to hold office, his very election was a change which the world thought it could believe in. He promised a lot, including a famous speech at Cairo’s Al Azhar university promising a “new beginning” with the Islamic world.
Take a look at the state of the world today. The eight-point UN MDGs fell short of the mark and have now been replaced with the 17-point Sustainable Development Goals. A Clash of Civilisations is dangerously close. The UN refugee agency says migrant numbers are at an all time high. UNCTAD says the global trading and financial system needs to be reformed. The OECD says trade is weak. Extremist right-wing politicians are on the rise in Europe, Asia and Australia. Demagogues such as the leaders of the Philippines, Turkey and India are coming to the fore. Human rights and media freedoms are under threat. The rich poor income gap is growing. The Israel-Palestine problem continues to fester.
The most colossal and expensive failure is the “War on Terror”. This year marks the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Billions of dollars have been spent, thousands of people killed and injured. Still the attacks continue unabated. The spineless travel & tourism industry has done little or no evaluation of what has been achieved. Instead of a “new beginning” with the Islamic world, the United States has a Presidential contender who, rather than blaming his own country’s lies and foreign policy double standards, has openly spewed out anti-Muslim hate and incitement. Countries were attacked in order to supposedly make the United States and the world safe against the scourge of terrorism. Americans were told that the U.S. “has to fight them there so that they don’t have to fight them here.” It all failed.
The rise of freedom and democracy has been aborted. The so-called democracies are hunting down their own whistleblowers. In the Cold War days of communism vs capitalism, Soviet “dissidents” such as Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Andrei Sakharov would turn to the United States for shelter and support against the wrath of Soviet totalitarianism. Today, American and Australian dissidents and whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden and Julian Assange seek shelter and refuge with the Russians and the Ecuadorians against the wrath of American retaliation. What a reversal!
If this is not the way things were supposed to turn out after the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall and the dawn of a New Millennium, who should be held responsible?
Tourism is growing inspite of this operating environment. Why? Because the entire world is not in flames. Only a few countries are, nearly all in the Middle East. The global diplomatic community strives only to “manage” these conflicts. The remaining countries are open for business. Chinese, Indian, intra-European and intra-ASEAN travel is booming. If looked at from a big-picture, bottom-line perspective, all is well.
Unfortunately, this has become a source of complacency. As long as the “big picture” remains ok, sweeping other issues under the carpet or dismissing them with the customary tsk-tsk palliatives is now a normal course of action.
For those who thought the Bush presidency was bad, looks like the worst is still to come. The world will be stuck with one of two power-hungry megalomaniacs. The billions of non-Americans have no choice.
Every day, the United States takes actions that have a deep and lasting effect on someone, somewhere. The country has amassed too much military, economic and geopolitical power. It exercises this power completely devoid of any accountability or check and balance mechanisms. Global governments are evaluated on the basis of the for-us or against-us policy. The U.S. can deal with them as it wishes.
American mega-corporations dominate most economic sectors worldwide, from hotels to insurance, aerospace to technology. Its primary goal, following the well-planned courses of action clearly outlined in the Project for a New American Century, is to maintain that power and ensure that no other power comes even close. Doing that means pulling every lever possible, whether it is manipulating currencies, attacking countries, organising ‘regime change’ operations, destabilising governments which are “against us” and backing those which are “for us.”
At the international level, the US has a veto power in the UN Security Council, which it has exercised more often than any of the other four countries with similar veto powers. The rest of the world’s nations are lumped together in the toothless talk-shop known as the UN General Assembly. The U.S. dominates global banking and financing institutions, including the World Bank and IMF. Its technology now gives it the power to eavesdrop on everyone’s communications, with no accountability.
As former U.S. Intelligence agent William Blum wrote in that extremely fortuitous book, “Rogue State,”: “The pursuit of the American dream has become the rest of the world’s nightmare.”
But, as I repeatedly and confidently forecast in my columns gagged by the Bangkok Post, which claims to be the “newspaper you can trust”, an unjust ruler always falls. Always. No empire lasts forever. It is only a question of whether they go down gracefully or violently. Even the Soviet Empire, the last to try and confront the United States and its European allies, acknowledged as much and faded away.
So, the Mother of All Disruptions – the battle to defeat “The Project for a New American Century” – is now under way. America deserves to be held accountable across all fronts — economic, environmental, financial, and geopolitical. The most important swing factor will be the role of the American people, especially expatriates living abroad. Eventually, they will be held accountable because they have the direct power to hold their government accountable. Are they part of the problem, or part of the solution? What did they learn from Viet Nam and Watergate? Is their country a Rogue State? If so, what are they doing about it?
More than anything else, the people of the world want peace and stability. Dystopia and disruption are in no-one’s interests. American “leadership” is nothing more than a global “dictatorship” which, like every dictatorship before it, is fraying at the seams. The election of either of these two Presidential candidates will only expedite the process. Whoever the American people choose to elect, the American people can keep him/her. The rest of us deserve a time-out.