West los­ing power, in­flu­ence

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS -

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”.

PIC­TURE: MASI LOSI

FRANK TALK: Am­bas­sador of Rus­sia Mikhail Pe­trakov ad­dressed the Na­tional Press Club in Pre­to­ria this week about how Rus­sia per­ceives the world to­day.

SHANNON EBRAHIM

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