Poetic justice in the US meltdown

View from Dubai By Aijaz Zaka Syed

As a literature student, one was endlessly fascinated by the term Poetic Justice. The ancient Greeks, especially Aristotle, believed that virtue should be ultimately rewarded and vice punished in a literary work, often by an ironic twist of fate intimately related to the character's own conduct.

Since life and literature mirror each other, I believe there's some form of poetic justice at work in real life as well. Just look around; there are myriad examples all around us to prove that our world works on the principle of natural justice. Call Him what you will, but there's someone out there who makes sure we reap as we sow. It may take a while for them to manifest themselves but all our actions do lead to equal and opposite reactions. You don't have to be Isaac Newton to know that what goes up comes down.
Watching the world turn upside down as the global financial meltdown that originated in the US hits one economic power after another, I can't help think of the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Call me a hopeless cynic but the more this financial plague spreads despite the desperate global efforts, the more I am convinced that the world is paying for the neocon crimes against the people of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Over the past few weeks, from the Lehman Brothers to Merrill Lynch and the AIG to Morgan Stanley, some of the mightiest icons have been brought down from their hallowed perches on the Wall Street and dragged through the main street. Things haven't been so bad since the Great Depression and Herbert Hoover.

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With the lifetime savings of ordinary Americans wiped out overnight, they are finally waking up to the mess the Bush administration has made of the world's most powerful economy -- and almost everything else. Like a deadly disease, the malaise in the US markets has infected the whole of Europe, Asia and the Middle East. On Monday alone, the $2,800 billion in global stocks just vanished into thin air.

For the first time in years, the Saudi stock market, the biggest in the region, shed 10 per cent -- the limit allowed by the authorities. Even our own Dubai, the fastest growing city on the planet described by the New York Times as the Boomtown this week, has begun feeling the heat of the blazes on the US Wall Street. However, in the end the hardest hit might be the Americans themselves.

It's no coincidence that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's popularity ratings have soared in perfect synchronisation with the steady annihilation of the US and global markets over the past couple of weeks.

According to latest polls, more and more Americans -- nearly 60 per cent of them -- now believe that it's Obama, not Bush's mate John McCain, who could heave the country out of the deepening morass. And the Americans are angry, very angry with the folks who have landed them in this Godawful mess.

The initial, embarrassing failure of the bailout deal in the House of Representatives was a backlash from the angry middle America. And the fact that the $700 billion bailout, financed with their hard-earned money, has failed to stop the supernova hasn't gone unnoticed by Americans either.

As Madeleine Bunting puts it in the Guardian, while the Americans and the rest of the world were engaged in the side show of the War on Terror, the "real doomsday scenario that poses a far greater threat to Western civilization (whatever that is) was gathering pace right next to Ground Zero, in Wall Street."

Can you blame the ordinary Americans then if they are mad at their leaders? They have every reason to be. Eight years ago, when Bush took over from Bill Clinton, the US was the world's biggest economy with a huge budget surplus. It was prosperous and at peace with itself. And America was respected and admired despite some of its controversial policies in the Middle East.

And look, where Bush's America is today. It's a country that is universally loathed, economically and politically bankrupt and psychologically battered! So much so America's own allies and friends are finding it difficult to stand shoulder to shoulder with it. Who brought the leader of the free world here? The American people have the answer.

The US, and with it the rest of the world, is paying the price for the unjust, unreasonable and endless wars on Iraq and Afghanistan. Even if you accept the 9/11 excuse for the carpet-bombing and killing of thousands of innocents in Afghanistan, how could anyone justify what has been visited on the Iraqi people over the past six years?

From the shame of Abu Ghraib to the total, wanton destruction of the ancient Mesopotamia, not to mention the loss of a million lives, the US leaders are guilty of the very crimes that they used to accuse Saddam Hussein of perpetrating on his people.

Which is why I think there's a kind of poetic justice in what the Americans and the West are currently going through at the hands of with-us-or-against-us leader of the free world. The world is paying for its failure to prevent the appalling crimes against humanity in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The international community stood and stared while Afghanistan and Iraq were bombed back to the Stone Age in the name of freedom and democracy. Even when everyone, including the UN inspectors, was convinced Saddam's Iraq had no WMD and was as much a threat to the world peace as comrade Castro's Cuba is to Uncle Sam.

I have great respect for American democracy and its founding fathers. But I can't help recall the fact that not only did the American people fail to dissuade their commander-in-chief from launching a totally unjust war but they rewarded him with another term in office. And today the same US wars have contributed to the bankruptcy and meltdown of the greatest economic superpower the world has ever seen. You shall reap as you sow. What goes around comes around. If this isn't natural justice, what is?

(Aijaz Zaka Syed is Opinion Editor of Khaleej Times)

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