Imperial Ignorance By Aijaz Zaka Syed

So this is how the cookie crumbles. From burning books to butchering babies, it seems everything is fair game as the victors near their tether. Four years after Barack Hussein Obama offered a “new way forward”; the gulf between America and the world’s Muslims is at its widest.

The horrific details of the Panjwai massacre, with first person accounts recounting how the brave US soldiers coolly went about killing women and sleeping children, have poured fuel over a land already ablaze. Obama has condemned the massacre but chose to describe it as “an isolated incident.” 

Is it really now? Why do I feel we have been here before? From bombing wedding parties to striking funeral processions and even cemeteries, there’s been a long trail of such ‘isolated incidents.’ 

Interestingly, the latest in Yankee shenanigans coincides with a groundbreaking book that seeks to make sense of Uncle Sam’s worldview. Andrew Alexander’s America and the Imperialism of Ignorance is a damning critique of the US foreign policy over the past six decades and offers a cogent analysis of the military-industrial complex mindset that commands and dictates the actions of the most powerful nation on the planet. 

Armed with facts and arguing from a historical perspective, the Daily Mail columnist elucidates how America and the West spent trillions of dollars in taxpayer’s money for decades in fighting – or pretending to fight – an enemy whose threat proportions, intentions and capabilities were ludicrously exaggerated to justify the absurdly inflated defence budgets and militarisation of the US and Europe. 

During the Cold War, Europe and virtually the whole world was divided into two perpetually bickering camps with everyone being forced to take sides. Germany was split between the two camps with Berlin, divided by that obscene wall, becoming the theatre of the proxy war and intrigues and machinations of the two superpowers. 

The proxy war was only part of the story. For nearly half a century the world teetered on the edge of a nuclear catastrophe as the US-Nato and Soviet nuclear arsenals targeted each other, promising assured destruction of life on the planet in a matter of minutes. Scores of millions of soldiers and gigantic war machines on either side remained in perpetual battle mode, ever ready to annihilate each other. 

Alexander argues that all that could have been avoided and was totally avoidable as the Russians never posed a serious threat to the West. For all his savagery towards his own people, sending tens of thousands of them to their death in Siberia, Stalin knew his limits and had no intentions of stepping out of Eastern Europe to take on the West. 

If it weren’t for America’s “imperial ignorance,” suggests Alexander, “coupled with its arrogance and immense naivety,” the world would have been a safer place and would never have witnessed the dangerous uncertainty that it did during the Cold War years, constantly living under the shadow of a nuclear cloud. 

President Truman, the small town politician who found himself in the big shoes of the visionary Roosevelt on his death, ignored the close partnership of the US, Soviet Union and Britain during World War II, as they took on Hitler’s Germany, to conjure up a Soviet Armageddon and the fantasy of red tide flooding the world. (By the way, it was Truman who defying his advisers and global public opinion rushed to recognise the new state of Israel on the Palestinian land.) 

So from the end of World War II to the disintegration of the Soviet Union and Eastern bloc, it was America’s awesome power coupled with its paranoia that made the world a much more dangerous place than it ought to have been, posits Alexander. 

You would think this would have changed with the end of the Cold War and the elimination of the threat that the “evil empire” allegedly posed. But two decades after the Cold War ended, the US and Russia are yet to stand down and eliminate the deadly payload at their disposal, even a quarter of which is enough to destroy the planet many times over. 

What is more, trillions of dollars in taxpayer’s money continue to be poured into the bottomless pit that is America’s all-consuming war machine, which now lords over the whole planet with military bases and presence in almost all parts of the world. America’s war hasn’t stopped for a moment since it stepped out of its borders to join the Great War. 

First, it was Communism. Now the enemy is Islam, or Islamist terrorism, as the euphemism goes. With the demise of Soviet Union and the worldview that it represented, the military industrial complex and the gargantuan corporate war industry needed a new enemy and where none existed they had to invent one to justify their existence. Which Samuel Huntington promptly did for them, fashioning Islam as the new enemy of the West. And the 9/11 provided the ready excuse. 

So as part of this constant tilting at the windmills, Washington had to invent Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. The tyrant who had to crawl into a hole to save himself when they came for him was painted as the greatest threat to the civilised world. And it’s no coincidence that soon after the ‘shock and awe’ of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the target shifted next door with the talk of Tehran’s mythical nukes targeting Europe and America’s allies in the Middle East. 

Predictably, the first major deal that the free and democratic Iraq has clinched is the purchase of 36 F16 fighter jets from its benefactor at a cost of $6 billion dollars even as the war weary people are still yearning for luxuries like clean water, electricity, schools, hospitals and, above all, security. There will be more such business opportunities tomorrow if the much sanctioned Iran goes the Iraq way after Washington and Israel are done playing good cop-bad cop. Meanwhile, with the constant talk of Iran’s military ambitions, nervous neighbours are goaded into buying more and more military junk from you know who. 

Alexander explains it all as the “imperial ignorance.” But is it ignorance? It’s more like imperial hubris combined with single-minded, old-fashioned pursuit of commerce. Uncle Sam, or the corporate military machine that drives him, knows full well what is going on. In the end, it all comes down to business. And there’s nothing like a good war in distant lands to drive your business and fill your coffers, consequences for the rest of the world be damned. 

Most reasonable people, including those in the West, know that it’s not “Islamist terrorism” but unfair Western policies and wars that gave birth to groups like Al-Qaeda and are the real threat and impediment to world peace. 

“The American folk hero is the swaggering gunman. Let loose in the wider world, he is a threat to peace,” says the veteran British foreign affairs commentator, urging Britain and Europe to intervene. “It is our duty to warn him off this course, not trail along in his wake.” 

You would think old Europe would do that after all that it lived through in the last century. However, instead of talking some sense into their Atlantic cousin, they joined in the fun. Clearly, the two disastrous wars weren’t enough to teach the continent the right lessons. 

The writer is a commentator on Middle East and South Asian affairs. Email: aijaz.syed@hotmail. com

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