Anger is a dangerous emotion. In anger people say and do what they would never say or do when in full control of their faculties. Interestingly, it is also often an honest emotion. What is said or done in anger is often a genuine reflection of one’s true character, thoughts and feelings, one admitting or revealing realities that would otherwise be carefully hidden. In anger people cast aside carefully constructed facades behind which they try to hide their most shameful aspects, often even from themselves. The risk that one impatient, unstable, unreliable person can pose to even the best-laid plans, by losing control and destroying months or years of preparation in a fit of pique or rage, is well established.
This simple psychological truth may well explain much of the US’s recent behaviour. The global domination that the US is pursuing is not new; it has been in place for decades, since 1945 at least. Of course, the US is only the leading party in a team effort; this team is referred to as “the West”. Since the end of the Cold War, when the West’s main rival collapsed and its successors were magnanimously admitted as junior members of the team, the US’s predominance in this team has been increasing. In this situation it is all too easy to develop delusions of grandeur, and the temptation is to break ranks and “go it alone”.
What we are seeing now is the US in a temper, throwing furniture around the West’s carefully constructed international order, carelessly exposing the myths on which it is based – the “international community” in particular – and sorely tempted to break free of team constraints and go it alone, unless the team agrees to follow the US’s line. The attacks of September 11 last year were to the US as a punch on the nose. Its immediate rage was such that the rest of the team – its Western allies – stood back to let it work off its anger. They expressed their sympathy and supported its first violent response against Afghanistan, giving it a figleaf of legitimacy and settling for a share of the spoils. Now, however, over Iraq, there is increasing concern that, instead of calming down and settling back into the ranks, the US is becoming bolder in its defiance of the team ethos, and threatening to break the team as a result.
This is precisely what George W. Bush meant when he told the UN that it had to follow his lead or risk being by-passed and made irrelevant. Even as he and British prime minister Tony Blair were accusing Saddam Hussein of defying UN resolutions, Bush himself was explicitly telling the UN that he would defy it unless it did as he told it. The arrogance and hypocrisy could hardly be more brazen, and the US’s allies got the message. Whether they will obey remains to be seen, because France and other European countries are unwilling to give the US a free hand for fear that their own interests will be damaged. But the point that they need the UN and the US more than the US needs them has been fully established.
Two particularly significant points emerge from this situation. First, all this is relevant only to the major powers in the UN: the US, its western allies, and others it chooses to favour, such as Israel and India. Nowhere in any of this is there room for other countries -Arab countries, for example – to be heard. They have no veto, no standing, no importance. This reality betrays the true nature and purpose of the “international community”. Second, these realities are becoming increasingly clear even to those non-American Westerners who previously regarded the UN as having some legitimacy and weight. The US’s cavalier disregard for the UN has been greeted with indignation by analysts and commentators in Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Australia and New Zealand, and even by some in the US itself. This indignation is a first step towards understanding how the West’s victims see it.
The reality is that the international order, including the UN, has no more legitimacy or authority than Iraq’s parliament has. Everyone knows that, in Baghdad, Saddam’s word is what counts, and that the political apparatus below him is a board game on which cronies manoeuvre for Saddam’s favour and try to maximise their gains. Precisely the same is true of the UN and the international order vis a vis Washington. Everyone understands why Iraqis oppose Saddam and pray for the collapse of his regime and its institutions. So they should understand how most of the world feels about the US and those who choose to work with it instead of opposing it.
Mr. Iqbal Siddiqui is Editor of Crescent International and Research Fellow at the Institute of Islamic Contemporary Thought.