Twenty years ago, the Berlin Wall fell. But the optimism and triumphalism within the United States after the collapse of Communism, the end of the Cold war, and the establishment of the ‘New World Order’ are now in scarce supply.
Ten years after the start of the War of Terror, Francis Fukuyama has been forced to revise his proclamation of the “End of History”. Whilst George W Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” and “Iraq is Free” look, in hindsight, so premature that the obstetric term ‘miscarriage’ would be more appropriate.
“Brand America”, in a political sense, has become toxic all over the World. Once upon a time, people in the Muslim world looked at America and Western Europe as their role models. They aspired for their own countries to be Muslim Capitalist democracies, with varying degrees of Islam thrown in to satisfy the religiosity of the masses.
But a combination of long standing support for Israel, Desert Storm/Iraq ’91, and the 10 year-long War of Terror – Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen and Pakistan – has diminished the standing of the United States and its allies across the whole world.
This is particularly true in the Middle East, where recent polling showing that across six Arab countries, an average of only 15% of the people gave America a favorable rating. The fact that the lowest ratings were in Egypt (5%), and the highest in Saudi Arabia (30%), should be a further cause for reflection. About 12% considered that America contributed to peace in the Middle East, and only 8% agreed with the policies pursued by Obama—tiny minorities amongst the overwhelmingly negative perceptions, which also extended to views regarding both the American conduct in the killing of the alleged sponsor of 9/11, Osama Bin Laden.
Bush had claimed that the 9/11 attackers hated America because of their “freedoms”. But it has not been lost on Muslim populations the world over that these American “freedoms” are for America alone (and even that is under scrutiny due to legislation such as the Patriot Act) – since successive administrations have, for the purpose of securing material and strategic interests, been on the side of the dictators in the Middle East, who have been responsible for suppressing any political dissent and expression for decades. The Obama administration has continued rather than broken from these policies, as evidenced by their actions throughout the Arab Spring.
But it is not just “Brand America” which has suffered since 9/11. The whole systemic range of “Brand Capitalism” is also doing badly. Just as violent, inhumane and repressive policies employed used to secure a ‘Pax Americana’, ‘human rights’ and ‘freedom’ damaged “Brand America” and Western-promoted liberal democracy, the financial crisis of 2008 and subsequent economic downturn, and currency crises of the last few years have shattered worldwide confidence in the so-called free market philosophy, which has once again been exposed as a useful stick to employ by the elite when seeking markets to exploit (such as the various diktats issued to less developed economies by the IMF in the 80’s and 90’s) but quickly discarded when their own interests are at stake.
BBC polling in 2009 showed only 11% across 27 countries believed that Capitalism was doing well, with almost a quarter believing it to be fatally flawed. It is surprising these numbers are not even more negative given that people across Europe and America were (and continue to be) direct witnesses to how little the majority reaped of the profit in times of growth with the justification that the market decides, while, in contradiction to those same free market principles which would have seen the banks allowed to fail, that same majority have been forced to pay the price of private sector failure in the time of decline through the imposed funding of bailouts.
While American and British aggression post-9/11 exposed the hollowness of claims by these governments to human rights and moral values, the reaction to the financial crisis exposed the emptiness of the adoption of the mantra of the free market as governments clamored to make their citizens pay for the sins of the financiers. Growing social unrest in the West due to the huge disparity in wealth between the rich and poor is likely to further undermine the lure of the Western economic model which has seen bankers and their colleagues maintain their privileges while the general population mostly suffers in silence.
Ten years on, the vulnerability that America felt as a result of 9/11 is compounded today by the economic crisis that it faces. And yet the proposed 2012 budget allocates a lop-sided 19.7% for “Defense”. To put the amount in context, the United States spent more on its military in 2010 than the next 19 in the top 20 of largest spenders combined (with 20th on the list being Greece), highlighting the staggering extent of the American war machine. It is not inaccurate to state that they are now paying for their imperial overstretch, something that is surely unsustainable in the future and which is driving the pace of the drawdown in Afghanistan—a retreat necessitated by financial and domestic considerations rather than meeting any apparent strategic or military objectives. “Mission accomplished”, yet again. But this time remotely operated predator drones will remain and continue to murder the natives whether in Afghanistan or Pakistan— a much cheaper option financially, politically and morally than keeping American boots on the ground and meet their opposition face to face.
At the same time, the financial crisis, made in America, has been exported elsewhere. By printing more money to offset the huge expenditure to bail out banks, the United States has affected the wealth of people who had saved in dollars or US Treasury bonds. The modern financial system has allowed speculation and trade in food that has seen global food prices rise, which costs lives in other parts of the world. When America sneezes, everyone catches a cold.
Ten years after 9/11, the unipolar age of the American hyper-power is over; US-style Capitalism and its professed free-market ideology which has been exposed as a myth is now being challenged by state-Capitalism; the West, in particular the United States, has been greatly diminished in the eyes of the world.
The full original version of this article was written for the special 9/11 edition of the academic journal Political Theology “Ten Years after 9/11”.