[Marxism] America doesn't always get its way
lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Aug 5 06:59:17 MDT 2012
Socialist Worker 2314, 4 August 2012
America doesn't always get its way
There is a puzzling contradiction in contemporary discussion of American
power. The theme that the US is in decline, being elbowed out of the way
by China, is well established in mainstream discourse.
It is being strongly played on at the moment by the Republicans, as a
way of bashing Barack Obama. Mitt Romney’s disastrous venture to London
was an ill-fated effort in this direction.
Condoleezza Rice, George Bush’s last secretary of state, pushed much the
same story in a piece in the Financial Times on Friday last week: “The
American people have to be inspired to lead again. They need to be
reminded that the US is not just any other country… Failure to do so
would leave a vacuum, likely filled by those who will not champion a
balance of power that favours freedom.”
Invading Iraq was intended to secure that “balance of power that favours
freedom”. Maybe there is nostalgia on the wilder shores of the
Republican Party for this kind of imperialist adventurism, but it exists
Yet sections of the left who set their faces most firmly against Bush’s
“war on terror” seem to believe not only that the US actually won in
Iraq but that it always wins. One version of this belief was expressed
about Iraq by Naomi Klein in her book The Shock Doctrine.
She argued that, for all the chaos and carnage that the invasion and
occupation of Iraq caused, they were a great success for American
“disaster capitalism”. In other words, firms like Blackwater and
Halliburton made a fortune out of Iraq.
But this kind of analysis confuses the part and the whole. Healthy
profits for Republican-aligned US companies were only a by-product of
the conquest of Iraq. The main aim was politically to transform the
Middle East by entrenching the US military grip on the region and using
a pliant regime in Iraq to create counterparts elsewhere.
The Maliki government in Iraq is a pretty nasty affair. But it forced
the US to withdraw its combat forces from Iraq and has aligned itself
geopolitically with the Islamic Republican regime in Iran, to the extent
of backing Bashar al-Assad in Syria. This was not the plan.
The region is being politically transformed, but by a wave of popular
revolutions that began by taking out two of the most pro-Western regimes
in the Arab world—Ben Ali’s in Tunisia and Mubarak’s in Egypt.
But this is where a kind of left fatalism kicks in. Those who subscribe
to it may concede that the US suffered initial setbacks. Yet they argue
that it is regaining control—by co-opting the Muslim Brotherhood in
Egypt, orchestrating the Nato intervention in Libya, and engineering the
overthrow of Assad in Syria.
This view edits out the profound contradictions in the situation. The
Muslim Brotherhood, for example, has to engage in a complex balancing
act. It seeks simultaneously to cultivate its relationship with the US
and the Egyptian military while maintaining its popular base.
But the view also attributes to the US a level of control that simply
doesn’t exist. The Libyan intervention was a successful improvisation by
Western powers in a comparatively favourable situation. A weak and
fragmented opposition was fighting a long-range war where air power
could quite easily tilt the balance.
Syria is quite a different kettle of fish. The US would like to use
military pressure on the ground by the Free Syrian Army to broker a
compromise between the more respectable opposition forces and elements
of Assad’s regime. But the resistance on the ground remains very diverse
and driven primarily by highly localised political mobilisations.
Although weakened, the US remains the world’s biggest economic and
military power. But it certainly isn’t omnipotent.
Maybe it will get its way in Syria. But this is only one among a
spectrum of possibilities. It is the widespread left assumption in the
inevitability of American triumph that is strange at a time when
everyone else thinks US power is waning.
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