The disconnect between American Ideals and reality

THE US is the world’s most powerful country. Its pre-eminence remains unchallenged for now. However, it suffers from a curious case of amnesia: it is long on everything but short on historical memory. The State Department’s statement on Kashmir is an example. If the department’s spokesperson is to be believed America has washed its hands of the Kashmir dispute. He has said that it is up to India and Pakistan to resolve the dispute.

This indicates that the Obama administration either does not understand or has deliberately obscured the nature of the dispute. The dispute over Kashmir is not a dispute over a piece of territory. It is about the will and aspirations of a people to determine their future. It is about freedom and liberty.

These two ideas are, according to the US itself, the country’s foundational principles. But the US is forsaking these for a narrow interest, a power-based foreign policy and diplomacy.

The nature of the US and the image it wants to present to the world is that of a country which stands for freedom and liberty. I drew my understanding of the country from my first visit there. The image of the Statue of Liberty at Liberty Island in New York Harbour had me transfixed. My blood started racing and my heart pounded wildly. I was told by my hosts that the statue was the ideal that the US stood for. It was a beacon of hope for the downtrodden and the hopeless. My American friends told me about freedom and liberty and how their lives stood enriched by these. This made me dream. I too had the audacity of hope. I recollect encouragement of this dream by US officials.

I was encouraged to give up the armed struggle in favour of a peaceful struggle. I was offered support by the country’s top officials for this transformation. I was told Americans stand by their promises but after years, the country’s administration distanced itself from the dream they sold me.

I am no expert on world politics or geopolitics but now am able to understand the United States’ policy changes.

America’s forward policy during the late ’80s and even the early ’90s was the rollback of communism, and its foreign policy was based on the ‘domino theory’ and preventing ‘proxy wars’ from presenting a threat to US interests. Pakistan and to an extent Kashmir assumed significance for the US. Also, there was the issue of the breakup of the former USSR and of containing its fallout. The US interest then was Afghanistan as the pivot of the strategy against the former USSR. We became pawns in a greater game, but as idealists and believers in the ideals of the US, we believed the country’s representatives.

I know that nation states base their foreign policies on interests. I am wiser now. Interests co-evolve with the structural conditions of world politics and security. I know and understand the nature of world politics now is against the idea and concept of self-determination, freedom and liberty. It is about power and interest.

I know that the Middle East must occupy the country’s strategists nowadays, along with Russia, India and China and so on. I know the global economy from which the US draws maximum leverage needs countries like India and China to sustain it. I know economies are interrelated these days and the US would want to have stability in this economically interdependent world. But, all these are management issues. They are not issues that the United States as a Great Power can solely base its foreign policy on. Further, world politics is ever changing: the former USSR, once a superpower, is no more. New conditions and powers emerge and with these new issues. Will the US then change its course and stance when they do? Will it come back to us?

Interest- and power-based foreign policies are state-centric policies that can build power bases of states but they generally trample upon the rights of people. Examples of this are evident all over the world. The past two decades have seen the climax of these policies in the form of violence in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Europe and elsewhere.

South Asian security may not be as important to the US as it was. Kashmir may not be a hot security issue and the most dangerous place in the world any more in the country’s security considerations. But, it is not advisable to believe that the region including Afghanistan is settled. The region’s geo-political and security dynamic could change.

Change is the only constant in nation states’ policies. Regional states including Pakistan are no exception to it. When the regional dynamic changes, the US will face a different South Asia. US policymakers, by ignoring this, seem to have forgotten the politics of linkage.

The interests of nations evolve. With these evolve their foreign policies but there is always a thread — the thread of morality and ethics — that remains. Small nations might not integrate ethics and morality in their foreign policies but great nations like the US do, or should.

The country should stay true to its ideals. History is not determined by interests and power but by ideals and ideas. We are all travellers on this earth. We too will pass but ideas will remain. The most powerful ideas of our times are freedom, liberty and self-determination. Great powers rise and fall but ideas have a longevity that transcends time and spans generations.

The germ of the idea of freedom and liberty has been sown in my land. It will sprout one day. But it may then be too late for the US to be on the right side of history. It will have chosen interest and power but history will have settled on freedom. The US will have, however, contravened the ideals of Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers of the great country who said, “the last hope of human liberty in this world rests on us. We ought, for so dear a stake, to sacrifice every attachment and every enmity”. 

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