In present times when Trump’s America is arrogantly pursuing an aggressive international agenda, it would serve American interests to read a book published in 2004 titled Imperial Hubris, by Anonymous (later acknowledged as Michael Scheuer, a senior CIA official). Though written in the context of US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, its conclusions are truly prescient with continued relevance, which the US cannot afford to ignore.
The essence of the book is summed up in this sentence in the introduction: “Instead of facing reality, hubris soaked US leaders, elites and media, locked behind an impenetrable wall of political correctness and moral cowardice, act as naïve and arrogant cheerleaders for the universal applicability of Western values and feckless overseas military operations...” More directly about Afghanistan it said then: “The war… was necessary, but it is being lost because of our hubris,” and that “we are succeeding only in fooling ourselves.” Regarding Iraq, the book argued the “invasion was not preemption; it was… an avaricious, premeditated, unprovoked war against a foe who posed no immediate threat.”
The truth is that instead of learning any lessons from their failures in Afghanistan and Iraq, American administrations since Bush to Trump continue to commit the same blunders and the mainstream media, seduced by their artful lies and false claims, enthusiastically clamours its approval. This adequately demonstrates that the reason why failure in Afghanistan (or Iraq) cannot be accepted by the American elite is their imperial hubris.
This hubris is not symptomatic only of the Trump administration. It has emerged and spread like a cancer in the American body politic since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. While America overtly celebrated the triumph of its capitalist system over Communism, ‘as the end of history’, the underlying determination was never to allow the sole Superpower to be challenged again. The opportunity provided by the end of bipolarity to evolve a truly equitable rules based international order was dismissed by the contrary approach of ‘preemption’ and ‘unilateralism’ espoused by the ‘Bush doctrine’. This formed the basis of the Neo-Con agenda to use the war on terror after 9/11 to enforce American influence in the garb of democracy achieved through regime change. Obama followed the same course, though it was glossed over and sugarcoated, with regime change being extended from Afghanistan and Iraq to Libya, Syria and Ukraine.
At the same time, both Bush and Obama sought alliances with new partners and strengthened existing partnerships to contain China and Russia. The objective was and remains the prevention of any competitor to the US as the unipolar, indispensible and exceptional superpower.
However, American hubris blinded them to the reality that there are limits to their power and like any empire in history they have overreached. The American-led Western economic meltdown in 2008 from which most economies have not fully recovered, should have served as an eye-opener. Similarly, the military reversals in Iraq and Afghanistan along with the emergence of ISIS and spread of al Qaeda affiliates to Asia and Africa should have been a wake-up call.
America needs to shed its imperial hubris and recognise that the world has already changed from unipolar to multipolar with an end to American exceptionalism. Presidents Putin and Xi have amply demonstrated that they will no longer countenance a ‘Pax Americana’ in Europe, Asia or even in the Americas.
The Russians have pushed back in Europe by military action against Ukraine to secure their interests in the Black Sea as well as in Syria to support their allies in the Middle East. They have also aligned with China to restrict American influence globally, and particularly in their neighbourhood. China, now the world’s second-largest economy, has established vested interests not only in Asia, Africa and Europe but even in America’s own backyard in South and Central America. China’s One Belt, One Road initiative is poised to change the dynamics of regional as well as global trade. By contrast, America’s new Silk Road project is still just an idea while the Trans Pacific Partnership has unceremoniously been scrapped by Trump.
Despite these monumental changes in the global power equation, Trump’s America remains in a state of denial. Its three recent policy announcements — the National Security Strategy, the Nuclear Posture Review and the World Wide Threat Assessment, all seek the implausible objective of US global hegemony — a co-relation of power that has long past. By identifying Russia and China as the main rivals of the US which Trump’s policies are designed to not only counter but overpower, the US has set itself on a collision course with its major competitors; a clash it simply cannot win.
Unfortunately, due to their hubris, Americans are once again squandering an opportunity to stabilise an international order based on a trilateral balance of power between the US, China and Russia. However imperfect, such an order could generate comparatively greater peace and security globally and help resolve seemingly intractable regional problems like Syria, Afghanistan and North Korea.
In South Asia, the US needs to work with China and Russia as well as Pakistan and Iran to promote a political solution in Afghanistan through dialogue, instead of persisting with a military option even after 16 years of fighting the Taliban. Moreover, the emergence of IS in Afghanistan is a far greater threat to the region and the US itself instead of the Taliban. Unfortunately, Americans still continue to pursue an elusive military victory while using Pakistan as a scapegoat for their failure. Neither direct pressure nor through their Indian and Afghan lackeys will help the US force Pakistan to abandon its national interests in the region. It is again America’s imperial hubris that blinds it to the lessons of the past when despite intense US pressure, Pakistan did not compromise on its nuclear programme.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 22nd, 2018.
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