America’s Hobson’s Choice

Posted on February 6, 2016 Articles



Unknown to many Pakistanis, Amazon.com recently released a brilliant series called The Man in the High Castle. Based on Philip K Dick’s 1962 novel of the same name, the series quickly became the e-commerce site’s most streamed original series. The beautifully filmed series imagines a dystopian alternative history in which the Axis powers triumphed over the Allies and an ageing Hitler is still alive. The US is shown to have been partitioned into three territories — Pacific States of America ruled by Japan in the west, a Nazi state in the east controlled by Hitler’s Germany and a buffer between the two called the Rocky Mountains states. It is a timely reminder of how dark and terrifying the world could have been had the Second World War been lost by the Allies. Consider just one shocking line from the series: “Tuesdays, they burn cripples, the terminally ill. Drag on the state.”

Around 71 years after the end of the Second World War, America today seems deeply polarised, almost prone to a fracture. And everyone in the world needs to worry about it because no matter how much you deny it, the world order today is built around American power. The unipolarity-multipolarity debate is irrelevant right now because none of the emerging global centres of power are strong enough to supplant America as the sole stabilising force. Russia and China may enjoy a degree of hard power but they lag far behind in the realm of soft power. India’s case seems to be exactly the opposite. Although it is known for its softer image, muscle-wise it still needs work. And with a Hindutva government in place, it risks losing the soft power as well. It is the US, which currently enjoys an ideal balance of both despite mistakes made during the neocon era. In other words, the world still badly needs the US to be strong and influential.

And here lies the actual problem. The real damage to American power was done by the eight years of the Bush-Cheney administration when military adventurism led the sole superpower to what Paul Kennedy calls the imperial overreach. President Obama inherited a badly shaken economy and a tarnished global image from his predecessors. He painstakingly tried to bring things around but the domino effect of bad economic policies and the invasion of Iraq has still not been contained. And during the eight years of the Obama presidency, the hatemongers who had once tried to justify every wrong decision of the Bush administration, turned against the incumbent. Consequently, the Republican half of the country was radicalised and reactionary elements rose within the ranks of the Grand Old Party. If the race for the Republican presidential nomination today is a competition between Ted Cruz (a reactionary who along with Marco Rubio and few others brought the US government to a grinding halt in 2013) and Donald Trump (a man whose policy positions on anything but his desire to capitalise on theatrics and outrage are all but unknown), you don’t need to read tea leaves to divine that something has gone horribly wrong. Recently, I have been repeatedly asked by friends to comment on who will win. My answer invariably has been that I see Hillary Clinton claiming the White House in the end, but by that time, Donald Trump, his Republican competitors and Bernie Sanders would have polarised the American people into two irreconcilable halves with very little space left for the middle ground. And that brings us back to the Man in the High Castle. Two polar opposites and a neutral space, doesn’t it remind you of this very series? I mean who needs Axis powers when Americans can do it to themselves, right?

There is only one candidate who has the experience, the exposure, the wit and the wisdom to tackle challenges facing America today. And she has the potential to create another first in American history after President Obama. But she is in double jeopardy. The ongoing email inquiry threatens to affect her candidature and Sanders’ rising star poses a big challenge too. But Sanders, despite being an admirable man, cannot win the nationwide election. Let us not fool ourselves into believing that the America of today will elect a self-confessed socialist as president. While Democrats need to keep this in mind in choosing their candidate, it is also important that the email inquiry not be allowed to eclipse brighter aspects of Clinton’s candidature. Meanwhile, supporters of Sanders and Republicans should be asking their candidates to bring it down a few notches.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 6th, 2016.