Ideology and Hegemonic Decay,
Perhaps the most salient result of the new political situation created by the Bush government is the shift in mood of the rest of the world in relation to the USA. In the long run this could be a more definitive change than the Project for the New American Century which, however, is the cause of the shift.
The project for the new American century redefined HOW the USA intends to maintain its hegemony. But it does not alter the fact that US policies for the past half century or so have aimed at hegemony. Thus it is not a declaration of a new policy. However, the idea that the rest of the world could unite in order to contain US hegemonic power is new.
With the conquest of Iraq, things have not returned to “normal”. In fact, as the months pass and the situation in Iraq worsens, with more dead US soldiers, more open complaints by the living soldiers, the expenses ratcheting up, the lies finally being pursued by the media, and large numbers of Iraqis resenting US occupation, the popularity of the Bush government is falling rapidly. But will that change things? Hardly under a Bush government. And if the Democrats win the next election, the momentum toward empire may be too strong for them to stop (which they may, in fact, not want to do).
But the split between the US and the wary world is there and will probably never be healed unless it is somehow possible for the world to feel it is succeeding in containing US expansionism and neo-colonialistic military threats.
What does the USA want?
For anyone who has not read the Project for the New American Century, it explains quite clearly the goals of the neo-conservative group that runs the Bush administration.[i] It can be found at www.newamericancentury.org. In summary, it starts with the proposition that the USA has no rivals and this advantageous position must be preserved. Thus it views the world in terms of conflict and competition, and does not ever consider the possibility of cooperation and consensus. The means to achieve the goal is through growing military superiority. Some corollaries are to increase military spending, expand missile defenses, control space and cyberspace, end restrictive international treaties and focus on preventing China from rising to great power status. The possibility that other adversaries which include Europe and the Middle East could harm US interests in those places must be removed. “It is important that NATO not be replaced by the European Union, leaving the United States without a voice in European security affairs.”[ii] PNAC was written in 2000 and some of these goals have since then been accomplished.
Before the Iraq war of 2003 the proponents of US hegemony talked about creating the Pax Americana, obviously intending the comparison to the Pax Romana. But the war-scarred reality of the last couple years is making Pax into a farce. So it is now acceptable to refer to the project as the “American Empire”. Empire until very recently had negative connotations for the American populace. But the press presents it in a positive light and some people are beginning to accept it because yes, the USA is a great empire, so why deny it? The USA is a beneficent empire, so the hype goes, which will help its colonies to become democracies and is not imperialist the way the Soviet empire was, or the German empire that Hitler tried to create.[iii] The USA does not intend to take people’s LAND. It merely wants to help them develop in a way that will do them well, to become like us, and, of course, our corporations will invest in these places and everyone will profit.[iv]
That is an excellent (and in the USA a successful) way to camouflage the real issue which is that the US wants:
a) Control over the resources that go to the USA for our profligate consumption. Control over resources destined for other nations allows the USA to influence policies in those nations.
b) Control over governments so that they do not make decisions which are not in the "interests" of corporate America,
c) Unquestionable power, the greatest superpower that ever existed, by virtue of which the USA has a right to be a world empire.
After the liberation movements of the 50’s and 60’s which created independent states out of most of Europe’s Asian and African colonies, one might have thought that colonialism would be relegated to the dustbin of history. But sometimes garbage is recyclable. This is.
Iraq is a US colony in the old sense of the word. The government consists of a US Viceroy who runs the country; most advisors are also US citizens or have lived in the USA. The new Iraqi council will not be able to act against the wishes of the USA, but in some instances may be allowed to advise. However, this is not how the neo-cons ultimately want to run their empire. It is both too expensive and it involves the unpleasantry called nation building. That task must be left to weak-kneed liberals (preferably Europe) and then (US) private industry. The goal of neo-con colonialism is to make the subjected nations safe for private investment. But it has to be done at the least possible cost to the USA. That means using undercover operations to destabilize unwanted governments, encouraging disputing factions to weaken each other so US forces can more easily conquer, and mostly leaving the costly clean-up to others.
In this scenario, there is a conflict for developed nations like Germany, because their corporations will also potentially be able to profit from the safe investment climate (if it happens) and German corporations will press for these opportunities. They do not want to be among the nations punished by the USA for non-compliant behavior by being closed out of investment opportunities. This is a powerful control instrument. How might a nation like Germany react to this kind of blackmail? I think they should realize that ultimately, German economic and political interests are going to be disadvantaged even if they make the friendly compromises now. This is appeasement after all and neo-cons threaten others because they believe their victims will appease them and will inevitably give in. As a result they will push the limits, compromising another little chunk of European sovereignty wherever they can.
The blatant unilateralism of US policies under the Bush government was at first shocking. European nations function under the ideal of multi-lateralism and they believed that the US also subscribed to that view - until the Bush government canceled all the international treaties which had been carefully worked out over the past decades. If Europeans believe that somehow they can convince the neo-cons to return to multilateral arrangements, they are deluding themselves. Even if a Democrat replaces Bush, the status quo will likely not be reversed. The only way to change things, should Europe decide that the unilateral determination of world governance by the USA is not in their ultimate interests, would be to demonstrate strength rather than making apologies and submitting to compromises.
Are the latest suggestions by the Bush government that NATO take over a part of the military occupation of Iraq backtracking on unilateralism? Hardly. The reasons for the suggestion are obvious. Iraq is proving to be more intractable than first thought. Killing of US soldiers continues. The costs can be projected to grow. The US economy will suffer. So what better solution than to get others to share in the dying and in paying for the mess? NATO will, of course, have no independent input on the matter. The reason the US chooses NATO rather than the UN is because the US has control of NATO. If NATO takes over, it will send Europeans to die and Europe’s already fragile economies will be harmed. Europeans will hardly get any say in the matter, and if any contracts are promised to European countries, they will be the small and difficult ones, the ones that do not promise immediate profits for the corporations involved.
Europeans in NATO should reject this option, as its only goal is to weaken Europe while stopping the drain on US strength.
International Law vs. Law of the Strongest
The neo-con rejection of the notion of international law has also been a shock, which has sent the international scene reeling. That is not because the USA has done something that is so different from what it was doing before. But now it justifies traditional policies of unilateral action and unprovoked intervention in other nations not with double talk to calm liberals, but with a declaration of the right of the strongest to cancel international law when it appears in the best interests of that strongest nation. This goes against the logic we’ve been brought up to believe in. And presumably also against the whole trend of rational thought since the Enlightenment. There have been plenty of examples since the Enlightenment in which nations have felt themselves strong enough to negate rationality of this sort. So the USA is certainly not the first to do it. The consequences in every case have been rather catastrophic for everyone.
Questions, Problems and Flaws in Neo-Conservative View of Empire
Islamic Militancy equals Nazi Germany
Neo-cons have successfully identified Islamic Militancy with Nazi Germany. This analogy has convinced almost everyone, from the far right, to liberal Germans, to American Jews as well as the broad middle. Thus the argument went that appeasing Germany before WW II lead to conflagration, and appeasing Saddam Hussein would do the same. The war on Islamic terrorism is about the same as the war against Hitler. The themes of Islamic violence throughout history, the crusades, the inferiority of Islam in comparison to Christianity has appeared in the media in Germany just as much (maybe even more so) than in the USA. Furthermore, the neo-cons go from that equation to the conclusion that because “the military destruction of Nazi Germany was the prerequisite for the European peace that followed”[v] it is therefore also necessary to militarily destroy the Islamic world in order that there be peace. It is simply bizarre to propose that there is any similarity between a poor, weak, militarily primitive third world country which has been the object of European and American exploitation for the past two centuries and a nation like Nazi Germany. And destroying a backward nation is hardly the path to peace.
An Empire is not a Democracy
There has been an attempt by the Bush administration to brand any American who does not agree with its policies as unpatriotic, anti-American and treasonous.
Now, I am an American citizen. I am also an inhabitant of the world. I believe that the policies of the Bush government are harmful for the well being of American citizens and for people all over the world. Therefore, to criticize them and to suggest other options in my view is patriotic (which I am going to define as working for the greatest good for the greatest number). The Bush administration is thus unpatriotic. A democracy allows for dissent and discussion. But because the Bush government probably assumed from the beginning that the American populace would not go along with the empire project, dissension had to be quelled. Democracy had to be emptied of its historical meaning. Rights guaranteed by the US constitution had to be abrogated.
But, at last, with the Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq remaining invisible and with the continued attacks against US soldiers and the apparent lack of appreciation on the part of the Iraqis for the US occupation, there is finally a growing body of critique of the Bush government’s policies. The threat of punishment for unpatriotic behavior is less compelling. But critique is still powerless at this time, even though public opinion in favor of Bush’s war is wavering.
Consequences of the Bush Foreign Policies for USA
The 50% of Americans who still support Bush’s wars seem oddly unaware of the policy papers and if they are informed of them, refuse to read them, preferring to accept the less disturbing victory propaganda. Nonetheless, when asked whether they would like the USA to control the world, 70% of the American population still oppose the idea of being an imperialist nation. If the task of running the colonies becomes more onerous, with increasing loss of US lives and economic backlash, the propaganda machine may not be able lower this growing rate of opposition. But the Bush administration is not going to back down. So let us consider what the consequences of neo-con policies will be.
1. Decay of infrastructure
It means a permanent state of war preparations, destabilization in the world, and a crumbling infrastructure in the USA, as most of the tax money goes to the military. Ultimately the economic consequences for US citizens will determine their feelings toward the neo-con project. As schools cut back, as roads are not repaired, as services such as garbage collection which people have taken for granted disappear, the middle class will begin grumbling. They will also notice that the huge tax cuts have not benefited them.
2. No alternatives for oil
The solid foundation of the Bush government is the oil industry. From the secret energy meetings with oil magnates in 2001 in which the need to obtain Iraqi oil was discussed and planned (which is why they were secret) to the distribution of reconstruction contracts to Cheney’s Halliburton and a few other Bush cronies, oil has been a decisive factor in this government. While other nations are now developing alternative energy, the USA is falling behind. The consequences of this could be quite devastating in a decade or two.
3. Deaths of soldiers
The opposition to war has already grown and as more US soldiers die in Iraq and elsewhere, it will grow more. The lies that the Bush government propagated in order to incite war fervor are also beginning to annoy people. People ask what is the point of this killing? What are we going to gain by it?
4. Huge national debt
By now everyone knows that a national budget surplus under Clinton has been turned into a more than $475 billion deficit this year. Most of it is paying for the wars and for the interest on the debt. Government services have been cut drastically. The Bush government is gambling on an economic recovery of quite robust proportions to cut deficits in the next five years. But this is unlikely to happen. Increasing debt will only exacerbate the problems of the economy.
5. Economic recovery probably not sustainable
Economists friendly to the Bush administration’s economic policies believe the economy is turning around. The evidence for that is mostly wishful thinking, though there may be signs of improvement. If the economy worsens in the USA, people will pay more attention to their own situation and demand that the country withdraw from the costly and endless foreign wars. Even if there is some improvement, I do not believe the economy will not recover to any healthy degree, since wars tend to be followed by a period of stagnation until money is readily available for infrastructure improvement, thus constant war will mean constant economic stagnation.
6. Alienating the rest of the world
The rest of the world to a large degree opposes US policies. It ought to be a vital question for the US population why? Even in countries whose leaders support the Bush government, the majority of the population does not. And these leaders give their support either because they have been bribed with huge contracts or because they have been threatened with punishment, or, at least in the case of Tony Blair, because he has the illusion that he can turn the resulting chaos into a civilized democracy.
What is happening is an increasing hatred of the USA by those who will not profit monetarily, the division of the world into enemy camps (those bribed by the US vs. those who won't accept the bribes) and the antagonistic division of the US population.
7. Increased anger creates new pools for terrorist recruitment
The CIA opposed the war in Iraq because their intelligence studies indicated that the increasing anger against the USA would create new sources of recruitment for terrorists. The Bush government was annoyed by these pronouncements and set up its own state department intelligence group that provided them with the intelligence information they wanted to hear.
Consequences of Bush Foreign Policies for the World
Until the Iraq war Western nations basically believed in the benign intentions of the USA and presumably many West-oriented persons in non-Western nations also held this view. People of the world have discovered and read the Project for the New American Century. After reading the US government’s own policy papers it is apparent that there is nothing other than pure ice cold power calculations combined with a brutal drive to conquer. (Tony Blair does still believe that Britain will be the exception and will be able to participate in the fruits of US imperialism. Maybe Britain, due to its language connection will indeed be offered some crumbs, but the real question is whether this new imperialism will have any fruits at all for anyone.)
Perhaps Democrats still believe that with a Democrat in the White House, things will go back to the old more rational way. Of course, there’s no guarantee that a Democrat will be there in 2004. And I am not sure if it does happen whether things could go back. I rather doubt it. In any case, the ball is now rolling. The pressure is on.
1. Pressure to renew the arms race
Europe is discussing increasing its military capability. So is Japan and China. What will happen as these nations develop their own military technologies?
2. Pressure to participate in wars and reconstruction
The USA cannot afford all the wars it has instigated. Will European countries bow to the demands of the USA to participate by sending troops and by participating in the reconstruction after the US military bombs a country? So far, they are holding out to a degree and making the Bush administration angry.
3. Less access to resources
A militarily dominant USA will determine who has access to limited resources. When the resources become very limited, no one will be allowed access to them except, of course, the US corporations who work with the government.
The USA also can use its economic power plus military threats to control the economies of all nations. It does that now. No nation is allowed to act solely in its own interests. Only if the US government deems a policy to be helpful for its corporations will such a policy be allowed.
In the meantime the USA will use its control of the resources in the Middle East as a bargaining chip. It will also try to control Central Asia where China is expanding. What happens when they meet?
4. Danger of terrorism against Europeans grows
Inasmuch as Europe agrees to help the USA in its expansionist designs, it will become an object for terrorists.
5. Destabilization in the Middle East
Maybe US colonization of the Middle East will lead to some Westernization and capitalization with investment opportunities for an economy that again is in a state of stagflation (either with inflation or deflation). But the cost to the USA will be so great that it will come out weakened. (After the late 1980's recession we thought the US would not be able to get out of the doldrums and yet it did manage the surprising expansion of the 90's. Maybe it will be able to do it again, but a war economy never creates new wealth.)
Those areas of the world that stay on the sidelines in the conflicts being created by the USA will later be able to jump in, if they haven't wasted their economic assets. That is what I'd consider the best-case scenario. The worst case is a Middle East which reverts to tribalism, warlordism, and constant fighting with a continued economic degradation for the whole world.
So what does the destabilization process which the Bush wars have set off in the Middle East mean? Will the result be, as the US government wishes, a pacified semi-colonial area in which the people accept US hegemony, the resources of the area flow out, bringing profits mostly to US corporations that control the extraction of resources, which will result in renewed world economic growth? Or will the people refuse to accept US hegemony, seeing the expulsion of authoritarian governments as an opening to develop alternatives (which may or may not be democratic) as well as social systems which will not allow the nation’s wealth to flow out without growth of national economies. Since it is likely that the Bush government will not agree to an alternative which puts decision-making in the hands of the colonized nation’s own people, the near future would likely remain restive, with opposition groups demonstrating, probably being violently repressed and with anger in those countries growing exponentially. In addition, the tribal aspects will likely remain powerful or grow more powerful. This would increase unrest too and perhaps ultimately lead to breakups of these countries into smaller or rearranged units if a national center cannot grow in influence.
In regard to the USA staying in Iraq now, according to international law a conquering country is required to repair the damage they caused. So the US should pay. But the point is that opposition to the US presence is growing and threatening more destabilization. The most logical conclusion for the USA would be to let the Iraqis take control completely while supplying the funds and know-how. But this will not happen.
In Afghanistan the USA pretty much left the devastated country to fend on its own. The promised funds for rebuilding were not given. The country is reverting to chaos. There's no oil in Afghanistan to lure the Bush oil interests. In Iraq the USA will very likely not provide much in the line of funds for rebuilding (where are these funds to come from with a $500 billion deficit and growing), except to guarantee the profitability of the oil industry.
Containing the US Empire
The USA will remain the single most powerful political entity for a long time. The rest of the world will agree that the USA should be contained. But how? Will it work? And if so what effects will it have? Will Christian Fundamentalist America react by trying to destroy the world?
There are many factors to consider when looking for methods of containment. I think the first stop is to locate the vulnerabilities. What are they?
Why is it that the neo-cons believed in the early 1990’s when they began working on the Project for the New American Century that the USA was in a state of hegemonic decay? The whole justification for their aggressive military reorganization in order to fulfill the goal of total world military domination grew out of the perception of hegemonic decay. So this is perhaps an important point when considering what to do.
They saw decay both militarily and economically. They remembered their failure in Vietnam. They saw a falling military budget and a global strategic plan that was irrelevant after the fall of the SU. They saw a lack of investment in new military technology. (Under Clinton the military budget continued to fall.) But they also saw the increasing economic strength of Japan and Europe (China at that time had not yet taken off). The US proportion of world production, consumption and trade was decreasing. There was a feeling in the population of downsized expectations around 1990. So the neo-cons felt something had to be done about it. Their conclusion about what to do was purely military. But they believed that a military revival would solve the economic problems as well.
It is thus not so surprising that some people in Europe and Asia assume that the only way to contain US hegemony is militarily - an arms race in nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. Wonderful consequence of the Bush government’s policies, isn't it?
The Bush administration is not opposed to the idea of Europe rearming and increasing its military spending. It would like Europe to use its troops to deal with European problems because it cuts the costs of US military involvement in Europe as long as that does not appear to be any kind of threat to the USA. Thus the US government would prefer a European army to be subsumed under NATO, so the USA will continue to have influence. It is COMPLETELY self defeating for European countries to help the USA by sending troops to die in Iraq in order for the USA (now in trouble) to more cheaply control Iraqi oil against European interests. If the German foreign ministry agrees to do this and it looks like it will, Germans should protest vehemently. An independent European army is a problem for the Bush government.
The UN is even more problematic than an independent European army is, because so many antagonistic nations have some input in UN decisions. The Bush administration would prefer to weaken the UN giving it only a humanitarian role.
But is strength equal to military might, as the neo-cons believe? Of course, a technologically advanced and powerful military is in their view also a result of an economically powerful nation. Each reinforces the other. But there are other options, although it seems as if any option might involve some military considerations.
What the neo-cons would find most disconcerting would be a successful alliance of Europe (including Russia) and China. This alliance would not have to match the US military build-up or even threaten to start one. The economic potential of these two blocks is overwhelming, and the USA could never match it. The reason is that Europe, although it is stagnating economically and likely to remain so for a long time, is more advanced than the USA in creation of infrastructure as well as in beginning to build the foundations for renewable non-oil based energy systems. China has huge potential for growth.
The neo-cons know that such an alliance is not only possible, but that first steps toward it are being taken. They must break it if they are to succeed in their project for the new American century. Now this is not a military undertaking. It is a question of international alliances and treaties, fair trade agreements, cooperation, negotiation, all the things the unilateralist neo-cons reject because it would compromise the unlimited power of the US empire. So there will be a tug of war: Eurasia trying to create a peaceful international array of alliances, the US government trying to sow discord among these disparate parts whose interests indeed do not necessarily overlap. Rumsfeld’s attempt to split Europe into Old Europe and New Europe is a signal as to how they will do it. Countries are rewarded or punished according to whether they acquiesce to US demands.
Although there may be short term improvements in the US economy, long term it will spiral downward as long as neo-cons pursue a policy of perpetual war. When people begin to realize that Bush administration policies are going to hit the US economy, there's vulnerability. (So far they are still trusting in tax cuts for the rich and low interest rates.) Foreign investment in the USA has decreased and it will likely continue to do so[vi]. Other countries are still buying US debt, they have to because of trade deficits, but they may begin balking at this. Boycotts of US products are important here.
Corporations that are suffering from this will begin fussing. Wall Street will try to intervene. It does not want a hostile world, it wants profits. So many corporate representatives will begin to demand negotiations instead of bombs. Of course, it could still be a Republican Party they would support, but they'd like to get the mad mafia out and put in a conservative "rational" leadership, like Yussupov getting rid of Rasputin in order to save the empire. But getting rid of Rasputin didn't save the Russian Empire.
It is astonishing that the neo-cons seem willing to pull down the economy of the world for their goal of unquestioned military world domination. I think that is the central contradiction.
I think there is going to be a realignment of alliances and political entities. A merging of France and Germany has been proposed. That is really amazing - but also problematical. The rest of Europe obviously would not like this superstate amongst them. Yet I'm quite sure that Eastern Europe will eventually realize that the USA may not be the right country to help them form a counterbalance to greater France-Germany.
There has been talk among US economists of the EU collapsing within the next decade. Speculation of this nature in the Wall Street Journal is certainly meant to be a sign of what some people believe is in the US interest. It would weaken the potential of Europe as a counter to US hegemony. Therefore one can safely assume that neo-con policy makers are brainstorming on ways to weaken the EU. Thereafter only China would remain. But the neo-cons are also looking at ways to split China’s ethnic minorities and encourage them to revolt.
I think there's a possibility that middle Asia will go much more "tribal" and break into smaller entities due to the instability US policies are causing there. It might happen in China as well. But would that strengthen the US?
I don't think the USA has enough money, and very unlikely the will, to try to control all these hundreds of jostling small countries that might emerge, especially since all of them will hate the USA which will be one of the few points they agree on. Instead there will be an unstable world of the sort that appeared after the fall of the Roman Empire. I don't know if that's a worst-case scenario. Even worse would be the use of nuclear weapons that could end human life.
Feeling of Hopelessness
Europe, as Robert Kagan maintains[vii], has created a kind of peaceful – though overly unemployed - paradise for itself. To be sure, there are tears in that fabric, but on the whole, there is a safety net for everyone, little danger of large-scale wars between European countries, well functioning democracies, and prosperity. So why is there such a feeling of hopelessness among youth in Germany which has been perhaps the most successful country in accomplishing these goals? (I don’t know if this feeling of despair extends to other European nations.) Yes, there were struggles in the 60’s and 70’s which invigorated people, unified them, gave life meaning and which accomplished many of their goals. But that seems to be the problem, with goals accomplished where does one go?
The largest immediate problem seems to be the high rate of unemployment. No growth? I remember when it was once considered a positive goal to create a stabile no growth society. Why, when this seems to be realizable has it become anathema? I suspect it is because no one knows how to live in such a society. Growth or at least change and progress seems to be an embedded part of consciousness.
If Europeans feel that the US Empire has nothing to do with them and they can ignore it, then the present situation will offer no chance for revival of political activity and thinking. But Europe is not powerless to do something about a real threat to world peace and democratic ideals. Maybe one only needs to look beyond one’s own toes.
[i] Neo-conservative theory stems from the University of Chicago Professor Leo Strauss who died in 1973. Some of the advisors for the Bush administration who were influenced by Strauss are Irving Kristol, William Kristol, Paul Wolfowitz, Abram Shulsky, Keon Kass. Robert Kagan and Richard Perle also follow the line. And they’ve had influence on Cheney and Rumsfeld.
[ii] “Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources For a New Century,” September 2000. A Report of the Project for the New American Century, p.16
[iii] “Americans no longer find ‘empire’ and evil word,” by Julia Keller and Marja Mills in Boston Sunday Globe, April 27, 2003
[iv] If German readers are not yet aware of it, then it should be mentioned here that apologists for US policy have no problem with calling their foreign policy imperialistic, it is not a remnant of left-wing jargon to do this. In addition, perfectly conservative capitalist US think tanks have no problem with the moniker neo-colonialism to describe the theory behind Bush’s wars.
[v] “Power and Weakness”, by Robert Kagan, Policy Review no.113, June, 2002
[vi] “Foreign Investment in U.S. Plunges Nearly 80%”, Wall Street Journal, June 20, 2003, p.A6