The History of Western Hypocrisy

The drumroll of democracy was knelled by the United Nations – colloquially known as the Allies – as the Nazi clout waned after World War II. Under the leadership of the United States, Western democracies gradually spurred around the globe, a symbolic departure from the imperialistic tendencies associated with the European monarchies. Unfortunately, while the trend of colonialism reversed by the mid-40s, the centrality of power was never circulated around the world. And even in the 21st century, the principles of sovereign polarity are grossly limited to a select few. By default or contrivance, this is the tricky question!

Even after dismantling Nazi Germany and its autocratic cohort, the Western alliance faced its biggest challenge; its expedient ally against Hitler: The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) – notoriously known as the Soviet Union. The Cold War was arguably the most intense era for global security. For obvious reasons; also for some subtle overtures. The mutual nuclear threat allowed no interlude to the United States or the Soviet Union; the cataclysmic consequences were patent during the Missile Scare of 1962. Fortunately, the leaders of the respective powers were fully aware of what they knew; also what they did not know. And therefore, even at the nadir of diplomacy, the Soviet-US leadership never fully disengaged and managed to avert a nuclear armageddon.

However, we somehow always overlook the schemes of the United States that rendered its hegemony on the global order. True, the United States was able to retrieve Europe and Korea from the barbarity of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, respectively. Yet, history also shows the United States was not directly involved in the war until the attack on Pearl Harbour by the Japanese Navy Air Service on December 7, 1941. By then, millions of Jews were already massacred and displaced in Europe; hundreds of thousands of women and children were brutally raped and murdered in Korea; and Western Europe almost razed to the ground. So the US intervention was not entirely altruistic, even if it catalyzed the downfall of the Axis powers.

The Cuban Missile Crisis, in simple words, was a 35-day confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union at the apex of the Cold War. However, while the subsequent American presidents gush over John F. Kennedy; his heroic deterrence against Soviet missile deployments in Cuba, they seem to skim over an important fact. This precarious juncture came into being due to American deployments of ballistic missiles in Italy and Turkey – right in the neighborhood of a belligerent Russia. So why exactly should I credit the United States for the non-proliferation of a nuclear disaster? Russia is supposed to be a tyrant today for pummelling Ukraine because it suspected NATO installations perilously close to its borders. Yet after more than six decades, the US sanctions on Cuba as still in place for harboring Soviet nukes. Why this double standard?

The American leaders – Conservatives and Moderates alike – have a new disposition in global politics: besmirch China to undercut its economic ascend. The focal point is almost always Taiwan – a self-ruled island in the South China Sea contentiously claimed by China. Ironic is the fact, however, that the United States actually recognized the independence of Taiwan. Yet to gain the loyalty of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to prevent any collectivist engagement with the Soviet Union, the US unilaterally cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan in 1979 – diplomatically recognizing the People’s Republic of China (PRC). If that is not the definition of opportunism and hypocrisy, I do not know what is! Admittedly, the US has practically transformed Taiwan into a militaristic porcupine to counter any sudden amphibious invasion by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) – the armed wing of the CCP. However, how is this any different from the Soviets fortifying Cuba? Or NATO deploying armaments in the Baltic states? I downright agree with the traditionally programmed answer: It is to defend these countries, not to attack our adversaries. Well, exactly which adversary threatens Israel? Why does the US provide military support to Israel? And why not arm the Palestinians to defend themselves against the systemic oppression of Israel faced by embattled citizens in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip? Why didn’t the US bolster Iran’s defenses when Iraq invaded in the 1980s? And if foreign invasions are categorically nefarious (as repeatedly proclaimed by the Western leaders over the past seven months), why did the US invade Iraq in 2003? So many questions but not enough adequate answers. Yet an implicit answer is ostensibly visible – just read between the lines, literally! The answer is hypocrisy.

The inflationary pressures are crippling emerging economies around the globe. The Western nations have unanimously blamed Putin for the energy and food crisis. It is hard to argue against the merits of those claims. Russia and Ukraine collectively bear the onus of the global grain supply; Russia is one of the world’s largest oil and gas producers; and Russia is the world’s largest manufacturer of fertilizers. Yet did Russia place sanctions without even a hint of contemplation of global economic and social repercussions? I unambiguously support befitting actions against Russian brutality. But not when the cost harms innocent working-class people who have nothing to do with this war or the power games in Europe!

Countries in Africa and Asia were barely emerging from the devastating effects of the pandemic. Now, the shortage of food and energy has pushed headline inflation to stratospheric levels. Instead of alleviating the pain for the developing world, Europe is bidding LNG cargoes away from struggling nations in Asia. The irony is that while still buying energy from Russia, albeit at a relatively slower pace, the European Union (EU) has the audacity to lecture Asian countries against dependence on Russia. Comparatively, the United States is duplicitous on simply another level.

The aggressive rate hikes by the US Federal Reserve this year have already vaulted the greenback to a 20-year high – nearly 40% up since its 2011 low against currencies of a broad range of trading partners. As the Fed simultaneously allows Treasuries to mature and roll off its nearly $9 trillion balance sheet, global market disruption is all but imminent. Due to the ubiquity of the US Treasuries – from mortgages to corporate loans – Fed’s accelerating Quantitative Tightening (QT) is proving insufferable for developing economies with piles of dollar-denominated debt. Since the dollar is the mainstay of virtually every international market – from commodities to oil to fixed-income – a burgeoning dollar is no less detrimental to vulnerable emerging economies than the Russian invasion of Ukraine. According to a recent report by The Times, the growing strength of the US dollar has exacerbated the food crisis in Nigeria and Somalia while pushing Egypt and Kenya dangerously closer to a default on their international debts. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) already expects more than a third of the world’s economy to contract by 2023, the severity “resting critically” on the successful calibration of monetary policy by the Federal Reserve. This episode is highly reminiscent of the 1980s when aggressive rate hikes by the Fed invoked a double whammy of debt and currency crises in Latin America, later leading to a vertiginous drop in growth worldwide. Thus, while Americans profusely defend their motivations for the collective good in diplomacy, they have not been entirely considerate of the social implications of their economic policies on the emerging world. On the contrary, the IMF is on the prowl to press harsh conditions on desperate nations in exchange for a bailout. What choice do these countries have but to approach China or (even) Russia for assistance? 

If not for the socio-economic desperation perforating the resolve of emerging nations across the globe, the rise of right-wing politics in Europe and Asia foreshadows a paradigm shift. The extremist Hindutva moment under the wings of Indian premier Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is a stark example of the fissures in the Western democratic order. If political pundits are intuitively precise about their predictions, then increasing violence against Muslims in India – alongside Jammu and Kashmir – is not just an anomaly consistently overlooked by the Western world. But it is the beginning of a wave of right-wing populist movements that would ensnare the democratic ethos. Governments in Hungary, Poland, and Italy have gradually edged toward fascist factions. And it is not inane to portend that these rightist elements could substantively enfeeble the democratic order piecemeal before the brewing authoritarian bloc – primarily comprising Russia, China, and Iran – takes precedence and disseminates worldwide.

We could intensely debate the theoretical rise of a new world order amid crumbling democracy worldwide – a return to the bloc politics of the 60s. However, the fundamental reality is that the US is trying to fight multiple battles across a diverse range of elements with distinct rivals conniving in a rare display of ideological concord. Yet the downfall could be forestalled by a few confessions. The US should acknowledge that economically isolating Iran has only made it more resilient. The US should discern that arming Saudi Arabia is much more in tandem with its objectives than criticizing the Royalty for its blatant human rights abuses, which – ironically – the US was notoriously a part of for decades. 

The Biden administration should look for ways to supplant China economically instead of placing predatory tariffs, flaring tensions in the Pacific, or luring Asian economies with empty promises. The collective Western bloc should have realized by now that blindly placing sanctions on Russia without paving alternate means of supply would only cause more suffering to the global economy while benefiting Putin’s devious vendetta. And ultimately, the US should pause and consider for a moment. The unapologetic rise of China, the belligerence of Russia, the self-interest of India, the perseverance of Iran, and the connivance of Saudi Arabia. All these elements, these distinct traits, have historically, from time to time, served as building blocks and shaped America into the superpower it is today. So an ironic decline in a similar fashion is only inevitable!

Syed Zain Abbas Rizvi
Syed Zain Abbas Rizvi
The author is a political and economic analyst. He focuses on geopolitical policymaking and international affairs. Syed has written extensively on fintech economy, foreign policy, and economic decision making of the Indo-Pacific and Asian region.