America's Tipping Point
By Abid Mustafa
05 September, 2005
the wake of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina and Bush's inept
response to the unfolding humanitarian crisis in New Orleans, the myth
of America's super power status has been shattered.
A country that prides
itself on its achievements in space, its high-tech weaponry and its
ability to pulverise nations has by all accounts delivered a third world
response to alleviate the painful suffering of its own people. So much
so that America has finally swallowed her pride and asked the EU and
NATO for emergency assistance, requesting blankets, first aid kits,
water trucks and food for the victims of the hurricane.
This is the same
America that claims the higher moral ground over other nations because
America believes she is the harbinger of human rights and equality.
But under her underbelly lurks wanton racism that the world witnessed
through the awful treatment of poor, black Americans who constituted
the vast majority of the victims of the hurricane.
Forget about America
fighting two simultaneous wars in the global arena or her grandiose
desire to reshape the Middle East. America's inability to cope with
a man-made disaster at home and her commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan
has laid bare American exceptionalism and has exposed her
strategic vulnerability before the whole world.
The crisis has thrown
the Bush administration into a quandary over how best to maintain enough
troops in Iraq and Afghanistan to oversee the political process in each
country against the much needed redeployment of US troops and military
assets to aid the relief efforts in Louisiana, Mississippi and other
This has become
America's tipping point and how President Bush deals with the effects
of Katrina at home balanced against American obligations overseas, especially
in the Muslim world will determine the fate of his presidency and America's
position in the world.
It is difficult
to see how President Bush can ignore Katrina's destruction at home.
Initial estimates suggest that some 10,000 people have lost their lives
and more than 500,000 people have been displaced. America will have
to spend billions of dollars to bring some degree of normalcy to the
lives of the survivors. The paltry sum of $10.5 billion offered so far
will have to rise significantly if Bush is serious about accomplishing
The effect on the
American economy has been equally disastrous. Standard and Poor's estimated
that damage from Hurricane Katrina could climb to as much as $50 billion,
once damage to infrastructure such as roads and bridges is taken into
account. The Port of New Orleans is one of the Southern US's
busiest ports and a major oil distribution gateway. The port handles
20% of US exports and will be out of action for several weeks. Katrina
has also shut down 92 percent of Gulf oil production and 83 percent
of Gulf natural gas production, according to U.S. government data. The
Gulf region accounts
for about 25 percent of total U.S. oil production.
The decision by
Bush to release 30 million barrels of crude oil from America's Strategic
Petroleum Reserve and the pledge of 60 million barrels of petroleum
supplies from the International Energy Agency has done little to dampen
the price of crude oil in the international market. Furthermore,
it has had a negligible effect on the price of gasoline at US pumps
which has jumped over $3 a gallon.
To finance the recovery
effort the US government will have to borrow more money from international
creditors. This will not only add to the burgeoning US trade deficit
which stood at $US650 billion in 2004, but also renders the US dollar
more vulnerable to a huge sell off. The implications could be more
catastrophic than the depression of the 1930's.
these difficulties, Bush has to contend with mounting criticism at home.
Questions around the slow response of the federal government, the unpreparedness
of FEMA, the neglect of the Afro-Americans, the insufficient funds to
strengthen the leeves, the absentee of the US National Guard and the
deployment of military personnel and assets in Iraq threaten to become
the bane of his presidency.
The situation in
Iraq and Afghanistan looks no better for President Bush and his corporate
supporters. After having spent $500 billion dollars, America is nowhere
near to controlling the oil wells of Iraq or the Caspian region. Nor
has America made any substantial headway in crafting stable political
solutions for Iraq and Afghanistan.
The ferocity of
the resistance in Iraq and Afghanistan is not only out of control but
threatens to derail the upcoming elections in both countries. Initially,
America was hoping to boost its presence in Iraq with the deployment
of an extra 20,000 troops. But because of Katrina the Pentagon has revised
the figure to 2000 troops for Iraq's October referendum.
At this juncture,
it would be extremely dangerous for America to redeploy her troops and
military assets to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. This
will have profound implications on US standing in the region and beyond.
A substantial withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan will encourage other
centres of power to fill the void left behind.
A retreat from Afghanistan
will spur Russia and China to assert themselves in Central Asia. Securing
the energy reserves of the Caspian Sea and removing American influence
from Central Asia, Caucasus and Baltics will seem more plausible to
Russian and Chinese policy makers. China may even become emboldened
to take back Taiwan.
A withdrawal from
Iraq may well encourage the EU and Russia to finish America's project
of reshaping the Middle East and controlling the region's vast oil and
gas supplies. But perhaps the biggest danger to US hegemony comes from
the emergence of the Caliphate which would spell the end to Western
or Eastern domination of Muslim lands.
In the coming days,
America's friends and foes will be watching this tipping point. The
outcome is no longer in Bush's hands. The American public and the Muslim
ummah are the stake holders now. They will decide America's fate on
the world stage.
Abid Mustafa is a political analyst who specialises in Muslim affairs