US Foreign Policies a Comedy of Costly Errors

Opinion by Karanja Mbugua, The Nation (Nairobi), 11 June 2001

When a United States jury convicted several suspects in connection with the 1998 bombing of American embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam recently, that ruling had to be headline news here in Kenya. With more than 200 people dead and thousands injured, Kenyans felt the full impact of the bomb blast more than anyone else.

But when the international media relayed that information to the world, it gave more prominence to the 12 Americans who died in the blast.

Those familiar with the Western media know that its reports about Africa are always tinged with ethnocentric strains of arrogance and contempt for Africans.

In this country, the ruling came amidst a mounting campaign over compensation claims generated by a two-day visit to the country by US Secretary of State Colin Powell. Though Powell was in Africa to brief Africans on the policies of his boss, Mr George W. Bush, towards the continent and to offer support on the vexing issue of HIV/Aids pandemic, the issues of governance and democracy as well as compensation claims had to arise.

Powell, somehow, avoided the compensation question, but to the victims and to Kenyans at large, this question is too key to be swept under the carpet. The question is predicated on the understanding that the attackers' primary target was the American embassy and Kenyans were hapless victims caught in the crossfire.

Viewed from a broad perspective, the attack was a part of the world-wide offensive against American facilities and military installations outside the United States by disparate groups, notably from the Middle East and the Gulf region, that are dissatisfied with the current geo-political set up and America's role in the new world order. This post-Cold War order is a global system in transformation, sometimes referred to as the neo-liberal period, and popularly as globalisation.

The main vision that drives this system is that of the dominant powers of the world led by the United States and actively supported by the European Union and Japan.

This vision represents the dominant capital interests, the transnational corporations, and its fundamental doctrine is the exclusive rule of the markets. This unipolar vision of the world is imposed on the developing countries like Kenya through World Bank and IMF reform conditions. The World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the Multilateral Agreement on Investments (MAI) represent this point-of-view.

The political container of this economic vision is multiparty democracy, while the military organ is the American might and the expanding North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato). The administration that Powell serves has made this clear in its military policies, while Nato has been absorbing new members from former Warsaw Pact countries.

The main problem with this vision is that while it expands and strengthens the capital base of the Western transnational corporations, it reduces the rest of the world, particularly developing countries, into mere consumers of Western products.

The unipolar vision of the future has generated resistance in various parts of the world. In Africa, resistance has not coalesced into a serious mass movement, but there are groups in civil society and political parties that are advocating a new wave of popular discontent to change things at home and, hopefully, contribute toward shifting the balance of forces at the international level.

In Europe, various movements, including the Greens, Freedom parties, feminists and centre-left political parties have anchored the dissenters.

But it is in the Middle East and the Gulf region that the most rabid anti-American groups flourish. Apart from presenting Islam as an alternative civilisation, these groups are against the patronising manner in which America approaches the rest of the world, the arrogance with which the West handles the Palestinian question and the double standards inherent in American policies in these regions.

One fascinating paradox is that most of these groups have had cosy relations with the US in the recent past. Inconceivable as it may appear now, Saddam Hussein of Iraq was propped up by the US. When America retreated from Iran in disgrace following the ouster of their protege, the Shah, they turned to Saddam with a view to counter-balancing Khomeini in the Gulf.

The Reagan administration armed Saddam with high-technology weapons and looked the other way on chemical weapons and nuclear transfers during the eight-year Iran-Iraq war. Today, America regrets that policy.

And while propping up Saddam, Ronald Reagan supported anti-Soviet rebels in Afghanistan when the Soviet Union invaded that country. Among the rebels were the conservative Talibans and one Saudi Arabian demagogue, Osama bin Laden.

Bin Laden and his Taliban friends were regarded as Mujahidin (holy warriors) as long as the evil empire lasted, as Reagan referred to he Soviet Union.

The Americans thus supplied them with all sorts of sophisticated weapons including the high technology stinger anti-aircraft missiles. But now that the Soviet Union is no more and Afghanistan has become the hotbed of anti-American radicalism, Bin Laden has undergone metamorphosis from holy warrior to a terrorist.

Seen in this broad context then, Kenyans' clamour for compensation is pegged on two crucial points. One, the United States of America is the leading power in the world and the main propeller of the vision that has attracted deadly antipathy. As the main target of terrorist attacks, America has no alternative but to take responsibility for the unintended consequences—destruction and loss of human life.

Two, the so-called terrorists represent the dark side of America's policies abroad, the complex system of errors that plagues the making of American foreign policy, as author James A. Bill, says in his book; The Eagle and the Lion: The Tragedy of American-Iranian Relations.

Come to think of it, Bin Laden, the man America accuses of bombing its African embassies, may be a terrorist now, but he is an off-spring of American leaders. Illegitimate, perhaps, but theirs nonetheless.