US its own worst enemy - Times LIVE
Mon May 29 19:02:38 SAST 2017

US its own worst enemy

Justice Malala | 2013-09-03 00:14:26.0
Passengers boarding a train at New York's Penn Station under the watchful eyes of a rail company cop and his eager partner

Twelve years ago, soon after the September 11 2001 attacks on the US, I received a call from Mike Robertson, my then editor at the Sunday Times, and was sent to New York to report on the aftermath.

The US in which I arrived was not the brash, loud America that I had fallen in love with on previous visits.

It was a country that had been left badly disoriented by the attacks and had become obsessed with security.

President George W Bush was preparing for war. You are either with us or against us, he warned the world .

At airports and government buildings, the sense of a country in lockdown was overwhelming. New York was on red alert, the highest security classification one can find in the US.

Twelve years later, one would expect that the wounds of 9/11 would be somewhat healed, that the country would feel a bit different and that security would not be such a pervasive part of American life.

At a political level, one would expect to find a US that is somewhat at peace in and with the world.

It is palpably not so.

As we fly into New York, SA Airways hands out US immigration forms. The form asks for an e-mail address. Your heart sinks.

It is impossible not to think of Edward Snowden, the American who spilled the beans on the National Security Agency's surveillance of domestic and foreign nationals' communications. A man on the run, he is currently in asylum in Russia.

This is America today, a country one now associates with spying on its people.

In many ways, the immediate US reaction to the 9/11 attacks was understandable.

US intelligence had failed to foresee the attacks on the World Trade Centre, and American leaders and officials were totally at sea.

They had failed, and they did not know where the next attack was likely to come from.

Twelve years after the tragedy, the country still carries the scars as if it all happened yesterday.

New York is still obsessed with security to the point of absurdity. Water bottles are thrown out even though they were bought inside the airport security cordon. It is an inexplicable act. Fear still drives security measures.

In the transit lounge from Kennedy Airport, the main story on the news is about US embassies across the globe being shut down due to terrorist threats.

The question today is: Why isn't there an assessment of why these threats continue or, indeed, why they have increased?

What have the tens of billions of dollars diverted from development and aid to war and security achieved? More fear?

It is particularly sad that the US - even with a shiny new president after the horrendous George W Bush - continues to be trapped in paranoia.

With its might, its brains, its development - surely there is a better way?

It doesn't seem like it. In 2003, we were chasing the story of the so-called American Taliban, John Walker Lindh, who was jailed for aiding terrorists.

Today, I arrived in an America just after a young soldier, Bradley Manning, had been sentenced to 35 years for releasing military information which he believed constituted evidence of war crimes to WikiLeaks.

The war narrative of traitors, villains and heroes still holds. It is not useful.

Twelve years ago, we were talking about the atrocities that were being committed in Guantanamo Bay.

Today, President Barack Obama is keeping Guantanamo Bay going.

All this would have been understandable had Dubya been replaced by yet another Republican president beholden to oil, gun and military interests.

Obama, on the other hand, was elected on the promise of change - and a better, more nuanced and less warlike foreign policy.

Instead, Obama has run with Bush's war baton.

Drone attacks continue unabated. Suspects languish on hunger strike in Guantanamo Bay without the most basic of rights.

America remains gripped by fear, with many of its embassies and consulates closing up shop around the world.

Crowd surveillance technology is being developed by the military.

Obama has prosecuted more government officials for aiding the press than all other American presidents combined, according to a report in the New Yorker.

A lot has happened in these past 12 years - and I feel they are years in which America has lost its way.

Obama's administration is mired in indecision and has blindly continued where W Bush's left off.

Instead of being emboldened in his second term, Obama is a lame duck president even on foreign policy. A great nation is failing itself, and the world.


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