West losing power, influence
Other major powers are challenging the belief in its own superiority and sense of messianic purpose
THE WEST still has military might but it is no longer the centre of power and influence that it once was. If anything, the political and economic influence of the Western world is in serious decline, giving way to new emerging centres of power, a number of which are in Asia.
Perhaps this is the natural order of things – the rise and decline of empires which, when on their way down, give space for new and innovative nations to rise.
What we are witnessing in international relations is the West as a collective doing everything in its power to maintain its dominance and shape the global agenda. The problem is that this hegemonic drive brings with it a sense of messianic purpose, whereby the West is seeking to impose its values on the rest of the world, rooted in the belief in its own superiority.
Its messianism, however, is fraught with double standards.
This is where other major powers take issue and challenge such messianism, one in particular being Russia. This week the Russian Ambassador to South Africa Mikhail Petrakov took off his tie and addressed the National Press Club in Pretoria, symbolising his intention to speak frankly and openly with journalists about how Russia perceives the world today.
Petrakov’s analysis was timely, given the raging controversy surrounding allegations that President Donald Trump’s sonin-law, Jared Kushner, had back-channel dealings with Russian diplomats and businessmen. That controversy has more to do with US domestic politics, but also serves to highlight the different paradigms through which the Russians and the Americans view the world.
While the US may be ruthlessly pursuing its mission abroad, imbued with a higher purpose, Petrakov – as one of Russia’s most senior diplomats – sees that mission as having wreaked a trail of devastation on functioning societies, and resulted in massive unnecessary bloodshed.
“The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” I believe he said, although I doubt that the intentions were all that noble to begin with.
As many before him have done, Petrakov pointed to the track record of destruction and hopelessness that the West has exacted on one country after another over the past decade and a half. First it was Iraq, where he points out that all 15 US security services had insisted that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, only for former secretary of state Colin Powell to later admit they had been given wrong information. The admission came a little too late once the country had been decimated.
This week there was another bomb blast in Baghdad, claiming the lives of 27 civilians in an ice cream parlour.
US military intervention in Iraq in 2003 set off a chain of destruction that has brought what was a proud and culturally rich society to its knees. Yes, Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator, but before 2003, Iraq was stable and its people enjoyed a reasonable standard of living, today they know only death and destruction thanks to America’s noble sense of mission, or appetite for oil?
Then there was Libya. As Petrakov pointed out, yes, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi might have been a bad guy and killed a lot of his own people, but the country enjoyed living standards far higher than today, and following Nato’s bombing campaign, how many Libyas do we have today? The West’s notion that you can remove a leader who is unpalatable and all the problems will be solved, is particularly problematic. But it never learns the lesson.
American soldiers stationed in the Middle East had inscribed on their munitions: “Syria, we are coming for you next.” That is exactly what the West did, but through proxies which they trained and armed to unseat Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The highly self-sufficient, notably developed, and historic treasure that was Syria, has been reduced to rubble and marauding extremist militias. Unlike in Iraq and Libya, Assad is still standing despite all the best efforts of Western powers and the Gulf States to unseat him, largely thanks to the support of Russia and Iran.
Again, Assad has plenty of skeletons in his cupboard, or shall we say in the torture chambers that litter his country. But Syria was an amazing country that functioned, and its resilient population survived and flourished despite Western sanctions. Now thousands upon thousands have perished or left their orange life jackets on the shores of Greece as they have fled destruction and misery. How did that Western mission of imposing its values on another country serve the interests of anyone?
The crux of Petrakov’s missal was that none of these actions have been considered a mistake, and there is no introspection on the part of Western powers. There is only self-righteousness. For Russia, the key lesson to be learnt in all of this is that “all nations are equal, and some are not more equal than others”.
FRANK TALK: Ambassador of Russia Mikhail Petrakov addressed the National Press Club in Pretoria this week about how Russia perceives the world today.