Fair Observer: Best of the Month

Fair Observer's five best articles of October.

The US has long seen itself as “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” The Statue of Liberty has long been an icon that has defined the country. 

Yes, there are warts in this myth. The Native Americans were subjugated; African Americans began life as slaves; Japanese Americans were interned; the Philippines was colonized; McCarthy took a leaf out of Stalin in denouncing renegades who did not worship at the altar of capitalism; and the US overthrew elected leaders from Chile to Iran during the Cold War. 

However, despite its warts, liberty is a cardinal value for the US. Therefore, revelations this month that the US has been tapping German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s telephone and monitoring Spanish phone calls is a body blow to US prestige, and raises uncomfortable questions about the role of its infamous National Security Agency (NSA).

The US has changed after September 11, 2001. The terror attacks that day have strengthened what Dwight Eisenhower referred to as the military-industrial complex. 

The so-called “War on Terror” has created a siege mentality in the country. Americans prize safety to an inordinate degree and have avoided any discussion about the tradeoffs between liberty and security. Intelligence activities, such as NSA espionage and military actions such as drone strikes, have been given a carte blanche because they supposedly save the US from terror attacks.

There are three issues that Americans and their political leaders have to address in the light of recent revelations. 

First, Americans have to accept that there has to be a limit to the increase in the power of the state in the pursuit of security. Even if the US had armed guards at every street corner, it still would not be totally safe. Some people in the world are going to be disaffected and are going to be violent. That does not mean the state chips away at individual liberties and marches on to become a police state. American democracy needs a stirring debate on liberty that cannot wait.

Second, the US has to learn to respect national sovereignties if it wants other countries to cooperate with it. Even allies are losing faith in the US. Merkel is well-known to admire the US. She grew up in former East Germany where Stasi, the communist party’s infamous secret police, spied on every citizen and created a country where citizens were afraid of their own shadows. For her to find out that she has been subjected to the same sort of spying by a country she admires is a breach of faith that, in her own words, “will not facilitate cooperation.” Still enervated Europe is likely to moan but go along with US actions. 

Countries like Brazil are a different proposition. Last month, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff cancelled her US trip after revelations about American espionage on her country. This action was unprecedented and did not gain the media attention it deserved.

Rousseff's protest is an indicator of things to come, however. As revelations about espionage come out, even leaders who are pro-American will be pressured by their electorates to take a stand against Big Brother Uncle Sam. In a world that requires closer cooperation to tackle global challenges such as the environment and the economy, distraction and friction are undesirable. Therefore, the US has to rein in the NSA when it comes to spying on other world leaders.

Finally, the US has to come clean about its transgressions and admit fault. If the NSA has been stealing secrets from Petrobas, the Brazilian oil giant, or tapping foreign leaders such as French President Francois Hollande, Barack Obama should simply apologize. 

The debate over whether Obama knew about the spying is not germane because as the Commander-in-Chief, he is responsible for it. In the age of Wikileaks and Edward Snowden, details about espionage are bound to get out and any cover-up will inevitably fail. An apology would be a good start to putting the past behind and restoring trust in the US.

Around the World

Whilst NSA spying has been taking center stage, some significant developments have occurred in October. New Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is attempting rapprochement and the International Atomic Energy Agency is upbeat about its talks with Iran. At the same time, Iran’s talks with the US, Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany — referred to P5+1 because the first five are permanent members of the UN Security Council and wield the veto power — are going well. Finally, a diplomatic solution to Iran’s three-decade-long faceoff with the US might be starting to enter the realms of possibility. 

Meanwhile in India, Raghuram Rajan, the University of Chicago economist who has taken over as India’s central banker, has hiked interest rates and brought long-needed clarity to Indian monetary policy. After the calamitous slide that has led to the fall of the rupee from around 40 to over 60 to a dollar, Rajan seems to have stemmed the tide by focusing on fighting inflationary expectations. 

In China, Typhoon Fitow hit Fujian causing the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people; a deadly car crash took place in the iconic Tiananmen Square; and corruption continued to be in focus with three anti-corruption campaigners put on trial. 

What is most worrying about the Asia Pacific is Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s declaration that Japan will “stand up to China.” At heart is the bitter history between the countries and tiny islands in the East China Sea. The most recent controversy is whether Japan shot down Chinese drones. Beijing says that if Japan did so, then it is “an act of war.”  So, the saber-rattling continues and tensions simmer in East Asia.

Major developments have occurred in other parts of the world. Brazil will soon start exporting cheap vaccines to other emerging economies; Argentine President Cristina Fernandez suffered a long overdue electoral setback; and Cuba is going to scrap its failed two currency system where one is pegged to the US dollar and the other is practically worthless. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin has welcomed everyone to next year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, regardless of their sexual orientation. The US clearly did not learn from Putin and detained a senior leader of the African National Congress (ANC), Tokyo Sexvale, at an airport in New York because he is on some list of terrorists. 

This brings into limelight the definition as to who is a terrorist. The US until not too long ago considered most leaders of the ANC and many anti-apartheid campaigners to be terrorists. Nelson Mandela was only taken off the terrorist list by former President George W. Bush in 2008. Unsurprisingly, the US media, including marquee names such as The New York Times, did not think Sexvale’s detention merited attention. That has to change if Americans are to regain the trust of the world.

Please find below our best articles for the month and let us know how we can do better.

1: Boys, Too: The Forgotten Stories of Human Trafficking — Elliot Glotfelty

An often overlooked component of the sex industry in Asia is the male sex trade.

2: If Torture Works, Is It Wrong? — David Fisher

Is the US willing to accept the moral consequences of a society that institutionalizes torture?

3: Memo to NYT: Be Less Imperial, Be More Honest — by Atul Singh & Mayank Singh

Gardiner Harris reports about riots in India with classic imperial prejudice.

4: Egypt’s Charade Of Progress — Al-Sharif Nassef

Achieving genuine progress in Egypt does not mean imposing restrictions.

5: Whose Porn, Whose Feminism? — Maya Shlayen

“Feminist porn” is not compatible with feminism.

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