We should take offence
A foreign diplomat is going door to door peddling wisdom to our political leaders. If you check the television footage of their meetings with her, you will be reminded of kindergarten students sitting in their class. The fawning politicians gather around the honourable guest, their faces dripping with humility and smiles. You don't have to be a wizard to guess whose wish is whose command.
Yes sir, the lionised leaders of our republic look cowered before the mighty emissary of a superpower. As it happens in nature, so it happens in politics, in the age-old law of matsayana the big fish always devours the small. Our fiery leaders are calm and callow in the presence of the foreign envoy. I don't know about you. It appears to me that the chargé d' affaires of a foreign embassy wants to take charge of our affairs.
What is happening has happened before, to juntas in Latin America, strongmen in Africa, rulers in Asia, and potentates in the Middle East. The behaviour of our political leaders comes in that long tradition of obeisance which created Anastasia Somoza in Nicaragua, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Reza Shah Pahlavi in Iran, Fulgencio Batista in Cuba, Augusto Pinochet in Chile, and countless other mindless autocrats, not necessarily in that order.
But there was some beauty to it, a façade of national pride, which glossed over the invisible hand of foreign influence. At least it looked as if the dictators were in control of their countries, the external interference coated with the righteous patina of the Cold War.
One example is worth mentioning. The US government had ordered its ambassadors to warn Latin leaders not to carry out assassinations. When Orlando Letelier, a Chilean socialist leader, was gunned down in Washington DC in 1976, it was found that the American ambassador in Chile hadn't conveyed Washington's warning to Pinochet, because he was afraid the dictator would take offence.
Why doesn't anybody care if we are going to take offence? Why don't they care that it's odd when a sovereign nation must leave the reins of its politics in foreign hands? Understood, a meddlesome superpower wants to push its whims down our throat. Understood, we are in the stranglehold of a hegemonic force. But where is the diplomatic finesse whereby powerful nations are pleaded not to make a public spectacle of the political tutelage of weaker nations?
Ambrose Bierce, an American satirist, once quipped that "war is God's way of teaching Americans geography." By extrapolating the same humour, it can be said that diplomacy is America's way to teach other nations that democracy in the rest of the world is government of the Americans, by the Americans and for the Americans.
It remains the strength and weakness of democracy that one size must fit all, the tailor-made American prescription where people are free to choose their governments so long as those governments are of American choice.
Turn the page for an illustration. In 1928, the Columbian army machine-gunned hundreds of workers in the town of Ciénaga. The Columbian government claimed that the violent incident was necessary to avoid an American intervention on behalf of the United Fruits Company.
The upshot is that in the magical world of American influence, governments of other countries are ready to kill their own people to protect American interests.
It was the American oil interest, which had led to the overthrow of Mohammad Mossadegh in Iran in 1965. In 2003, an article in Le Monde Diplomatique claimed that the real plan behind the Iraq invasion was to flood the world market with Iraqi oil and drive the price down to $15 a barrel. The United States wanted to kill three birds with one stone: stimulate its economy, destroy the Opec cartel and strike a blow at the "rogue states" like Venezuela and Iran.
American interest works in mysterious ways. And if the American diplomat in Bangladesh is running around, she isn't doing that legwork for nothing. Yes, she wants to convey that her government wants democracy in Bangladesh. No matter.
Yes, she wants to convey that her government wants to see national elections held within this year. No matter. Yes, her government wants her to talk to our politicians. No matter. These are positive indications that when the United States speaks, everybody listens.
But is that all America has in mind? It could exert its influence to bring together our politicians. It could exert its influence so that these leaders could be nice to each other, like they have been nice to its chargé d' affaires.
Who is to blame for it? No doubt foreign governments are responsible, but most of the fault lies with our politicians. It's their ingratiating habit, self-serving motives and lack of dignity, which embolden foreign hands to put their fingers in our pie. A recent story in the media is a case in point. A Saudi prince has sent a luxury gift to one of our former presidents.
One must be curious to ask why anyone should give anything to an autocrat who has been long ousted from power. The Bill Clintons, the Jimmy Carters and the Nelson Mandelas of the world also receive donations, and they do philanthropic work. In our case we have got a dandy, who will ride around town in his shining car and show off that he has got friends in a faraway kingdom.
In less than a week, we shall have our 37th Independence Day. There will be speeches, parades, cultural events and other festivities. We shall show the world that we know how to celebrate our freedom. Why do we need foreign diplomats to tell us how we should exercise that freedom? Next time they do that, can we not take a vow? We are going to tell in their faces that we take offense!