America’s moral power — indispensability and indiscretion

It was America’s moral authority more than its military power that endeared it to the have-nots of the Global South

Inam Ul Haque May 02, 2024
The writer is a retired major general and has an interest in International Relations and Political Sociology. He can be reached at and tweets @20_Inam


Sometimes it is hard to say something that has been said by so many people, so many times, on so many occasions. Analysis space is burgeoning with great power-rivalry, the decline of US power, the rise of China, the war in Ukraine redefining Europe’s external relations, and Israel’s genocidal war in Gaza recalibrating regional and global politics, etc. Ruckus on the US university campuses notwithstanding. This non-ignorable youthful anger will have implications just like the Vietnam protests. Indeed, we live in interesting times.

Last week in my Op-ed, ‘The mask is off’, I argued that the West Plus no more bothers to keep even a modicum of discretion to hide its double standards; that it is openly arrayed against all those forces, systems and societies that are different to its own core values represented by capitalism, democracy and liberalism; that some human lives are more precious than others, depending upon the colour of your skin, your beliefs, your language and where you come from; that the oppressed of yesteryears (the world Jewry) are now the worst oppressors of today (Israel); and that today’s international citizenry, dazed by its powerlessness, can do nothing when states like Israel, buoyed by their ‘iron-clad’ relationship with the only hegemon — the US — defy all international norms, rules, and regulations… at will.

This situation raises some critical questions. Is the post-war order — represented by the UN, great-power consensus, the international financial systems, WTO, etc — in its dying pangs? Are we, as humanity, reverting again to the age when ‘might was right’? Are the walls protecting affirmative action, equal opportunity, minority, and female rights, and against forces of discrimination on any basis, racism and bigotry collapsing around us? And if the answer to these and many other pertinent questions is yes, serious introspection is needed. The one immediate causation seems ‘the moral slide’ of the US from its moralist moorings.

In contemporary America, the control of the democracy and state seems slipping from its WASP (White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant) elite to neocons, and more recently to foreign lobbies and interest groups (read world Jewry). Watching the contemporary American scene…today pro-Palestinian protests equal lack of patriotism, justifying arrest and expulsion from school or work. Disapproval of Israel’s disproportionate and cruel response equals anti-Semitism. State functionaries choose their words carefully avoiding calling a spade a spade. The print and electronic media comments in muted terms upon Israel’s genocidal carnage of civilians with US weapons, unlike the perpetual condemnation of Hamas.

It was America’s moral authority more than its military power that endeared it to the have-nots of the Global South. Its post-war generosity at Yalta and then the Marshall Plan, reconstructing the erstwhile foes…Germany, Japan, Italy etc; President Roosevelt’s in-person attendance of the Yalta Conference, despite physical incapacitation; America always standing with the underdog, globally; America’s liberal and welcoming embrace for all those dispossessed and disenfranchised in their own countries…from Mormons to Jesuits to Jews to Africans to South Asians in droves etc; its generous developmental support for the less developed world in areas such as infant mortality, children’s health, education and many more…too numerous to count. Yes, all this American largesse was understandably motivated by Washington’s geo-strategic and national interests, but it was efficiently cloaked in opaque unhumanitarian layers… and this largesse did benefit many around the world. If the recipient was thankful, the ones on the giving end did not rub it hard in the face. A modicum of civility and respectability always prevailed…naturally with exceptions.

However, today the US exceptionalism even in Europe, among its trans-pacific alliance stands greatly tainted. If Europeans could afford it without the American security today, they would not want to wait till tomorrow. Europe stands entangled in the larger web of American embrace. And when a Superpower of the US stature defines its vital interests so narrowly as to miss out on global humanism, the world is in trouble. Encapsulating the above, the US today is ‘perceived’ as an “Arrogant Empire” to borrow from Fareed Zakaria.

America has traditionally invested more in personalities, and less in the people. It’s just more obvious in the social media-driven realities of contemporary world. It considers the military more useful than the masses. It uses you when in need, and thereafter abandons you. Compared to a reliable China, an emerging and steady Euro-Asiatic Russia, the US is not perceived as a good long-term partner. And many in the Muslim universe believe that its war on terror is masking its true anti-Islamic intentions, cleverly camouflaged by its right and centre-right political, academic and business elite. That American response to various crises demonstrates its cultural, religious, ethnic and historic naivety and insensitivity. No wonder President Nixon in his 1990 book, In the Arena, reminisced upon President Ayub Khan’s ‘haunting’ advice way back in 1964: that it was dangerous to be a friend of the US, “that it pays to be neutral; and sometimes it helps to be an enemy.”

That said, however, the world cannot wean away from the pervasive US influence for the foreseeable future. America still enjoys unparalleled and unprecedented power, as outlined in my opinion piece, ‘Sino-US rivalry’ published on 11 January, this year. However, the need for the US is to use its power responsibly, equitably, discreetly and justly. Modern mechanisms like the US-based internet and technological architecture like GPS navigation, open-source AI, etc still benefit millions.

Protecting national interests is understandable when the ‘US deep state’ does so, but American statesmen of worth would realise that by virtue of being the lone Superpower (with others trailing in experience and wherewithal), America also shares the broader and inescapable responsibility towards humanity at large. And that should guide American politico-military elite to look outside the narrow percepts of its national interests.

Being carried away by one or the other interest group, vested lobbies and corporate greed would lead America astray, injuring its soul and its body. And if history is any guide, books are full of empires ‘gone with the wind’ when they resorted to cruelty, injustice, bigotry and uncalled for violence, overreaching their limits in the process.

The literati among the US intelligentsia, that ‘make the US great’, know this historic truism, well and properly. And this star-studded galaxy has many Jews. Dispensing justice for Palestine is their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and test!

Published in The Express Tribune, May 2nd, 2024.

Like Opinion & Editorial on Facebook, follow @ETOpEd on Twitter to receive all updates on all our daily pieces.



Replying to X

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

For more information, please see our Comments FAQ