The short answer is “Not at all”. Some might even consider it a waste of time going any further to explain why. But since the next presidential election in the greatest country on Earth is, in large part, going to be decided on that same question, I see a compelling reason to go a step further to explain why in all its ramifications. I might also add that the answer to that question has become a self fulfilling prophesy when you recall the horrible event of 9/11, and how Americans and their Governments at City, State and Federal levels are doing their utmost and working together, day and night, to avoid a reoccurrence in the foreseeable future.
It goes without saying, therefore, that all the measures being taken at all levels of Government, but more so by the newly created Department of Homeland Security, all point to the fact that the country can no longer be presumed to be as safe as she ever was, even at the height of the cold war when the American Presidents of that era went everywhere carrying a brief case that was believed to contain a decoder for timely response in the event of a nuclear attack. Even after the home grown terror unleashed on the nation at Oklahoma City by Timothy Macveigh, a few years back, the feeling of insecurity that had enveloped the nation was never, at any point, as poignant and traumatic as it is today. Americans now instinctively know that all is not well with America’s image and reputation abroad, and America’s preparedness in the event of, God forbid it, another attack.
Gone were those days when Americans take pride in displaying our passports or flying American flags at the Olympic Games, at World Soccer competitions, at Wimbledon and the French Open, talk less of the US Open, and other world events. To clearly demonstrate the feeling of insecurity that has taken hold of America from coast to coast, an order was recently issued to the American Committee of the next Olympic Games in Athens to drastically cut down on American competitors celebrating their victories and national pride, by waving American flags all over the stadium like they used to. The purpose is to avoid making such men and women a possible target of terrorism outside America. If you don’t see that as indicative of fear and a general feeling of embattlement and insecurity, you have got to be living on the Moon. America can no longer claim to be strong at home and respected abroad. If you accept that as the gospel truth, your simple answer to the question posed in this article has got to be a resounding “No”.
America, the Beautiful, America the Land of the Pilgrim Fathers, America, the one and only super power and the Leader of the Free World has come a long way for sure. It has come to mean so much to the world. You don’t have to be American to be concerned about America, because America impacts the world like no other country in this Universe. The answer to the question posed in this article is therefore of universal appeal to all of mankind. It is in the interest of the world to know if America is safer today, than it has ever been in her amazing history and evolution as one hell of a country, self confident, rich in cultural diversity, and great in achievement, but greater still in promise, because as they always say in America, the best is yet to come. America is, without any doubt, a microcosm of the world, and it shows in the ways Americans talk and behave, and in the ways American project themselves around the world. Before my first visit to America in 1969, and as a young boy growing up in Nigeria in the early 50s I used to think of Americans, whether black or white, as giants as I have never seen a short American. The first time I saw a midget here, I was in denial that he could not possibly be an American. I thought Americans are never made that way. I was not alone in that mindset. Much of the third world view Americans in the caricatures of a John F. Kennedy or a Ronald Reagan, or a Collin Powell and Jesse Jackson.
They view America as clearly more than a country. She is so many countries rolled into one by a cluster of democratic values and ideals never before seen in this planet. Those ideals conceived by the founding fathers, properly defined and articulated and distilled by great minds like Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, to mention a few, and refined and passed on from one generation to another, with a view to making the union more perfect. Those ideals have laid a rock-solid foundation for America that has become the envy of the whole of mankind. It does not matter whether you like or hate America. What you cannot do, is totally ignore America. Whether America is safe or not, she is one country that has kept attracting more and more people to her shores from the rest of the world, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year, because America has come to symbolize power and impregnability both in its military and economic power, and more so in her hip-hop culture and her technological breakthrough, creativity and world acclaimed resourcefulness.
Does it therefore mean that America was an Eldorado? Not by a long shot. But America as Mohammed Ali used to say, is still the greatest. Ask anybody today from the third world, the American visiting visa or green card not to talk of her citizenship, plus all the rights and privileges that come with it, are seen around the world as a priceless jewel of inestimable value that many in the third world can kill to obtain or acquire, regardless of whether America is safe or not. We all know that the feeling of vulnerability that Americans project today, are all anchored, in large part, on the transient policies of the current Government in power. You change those policies and those who initiated them, you restore a new image that is likely to improve American standing in the world. Changing the Administration and its policies may not instantly remake America or end some of her glaring excesses or mistakes caused by too much freedom. It may, at least, put back in power leaders that understand that America’s power has little meaning or relevance, unless it is predicated on a recognition that America cannot act alone, and that she needs the rest of the world, as the rest of the world needs America. That is something the current leadership of the nation does not fully comprehend or has come to understand too late to make a difference in the way America is perceived around the world.
America has remained the leading light and the envy of the world for much of the 19th century when people used to flee from all corners of the globe running away from famine or religious persecution to start a new life in the new continent. America’s prestige and visibility had remained that way for all of the 20th century, and even up until the beginning of this century. America which had started as a colony of Britain is today generally regarded as the senior and dominant partner in her cozy relationship with Britain. In that context, the American President is viewed more favorably in terms of power and visibility, even more than Her Majesty the Queen of England. The Prime Minister is really the first Minister as the title suggests, and not a Head of Government as some may have believed. When the American President talks, the rest of the world is obliged to listen.
The world center of gravity is no longer London or Paris, it is Washington, DC. In the days of Nikita Kruschev or Breschnev in the former Soviet Union, you could say the world had only one other country, the Soviet Union, to turn to, if for any reason, it is pissed off by America. Vladmir Putin the current President of the surviving relics or fragment of the Warsaw Pact, has to constantly think America and arguably take instructions from Washington, before doing anything, because gone, for ever, were those days when Nikita Kruschev used to bang the table at the UN, and some other nations used to tremble. Not any more. America dominates the world today like a colossus as the only remaining super power. It is quite an irony of fate that we are now talking of America being less safe, than she normally ought to be with her limitless wealth and formidable military arsenal and technological know-how and superiority which have put Americans on the Moon and they are right now on verge of landing the first human on the Red Planet after successfully landing a robot there.
Why, in spite of all this power, does America still feel unsafe for all Americans and even for all her allies across the globe? That question defies a yes or no answer like I said before. I really want to go to some depth in speaking to the question, and framing my answer in philosophical terms to the extent possible. The mere fact that we have, today, a President of America who is so despised and sometimes ridiculed around the world as being too arrogant and too inexperienced to lead the world, is the first sign of trouble for Americans and those around the world who rightly look up to America for leadership. I personally agonize about it because I love this country, and I wish she could maintain her preeminent position in the world for as long as possible. I agonize about it because of what America has meant and could still mean to the world.
In the past, the rest of the world used to count the fact that America was on their side, as a special blessing. The Allies in the Second World War knew they could never have won that war, without the support and leadership of America. But we must keep in mind that America was provoked into joining that war, not because she wanted War more than peace, or was bent on flaunting her awesome military power. Americans went full scale into that war and invested so much in money men and materials, because she was attacked at Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. She was obliged to defend her self and the rest of the free world. It was a war of necessity. The Iraqi War, today, is the exact opposite. It was an unnecessary war from the “get go” because Saddam Hussein was already put in a box and effectively rendered impotent and helpless in his own country by the coalition brilliantly put together in the Gulf War by Bush the father. It was only a question of time before Saddam, like all other despots before him, would have crashed under his own weight, and would, eventually, have been overthrown, with little help from outside, by his own people like the former Romanian dictator.
If President Bush had allowed the Inspectors to complete their inspection, and had allowed international consensus to form on Iraq, like it did on the War on terrorism immediately after the 9/11 attack when the whole world had rallied round America like they did after Pearl Harbor. The quagmire we face today in Iraq and the loss of international consensus would not have arisen, and the carnage in money and materials as well as human life would, surely, have been avoided. After all, Winston Churchill was right again because he had defined War as “Diplomacy done by other means.” George Bush Junior, evidently, did not understand that concept or appreciate that Samson’s awesome and legendary power was neutralized by his wife, his closest ally who had given away the secret of his invincibility to his enemies. America, for all her power in the world, was quite vulnerable and could do but so little, without world support, collaboration and solidarity. Whichever American president is responsible for breaking or undermining that solidarity, can hardly be trusted to bring it back with ease. That explains why George Bush is having very little traction today in convincing or assuring the world community he is able to undo what he has done.
How could anyone argue today that America is safer today than she ever was? I see some correlation between what is occurring today, and what had happened in the 1980/81 presidential election between Jimmy Carter as the incumbent, and Ronald Reagan as the challenger. The mere spectacle of Americans watching American hostages being blindfolded, and rounded up by Ayatollah Khomeini insurgents and being paraded on Television at Teheran for all to see back home, were so traumatic for Americans to watch. That spectacle was, in large part, responsible for Jimmy Carter’s painful but deserved loss to Ronald Reagan in that election. America is facing precisely the same scenario today, or something worse, as we all watch in horror and total disbelief as American hostages and captured citizens of American allies in Iraq are being slaughtered or beheaded on television, or bombed into shreds by daring insurgents displaying their bitterness and hatred for some of the President’s policies in Iraq and more so in Palestine. It is not the death of Americans alone that is so repugnant to Americans, the death of Iraqis in their thousands with tomahawk missiles, and the massive destruction of properties, that come with the war, are so chilling and blood cuddling, that most Americans are naturally and understandably eager to end or drastically review the policies that have brought about such carnage. One of the better ways to do that in a Democracy is nothing but a regime change through a fair and free election. Just like President Bush knew he had to quickly let the army of occupation go, and replace it with a quasi home grown regime in Iraq. The American voters too are willing to embrace change in the aftermath of the ongoing tragedy in Iraq and the dangers posed by North Korea and the Palestinian stalemate. It is only natural. America is not doing so, because they want to capitulate to terror, they are doing so, because Americans value life, and because we have to claim the moral high ground than the terrorists are, by nature, incapable of. Whether or not this nation fails or succeeds, must all boil down to the choices she makes in a crucial election year like now.
Who can really argue today that Americans are not really scared about the possibility of another terrorist attack in America. Setting up the Department of Homeland Security, and giving it so much power and money to protect the heartland is one proof that both the Government and the people are scared to death. Just look at how many yellow or red alerts have been declared or are most likely to be declared, during national celebrations like the last Memorial Day Holiday or the July 4th independence Celebrations or the forthcoming Conventions of the two major political parties, not to talk of the Presidential Election itself. The mere fact that the Government is even considering the possibility of postponing the election like they had to move the handing-over of power in Iraq by two days, due to fear, the ceremony might be disrupted, is in, of itself, one more proof that the Nation is running scared, and rightly so.. We really have to be scared , because it is far better to do that, than to be caught off guard again, like happened in 2001 when America found herself in a situation she had never contemplated. It was a horrendous wake-up call. Wasn’t it?
There will be few reasons for the Government to adopt all thses measures, if it really believes the nation is totally safe. The nation can only be safe when there is absence of fear, or when there is no suspicion, real or imagined, that hell could suddenly break loose again, like it did on September 11.
This President often warns that the nation is in a state of war, and needs a steady hand to keep it going. What is that supposed to mean other than the fact that the Nation is unsafe and therefore needs to take precautions to project some measure of strength, peace and stability, and to downplay the possibility of mayhem? How could the nation feel safe when allies in the war are jumping ship and withdrawing their troops from Iraq upon a threat by invisible terrorists whose identity is hidden and whose addresses are unknown, and who could strike at any time? How do you fight an enemy you cannot see? It is a panacea for fear and insecurity. The world would never be the same again until the policies that have brought this state of siege about, is abrogated and a new direction put in place to reassure Americans and her allies around the world.
Until that happens, and perhaps for a little longer, America may remain unsafe, and her intentions viewed with suspicion around the world as long as she remains in pathological denial about the root cause of her unpopularity around the world. America is viewed, today, with suspicion, and quite often, with hatred and perhaps envy or both, because of the current Administration’s policies, inconsistencies, misguided priorities and inexperience and above all, its apparent or perceived arrogance of power or all of the above.
I rest my case.