About me.

Andrew M. Mwenda is the founding Managing Editor of The Independent, Uganda’s premier current affairs newsmagazine. One of Foreign Policy magazine 's top 100 Global Thinkers, TED Speaker and Foreign aid Critic

Sunday, May 15, 2022

On America’s sense of self

How self-righteousness is far more dangerous than self-interest and leads to human disaster

THE LAST WORD | ANDREW M. MWENDA | Rolling Stone magazine in the U.S. published a story claiming former president Donald Trump wanted to close every embassy in Africa. This is revealed in a new book titled A Sacred Oath by Mark Esper, a former U.S. secretary of Defense under Trump. “Shut down all the embassies in Africa,” Esper quotes Trump as directing, “Bring our people (US diplomats) home.”

It is hard to know for sure whether this accusation against Trump is true or not. The propaganda war against him has been as powerful as that against Russian president Vladmir Putin, over Ukraine. When Western media and those who pull the strings behind it take on a cause, they super saturate it with their views. In such circumstances, it becomes hard to separate fact from fiction. Yet it is possible that Trump would have suggested the closures.

This is where Trump’s erratic behavior had some silver lining. He represented America in its most crude form – without the subtleties of diplomacy, the nuances of propaganda, and the pretentions of its elites. By being crude and crass, Trump left America naked for all to see: its greed, its lack of empathy, its intolerance of dissent, its bullying, its racism, its inequality, its arrogance, its disregard of other people’s views and feelings, its misguided and hypocritical self-righteousness that have caused mayhem in many countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and Libya.

America’s ruling elites have a particular world view: they see their country as an “indispensable nation” which “stands taller and sees further” (to use the words of former secretary of state, Madeleine Albright) and which has a right and a responsibility to run the world according to its fancies.

For instance, Americans believe that their system of government, liberal democratic capitalism, is not just the best form of organising U.S. affairs, but is actually universal and should be adopted by every country in the world regardless of circumstances. Yet there is little in U.S. history to show that liberal democracy protects people from the worst forms of human degradation and depravity.

America was born a “liberal democracy.” Yet for the first 90 years from the declaration of independence, which clearly stated that “all men are born equal,” it kept its black population as slaves. This happened in spite of an “independent” judiciary, powerful legislature, a multiparty form of government, a free press, vibrant civil associations and actually slavery in did not end through that nation’s democratic process but during a civil war through the Emancipation Proclamation issued by a president using martial law.

Even after freeing slaves, America’s liberal democracy established an apartheid system to govern its black population which lasted 100 years till 1965. During this time, there was “convict leasing” where black people would be taken to jail on flimsy reasons and forced to labour for free. Since the 1970s, and in spite of “liberal democracy” America has established mass incarceration to keep black people and Latinos in their place – as second-class citizens.

Yet black people in America have been lucky. White America wanted their labour, the better to allow their population to grow. This was not the case with native Americans, the original occupants of that land. White America laid a claim to their land. To expropriate it, it had to exterminate them. Hence during its expansion, America committed one of the largest and most sustained genocides in human history – against native Americans. The few that remain today are second class citizens who live in native reserves, not much different from South African Bantustans. There they have no constitutional protections and live as wards of Congress.

Yet in spite of all these, Americans have a very flattering view of themselves, their government and their political system. They expect other countries to see America as it sees itself. As I have grown older listening to Americans lecture other people about their evils, I wonder what is different between Adolf Hitler’s NAZI Germany and America? What did Hitler do to Jews that America did not do to its black population in terms of legalised discrimination? And what did Hitler do in terms of mass extermination to Jews that America did not do to native Americans?

America’s self-righteousness is the stuff that makes a Josef Stalin, an Adolf Hitler and a Mao Zedong. America may not have produced such a psychopath in an individual leader. And that is what makes it more dangerous. A psychopathic leader can die or be removed from office. America’s evils are built in its political institutions so that in spite of changes of government, its actions remain the same.

The U.S. government has done everything these like Hitler and Stalin did. It seems to me that America’s evils are hidden by its control of the instruments of mass propaganda. Collective actions of its elites have produced and sustained genocide, slavery, apartheid, mass incarceration, endless wars, climate disaster, state collapse and chaos etc.

For instance, one gets the sense that America’s foreign policy makers and their large choir of media praise singers see NATO expansion as an effort to spread democracy and security in Eastern Europe. But Russia, China, Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, India, Pakistan and many nations around the world do not see it this way. Russia sees it as encirclement. What did Russia do to instigate this? What is the raison detre for NATO expansion anyway? Whom is it aimed at?

So American foreign policy elites are baffled that the Russians (and the Chinese, Iranians etc) do not see America as a benign hegemon sent by providence to save the world. The delusion among America’s ruling elites that their country is a benevolent hegemon with a messianic mission to reshape the world in America’s image is a danger to world peace. It blinds America’s foreign policy makers from seeing international affairs from the perspective of other countries and therefore be able to anticipate their possible reactions to U.S. policies, actions, activities and intentions.

Policy makers need to try and stand in the shoes of other people and try to see things in their perspective. That makes policy making capable of anticipating other people’s reactions thereby helping them to make policy based on avoiding dangers or at least addressing contingencies that may emerge. The consensus among America’s ruling elites that their country is the world’s messiah has drowned out alternative views and stifled honest debate about U.S. foreign policy. Without alternative views, how liberal or democratic is the system then?


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