By Paolo von Schirach
September 15, 2012
WASHINGTON – Regarding the repeated violent attacks against US Embassies in several Arab countries, the official US Government position, according to Jay Carney, White House Press Secretary, is that this whole mess is the result of the circulation on the Internet of a short US made video clip considered to be anti-Islam blasphemy by pious Muslims around the world. As this is outside government control, nothing we can do about it, is the implicit message. Nothing much that Washington can do to counter any of this. End of story.
Anti-American rage caused entirely by a video clip?
Really, that’s it? Let me get this straight. On one side we have the United States Government, the world superpower, with its global influence, foreign aid packages, political, military, direct investment and trade engagements with the Arab World aimed at creating strong relations based on trust, economic growth and what not, and on the other side we have an obscure offensive film.
By stating that this amazing wave of anti-American rage, with four diplomats (including the Ambassador) killed in Libya, is caused entirely by one solitary video clip produced by obscure American film makers nobody has ever heard about, the White House is also saying that in our relations with the Arab World one single video clip, produced and circulated by private individuals with no connection with, let alone endorsment from, the US Government is more powerful than the entire might of America and the policy apparatus of the US Government.
This is really a major official statement of American impotence. The White House tells us, at least indirectly, that US foreign policy, with all its might and resources, cannot prevail against the head wind of anti-Americanism caused by just one single item totally unknown within the United States deemed to be offensive by pious Muslims. So, this is the message from Washington to the American public and to the world: “If something from America, no matter how small and irrelevant, offends Muslims, this is what happens: riots, American diplomats killed, Embassies under attack, US flags burned. Sorry folks, nothing we can do about it”.
How can this be? I see at least two possibilities.
–Scenario Number 1: America has lost so much of its old power and credibility vis-a-vis the Muslim World that, no matter how much it tries to engage, (with development assistance, military relations, investments, cultural exchanges), it fails, because nobody takes it seriously anymore.
–Scenario Number 2: the Arab societies are in such chaos and turmoil now that not even mighty America can sway them. America, with all its military and civilian aid, its diplomatic and business relations assets is just incapable to affect development in these messed up societies. If they choose to be offended by the slightest US-made event, nothing that Washington can do to convince them otherwise.
Well, actually, there may be a third scenario:
–The Arab societies transitioning from autocracies to who knows what are indeed messed up and therefore difficult to engage with. At the same time, a diminished and semi-impoverished America (whose governments used to support the old dictators) has very little residual credit with these new governments and societies. In fact, America is now their enemy of choice, (at least for large segments of these populations) and it is routinely accused of all sorts of sinister plans and plots. Therefore all American assets and symbols of American power, (like our Embassies) are far game each and every time anything at all considered as an offense comes from America.
If this is indeed so, even taking into account the exceptional turmoil caused by unprecedented changes affecting Arab societies now stumbling about and may be missing entirely the high road that leads to real modernity, America has lost the ability to influence governments, public opinion in other countries and major events.
Worse yet, many do not care at all about the consequences of inflicting injury to America, as most likely there will be none. If this is so, there can be only one conclusion: America is no longer a super power. Pax Americana is finished; while savvy policy makers around the world start taking their cues from other, in their eyes more relevant, actors. Very sad, but true.