The world can no longer remain coy in the face of war: the United States is a bully and we must stand up to it
The rise of the United States empire has not been good for humankind. Since the US became the de facto world ruler, there are always wars that in one way or another involve the entire world, not just skirmishes between two countries. All global institutions established to pursue peace and advance global prosperity have been infected and damaged by America’s self-centred leadership.
Although the US posits itself as a reluctant ruler, history paints a different picture. We are led to believe that after World War I, the US reverted to the Monroe Doctrine. The doctrine was put forward by president James Monroe in 1823, and is against European colonialism in the Western Hemisphere and that intervention in the Americas could be regarded as a hostile act against the US.
But the US never closed itself off; it essentially bullied France, Spain and Portugal out of their colonies in Central and South America, as well as in South East Asia and Japan, so that the US was economically, politically and socially in control of those regions.
The US is given saviour status because it apparently rescued Europe in both World War I and II. Despite the US fundamentally dominating the world since World War II, it comes across as an insecure and paranoid leader. The US is a modern-day example of the Shakespearean adage of “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown”, seeing plots and daggers where there are none. The US operates as if it is in a constant phase of war.
The problem is that US domination of the United Nations-centred multilateral system is not only regarded as normal but we are led to believe that if the US was not in charge, the world would be at the mercy of bad people.
For all his drawbacks, former American president Donald Trump was at least honest. He put forward the view that all countries must negotiate directly with the US on how they want to be treated while they took into account that the US is the world’s leader. Trump wanted to pull the US out of any war or occupation it was a part of. He refused to begin another war, most notably not advocating for Ukraine to join Nato and force Russia into a war. Trump was actually good for world peace, and that is why the hegemonic powers in the US got rid of him. When Joe Biden was elected US president, one of the first things he did was to restart the geoeconomic designs they had in the Ukraine, because the military-industrial complex is central to how the US operates both domestically and internationally, where every region is an opportunity for American greed.
Recently South Africa was falsely accused by the US ambassador to South Africa, Reuben E. Brigety II, of surreptitiously loading arms onto the Russian cargo ship, Lady R. Let’s say for argument’s sake that South Africa’s floundering state-owned arms industry did sell arms to Russia and tried to quietly load it onto the cargo ship, because South Africa needed the money and it knew that if it was known it would be embarrassing for it to admit that. But would that give the US the right to block South Africa, to interfere in its internal politics, to “polecat” it in the eyes of the world, and maybe even push for a violent overthrow of the democratically elected government, if they were re-elected in the 2024 elections?
But this is exactly how the US operates in the world. It runs roughshod over all international bodies if it does not get its way. It changes the rules of engagement at a whim. We were told that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin must be tried for war crimes because Russian troops removed children from an area in Ukraine to Russia before they bombed it. Now, even though Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu is charged with fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes, we are told that Israel has the right to defend itself even when it has killed more than 3 000 children in Gaza.
The US decides which vehicle it should use for yet more death and destruction. In Ukraine, as in Iraq and Afghanistan, the vehicle is Nato,. In Palestine, the US ensures the UN remains powerless while American weapons are used to kill Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.
South Africa hosted the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) forum while the death toll mounted in Palestine, with South Africa being clear that Israel is the perpetrator. The forum seemed to be held in an atmosphere of American belligerence, reminding all that it was doing Africa a favour. Even before the forum the US was already threatening certain African countries with expulsion from Agoa.
Agoa is not a trade agreement, it is a political agreement that gives African countries preferential access to the US market and certain African countries’ goods are not subject to duty fees. The US can decide which countries can benefit from their goods being exempted. In the case of South Africa, the benefit is negligible. The country’s total exports in 2022 was R1.8 trillion of which exports to the US was R62 billion. Through Agoa these goods were exempted from excise duties, with the actual benefit a measly R1.9 billion. On the flipside SA has to allow substandard American chicken into the country, which damages our poultry industry. But the real harm is that if the US does not agree with any view held by South Africa, then it can use the threat of expulsion from Agoa as a stick.
Months before the forum, in the light of the Lady R fiasco and South Africa remaining non-aligned, the country was warned by both local and US commentators that it risked being ejected from Agoa.
Relative to many other countries, South Africa supposedly has congenial relations with the US. Biden was an outspoken supporter of the anti-apartheid movement. But even the Biden administration bullies South Africa, so imagine countries who are on their wrong side?
In the 2003 movie, Love Actually, Hugh Grant plays the role of the British prime minister and panders to the American president’s ego and ignores his boorishness. Grant’s character realised that if he did not stand up to the US president, he would lose the woman he loves and the British people would be expected to give more and more.
There will never be peace in our world if the US remains in charge. We can expect more atrocities committed against Palestinians or anyone else the US does not like. The more we pander to its fragile ego, the more demanding it will become. Nothing will satiate its appetite for power and control. Our lives are expendable.
We need to bully this bully.
Donovan E Williams is a social commentator.