No country, whether large or small, fears the threats or intimidations of the United States of America any longer, after evidence of grave hesitation in its international policies. This is true for a variety of countries, from Russia to China; and even Myanmar, this small country that most people are incapable of locating on the world map.
Let us start with Russia, the United States’ biggest rival. The Pentagon says that it was shocked by Russia’s recent achievement of military superiority over all NATO countries combined; this at a time when the United States has neglected its military programmes. Thus, Russia has been openly defying America and its allies while continuing its military provocations towards America. So what, you may ask, has Moscow done recently? It has placed its long-range missiles in places close to the United States and its allies and its friends, in the Gulf of Mexico, Canada and the former Soviet states. It sent warships near Australia during the G20 summit there, which was attended by the Russian president. Russian military forces have also moved into eastern Ukrainian territory. All these moves have led Western-Russian relations to their lowest level since the collapse of the Soviet Union. But all that the United States and NATO have managed as a response was to impose economic sanctions. And the Americans are now wondering: are the Russians on the way?
China, on the other hand, is challenging the United States with its weapons, creating an imbalance of power in Asia in its favour, through its huge build-up of weapons, which is stoking the fears of Washington and the West. Reports show that China has stepped up its aggression as it strives to expand its scope of control. It shows off strategic, high-tech weapons that were never part of its arsenal before; while American military strength, by America’s own admittance, is declining. Washington fears that China might defeat it if conflict ever broke out between them.
As for Myanmar, this isolated state which President Barack Obama recently visited, it has shattered his hopes of transforming it into an ally in Asia, hopes of even turning it into a democratic state after fifty years of military rule. He found that it had backtracked on its initial reforms and the pledges which had earned it special privileges and exemptions from sanctions. Obama lost all the cards which he had bet on Myanmar, counting on it as a regional partner in the framework of his Asian strategy to try to limit China’s influence.
Between Russia at the top of the ladder and Myanmar at the bottom, we find many countries that have rebelled against American influence, rejected its commands and ignored its threats, choosing instead to give priority to their own interests, whatever the cost. Here, Egypt comes at the top of the list. The United States doesn’t care for Egypt anymore; on the contrary, it has become much more careful with Egypt nowadays, and that is not to mention the “Islamic State” organisation in this context! This johnny-come-lately terrorist gang has no clear origins that make sense to anyone. Mind you, we do not compare it here to any nation-state, no matter how small; only to say that it has revealed the true extent of America’s weakness. Washington admits to not being able to face the Islamic State, even in spite of the alliance comprised of fifty states it gathered to participate in the war against it. And now the Pentagon is asking for 80,000 additional troops and more international cooperation in this war.
It is clear that many things have changed for America. Perhaps it started with the events of 9/11, that Washington began wandering and hesitating. It tried a war in Afghanistan, followed by one in Iraq. It suffered one defeat after another in Iraq. It became unable to make sound decisions. Many countries now defy it, sometimes intimidating it, sometimes downright scaring it.
Salwa Habib is a senior columnist and an expert on Egyptian-American relations.