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Who is the world’s policeman?

The United States of America continues to play its role as the world’s policeman despite the huge financial crisis it is suffering and sharp internal polarisation. We were reminded of the fragile state of this “policeman” when the US Congress basically shut-down governmental services for two weeks and threatened to announce America’s inability to pay its debts.


President Barack Obama, of course, used a speech in September to deny that the US is the world’s policeman, claiming instead that “our values, principles and national security are at stake”. Nevertheless, the “New American Century” strategy put in place by the neo-conservatives 20 years ago sought to enhance US power and influence, and America still tries to impose its democratic model on countries of the “South”. Obama’s verbal gymnastics beg us to ask, what came first, the chicken or the egg?

In order for America to face the rise of, for example, China and Russia on the international political scene, in addition to its ongoing policy to repress resistance and liberation groups and those building true democracy, it has made core changes in its military and defence policy. It is no longer necessary to have direct military intervention to protect tyrannical regimes loyal to the US; America now uses espionage, political “advisers”, drones, assassination, kidnapping and collaboration with “friends” of the said regimes to influence national affairs in the countries in question. Whereas abductions of Arabs and Muslims and their detention in the infamous Guantanamo Bay facility used to be carried out in secret, the United States now does so openly. No one, it seems, can hold it to account for its international law-breaking; double standards clearly apply.

US forces entered Libyan territory recently to abduct Abu Anas Allibi at his home as part of an “anti-terror operation”. The Defence Department claims that he is now being held in a “safe place” outside Libya. None of this was done in cooperation or coordination with the Libyan government.

In another operation, US forces landed in Somalia looking for an “Al-Qaeda” operative, although in this case the Somali government said that it was informed of the raid in advance. Washington claims that such operations are consistent with US law, essential for US security and are not inconsistent with international law, which is interesting. Would the US government allow, say, the Mexicans to send Special Forces across the border in pursuit of drug dealers because they pose a threat to Mexican national security?

Such “exclusivist” logic by the Americans sees them refusing to sign-up to the International Criminal Court because it would mean that US citizens could be prosecuted for acts carried out overseas. The US government supports the ICC as a tool to bring non-client states to heel but seeks immunity for its own troops. This is similar to what Israel does when it builds settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories under cover of Israeli law but in open defiance of international laws and conventions. The twisted logic behind it is that absolute power gives a few colonial regimes the right to act with impunity while others must toe the line.

While governments may declare or cover-up their collaboration with the global policeman, there are international organisations which make a lot of effort to raise awareness of the injustice this entails and its repercussions for international law and security. In a report issued on October 15th, there was a clear criticism of the drone programme implemented by the CIA and US Special Forces, which the US does not acknowledge officially. In it the UN described the programme as “undermining the rule of law and threatening international security due to the lack of transparency and accountability”. The report also said that the selective assassinations through raids and other acts are “unlawful death sentences and illegal”, while attacks against rescue workers are called “war crimes”.

UN Special Rapporteur Christof Heyns talked about innocent civilian victims of the drone programme and how it is claimed that the targets are only “terrorists”. He added that the drones “leave a heavy war imprint on the target communities”. He pointed out that terms such as “terrorist” or “extremist” are used to describe people who are in fact present for the protection of civilians.

Reprieve, a human rights charity based in London, is representing some civilian victims of the drone attacks in a number of countries, including Yemen and Pakistan. The organisation is calling for the questioning and accountability of the United States and more transparency on the work of the CIA, to get “true accountability” for hundreds of civilians who were killed and justice for their relatives. It added that the CIA can no longer continue to distort the reputation of the victims and their families by describing them as terrorists.

Such human rights organisations represent a growing challenge to the world’s policeman, the United States, as well as local security agencies which act on its orders in countries around the world. Their presence provides hope for resilient liberation and resistance groups aiming to put an end to international terror represented by neo-colonialist countries.

If this means that we see, in years to come, a return of the balance of power in the world the US may be forced to loosen its grip and abide by legitimacy as expressed through international law. People and liberation movements will then have a better opportunity to restore national sovereignty and state building on the basis of equality, justice and respect for law and order. That can only be good for the people and good for the world.

The author is an Iraqi novelist. This is a translation of the Arabic text published in Al Quds Al Arabi newspaper on 18 October, 2013.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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