Global Realignment and the Decline
of the Superpower
by Mike Whitney
The United States has been defeated in
Iraq. That doesn't mean that there'll be a troop withdrawal anytime
soon, but it does mean that there's no chance of achieving the
mission's political objectives. Iraq will not be a democracy,
reconstruction will be minimal, and the security situation will
continue to deteriorate into the foreseeable future.
The real goals of the invasion are equally unachievable. While
the US has established a number of military bases at the heart
of the world's energy-center, oil output has dwindled to 1.6 million
barrels per day, nearly half of post-war production. More importantly,
the administration has no clear strategy for protecting pipelines,
oil tankers and major facilities. Oil production will be spotty
for years to come even if security improves. This will have grave
effects on oil futures, triggering erratic spikes in prices and
roiling the world energy markets. If the contagion spreads to
the other Gulf States, as many political analysts now expect,
many of the world's oil-dependent countries will go through an
agonizing cycle of recession/depression.
America's failure in Iraq is not merely a defeat for the Bush
administration. It is also a defeat for the "unipolar-model"
of world order. Iraq proves that that the superpower model cannot
provide the stability, security or guarantee of human rights that
are essential for garnering the support of the six billion people
who now occupy the planet. The mushrooming of armed groups in
Iraq, Afghanistan and, now, Somalia foreshadows a broader and
more violent confrontation between the overstretched American
legions and their increasingly adaptable and lethal enemies. Resistance
to the imperial order is on the rise everywhere.
The United States does not have the resources or the public support
to prevail in such a conflict. Nor does it have the moral authority
to persuade the world of the merit of its cause. The Bush administration's
extralegal actions have galvanized the majority of people against
the United States. America has become a threat to the very human
rights and civil liberties with which it used to be identified.
There's little popular support for imprisoning enemies without
charges, for torturing suspects with impunity, for kidnapping
people off the streets of foreign capitals, or for invading sovereign
nations without the approval of the United Nations. These are
fundamental violations to international law as well as commonly
held principles of human decency.
The Bush administration defends its illegal activities as an essential
part of the new world order, a model of global governance which
allows Washington to police the world according to its own discretion.
The vast majority of people have rejected this model and polls
clearly indicate declining support for US policies nearly everywhere.
As former Jimmy Carter National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski
"American power may be greater in 2006 than in 1991, (but)
the country's capacity to mobilize, inspire, point in a shared
direction and thus shape global realities has significantly declined.
Fifteen years after its coronation as global leader, America is
becoming a fearful and lonely democracy in a politically antagonistic
The United States is a nation in a state of irreversible decline;
its foundational principles have been abandoned and its center
of political power is a moral swamp. The Bush presidency represents
the ethical low point in American history.
The US now faces a decades-long struggle that will engulf the
Middle East and Central Asia leading to the steady and predictable
erosion of America's military, political and economic power.
This is not the "new century" that Bush and his fellows
There are still dead-enders within the Bush administration who
believe that we are winning the war. Vice President Dick Cheney
has celebrated the "enormous success" of the Iraqi occupation,
but he finds himself increasingly isolated in his views. Reasonable
people agree that the war has been a strategic and moral catastrophe.
The US has paid a heavy price for its recklessness, losing over
3,000 servicemen while seriously undermining its standing in the
world. A small cadre of Iraqi guerillas has demonstrated that
it can frustrate the efforts of the best-equipped, best-trained,
high-tech military in the world. They have made Iraq an ungovernable
quagmire, which, by the standards of asymmetrical warfare, is
the very definition of success.
But what if Bush's plans had succeeded? What if his dark vision
of "victory" had been realized and the US was able to
subjugate the Iraqi people, control their resources, and create
an "Arab façade" through which the administration
could carry out its policies?
Is there any doubt that Bush would quickly march on Tehran and
Damascus? Is there any doubt that Guantanamo and other CIA "black
sites" around the world would increase in number and size?
Is there any doubt that global warming, peak oil, nuclear non
proliferation, poverty, hunger and AIDS would continue to be brushed
aside by Washington 's corporatists and banking elites?
Is there any doubt that success in Iraq would further strengthen
a tyrannical system that limits the decision-making on all the
issues of global importance, even the very survival of the planet,
to a small fraternity of well-heeled plutocrats and gangsters?
The "new world order" promises despotism not democracy.
Many people believe that America has undergone a silent coup and
has been taken over by a cabal of political fantasists and warmongers.
But this is only partially true. The US has a long history of
covert activity, black-ops, and other clear violations of international
law. Perhaps, we are reluctant to accept the truth because it's
easier to stick our heads in the sand and let the marauding continue.
The truth is there's a straight line from the founding of this
country to the killing fields of Baghdad. That line may be interrupted
by periods of enlightenment and peace, but it is still an unbroken
stripe from the Continental Congress to Abu Ghraib, from Bunker
Hill to Falluja, from Valley Forge to Guantanamo Bay. It all grows
from the same root.
The United States now faces mounting resistance from all corners
of the earth. Russia, China, and the Central Asian countries have
joined together in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)
to fend off US-NATO influence in the region. And in Latin America,
an alliance of leftist governments has formed (Mercosur) under
the leadership of Hugo Chavez. Africa still remains politically
fragmented and open to western exploitation, although ham-fisted
interventions in Somalia, Nigeria and Sudan suggest that the empire
will face escalating resistance there as well.
These new coalitions are an indication of the massive geopolitical
changes that are already underway. The world is realigning in
reaction to Washington's aggression. We can expect to see these
groups continue to strengthen as the administration pursues its
resource war through force of arms. That means that the "old
order" -- the United Nations, NATO and the transatlantic
Alliance -- will come under greater and greater strain until relations
are eventually cut off.
The UN has already become irrelevant through its blind support
of US policy in the Middle East. Its silence during Israel's destructive
rampage through Lebanon, as well as its failure to acknowledge
Iran's "inalienable rights" under the terms of the Nuclear
Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), has exposed the UN as a "rubberstamp"
for US-Israeli belligerence. An attack on Iran will be the end
of the UN, an institution that held great promise for the world,
but now merely provides cover for an elite western agenda. On
balance, the UN facilitates more wars than it stops. It won't
Afghanistan holds the key for understanding what's in store for
the EU, NATO and the transatlantic Alliance. There is no possibility
of success in Afghanistan. If the men who planned the invasion
had a grasp of the country's history they would have known how
the war would progress. They would have realized that Afghanis
traditionally take their time to fight back (Eric Margolis predicted
that the real war would not take place until four to five years
after the initial invasion), measuring the strength of their enemy
and garnering greater public support. Then they proceed with deliberate
steps to rid their country of the invaders. These are fiercely
nationalistic and independent people who have fought occupation
before and know what it takes to win.
We are mistaken to think that the war in Afghanistan is merely
a Taliban (or worse still) "terrorist" insurgency. The
present conflict represents a general uprising of Pushtun nationals
who seek to end foreign occupation. They know firsthand that US-NATO
policy has strengthened the warlords, expanded the drug trade,
reduced security, and increased terrorism. According to the Senlis
Council Report, the occupation has triggered "a humanitarian
crisis of starvation and poverty . . . US policies in Afghanistan
have re-created a safe haven for terrorism that the 2001 invasion
aimed to destroy."
The Afghan armed resistance is resourceful and intractable and
has a growing number of recruits to swell its ranks. Eventually,
they will prevail. It's their country and they'll be there long
after we've gone.
An America defeat in Afghanistan could be the straw that breaks
NATO's back. The administration's global schema depends heavily
on support from Europe; persuading the predominantly white, western
nations to join the battle and secure pipeline corridors and landlocked
energy supplies throughout Central Asia. Failure in Afghanistan
would send tremors through Europe's political landscape and give
rise to a generation of anti-American politicians who will seek
to dissolve relations between the two traditional allies. But
a breakup seems inevitable. After all, Europe has no imperial
aspirations and its economies are thriving. They don't need to
invade and occupy countries to get access to vital resources.
They can simply buy them on the open market.
As Europeans begin to see that their national interests are better
served through dialogue and friendship, (with suppliers of resources
in Central Asia and Russia) then the ties that bind Europe to
America will loosen and the continents will drift further apart.
The end of NATO is the end of America as a global power. The present
adventurism is not sustainable "unilaterally" and without
the fig leaf of UN cover. America needs Europe, but the chasm
between the two is progressively growing.
It is impossible to predict the future with any degree of certainty,
but the appearance of these coalitions strongly suggests a new
world order is emerging. It is not the one, however, that Bush
and the neoconservatives anticipated. America 's involvement in
Iraq and Afghanistan will continue to prevent it from addressing
brush fires in Latin America and Russia, further strengthening
US rivals and precipitating macroeconomic changes that could crush
the American middle class. The likelihood of a major economic
retrenchment has never been greater as the administration's reckless
defense spending, lavish tax cuts, and trade deficit have set
the stage for the US dollar to be dethroned as the world's "reserve
currency." The three pillars of American imperial power --
political, economic and military -- rest on the crumbling foundation
of the US greenback. If the dollar falls, as many currency traders
now expect, then foreign (baskets of) currencies will rise, and
America will slip into a deep recession/depression.
America's military and economic unraveling is likely to take a
decade or more depending on the situation in Iraq. If the Bush
administration is able to exert control over Middle East oil,
then the dollar will continue to be linked to vital resources
and American supremacy will persist. If, however, conditions on
the ground deteriorate, then Central Banks around the world will
decrease their dollar holdings, Americans will face hyperinflation
at home, and the US will lose its grip on the global economic
system. The Bush administration must, therefore, ensure that
oil continues to be denominated in USDs and that the world economy
remains in the hands of western elites, banking giants and corporatists.
The chances for success in Iraq are gradually diminishing. The
US has shown that it is incapable of establishing security, providing
basic social services, or keeping the peace. The guerilla war
continues to intensify while the over-extended US military has
been pushed to the breaking point. We expect the occupation of
Iraq to be untenable within five years if present trends continue.
America's military and economic unraveling will undoubtedly be
painful, but it may generate greater parity among the nations,
which would be a positive development. The superpower model has
been an abysmal failure. It has wreaked havoc on civil liberties
at home and spread war and instability across the world. The present
system needs a major shakeup so that power can be more evenly
distributed according to traditional democratic standards. America's
decline presents a unique opportunity to restore the Republic,
restructure the existing global paradigm, and begin to build consensus
on the species-threatening challenges that face us all.