Sunday, December 24, 2006
Caught Flat-Footed Around the World
The United States emerged from the Cold War as the world's sole superpower. Unfortunately it took that status for granted.
The US with its global-reach bombers and carrier battle groups thought itself safe because there was no place on earth that couldn't be attacked within 12 to 24 hours. It created a perception of a virtual empire and promptly began ignoring places like Afghanistan and most of Africa. Washington was blinded by its own might and failed to see tensions and threats mounting.
Then, as much to show the little countries American power as anything else, it invaded Iraq and quickly became trapped in the shifting sands. The Bush administration truly believed - for no plausible good reason and despite sage advice - that they could invade, topple Saddam and be out of the place within 60-days. It was foolhardiness on an epic scale. It exposed America's weakness to the very sort of warfare that little countries can usually wage. It revealed the true limits of America's military muscle.
America wasn't paying attention to the little lands but they were certainly watching America, watching and waiting. Jeffrey Gettleman, writing in the International Herald Tribune, reports that anti-Americanism is sweeping Africa:
"Somalia may be the place that best illustrates a trend sweeping across the African continent: After Sept. 11, 2001, the United States concluded that anarchy and misery aid terrorism, and so it tried to re-engage Africa. But anti-American sentiment on the continent has only grown, and become increasingly nasty. And the United States seems unable to do much about it.
"A number of experts on Africa trace those developments to a sense not of American power, but of its decline — a perception that the United States is no longer the only power that counts, that it is too bogged down in the Middle East to be a real threat here, and so it can be ignored or defied with impunity.
"American officials, for example, acknowledge that they are at a loss about what to do about the on-again, off-again Somali crisis, which cracked open last week when the two forces dueling for power blasted away at each other in their first major confrontation. In this case, there are a lot of reasons why many of the people don't like Americans, starting with the United States' botched efforts to play peacemaker in the early 1990s to its current support for Ethiopia, which is taking sides in Somalia's internal politics.
"But the broader issue playing out here — the sense that the United States is not the kingmaker it once was — goes beyond Mogadishu. It is Africa-wide. And it is based on a changed reality: the emergence of other customers for Africa's resources and the tying down of American military forces in Iraq have combined to reduce American clout in sub-Saharan Africa, even as the United States pumps in more financial aid than ever — about $4 billion per year — and can still claim to be the one superpower left standing."
"When Washington turned its glance away from Africa other nations saw their opportunity and moved in: China, various European states, Russia, even Brazil.
"'We learned that we don't need the Americans anymore,' said Lam Akol, Sudan's foreign minister. 'We found other avenues.'
"The ceaselessness of Baghdad's bloodshed has greatly undermined the United States' credibility, fanned anti-American feelings in Muslim regions like the Horn of Africa, and drained resources that might otherwise have been available to address other problems.
"'There is significant blowback coming from our catastrophic decisions in Iraq that is affecting our ability to do anything about Sudan or Somalia,' Mr. Morrison said."
America's delusion of its own power and influence has left it flat-footed around the world: South America, Asia, Africa and even Europe. Washington has to get Iraq off its back before it can even try to play catchup or risk being marginalized in areas very crucial to America.