The Burden and the Glory ,By Dan Agbese



The burden of keeping the world safe is heavy. Ask the one man who bears it: the president of the United States, Mr. Barack Obama. In shouldering this burden, he has shown courage and even grace. But his rapidly greying hair is a dead give away that, as the Onitsha man would say, it is not easy.
I watched his stellar performance at the United Nations General Assembly this Wednesday – on television, in case you entertain some dark ideas. I have always admired him. But this time, I could not but pity him. He seemed so lonely and so burdened with the critical challenges of what he called a “network of death” in not just the Middle East but in many other parts of the world. Make no mistake, he seemed to say, “If there was ever a challenge in our interconnected world that cannot be met by one nation alone, it is this, terrorists crossing borders and threatening to unleash unspeakable violence.”
He rallied the troops, as it were, urging his fellow world leaders to see and appreciate the dire situation the world is in today, given its many security challenges both intra- and inter-national. Many nations, including ours, are bleeding and bleeding badly from internal crises and insurgencies. Refugees streaming across international borders and hordes of internally displaced persons give us a combined picture of a world in rapid security decline. It is not pretty. And no nation can afford to lull itself into the somnolence of sitting pretty while the network of death and evil is closing in.
The ornate hall of the UN General Assembly has witnessed more speeches than any other chamber in history. But even as Obama spoke, he needed no one tell him that among his listeners were the problems he talked about so passionately. Some of them are the sponsors of the violence and the mindless killings that undermine our common humanity. They are the godfathers of the deranged and the heartless, young men who believe that violence and killings are badges of honour and youthful valour. Some of the countries caught up in the spiraling violence within and among their people are sad victims of incompetent and corrupt leadership too.
The problems are complex and complicated. Among Obama’s listeners were those who do not count themselves as lovers of the United States and its leadership. Indeed, they blame the US for the shape the world is in today. Is this not the country that exports its decadence to the rest of the world?
I do not think such leaders would be prepared to lend a hand in what should be a collective global struggle to free us all from the network of death. Obama said no one nation could bear the burden alone but these leaders who appear to be detached from reality, believe that since the US is the richest and the most powerful nation on earth, it is its duty to bear the burden, discharge the burden and protect our freedom and liberty. The rest of us can go to sleep while the world’s policeman goes on protecting our right to sleep.
It is sad and yet intriguing that the world constantly finds itself wrestling with mind-boggling ironies. This is the most enlightened century in the history of mankind; yet this is the age in which ignorance has given fillip to the resurgence and the promotion of the primitive tendencies that had held mankind in slavery for so long.
Were it a simple case of nations dominating nations and individuals dominating individuals, we could put it down to unreconstructed human ambitions. But we face a more complex and complicated challenge of religion rolling back secularity and democracy. Religion is an emotional weapon in the infernal struggle for political and economic advantages. When all else fails, religion never fails. The world is not just confronted with the challenges of religious fanatics of all hues and colours but also a fundamental religious strain that threatens to take the hands of the clock of civilisation back. So, we have all these groups, such as Al Qaeda, Boko Haram and and ISIS that have elevated violence as a purification rites of passage.
I have some sympathy for Obama for another reason. Six years ago when he assumed office, and very much aware of what his country had been through in Iraq and Afghanistan, he promised he would not put young American lives on the line. The US would not be drawn to a war under his watch.
Sadly, it is a promise he might not keep. He has been sucked into the vortex already. He felt challenged enough to respond to the network of death. He has not put boots on the ground but it is looking more and more likely that the air strikes he has authorised to dislodge ISIS from Iraq and Syria might see the pacifist turned into a reluctant warrior.
I have this disturbing feeling that we might be dealing with the real challenges of the post-Cold War. It calls to mind Samuel P. Huntington’s engaging book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order , in which he suggested that the post Cold War period would witness a new period in which conflicts within and among nations would be driven and even defined by religious and cultural differences.
I think he was pretty prescient. The rise of non-state actors might not necessarily prove his theory but it is a pointer to how far backward the world seems to have moved since the end of the Cold war. The challenges the world faces are posed by non-state actors that are, in some cases, proving stronger than state actors. How best to meet these challenges must go beyond the conventional. Non-state actors have no defined territories; unless of, course, they dislodge state actors and lay claims to captured territories.
There is always the burden; and there is always the glory. It is a messy call.