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OP-ED: Can you live without America?

  • Published at 12:55 am October 7th, 2021

Once it sets in, decline is an incurable disease. Anxiety and uncertainty are in the air

South Asia’s political capos have been shaken to the core by the events in Kabul. If you are a Hindutva strongman surveying your lands like Aurangzeb, then you may be stroking your white beard wondering. If your entire gameplay was based on the backing of the globe’s supposedly unassailable military and financial power then what do you do for the medium term? 

What happens if the collaborators also fall off the fleeing planes sometime in the future? The world’s policeman only offers conflict and risk. On land, the West will fight China to the last Indian. Hardly appetizing. He can comfort himself with the thought that Europe is still under America’s thumb. 

The dollar still accounts for 59% of all financial transactions. The Pentagon outspends the next dozen countries in defense spending. Yet, isn’t there is an unmistakeable feeling that “something just happened”?

Power brokers and influencers
Today, all across South Asia, the elites in positions of power cut their teeth in the early 1990s. Most of their adult life they have known no other hegemon than the United States of America. The smart money in Delhi, Dhaka, and Karachi all cast off their shackles and embraced the new age. 

The Americanization of the global economy (globalization) fed this elite as industrial jobs appeared in Asia. You can taste and breathe this prosperity today on the streets of large conurbations in the sub-continent. 

For the last 30 years, this elite has been seduced by the power of the US dollar, the advanced technology of the West Coast, the unmatched strength of the aircraft carriers. The wealth, status, and power of the elite have risen by leaps and bounds, anchored by the “realism” of raw, ubiquitous American domination.

Suddenly, they are wealthy beyond their dreams but also geo-politically disoriented.
Have today’s elites become like their grandparents or great-grandparents who till the later 1940s could see no “setting of the sun”? Are they like their parents in the 1970s still admiring the sanctity of British values and the gospel truth of the BBC World Service? When change occurs, no one waves a red flag. Getting beached is more common than one thinks. How does one jettison past certainties and learn new truths?

A generation later
America today is in profound crisis. The military machine has stalled. It has blown away all its winnings in West and Central Asia. 2021 has been a disastrous year and there are still more than 10 weeks left to go. 

General Milley reminded us about the events of January where two people were convinced they had been voted in to be emperor. Pinch yourself here. A general says he rang his counterpoint in Beijing to assure him that US missiles would not be flying across the Pacific to flatten Chinese cities. Who knows what really transpired. It is something one expected a Russian general to do in the dark, drunken days of Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s. 

Now, the US commander-in-chief (even on his way out) was considered as unstable as Nero and not capable of rational thought. He might have wanted to go out with a bang. Add the surreal scene of Capitol Hill where an insurrection in costume straight out of the Wild West took place live.

Eighty million people did not believe the election was fair. Many of them still do not. The reasons or basis don’t matter here. The country remains deeply divided in many spheres. The scars will not heal.

Amidst all this was the gross mismanagement of the pandemic. The Global South is aware that China handled things with efficiency while America floundered. There have been three deaths per million Chinese and around 1,500 or more per million in the US.

Once more, American politicians take it to the brink over the debt ceiling. Profligacy is baked in to the pie. It’s bread, guns, and corruption as ever. The soft factors that cemented American power and leadership for a generation are crumbling.

Historian Paul Kennedy warned about imperial overstretch in the mid-1980s. He didn’t see the imminent implosion of the USSR and the age of a sole superpower. Not many experts did. The dates were wrong. The thesis was not. The unipolar world is now over. Multi-polarity is already here. There is more than one dish on the menu.     

Farid Erkizia Bakht is a political analyst. @liquid_borders.

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