The uber-liberal Brookings Institute has just put forward a series of rationals for US world leadership which, in all logic, would force it to review its condemnation of domestic authoritarianism. Brookings claims that:
“The world needs a leader to undergird its security and its economic order, lest the jungle of chaos and competition that has characterized so much of world history return.”
Surely, the same can be said about domestic politics: ‘Are not Neo-liberal democracies characterized by the very same ‘jungle of chaos and competition’ that it ascribes to the international system?
According to Brookings:
Because of its size, geography, melting-pot character, democracy and constitutional principles, the United States is the only serious candidate for the job at this moment in history.
Isn’t this like saying that authoritarian leaders come to power tanks to their superior leadership qualities? ‘Authoritarians’ can be in the game mainly for the selfish reasons — power and money — often imputed to those who head liberal systems. However the ‘free’ West condemns only those who are committed to principles such as equity and fairness.
We (the US) are a deeply flawed leader. But the alternative is much worse—largely because there is no plausible alternative.
That hubristic assertion echoes Margaret Thatcher’s signature justification for the authoritarian steps that she took.· “People will say: ‘I’m homeless, the government must house me.’ They’re casting their problem on society. [But] there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. There is no such thing as ‘society’.”
TINA, ‘there is no alternative’ [to austerity] followed logically from that credo. But there is no alternative to US hegemony ONLY if we reject the socialist ethos, which is based on two overarching principles: peace between nations, with disagreements resolved through negotiations and equity among individuals with government picking up the solidarity ensured in simpler times by neighbors and family.
Brookings assumes it does not need to prove America’s superiority, but if pressed, it would claim that it is more democratic than, say, France (or even Great Britain, home of the thirteenth century Magna Carta). Most Americans ignore the fact that there is not a whit of truth in this statement, neither in spirit nor in practice. These countries are our allies because they are considered to be democratic….)
Taking Brookings’ other justifications one by one:
The ‘melting pot’: It is not smooth sailing: Japanese Americans were interned during World War II because the government feared they would support the enemy, while due to their greater numbers, most German-Americans and Italian-Americans were ‘simply’ surveilled.
2. ‘Size’: Russia is much bigger than the US.
3. ‘Geography’: Presumably, Brookings is referring to the fact that the US fronts on the two main oceans. However, according to the early twentieth century British geographer Sir Halford Mackinder’s Heartland Theory, currently being revived, the World Island is the most valuable piece of real estate on the planet, encompassing Europe, Russia, China, India, and the Middle East, and linked to Africa via the Mediterranean Sea, with Russia as its ‘Heartland’. Mackinder’s theory, enunciated before World War I was “who controls Eastern Europe controls the Heartland”, and he proved prescient not once but twice. After medieval incursions by the Teutonic Knights and Napoleon, no Western invader has conquered Russia, whose close alliance with China today protects its rear.
4. ‘Democracy’: At a time when most countries in the world consider themselves to be democracies, while the US illustrates the fact that democracy too has serious flaws, Brookings shores up this assertion wby referring to ‘constitutional principles’ — whatever that means. As the recent mid-term election just demonstrated, the principles laid out in the American constitution are challenged in myriad ways, often successfully, starting with those used to prevent certain categories of people from voting.
Let’s now consider the ‘authoritarian rulers’ decried by the American establishment by looking at trajectories of countries under their rule. The Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte is the poster child for the evils of authoritarianism, and his Wiki confirms that he is a rough and tumble ruler. Apparently, he is so disgusted with the state of his country that he considers no means out of bounds to reform it, including shooting drug dealers in cold blood.
It was Teddy Roosevelt who brutally conquered the Philippines in the early twentieth century, and it has continued to be treated more or less as a colony, which is why Duterte is openly abandoning the US for Russia and China — two other ‘authoritarian’ regimes. It is worth noting, however, that each of their leaders can convincingly declare themselves to be ‘the best persons to lead their respective countries. And it would be difficult to deny that Presidents Xi and Putin have succeeded in ‘getting things done’ — to use a hackneyed political expression which in the US has become mostly aspirational. China has pulled the biggest percentage of people out of poverty, and Vladimir Putin has transformed Russia from a rusty Soviet state to a modern country that more often than not reaches its development goals.
The world has come a long way since the days when all-powerful kings threw their opponents in prison without trial, or had their heads chopped off. Although ‘authoritarians’ are routinely accused of disappearing journalists or political opponents, it was the United States that invented ‘renditions’, and set up a prison on land belonging to a foreign nation for those accused of terrorism — but rarely tried.
The principal difference between ‘authoritarians’ and democratically elected leaders over credible opponents is that the former generally seek power in order to serve their people better than their predecessors, full stop. Liberal elected leaders too are often motivated by a desire to make their countries ‘better’, however they have a more difficult time achieving results, due to ‘the jungle of chaos and competition that characterizes’ nation-states as well as the international arena.
The election of Donald Trump stands as the biggest failure of democracy in history, and yet, America’s foremost journalists appear to believe that he could be elected to a second term. Compare this to French General Charles de Gaulle — who is emulated by current President Macron, and who gave the Fifth Republic a powerful presidency, the Fourth Republic having had 24 governments in eleven years. At that time, scarcely anyone accused him of being an ‘authoritarian’, even when he took France out of NATO and bolstered her nuclear capabilities. Still today, he is referred by many. (Macron’s initial warmth toward Trump is based on the fact that both have authoritarian tendencies, however while Trump is obsessed with ‘Making America Great Again’ the French President is putting forward a plan to overhaul the French Constitution, while campaigning with Germany to make Europe independent from the US.
The bottom line, Brookings’ assertions to the contrary, is that few countries are now inclined to follow the US: rather, they are determined to pick up the pieces left by its ‘leadership’.
Deena Stryker is an international expert, author and journalist that has been at the forefront of international politics for over thirty years, exlusively for the online journal “New Eastern Outlook”.