The US has been singularly unable to marshal and lead the unipolar world it found itself in subsequent to the demise of the erstwhile USSR. Its inept and unimaginative leadership, unjust policies and ruthless pursuit of crass national interests have wreaked havoc in the world order severely destabilizing it.

The US policy towards the ME is a point in case. Its policies there are misfiring on all cylinders. To regain unmitigated control and influence there it has been forced to make course corrections particularly in its policies towards Egypt and Syria. Its own conflicting national interests (in Syria) rampant unilateralism and waning international support have seriously dented its erstwhile credibility, clout and singular position as the sole leader of the world. US power and influence is clearly on the ebb.

Undoubtedly, the US is still the strongest military and economic power in the world; however the same cannot be said, anymore, about its current moral and ethical standing in the international community. A series of unilateral, self-serving and ruthless policy decisions by the past many US administrations have put paid to its position of the de facto keeper of the world’s conscience.

Policies that stubbornly, ruthlessly and unjustly pursue national interests in the face of popular and international censure are bound to come to grief at one time or the other. And if these are implemented with scant regard for the moral and ethical paradigms that essentially define them then they are bound to fail rather spectacularly.

So it is to be with US policies in the ME and elsewhere.

Were the US to judge itself and its conduct by the same high moral and ethical standards by which it judges lesser powers and even lesser mortals it would find itself falling short by an even bigger margin!

All world political leaders are expected to adhere to certain moral and ethical standards in their policies and their conduct of international affairs. If they do not, then like all fallible men, they too fall victim to their own failures and take their countries down with them. President George W Bush attacked Iraq for no plausible reason. The US lost much more than its valiant men and women in that war; it lost face, credibility and its moral ascendancy worldwide. The world perceived it to be an unjust war based on an unjust cause and rejected it as such! And the US image nosedived worldwide! It is still down there somewhere.

President Obama’s decision to attack Syria is yet another monumental disaster in the making and raises many questions. Does the US have the right to unilaterally go about judging and punishing nations as it deems fit? How has it allocated this right and power to itself? Who will apply the checks and balances? If it wants to wield this power then can it do so justly? Will it ever apply the same standards to other international disputes like Kashmir and Palestine and resolve them too?

The US has always been guilty of selective morality; and as a great sage said “that was worse than no morality at all”! The issues of Mossadaq of Iran, FIS of Algeria and the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt come readily to mind where the US toppled or blocked democratically elected leaders and parties from gaining power just because they did not subscribe to its view of the world.

President Obama has many compulsions to deal with, some even contradictory. If he weakens or topples the Asaad regime then it indirectly strengthens the rebels and the Free Syria Army which has been massively infiltrated by international terrorists in particular Al Qaeda. They portend a bigger threat for US interests in the region and Israel in particular. President Obama cannot condone or ignore the “chemical attacks” either. The US intelligence has determined that they were carried out by the Syrian Defense Forces. Other sources especially President Putin vehemently differ, though. If President Asaad is not taken to task on the chemical attacks then President Obama would find it even more difficult to tackle Iran or North Korea or other similar delinquents who may threaten US and Israeli interests sometime in the future!

Ironically, the US does not find itself in a (moral) position to carry out a complete meaningful operation in Syria. A short, sharp and intense air-missile campaign may allow the US to vent its anger but is unlikely to achieve much. It is not likely to modify President Assad’s conduct or force him to back off. He will simply hunker down and try to live through the barrages that crash all around him. However, such a strategic bombing campaign will definitely create a priceless precedent for President Obama to follow in case he decides to take action against Iran and all others it deems in violation of international norms, in future.

The US must realize the limits of its powers. Its policies based on selective morality have severely compromised its credibility. Even its “loyal” allies like the UK and Germany now find it difficult to stand by its unjustifiable policies and unilateralism. Russia and China have more or less made the UN and UNSC redundant for it because of their Vetoes. The US, on the other hand, does not feel obliged to consider the UN a factor as it goes about single mindedly pursuing its own national interests. Such a policy negates the very raison d’etre of the UN and deals a serious blow to the stability and balance of the international order. The US must help bring sanity back to the international order, rehabilitate the UN and help it take charge of all conflict resolution initiatives.

Waning powers and influence, unjust causes and unjust wars, reluctant allies and policies devoid of moral and ethical paradigms have brought the US to this crossroads.

Either the US will have to modify its approach to world affairs and subject it to a moral and ethical examination, or the world will return to the more balanced and secure multipolar global order of yore!

The writer is a retired brigadier and a former defence attaché to Australia and New Zealand. Currently, he is on the faculty of NUST (NIPCONS).