KONGThe past few days have seen two examples of the exercise of U.S.
power. They are a reminder that great powers should steer clear of small wars
and concentrate on strategic tasks which maximize long-term benefit to
themselves and the world.
In the case of India and Pakistan, the
world has seen the weight of U.S. influence - an integrated combination of
diplomatic, economic and military clout brought to bear to reduce the threat of
war. It is not clear exactly what pressure Washington exerted on India, but
there was a remarkably swift turnaround not only in the tone of India's public
statements but in actions such as allowing Pakistan air traffic to resume and
calling its navy away from Pakistani waters. Whether the two countries would
have had a (non-nuclear) war without U.S. pressure is a matter of conjecture. It
is true, too, that had the United States not been engaged in its operations
against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, it would not have summoned up the
effort to keep India and Pakistan apart.
Equally, it is unlikely that
India-Pakistan conflict would have gone beyond the level of the serious but
contained Kargil confrontation of last year, but for the opportunity that the
U.S. "war on terror" seemed to give India, and particularly its shaky Hindu
nationalist government, to punish Pakistan for support of armed opponents (not
all of them Islamic militants) of Indian rule in Kashmir.
The bottom line is that the United States
marshaled its own influence, and received Russian and Chinese support, in
heading off for now a threat of a significant regional war.
Similar compliments cannot be heaped on
U.S. activities in the southern Philippines. The US troop presence had been
justified by overemphasizing the links between Al Qaeda and the Abu Sayyaf
bandits and the need to help the Philippine military rescue American Christian
Whatever now happens to Abu Sayyaf,
hostage-taking in this lawless region is unlikely to end. Indeed, the more
attention given to foreign victims of it, the more likely foreigners are to be
Meanwhile the U.S./Filipino obsession
with Abu Sayyaf has been an opportunity for a much bigger insurgent group, the
Moro Islamic Liberation Front, to use a truce to consolidate its position on the
ground. If the United States wants to end terrorism in the area it will have to
be involved in taking on the front, and engaging in a 30-year-old war.
As it is, the U.S. presence is regarded
with suspicion by neighbors, resentment by many Filipinos and hostility by
Muslims who see it as backing for further encroachment by Christian settlers on
once predominantly Muslim Mindanao. Likewise, it is easy to envisage the United
States and its allies being drawn ever deeper into local disputes in Afghanistan
and perhaps later in the Central Asian republics, on the grounds of continuing
to fight Al Qaeda, which is better equipped to survive in Western urban jungles
than in Asian forests and deserts.
The lack of a single post-Soviet threat
makes it tempting for America, with its extraordinary military capability, to
want to impose its will on all situations. Such dilution of energies and
alliances is now the greatest threat to its global strategic influence.
Has it stopped to ask the cost to its
global influence of the cruder aspects of its post-Sept. 11 policies, whether
the venture in the Philippines, treaty abrogations, farm subsidies or blanket
support for Israel?
The tendency to reach for military
solutions, and find someone else to blame for American problems, is also seen in
the war on drugs. Providing firepower and biochemical weapons to national
governments and UN agencies to attack the source may go down well at home, but
campaigns against poor farmers in Colombia or Afghanistan smack of stupidity as
well as arrogance, when the drug problem is one of demand (and distribution
channels) in the West.
The world can be happy with U.S.
hegemony, but only if it is administered with a light touch and concentrates on
preventing major regional issues from disturbing global peace. Practicing what
one preaches on economic globalization would help, too.