Bush as the lesser imperialist evil


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Writing at CounterPunch, Gabriel Kolko, the left-wing historian and critic of U.S. imperialism, makes the astute observation that John Kerry's multilateralism would be more effective in advancing imperial interests than Bush's unilateralism. ("The U.S. Must Be Isolated and Constrained: The Coming Elections and the Future of American Global Power," March 12, 2004) That is because American world hegemony rests in part on persuading other countries and cannot simply be based on force and bullying.

Kolko writes: "The United States' strength, to a crucial extent, has rested on its ability to convince other nations that it is to their vital interests to see America prevail in its global role." The Bush administration's hectoring and bullying has antagonized traditional allies, thus making American global dominance more difficult to maintain. In Kolko's view Kerry's multilateralism would be more successful: "Critics of the existing foreign or domestic order will not take over Washington this November. As dangerous as it is, Bush's re-election may be a lesser evil because he is much more likely to continue the destruction of the alliance system that is so crucial to American power."

Interestingly, Kolko's analysis is similar to that of Zbigniew Brzezinski, who writes from the opposing perspective of traditional American imperialism. Brzezinski's global imperialist views emerge most candidly in his book The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives (New York: Basic Books, 1997). In that work Brzezinski portrays the Eurasian landmass as the linchpin for world power, with Central Asia being key to the domination of Eurasia. For the United States to maintain the global primacy that Brzezinski equates with American security, the United States must, at the very least, prevent any possible adversary, or coalition of adversaries, from controlling that crucial region. And of course the optimal way for the United States to prevent adversaries from controlling a region is to control it by itself.

Before the Iraq war, Brzezinski expressed the fear that a unilateral attack on Iraq would undermine America's global interests. In a Washington Post op-ed appearing one month before the invasion, Brzezinski exhibited special concern that the move toward war against Iraq was destroying America's alliance with Western Europe, which he deemed the central element of American global security: he termed it the "anchor point of America's engagement in world." ("Why Unity Is Essential," February 19, 2003) Brzezinski feared that the "cross-Atlantic vitriol" over Washington's aim to attack Iraq despite European opposition had left "NATO's unity in real jeopardy."

Moreover, according to Brzezinski, the administration's fixation on Iraq interfered with America's ability to engage in other global hot spots. He observed that "there is justifiable concern that the preoccupation with Iraq — which does not pose an imminent threat to global security — obscures the need to deal with the more serious and genuinely imminent threat posed by North Korea."

Agreeing with Brzezinski, Kolko depicts America's key strategic goal as that of countering Russian and Chinese power, which Washington is pursuing by penetrating the Central Asian countries on the periphery of those two powers. Naturally, Kolko differs from Brzezinski in his opposition to that imperial objective.

Although Kolko sees the Bushites' unilateralism as being a stumbling block to the success of America's imperial policy, he fails to point out that the U.S. war on Iraq has impeded the central objectives of American imperial policy in other crucial ways as well. Obviously, the invasion and occupation of Iraq has stretched the U.S. military thin, thus limiting other imperial options. Similarly, the billions of defense dollars that have been diverted to Iraq cannot be used for more profitable imperialist ventures. In short, the Iraqi venture could turn out to be a burden to U.S. imperialism in the same way Afghanistan was to Soviet imperialism. And traditional U.S. imperialists such as Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft recognized that problem prior to the start of the war. The major support for the war on Iraq came from those Americans, the neocons, who had a long history of promoting Israeli interests.

In essence, while Kolko recognizes the obvious distinction between the multilateral and unilateral approaches in American foreign policy, he fails to acknowledge that the form of American imperialism pushed by the neocons is oriented to advancing Israeli interests even when those Israeli interests might significantly conflict with American imperialist interests.

In fact, if it were not for Israel, an American effort to weaken Russia and China might focus on supporting Islam — as Washington actually did, successfully by its lights, during the Afghan war of the late 1970s and 1980s. Clearly, Islam is a danger to both Russia and China, which have significant Muslim minorities. In the case of China, a significant portion of China's landmass is populated by Muslims; and if that area could be destabilized or severed, the impact on China's natural-resource base would put a serious crimp in its superpower status.

But the fact is that, because of Zionist influence in the United States, America is locked into supporting Israel — and into orienting its overall foreign policy to encompass Israeli interests. The question is what type of support for Israel will be forthcoming. Like Bush, Kerry supports not only Israel but also the continued U.S. military presence in Iraq. But by adopting a more multilateralist approach, Kerry could perhaps pursue the mandatory Israelocentric goals while inflicting less damage on America's overall imperial objectives. To the anti-imperialist Kolko, that would be a negative development.

April 17, 2004

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