More than Biden or Trump?

Published June 29, 2024
The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.
The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.

WE talk a lot about the state of Pakistan today, and, by and large, it is not encouraging — to put it mildly. We are also part of the larger world and are witnessing the state of ‘the greatest state in the world’, and — to put it mildly — it is not encouraging.

The debate between President Biden and former president Trump was, in the words of one commentator, a match between a derelict and “infirm” Biden and an “unstable” felon, Trump. Accordingly, the world’s mightiest country will be led by someone who is either “not quite there” or someone who is pathologically “reckless”. One can hear the Doomsday Clock tick-tocking towards “midnight”.

The US is politically more polarised than ever. A less polarised and more informed political society might have been expected to moderate the recklessness or compensate for the cluelessness of its leadership. But the American polity is irreconcilably divided between the ‘besotted’ (for Trump) and the ‘haters’ (of Trump) — which renders Biden irrelevant, and yet a possible winner! This is what the US has been reduced to while being the world’s mightiest military and economic power.

Like it or not, the rest of the world has a vital stake in the policies pursued by the US as ‘leader of the free world’. But neither Biden nor Trump measure up to the minimum essentials for such a role. Moreover, the US political process by and large does not take account of the impact of its policies and follies on the rest of the world. This may be true of other countries, but their ability to benefit or harm the rest of the world is relatively limited. So what is to be done if we are to avoid the prospect of the US leading the world over the cliff?

Like it or not, the rest of the world has a vital stake in the policies pursued by the US as ‘leader of the free world’.

Intellectually, answers are available. Instead of the US political process — or rather, its power structure — deciding the fate of the world, the UN Charter and UN decisions should be enabled — with the necessary UN reforms — to play a much greater role in preserving the peace, eliminating poverty and injustice, and combating climate and other challenges to the survival of human civilisation.

However, securing intellectual agreement on such a panacea is far easier than translating it into reality. For a start, this would require democratising the decision-making processes of the UN and its affiliated bodies, which the US and other great powers are anything but willing to contemplate. Nevertheless, the idea of One World, in which we win or lose and live or die together, needs to be promoted with far greater urgency and realism than has been the case.

How might this be possible? Let us resort to childhood imagination and build on old Hollywood movie themes, such as a war of the worlds, etc. Suppose alien intelligent life discovered us and saw our world as an inviting place for conquest and occupation. How would we react to such a palpable threat? Would we, as in the movies, overcome all our divisions and differences to unitedly meet and overcome such a threat? Or would we, in accordance with the prevailing reality, dismiss as juvenile the very idea of making a serious and sincere attempt on a scale and speed that would make a real difference? Can we mimic the movies and bring ourselves to see contemporary existential challenges as we might an alien invasion if it became a reality? If so, we might yet make the right choices in time.

Even so, no one country with all its supposed superlatives is able and wise enough to be the sole leader of such a global undertaking. The current dysfunction of the American political process underscores this fact. It should incentivise the best minds and enablers to come together as never before to meet and overcome these threats. If the US political process can sufficiently buy into this urgent global imperative, it may yet provide a major contribution to such a global endeavour and become worthy of its self-image as a shining City on a Hill.

The price of failure was affordable up until now. This is increasingly no longer the case. One could afford to be sceptical, cynical, lazy, self-centred and self-deluded without having to imminently pay an existential price for such irresponsibility. Accordingly, one could more or less comfortably acknowledge the existential urgency of doing things without bothering to do them — and get away with the hypocrisy. No longer. This insight needs to become an imperative that informs political processes all over the world — and of such processes, arguably none is more important than the dysfunctional one in the US that occupies our screens today. It has facilitated if not promoted the indescribable horrors we are compelled to helplessly bear witness to on a daily basis. Unless such obscenities are immediately and effectively addressed, they will ensure survival imperatives remain helpless cries in the wilderness.

What can Pakistan do? It can be true to itself, which, of course, is easily said but has remained impossible to achieve. Its ‘leaders’ need to do on a national scale what has been suggested is imperative on a global scale. It can try to set an example for the rest of the world as other countries must similarly try to do. Only then will they be able to collectively contain the fatal potential of global realpolitik. Only a realisation that the wolf is at the door can transform counsels of perfection into practical and realistic policies at the national, regional and global levels.

Ironically, the global display of US political dysfunction may yet save the world by highlighting the scale and immediacy of the stakes involved, and thereby compel the country to become something more than Biden or Trump. Otherwise, the rest of the world will have to find ways to survive on their own by cooperatively confronting the US as they would invading aliens.

The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.

ashrafjqazi@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, June 29th, 2024

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