USA, the predatory hegemon. From Monthly Review (Part I)

Nestor Miguel Gorojovsky gorojovsky at
Sat Sep 29 09:47:22 MDT 2001

This has appeared on a Brazilian list. Comments, please.

     Data: Sun, 23 Sep 2001 18:16:05 -0300
       De: "Reynaldo Cue" <reycue at>
  Assunto: Washington's new interventionism (Monthly Review)

Washington's new interventionism: U.S. hegemony and inter-imperialist

Monthly Review; New York; Sep 2001; David N Gibbs; Volume:  53,4,

Think hard about it. I'm running out of demons. I'm running out of
villains. -General Colin Powell1

The 1999 NATO war against Serbia poses an intellectual challenge for the
anti-interventionist left. On the one hand, critics doubt that humanitarian
concerns regarding the fate of Kosovar Albanians could have motivated the United
States to initiate this war. On the other hand, if humanitarian factors cannot
explain U.S. conduct, then what does? This essay will attempt to answer this
question, and will provide an analytical framework in which recent
interventionist actions, including the war over Kosovo, can be understood. The
basic argument is that the United States has grown accustomed to its position as
the world's dominant power and has sought to preserve this status, which
provides major political and economic benefits for the United States.
Concomitantly, the United States has sought to contain rival capitalist states
that threaten U.S. predominance. During the Cold War, the threat of Communism
served to legitimate U.S. hegemony over other capitalist states; with the end of
the Cold War, the United States has sought to use humanitarian intervention as
one of the principal means to reassert its hegemony, to provide a context in
which the most striking advantage of the United States-its overwhelming military
superiority-can be emphasized.

A major assumption underpinning this argument is that the postCold War era
has triggered increased tensions among the capitalist democracies, which in turn
require these "humanitarian" military assertions to reaffirm the dominant
position of the United States. Some readers may find this argument odd, since it
is widely assumed that the western allies have always welcomed U.S. leadership.
In his book, American Empire, Geir Lundestad referred to U.S. hegemony over
Europe during the Cold War as a case of "empire by invitation," the result of
cooperative, mutually beneficial activity between Americans and Europeans.2 This
image of a "benign" American hegemony has more recently been popularized by
Irving Kristol, who wrote in 1997: "One of these days, the American people are
going to awaken to the fact that we have become an imperial nation.. It happened
because the world wanted it to happen [emphasis added] ... no European nation
can have-or really wants to have-its own foreign policy."3 The problem with such
views is that they gloss over two important facts: First, they ignore the
ambivalence with which U.S. allies have always viewed their subordinate
position. Second, U.S. hegemony has been maintained partly through forceful
behavior, which has undercut efforts by U.S. allies to establish independent
foreign policies. These challenges to U.S. hegemony were present even during the
Cold War, but with the end of the Cold War, they have increased considerably.
There has been a concomitant rise in U.S. efforts to resist these challenges.

U.S. foreign policy thus entailed a measure of "double containment"-to
contain Communism and the capitalist allies of the United States in Europe
simultaneously. With the demise of the Soviet Bloc, after 1989, the
containment of allies has remained a central U.S. objective. Overwhelmingly, the
United States has sought to reassert its power through a revitalization of the
Cold War institutional structures, above all, the North Atlantic Treaty
Organization, widely regarded as the most successful alliance in history.
Humanitarian intervention has emerged as NATO's principal mission-and principal
justification-in the post-Cold War world.

A Predatory Hegemon?

The theme of rivalry among the advanced industrial states may seem
especially anomalous given the long period of amity among these states,
which prevailed during the period of the Cold War. The common ideological
enemy of Communism served to unite the capitalist powers for this time. It
is important to recognize, however, that the period 1945-89 was in some
sense a historical aberration. Viewed over a longer period, say the past two
hundred years, one could easily conclude that conflict, rather than cooperation,
has been the norm among capitalist states; these latent conflicts were masked
and held in check for an extended period during the Cold War.

The agent that facilitated cooperation was of course U.S. hegemony. During
the late 1960s and early 1970s, radical scholars such as Joyce and Gabriel
Kolko argued that the United States followed an imperialist strategy after
the Second World War-to dominate Western Europe and Japan, marginalize
political tendencies that opposed U.S. dominance, and dismantle European and
Japanese spheres of influence in the Third World. Anticommunism legitimated
these U.S. efforts. Much of this New Left scholarship has fallen from favor, as
intellectual fashion shifted and a new era of U.S. triumphalism emerged in its
place. However, the New Left interpretation has reemerged in new guises.
Essentially the same arguments have been advanced by such mainstream figures as
Christopher Layne and Benjamin Schwarz, who wrote in 1993:

Two paradoxes have shaped American foreign policy. First although the Soviet
Union was the immediate focus of US security strategy, it was really quite
incidental to America's liberal internationalist policy. Second, the Soviet
Union's existence, ironically, was indispensable to that policy's success....
After World War II, Washington sought an international order based upon...
"preponderant [American] power." That objective had very little to do with any
existing or projected Soviet actions; in fact, American statesmen knew that
their wide-ranging objectives would increase Soviet insecurity and thereby
increase the risk of war... the basic aspiration of US security policy since the
Second World has not been to contain the Soviets. 4

The main objective was to establish a liberal international order led by the
United States, while it was to be justified as a response to alleged Soviet

At the close of the Second World War, the emerging U.S. hegemon faced
opposition from two principal sources: First, the political left enjoyed
unprecedented popularity during this period; Communist parties were major
forces in the political systems of Italy and France (and in Japan as well);
socialist groups were also influential. Both were suspicious of, or hostile to,
U.S. foreign policy. It must be emphasized that this type of anti-U.S. sentiment
extended well beyond Communist circles. In a 1947 essay, George Orwell advocated
a European form of democratic socialism, independent of both superpowers. Of the
potential barriers to socialism, one of most formidable was "American hostility.
If the United States remains capitalist and especially if it needs markets for
exports, it cannot regard a socialist Europe with a friendly eye."5 To combat
this U.S. hostility, Orwell advocated a pan-European socialist federation, with
spheres of influence in parts of Asia and Africa, presumably linked together as
a common currency and trading bloc. The political left in Europe was a key
impediment to U.S. designs, and was dealt with through direct political
manipulation. Samuel Huntington notes that "the United States expended billions
of dollars each year attempting to influence government decisions, elections,
and political outcomes in other countries," and consider-able sums were spent to
defeat Communist parties and other radical elements in Western Europe.6 In
addition, U.S. intelligence operatives used a variety of additional means,
including alliances with the Catholic Church, conservative labor unions, and
organized crime networks, to undermine radical parties and unions during the
late 1940s.

A second major impediment to U.S. aspirations in Europe was the political
right, which had a long tradition of protectionist measures, state
regulation, and colonial spheres of influence. U.S. efforts to curb these
practices caused many Europeans to wonder aloud whether the United States or the
Soviet Union was really the greater threat. The normally sober Economist noted
in 1947:

Not many people in this country believe the Communist thesis that it is the
deliberate and conscious aim of American policy to ruin Britain and everything
Britain stands for in the world. But the evidence can certainly be read that
way. And if every time that aid is extended, conditions are attached which make
it impossible for Britain ever to escape the necessity of going back for still
more aid, to be obtained with still more self-abasement and on still more
crippling terms, then the result will certainly be what the Communists predict.7

There can be no question that U.S. policy both during and after the Second
World War sought to open previously closed European spheres of influence to U.S.
trade and investment. These expansionist objectives were openly expressed in
(now declassified) documents. Consider a 1943 document from the State
Department's leading Africa specialist:

Overseas trade will be more important than ever before to this nation in
maintaining our vaunted standard of living... our country will not be able
to maintain our heretofore standard of living or even to approximate it
unless we can produce more, export more, and help by our overseas trade to
all lands to raise the standard of living of backward people so that they
may absorb more and more of the products of American agriculture and
industry.... We have therefore the most vital national interest in this
matter. In my opinion it is not sufficient that there be a condition of
joint world leadership by Great Britain and the United States... [The United
States should not tolerate] agreements which would relegate in any area of the
world American influence.. to a secondary position.8

Such expansionist views generated a significant degree of friction with U.S.

The Cold War was on the surface a bipolar conflict, but the image obscured
much complexity. There always were important fissures within the U.S.-led
alliance-fissures which appear considerably more important in hindsight than
they appeared at the time. The French tendency to challenge U.S. leadership
during and after the presidency of Charles de Gaulle is especially noteworthy.
De Gaulle criticized U.S. domination of NATO, leading to a French departure from
the joint military command and the permanent removal of NATO headquarters from
Paris to Brussels. France jealously protected its influence in sub-Saharan
Africa from perceived U.S. incursions; De Gaulle's special advisor on Africa
policy, Jacques Foccart, became "virtually the main enemy of United States
diplomacy in Africa." Foccart's staff "saw the United States, not China or
Russia, as the main enemy."9 The international role of the dollar and alleged
U.S. abuse of its privileged monetary position, were additional objects of
Gaullist censure ("The Americans only used the atom device twice on Asia... but
they use the dollar on Europe every day").10 Criticism of U.S. leadership was
not confined to France. Not a single European country was willing openly to
support the U.S. war effort in Vietnam; from Europe, the war was regarded as
misguided and irresponsible. During the 1970s, the Nixon-Kissinger tendency to
undertake unilateral actions without consulting U.S. allies-such as the 1971
decision to devalue the dollar and to abandon free convertibility into
gold-became additional sources of resentment. Unilateral U.S. actions during the
energy shortages of 197,75 generated further recriminations.

Thus, the Pax Americana was far from an unambiguous benefit to U.S. allies.
However, European reservations were kept in check by three factors: First, the
United States presented "free" security against the possibility of a Soviet
invasion. Few seriously believed that direct Soviet aggression was a
probability; however, it was widely considered a hypothetical possibility
throughout the Cold War, owing to the numerical superiority of Warsaw Pact
conventional forces in central Europe. Second, the United States was a reliable
bulwark against the possibility of radical social change in Europe, and there
was an understanding that the U.S. would work behind the scenes against any
prospective government by the far left. This aspect of the Cold War represented
a tacit alliance between European elites and U.S. foreign policy. Many upper
class Europeans no doubt slept better at night knowing this. Third, U.S.
hegemony was associated with economic prosperity and full employment. Economic
growth during the early period of the Cold War was far above historical
averages; in all Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development member
countries, there was full, or near full, employment combined with advanced
welfare states. And economic growth was beneficial to nearly every segment of
society, with major improvements in the material conditions of the working
classes. The fact that prosperity coincided with U.S. hegemony contributed to
the political legitimacy of the project.

European leftists could still fantasize about the prospect of a "Europe
without America," but during the Cold War this was never a serious
possibility.11 Over the past thirty years, however, each of the three
factors which undergirded the legitimacy of U.S. hegemony has gradually
eroded. First, the period of economic prosperity came to an end during the
1973-75 recession; thereafter, Europe has seen slower rates of growth,
combined with permanently high unemployment in many countries. Second, the
radical left parties, rather than benefiting from deteriorating economic
conditions, gradually declined or diluted the radical content of their
programs. This process was already far advanced during the 1980s, and has
accelerated since then. Tony Blair's Third Way is only the most obvious
public manifestation of a more basic trend. Although there have been some
contrary tendencies-such as the surprising resiliency of the former East
German Communist party and the 1995 French transport strike-the general
picture is one of an increasingly domesticated left. And third, the military
threat posed by the War-saw Pact ceased to exist. By 1991, with the dissolution
of the Soviet Union, the danger of an invasion from the East could no longer be
entertained by anyone.

Challenges to U.S. Hegemony

The initial reaction to the end of the Cold War was a remarkable
augmentation in U.S. prestige. Many Western Europeans saw the collapse of
the Soviet bloc as not only a political victory, but also an ideological
victory for free-market capitalism and the "American way of life." The
U.S.-led victory over Iraqi forces in the Gulf War of 1991-achieved with
unprecedented international support-increased U.S. prestige still further.
And there can be little doubt that the popularity of U.S. consumer culture
translated into some measure of "soft power," advantageous for U.S. foreign
policy. For a brief moment, U.S. triumphalism was shared by much of the advanced
capitalist world.

What is interesting is how quickly this triumphalist aura evaporated. A new era
of anti-U.S. sentiment emerged worldwide. There are many indications of this
loss of legitimacy, but let us begin with a poll taken in France in 1996. In
this poll, a plurality of French adults viewed the United States with antipathy.
When asked which words they most associated with the United States, the top
associations were "violence" (59 percent), "power" (57 percent), "inequality"
(45 percent), and "racism" (39 percent). There was, however, one segment of
French society that was consistently favorable toward the United States-but
disturbingly, these were supporters of the extreme right-wing, racist National
Front Party.12

It is easy to dismiss this poll as simply another example of French
anti-Americanism; but such views extend well beyond France. Writing in 1995,
British international political economist Susan Strange criticized the "natural
(but destructive) unilateralist tendency in the U.S. political system. Today, my
answer, tentative as it must be, is that the only way to remove the present
hegemonic, do-nothing veto on better global governance [exercised by the United
States] is to build, bit by bit a compelling opposition based on
European-Japanese cooperation but embracing wherever possible the Latin
Americans, Asians, and Africans."13 It is also worth noting the rise in
anti-U.S. sentiment in Russia. In early 1999, the liberal Moscow weekly
Moskovskiye Novosti noted this growing hostility: "The depiction of our overseas
neighbor [the United States] in the Soviet era was more sympathetic. The object
of hatred was the fat capitalist with the cigar or the hawkish general with an
atomic bomb under his arm rather than the ordinary American. But in today's
[Russian] novels, the right class origin will not save anyone. On the contrary,
it is held against all Americans."14

This increasing tendency to doubt the value of U.S. hegemony, to regard it
as an expression of self-interest, still receives little attention from the U.S.
press. But there are some interesting exceptions. Samuel Huntington, who
epitomized the close connection between academia and U.S. hegemony, has lately
adopted a reassessment. Writing in Foreign Affairs in 1997, he openly ridicules
official rhetoric: "American officials.. boast of American power and American
virtue, hailing the United States as a benevolent hegemon." Madeleine K Albright
"has called the United States `the indispensable nation' and said that `we stand
tall and hence see further than other nations.' This statement is true in the
narrow sense that the United States is an indispensable participant in any
effort to tackle major global problems. It is false in also implying that other
nations are dispensable..and that American indispensability is a source of
wisdom." Huntington goes on to demolish the image of the United States as a
benign power:

[The U.S. has] attempted or been perceived as attempting more or less
unilaterally to do the following: ... promote American corporate interests
under the slogans of free trade and open markets; shape World Bank and
International Monetary Fund policies to serve those same corporate
interests; ... bludgeon other countries to adopt economic and social
policies that will benefit American economic interests; promote American
arms sales abroad while attempting to prevent comparable sales by other
countries; force out one UN secretary-general and dictate the appointment of his
successor; ... and categorize certain countries as "rogue states," excluding
them from global institutions because they refuse to kowtow to American

Around the word, then, there is the increasing perception that the United
States has become a predatory hegemon, using its power to advance its own
interests. Such perceptions pose major challenges to U.S. hegemonic
aspirations after the Cold War.

Renascent Rivalries

Re-creating the Cold War, or at least some reasonably plausible substitute
for it has been a general theme of U.S. policy during the past decade, as
implied in the epigram from Colin Powell, with which I began this article.
Such a re-creation has the advantage of benefiting various interests groups,
most obviously the cluster of groups that Eisenhower termed the
military-industrial complex. And U.S. government officials, both uniformed and
civilian, very much miss the legitimacy that the struggle against Communism
conferred on U.S. hegemony on the one hand, and the concomitant subordination of
U.S. allies which resulted from this hegemony, on the other. The inconvenient
demise of the Cold War has been a serious problem from the standpoint of these
diverse interest groups. New means would be required to maintain U.S. control.
In response, the United States has sought to reinvigorate the alliance system
left over from the Cold War, the key part of which was NATO.

The central importance of U.S. hegemony in Europe cannot be overstated:
Henry Kissinger writes that the Atlantic Alliance was "the prize for victory in
the Cold War." NATO was the linchpin of U.S. hegemony in Europe or, in
Kissinger's words, "the principal institutional link between America and
Europe."16 In Europe, officials have been less restrained. Gabriel Robin, former
French representative to NATO, wrote that the alliance's "real function, which
surpasses all others, is to serve as the chaperon of Europe... [It is] the means
to prevent it [Europe] from establishing itself as an independent fortress and
perhaps one day, a rival."17 In short, the continued existence of NATO is vital
for the continuation of U.S. dominance in Europe. And it is also in Europe that
U.S. hegemony has faced its most potent threat: the European Union(EU). The EU
threat is threefold: First, the EU is one of the largest single economic units
in the world, roughly equal to the United States. The very size of the EU makes
it a threat to U.S. hegemony, potentially more formidable, at least in the
medium term, than any other power center including China.

Second, political changes are underway within the EU that threaten to
increase its independence from the United States. During the post-Cold War
period, Germany began to join France in openly advocating European
independence. Undoubtedly, the German assertiveness was influenced by the
new opportunities that attended reunification in 1990. It was clearly the
dominant power within the EU, and, in close cooperation with France, Germany
became an advocate for increased European autonomy.

Third, the EU began to adopt specific measures to implement a more
independent policy, officially termed the European Security and Defense
Identity. This offered the Europeans a chance to establish an independent
world role, commensurate with the size and economic weight of the combined
European nations. In early 1991, French President Francois Mitterand and
German Chancellor Helmut Kohl proposed the Western European Union (WEU) as
an integral component of the European Security and Defense Identity. This
proposal was officially approved in December 1991 at the historic Maastricht
conference, and the WEU became the official military arm of the European Union.
In addition, France and Germany announced that they would form a Franco-German
army corps, "the Eurocorps," to be fully operational beginning in 1995. Though
the Eurocorps was a bilateral measure, undertaken outside of the EU structure,
it was presented as the nucleus of a pan-European army, to which other EU
members would be expected to join in time.

The possibility of an independent European foreign and military policy was
immediately viewed as a potential threat to NATO and U.S. dominance. EU
military integration was singled out for criticism, and this led to a series of
incidents during 1991-92: National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft wrote
directly to Chancellor Kohl and complained about German "ingratitude, despite
American support for reunification."18 President George Bush, himself issued a
delicately worded threat: "Our premise is that the American role in the defense
and the affairs of Europe will not be made superfluous by European union. If our
premise is wrong, if my friends, your ultimate aim is to provide individually
for your own defense, the time to tell us is today."19 In addition, the United
States began to actively undermine European military integration. According to
one account: "Senior German officials say they continue to feel intense US
pressure to back off plans for a European army corps and to make unspecified but
apparently unending displays of their commitment to NATO..US officials [are]
lobbying smaller European countries to stay out of the developing German-French

U.S.-European contention also extended to financial policy. The 1991
Maastricht conference ratified a plan for increased financial integration,
with the aim of a single European currency, the Euro, to be introduced in
January 1999. Though the Euro was advanced as a technical means to achieve
an integrated European market, it was clear from the start that it would
also have political implications: the Euro would pose a threat to the U.S.
dollar's status as the international reserve currency, as well as a more
general challenge to the U.S. position as the world's predominant power.
According to Helmut Schmidt, "Americans do not yet understand the
significance of the Euro, but when they do it could set up a monumental
conflict.. it will change the whole world situation so that the United
States can no longer call all the shots."21 U.S. analysts had essentially
the same assessment. Martin Feldstein, former head of the President's
Council of Economic Advisors, commented that European monetary integration
could "change the political character of Europe in ways that could lead
to... confrontation with the United States." European monetary unification
could make "the world a very different and not necessarily safer place."22
And the Europeans advanced some inflammatory accusations of their own: in
1992-93, politicians from a range of ideological perspectives implied that
the United States was undermining European financial cooperation, by
orchestrating speculative attacks against key currencies.

The Pentagon Reassesses U.S. Hegemony

In March 1992, these latent conflicts between the United States and Europe
triggered an interesting controversy: The New York Times printed excerpts
from a leaked document, a draft of the Pentagon's Defense Planning Guidance
(DGP). Although officials later sought to distance themselves from the DPG
document, there is no question that it was approved at a high level. Drafted
under the direction of Paul Wolfowitz, the Under Secretary of Defense, it stands
out in a number of respects: It was one of the major documents of the postCold
War period that presents an overall framework for U.S. foreign policy; it was
not originally intended for public scrutiny; and despite later claims to the
contrary, it was drafted and approved, at least in preliminary form, at a high

The most interesting feature of the DPG document was the suspicion with
which it viewed U.S. allies, especially Germany and Japan. According to the
Times article, the DPG expressed fear that these two countries might begin full
rearmament, which could lead to "global competition with the United States and
in a crisis over national interests, military rivalry." Accordingly, the
preservation of the NATO alliance was emphasized. While the document expressed
support for some degree of European military integration, presumably on grounds
of economy, the U.S. would actively block European efforts to establish an
independent foreign and military policy: "we must seek to prevent the emergence
of Europe-only security arrangements which would undermine NATO, particularly
the alliance's integrated command structure." Overall, the DPG document stressed
the central importance of U.S. primacy: "we must maintain the mechanisms for
deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or
global role" [emphasis added].24

A later 1994 analysis by a specialist in the U.S. Congressional Research
Service reached conclusions that parallel those of the DPG. This analysis
notes that, while some segments of the U.S. establishment welcomed the
maturing of the European Union, other elements remained "skeptical of the
benefits of European integration for the United States....This tendency
suggests that the United States must actively defend its interests in the
European integration process and should, when necessary, disrupt community
consensus if such consensus might operate against U.S. self-interests.
Particularly in the absence of an active Soviet threat against Europe, the
process of European integration may have mainly negative consequences for
U.S. interests, according to this approach."25 The ideas expressed here, and
also in the Pentagon's DPG are inconsistent with image of a "benign" U.S.
hegemony, universally welcomed by allies.

With intense U.S. lobbying and the implied threat in the leaked DPG
document, the members of the EU began to lose their enthusiasm for foreign
policy independence. Several additional factors complicated these efforts.
First, European leaders (even among the French) wished to avoid a complete
termination of the Atlantic Alliance; some propitiation of the United States was
clearly necessary. Second, longstanding fissures among the EU members
intensified during this period and were skillfully exploited by the United
States. Britain had always been the most reliably pro-U.S. element in Europe,
and the "special relationship" appeared to grow stronger with the end of the
Cold War. Britain became a forceful advocate of the U.S. position and acted as a
counterpoint to the German-French stance, which aimed at greater independence.
Third, smaller European countries continued to feel jealousy toward the
German-French tendency to dominate EU decision making and preferred some degree
of U.S. influence in order to offset the prospect of German-French dominance
within the EU.

[ end Part I ]

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