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The Captain of the Mighty Power

The Captain of the Mighty Power

Monday, 26 October, 2020 - 09:30
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

America is an enormous power. When it engages in the world’s diaries, its heavy weight saddles countries. Those complain about the difficulty to understand US policies and Washington’s excessive review of its accounts and strategies with every change in the name of the White House master, his political affiliation, and his personal convictions.


The world, complaining about the American interference in maps, quickly grumbles when the US turns its back and decides to abandon a file or a cause.


This is America. A lifesaver here and a burden there. It represents trouble when it is very involved, and a problem when it is absent. This tango of constant engagement and isolation shows that America needs the world and the world needs it.


We were young and the screens were a means of communication with the world. Movies arose the viewers’ passion and promoted images and ideas. World War I broke out and the United States was outside it. Its army was humble and its war machine had no daggers. The German Empire did not realize the consequences of harassment in these wealthy countries. German submarines intensified the attacks. America had no interest in seeing Europe succumbing to the Germans.


In April 1917, America engaged in the war against Germany. The movies didn’t lie. Later, books confirmed that the US changed the course of the war and turned in record time into an immense power with the last say in world affairs.


It was not the only time a teenager has concluded that America is a mighty power. The same screens told the story of the fatal sin committed by the Japanese aircraft when, on December 7, 1941, they dealt a resounding blow to the units of the American fleet in the Pacific Ocean.


This is when we will see the US, wounded by the Pearl Harbor attack, join the war, save Europe from the Nazi monster, and change the fate of the world.


Despite the differences in stages, the scene would repeat after decades, when America, wounded by the attacks of September 11, 2001, launched a global campaign against terrorism that also led to the overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq.


Pictures of American power invaded screens and books. Pictures of Kennedy imposing a blockade on Cuba to force the Soviets to withdraw their missiles from Castro Island. Pictures of the US military enlisted in the Korean War facing the flood of Chinese volunteers. And pictures of the US soldiers leaving Saigon in a hurry, acknowledging the victory of Vietnam and its allies.


The enormous American power. The world would complain if Washington decided to exercise the role of a policeman to draw the features of the world according to its perceptions and interests. The world complains once again when America decides to move away from the first round and not bear its costs.


Small countries secretly admit that Security Council resolutions are not taken seriously unless they allow the use of force and brandish the American stick. This does not mean that America is always right. But it has the capacity to assume critical roles due to the multiple elements of its strength. The first economy in the world. The top-one military arsenal. Outstanding universities, creative laboratories, and an open revolution in technology. Unusual vitality in review, development, correction, and revision.


In the world of two camps, the countries under the Soviet umbrella could ignore what was happening in America. An issue of this magnitude was originally Moscow’s responsibility. Strategically located countries could afford to move into the bosom of the Kremlin. But the Soviet Union never succeeded in transforming into a huge power that is equivalent or close to the American capacity, despite its wealth. The allure of that colossal power, its pressures, and the growing technological divide threw the Soviet Union into history and heralded the birth of the only superpower.


The scene of the lonely superpower did not last long. The role of the world’s policeman is extremely complex and high-priced. Empires are toppled by the bleeding of their soldiers or their treasury. Leading without partners entails undertaking terrible burdens throughout the global village.


The American voter does not want to pay for this movie-like role. He does not want to waste blood on the land of Iraq, nor to squander trillions of dollars in the illusion of cultivating democracy in the world. On the other hand, Vladimir Putin restored Russia’s military and diplomatic capabilities and consolidated the features of a system that offers both stability and continuity on democratic principles.


But the big change came from China, which earned the title of “the world’s factory”, prompting analysts to seriously warn of the approaching “Chinese era”.


Before the spread of the “Chinese virus”, Chinese concerns prevailed over other files in the offices of American institutions. China is another world. A different model. The guardian of its drive-in globalization is a colossal capacity called the Chinese Communist Party, which adheres to the principle of the only narrative and the only official truth. That is why the impression prevailed that America would be distracted from the world due to its Chinese concerns.


Donald Trump’s tweets raised questions about America’s ability to draw the features of the world; about insisting on leading but refusing to pay the price; and about engagement and the desire for relaxation and isolation.


Trump’s decisions to withdraw from treaties, multilateral agreements, and international institutions have raised questions about the size of transformation in American policy and the extent of subsequent change in the world.


That’s why, while waiting for the Coronavirus vaccine, the world’s attention is turning to the US elections in a few days. It wants to know the name of the captain, who will manage this tremendous capacity that is called America and its relations with China, Russia, Europe, the Middle East, and “imperial dreams.” The capacity that brought down the Berlin Wall three decades ago and which threatens to bring down the Middle East wall through accelerated peace agreements.


Through the normalization agreements between the Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan on one side, and Israel on the other, the people of the region are aware that the identity of the master of the White House concerns them. Joe Biden is something and Donald Trump is something else; although the fact that the last say returns to a captain named American interests.


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