Adam Ash

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Friday, November 17, 2006

The decline of the American Empire - and as we sink into the toilet, I for one ain't crying, because we've been warmongering pigs to countless nations

1. America Faces a Future of Managing Imperial Decline
Bush's failure to grasp the limits of US global power has led to an adventurism for which his successors will pay a heavy price
By Martin Jacques/The Guardian

Just a few years ago, the world was in thrall to the idea of American power. The neoconservative agenda not only infused the outlook of the White House, it also dominated the global debate about the future of international relations. Following 9/11, we had, in quick succession, the "war on terror", the "axis of evil", the idea of a new American empire, the overarching importance of military power, the notion and desirability of regime change, the invasion of Iraq, and the proposition that western-style democracy was relevant and applicable to every land in the world, starting with the Middle East. Much of that has unwound with a speed that barely anyone anticipated. With the abject failure of the American occupation of Iraq - to the point where even the American electorate now recognises the fact - the neoconservative era would appear to be in its death throes.

But what precisely is coming to an end? Neoconservatism in all its pomp conceived - in the Project for a New American Century - that, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the world could be remade in the American image, that the previous bipolar world could be replaced by a unipolar one in which the US was the dominant arbiter of global and regional affairs. In fact, the Bush administration never came close to this. For a short time it did succeed in persuading the great majority of countries to accept the priority of the war against terror and seemingly to sign up for it: even the intervention in Afghanistan, in the aftermath of 9/11, elicited widespread acquiescence. But the US singularly failed to command a majority of states in support of the invasion of Iraq and garnered even less support when it came to global public opinion. It demonstrated its unilateral intent by ignoring its failure to gain assent within the UN and invading Iraq, but the subsequent failure of its Iraqi adventure has served only to reinforce its isolation and demonstrate the folly of its unilateralism. Its strategy in the Middle East - always the epicentre of the neoconservative global project - lies in tatters.

Elsewhere the neoconservative project was stillborn. North Korea was branded as part of the "axis of evil" but the US, in agreeing to the six-party talks as a way of handling the crisis on the Korean peninsula, tacitly admitted that it simply did not enjoy enough leverage to deal with the Kim regime. This was demonstrated more forcibly with its failure to prevent the recent nuclear test, and the US's subsequent dependence on China for seeking some means of engaging North Korea in dialogue. In fact China has now cajoled the US into accepting the need for it to do something it had previously resisted: entering into direct talks with North Korea, with China playing the role of honest broker. For all the neoconservative bluster, the US is simply too weak in east Asia - and China too strong - for it to be anything other than a secondary player in the North Korean crisis. It has been a striking illustration of the slow, remorseless decline of American influence in the region.

Meanwhile, in the region that it has dominated for well over a century, which it has traditionally regarded as its own backyard and in which it intervened with impunity throughout the cold war - namely Latin America - the US is now facing its bleakest ever situation, far worse than anything the Cuban regime represented during the cold war. The US is confronted with a formidable and well-resourced adversary in Chávez's Venezuela, and a continent in which the left has made extraordinary progress. The Bush administration, so far at least, has been quite unable to halt its growing isolation in Latin America and the left's onward march.

Even in the Middle East, the weakness of the neoconservative position has become increasingly evident in its handling of Iran, another member of the "axis of evil". As in the case of North Korea, the US, partly as a result of its preoccupation with the occupation of Iraq, in effect devolved negotiations over Iran's nuclear ambitions to the group of four consisting of Germany, France, Russia and the UK.

Although the west Europeans have been happy to do most of America's bidding, Russia has not and nor, it would appear, has China. Both are permanent members of the UN security council, and both are resistant to sanctions and the threat of military action. As a result, negotiations over Iran have been mired in something of an impasse. Of course, if the neoconservatives had felt strong enough, they could have forced the issue in a manner similar to their approach in Iraq. The point is that they did not. And now it would seem inconceivable that they can contemplate military action against Iran.

On the contrary, the tables appear to be in the process of being turned: the US, instead of seeking to isolate Iran, is now likely to need Iranian and Syrian support in helping to sort out the debacle in Iraq. Taken with the failure of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the continuing disaster of the occupied territories, we can see that the US is in retreat. Ever since 1956, it has been increasingly and formidably dominant in the region, with Israel riding pillion, and since 1989 it has been the overwhelming arbiter of events there. This year marks the beginning of the decline of American power in the Middle East, with untold consequences.

Here we can see the cost of Bush's adventurism for American imperial power. In failing to understand the inherent limits of US global power consequent upon deeper, though seemingly unrecognised, longer-term global trends, the Bush administration hugely overestimated American power and thereby committed a gross act of imperial over-reach, for which subsequent administrations will pay a heavy price. Far from the US simply conjoining its pre-1989 power with that of the deceased USSR, it is increasingly confronted with a world marked by the growing power of a range of new national actors, notably - but by no means only - China, India and Brazil.

Just six years into the 21st century, one can say this is not shaping up to be anything like an American century. Rather, the US seems much more likely to be faced with a very different kind of future: how to manage its own imperial decline. And, as a footnote, one might add that this is a task for which pragmatists are rather better suited than ideologues.

(Martin Jacques is a visiting research fellow at the Asia Research Centre, London School of Economics)

2. The World Enters the Dangerous Era of American Impotence -- by Renaud Girard/Le Figaro

Since September 2001, the world has not experienced an Indian summer as politically hot as this one. North Korea effects its first nuclear test. Iran announces that, come what may, it will continue its uranium enrichment program. Iraq sinks into civil war and anti-Western insurrection. The Sudanese military regime allows deadly chaos to take hold in Darfur, and the UN cannot intervene effectively. In Afghanistan, NATO undergoes the bitter challenge of the Taliban and the opium lords' rebirth. In Pakistan, al-Qaeda is treated as the nuclear issue once was: deny, always deny; the reality is that the Country of the Pure is not even fulfilling some minimal responsibility in the fight against bin Laden's networks. In Lebanon, Hezbollah strengthens its grip on society and one does not sense even the least little beginning of a disarmament of the Shiite Islamist militia. In Palestine, the youth becomes ever more radical under the banner of Islamist parties that refuse to acknowledge Israel's right to exist. In Rusia, the Kremlin - without any hang-ups - tramples on the last fifteen years' democratic advances and overtures to the West. In short, the list of destabilization viruses suddenly emerging into view this autumn of 2006 is long.

The "new international order" announced by American president George H. Bush (father of the present one) in the spring of 1991 now seems quite distant. It was a lovely era of illusions when communism was dead; when people talked about "the end of history"; when wars were won without any deaths on the side of the "good guys"; when the UN experienced a rebirth under the uncontested authority of a Security Council that suddenly wasn't paralyzed any more; when the world's problems seemed to be susceptible to settlement by the organization of big international conferences (such as the conference of Madrid for the Palestinian question); when the password of all respectable diplomacy was "multilateralism."

Why does today's world seem to cover itself over so rapidly with the worrying boils of political, ethnic, and religious violence? One of the main reasons is America's loss of its deterrent power. In the absence of a real permanent UN force, the United States is the only permanent Security Council member and power to command a credible modern army capable of being projected to any point on the globe. The problem is that, today, that force no longer really makes anyone afraid.

Unfortunately for the West - and for world peace in general - America, by getting itself bogged down in Iraq, has wrecked its deterrent power and, in the same blow, its political credit. Its advice, its demands, its threats are far less attended to than they were only three years ago.

February 5, 2003, the day of the famous Security Council debate on Iraq that was broadcast on television screens the world over, American deterrent power was at its apogee. The deployment of 50,000 troops to Kuwait had been sufficient in this instance to make the world understand that America was very serious about the matter. Saddam Hussein certainly understood that when he secretly transmitted proposals accepting all American demands via hawk Richard Perle. "Prince of Darkness" Perle did everything to bury these proposals that forestalled the planned conflict, and President Bush's entourage was very poorly advised not to take them into consideration. It was a time when Iran itself proposed to suspend its uranium enrichment activities as proof of its good faith.

The American failure in Iraq has paradoxically given the mullahs' Tehran sanctuary: the mullahs understand that Congress will not, under the present circumstances, allow George W. Bush to attack Iran. American speech in the Security Council against the Iranian nuclear program hardly holds any weight at all because everyone knows it will not be followed by any use of military force. Still worse, by provoking a tripling in the price of oil, the Americans have endowed President Ahmadinejad's regime with the financial margin he dreamed of to feed his hegemonic regional ambitions militarily. Today, in the southern suburbs of Beirut, Hezbollah distributes fistfuls of Iranian oil money.

By launching itself into the invasion and occupation of Iraq March 20, 2003, the Americans unnecessarily exited the deterrent posture that had nonetheless worked very well. Not to have solicited and obtained the UN Security Council's approval aggravated things still further: in the history of nations, individual mistakes have always been more deleterious than collective mistakes.

France could not in any case rejoice in the destruction of American deterrent power. The United States is a difficult ally - sometimes even an arrogant ally - but it is an ally, and the only one we have who can make credible the resolutions we make together inside the Security Council.

As the twenty-first century promises to be a century of dangerous religious, ethnic, political, and economic rivalries, the planet needs a global policeman. As long as the UN has not established its own military force - as it is invited to do in its Charter - the need for this policeman will continue to be felt. And today, whether we like it or not, that policeman is American.


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