Manipal, India — By granting itself a patent on individual freedom combined with democratic elections, the West has persuaded itself that it is seen as a benign entity in the rest of the world -- almost all of which decades ago was occupied and governed by European countries intent on using native resources to promote their own interests.
However, the return of Western soldiery to Afghanistan and Iraq has caused formerly colonized countries to fear that once again they are at risk of occupation. Both Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki have zero control over the militaries swarming across their respective countries, or over many of the functions normally associated with sovereignty. "Advisors" in both Kabul and Baghdad have the final say, a fact that is not hidden from the local populations.
Today, NATO forces in Afghanistan and Coalition troops in Iraq are ensuring a steady increase in the insurgency. George W. Bush, Tony Blair, John Howard, Angela Merkel and other Western leaders have together performed a miracle -- they have made the Saddamites popular in Iraq and the Taliban recover its resonance in Afghanistan.
Because of the melding of the identities of the United States and the European Union into a single "Western" entity, Bush rarely ventures beyond Europe -- and countries with European-origin majorities -- in securing military allies for his numerous military sallies into distant lands. Within the United States, only the west coast has succeeded, to a limited extent, in freeing itself of the delusion that the United States is a European country transplanted across the Atlantic. The South and East are in thrall to a concept of nationhood with a European identity at its core -- a concept expressed in the many writings of Samuel Huntington.
Years ago, when this columnist traveled to Athens, Georgia, to give a talk at the University of Georgia, he noticed that almost all the flags fluttering outside the campus hotel were those of European countries, despite the growing involvement of Asia in U.S. prosperity. While India, for instance, frequently figures in the pantheon of rogue states taking bread from underprivileged U.S. citizens, the reality is that competition from Europe has impacted a higher proportion of skilled jobs within the United States than China.
Oddly, few of the anti-immigration voices in the U.S. media seem to be Native American, the group that has paid an incalculable price because of immigration into what was once their preserve. Nor is there criticism of the growing influx of migrants from the former Soviet bloc, a flood that has clearly escaped the attention of those who seek to block those coming from countries outside the pale.
The U.S. debate is increasingly taking on an "us versus them" quality, with "us" being those of European origin and "them" being the rest. This has long been the timbre of both debate and policy in Europe. The European Union is consciously seeking to make it as difficult as practicable for those outside Europe to live within its boundaries, even while Europeans forage across Asia, Africa and South America in search of jobs. Were, for example, the Arab states to make it as difficult for people from Europe to take up residence in the region as it is for Arab nationals in Europe, several tens of thousands of well-paid expatriates would be on their way home from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and other countries. Should the EU "Europeans only" policy continue, it will not be long before an international backlash against its citizens develops.
The point is that -- unlike the past, when European manufactures and services were perceived as premium -- the constant and often exclusive linkage between the United States and Europe has now become a liability for Washington. Just as the presence of East European troops in Afghanistan rekindled memories of the Soviet invasion, and the entry of British forces to Iraq brought back memories of the country's experience with colonization, the obsessive effort by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to tag along with Europe in U.S. diplomatic operations throughout the world is ignoring the real U.S. strength -- its quadricultural chemistry.
The United States is a nation where the cultures of Africa, Europe, Asia and South America co-exist in a powerful amalgam that gives immense vitality and cachet to what some say is an oxymoron: American culture. Rather than dragging Europe everywhere it goes, the United States needs to expand its bilateral interaction with other continents and seek to forge partnerships with them that could rival and possibly overtake those with Europe. The blinkers created by an obsession with a Europe-centered cultural, strategic and diplomatic identity have already proved immensely costly for U.S. interests.
In Asia, for example, rather than back the non-communist Vietnamese nationalists, the United States swerved to the side of the occupying French, thus giving traction to the Viet Minh. Within the Middle East, the consistent snubbing of Arab nationalists in favor of feudal and religious elements has created a cauldron of hate that has made a U.S. connection the kiss of death for any local leadership. This is now being evidenced in Lebanon, where loathing for Syria has largely been replaced with antipathy toward the United States.
In Africa, U.S. diplomats worked against Nelson Mandela's African National Congress and on the side of the apartheid regime for decades longer than a country such as India, while in the rest of the continent -- as also in South America -- the policies set by Washington have favored Europe-centric elites at the expense of the overwhelming majority of citizens.
Unfortunately for the United States, while most EU members (with exceptions such as the hapless Tony Blair) are proficient in covering up their parochial agendas with red herrings, the much more straightforward approach of the U.S. leadership has enabled the EU members to pose as the "good guys," who constantly seek to restrain the "bad guys" -- namely, the United States. This phenomenon is clearly present in Iran, where the United States, the European Union and several other countries have an identical interest in preventing mastery over the nuclear fuel cycle.
Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention North Korea and Iran, have shown the limits of the self-proclaimed "unipolar" world. The reality is that in this age of the 24-hour news cycle and the instant dissemination of knowledge, no country or bloc has the capability to control events, except in limited circumstances and for a temporary period. Unless the United States finds partners in Asia, Africa and South America, Washington will find its diplomacy frustrated by an absence of local support. If the United States is the spearhead of European civilization, much of the rest of the world will see it as a negative force seeking to block the historic inevitability of emerging equality between peoples and cultures.
-(Professor M.D. Nalapat is vice-chair of the Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair, and professor of geopolitics at Manipal University. ©Copyright M.D. Nalapat.)