28 July 2005

US Empire’s coming decline

By Tapani Lausti

Tariq Ali and David Barsamian, Speaking of Empire and Resistance: Conversations with Tariq Ali. The New Press 2005.

The current chaos in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf was recently described in a Finnish commentary as a process in which "the US [is] building a new regional order". In an article titled "The Middle East has to adapt to US hegemony" (Lähi-idän on sopeuduttava Yhdysvaltain hegemoniaan, Helsingin Sanomat, 24 July 2005), Heidi Huuhtanen, who works for The Finnish Institute of International Affairs, writes about the US "takeover" of Iraq and concludes: "Although the methods of the hegemonic power have to be criticised, it is important that the US position has opened the door to find a solution to accumulated problems."

Huuhtanen continues: "The Middle East peace process, containment of states conducting an aggressive foreign policy, stopping terrorist activity, the strengthening of weak states and the democratisation of authoritarian states are all facts which stabilise the Middle East. After a long wait, real change is again possible."

On the very same day of Huuhtanen’s article, Patrick Cockburn, one of the best correspondents in Baghdad, wrote: "For future historians Iraq will probably replace Vietnam as the stock example of the truth of Wellington’s dictum about small wars escalating into big ones. Ironically, the US and Britain pretended in 2003 that Saddam rules a powerful state capable of menacing his neighbours. Secretly they believed this was untrue and expected an easy victory." Cockburn concluded his article thus: "Now in 2005 they find to their horror that there are people in Iraq more truly dangerous than Saddam, and they are mired in an un-winnable conflict." (Iraq: This is now an unwinnable conflict, Independent on Sunday, 24 July 2005, republished by CounterPunch, 26 July 2005)

So much for a new regional order. The whole region, if not the whole world, is more likely to spin completely out of control.

There is no doubt that the American government is trying hard to create a new world order to serve its interests. After September 11, Condoleezza Rice said: "Let’s use 9/11 to get our own way everywhere in the world."

The quote appears in a book of interviews with Tariq Ali in which he, together with David Barsamian, dissects the current state of the US Empire. With ears much closer to the ground than Huuhtanen’s, Ali says that what is happening to "the American Empire is no different from other empires. It is slowly sowing the seeds of the forces that will one day confront it." (p. 24)

In other words, even if Washington is trying to remap the world in line with American policy and interests, it is unleashing forces that destabilise the very regions where the Empire thinks its main strategic interests lie. Afghanistan is now "a total and complete mess". (p. 50) And Iraq: "I am surprised to find a large number of Americans and Britons who cannot understand that the Iraqi people do not like being occupied by the United States — it was not something the Iraqis dreamt about. No one understood this until they occupied the country, and now they are in a mess." (p. 53)

Ali puts the neo-colonialist illusions in a nutshell: "Today’s colonialism takes place in the age of neoliberal economics, but don’t think for a moment that neo-liberal policy can deliver the goods in Afghanistan and Iraq that it is incapable of providing at home. These are people who are privatizing everything in their home countries, attacking public provisions in education and in the health care how will they create a health service or an education system in Afghanistan and Iraq?" (p. 54)

As for the democratisation process which Huuhtanen seems to be enthusiastic about, people in the region don’t see the US as "an advocate of democracy, but rather its opposite". (p. 60) Democracy in Washington’s eyes is submitting to US interests, a project hardly likely to contribute to a stable situation in the region.

The people of the region are hardly blind to all this. According to Ali, people in Arab countries are much more politically conscious than in the US: "Everyone is engaged. They want to know how to change these wretched people who rule them, and their hostility to the United States derives, often, from the fact that many of these regimes exist only because of American backing and support." (p. 59-60)

In its inability to understand the limits of its power, the US government pushes on without a clear idea of the consequences of its actions, no matter how rationally it tries to project its selfish interests. All this makes the world immensely dangerous. Simultaneously, Bush and Blair have entangled themselves in their webs of lies and are thus likely to continue on their dangerous path, creating immense suffering in the Middle East and the Gulf region. Now the suffering has also reached London where Blair’s denial of any links of bombs in the capital to the occupation of Iraq has been heard with incredulity by the majority of Britons. Indeed, it now seems that senior cabinet members have had to tone down their denials that the war in Iraq was not linked with the bombing campaign in Britain. (See Media Review - Straw Changes Line, Justice Not Vengeance, 27 July 2005; see the same source for Blair's cunning way of denying the link: Media Review - PM Realism and Denial, 27 July 2005)

Tariq Ali concludes his book with these thoughts: "History is an unpredictable creature, but perhaps change in the United States comes about because of what is happening in Fallujah and the labyrinths of Baghdad. Bush has won at home, but he might yet be defeated abroad. I hope so." (p. 222)

See reviews of Tariq Ali's other books:

Tariq Ali, Revolution from Above. Hutchinson 1988. (This review is in Finnish)

Tariq Ali, The Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads and Modernity. Verso 2002.

Tariq Ali, Bush in Babylon: The Recolonisation of Iraq. Verso 2003.

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