Exclusively for SouthFront by J.Hawk
The recent Brussels terror attacks are yet another indicator, as if one were needed, that the current strategy of global dominance through controlled chaos is failing as chaos is spinning out of control and causing damage to those who unleashed it in the first place. A change in strategy seems in order, and one is most likely to become evident after the 2016 US presidential election, though Kerry’s pilgrimage to Moscow suggests its foundations are being laid even as I type these words. So what does the future hold in store for us?
The New World Order
The post-Cold War era did not begin in this manner. One has to keep in mind that the George H.W. Bush administration, led as it was by a true conservative, did not wish to pursue a strategy of unilateral US dominance of the international system. Rather, true to the original purpose of the United Nations, the world affairs were to be managed by consensus among the great powers, with the UN Security Council acting as the institution for reaching that consensus. US international interventions during that administration were a reflection of that thinking: Panama was in the US sphere of influence and therefore it did not require a UNSC resolution, Yugoslavia was too close to Russia’s borders and had too many historic ties to risk bilateral relations through a US intervention, and Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, which occurred in the Middle East, had to be handled through a UNSC process in order to reassure the major powers that the US was pursuing limited aims of restoring status quo and not embarking on a strategy of global domination.
Unfortunately, George H.W. Bush was a one-term president who was unseated by the little known but charismatic governor of the state of Arkansas and his wife, the Lady Macbeth of contemporary US politics. The multilateral, multipolar world order that George H.W. Bush quickly came to an end since it probably did not have much of a chance of success since it assumed a certain level of conservatism in the internal politics of Western countries that would allow them to live within their means and without having to constantly conquer new markets in order to avert the internal economic crisis caused by the neo-liberal politics of the 1980s which already in the 1990s were beginning to undermine the Western middle classes’ prosperity. The poster children of liberal fascism were the “third wave” liberals of the Bill Clinton and Tony Blair ilk whose political correctness and glib rhetoric masked an imperialist agenda by couching it in rhetoric palatable to the latte-sipping liberals too squeamish to face the reality of imperialism and too spoiled to imagine a life without the benefits of being imperial citizens.
“9/11 Changed Everything”
Now the trends which were already evident in the late 1990s accelerated, with the US taking advantage of the situation in order to make a wholesale international power grab in the form of a regional preventive war that was aimed at ensuring US dominance of the Middle East for the foreseeable future if not forever and preventing the rise of rivals, including Russia and China. The US withdrawal from the ABM Treaty which was necessary before the US could proceed with a major component of its global dominance agenda, namely the weaponization of space to the point of greatly weakening the deterrent power of nuclear weapons, was part of that process.
But something funny happened on the way to the First Intergalactic Empire. It turned out that the US military was not capable of peacekeeping, nation-building, or much of anything else of note, other than perhaps dropping aerial ordnance on anyone bereft of a modern air defense system. The casualties were mounting, the US standing in the world was dropping, so something had to be done.
George H.W. Bush’s Second Term
George W. Bush’s second term was in actuality his father’s second term to the extent that the “adults” of the Bush-senior administration sidelined Cheney, fired Rumsfeld, and set to undoing the damage wrought by “W”. With the Defense Secretary Robert Gates being the most influential foreign policy actor in the second term of the Bush administration, the team he led was effective at setting in motion the withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq, things that Obama would later take credit for even though he had nothing to do with them. The second term was also marked by an improvement in US-Russia relations, though the four years were not enough to create a permanent improvement–besides, this four-year term was focused on damage control, not building a new world order. And, unfortunately, a lot of what it accomplished was undone as soon as W left office and was replaced by the “anti-war candidate” and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Barack Hussein Obama.
At first, there were few signs of trouble. Robert Gates did stay on as the SecDef for the first term, and he was able to tamp down Hillary “the Queen of Chaos” Clinton’s more aggressive initiatives. However, the neo-conservatives gradually regained their former influence and even went beyond what they were able to accomplish in the years after 9/11.
Thus the US and its European protectorate (because it is difficult to view the EU as an independent political actor) went on a killing spree which exceeded the death toll of the US post-9/11 depredations. The list of victims now included Yemen, Libya, Syria, and Ukraine, in addition to the old stand-bys of Afghanistan and Iraq, and with other victims (Iran? Cuba? Egypt? Central Asia and Caucasus? Belarus?) clearly being lined up for slaughter. Except this time neo-Nazis and Islamists, not the regular armed forces of US and NATO, that were going to do the dirty work, which truly marked a new low for US foreign policy. For all its flaws, George W. Bush’s foreign policy did not entail supporting Islamists or Nazis, whereas Obama’s people embraced both types right from the outset because it viewed them, late Roman Empire-style, as useful “barbarians” to do their dirty work of destabilizing sovereign states in order to place pliable puppets in charge to expand US control over the global markets. The 2008 financial crisis was the economic equivalent of 9/11 in the sense that it made urgency of aggressive, expansionist policies all the greater.
But, once again, something funny happened on the way to the First Intergalactic Empire. As any student of the Roman Empire likely remembers, if you play games with barbarians, don’t be surprised if the barbarians occasionally sack Rome. Or Paris. Or Brussels. Or other European cities which are on the Islamist hit list. The strategy of controlled chaos, in addition to creating such domestic blow-back which might have actually been welcomed by the elites (yet another excuse to crack down on domestic liberties!) had it not been for the fact that political parties, candidates, and movements opposed to imperialism and favoring nationalism were gaining influence in both the US and the EU. Moreover, given the economic aims of the controlled chaos policies, at some point the chaos would have to transition to a (pro-Western) order, yet it was showing no signs of doing so. Worse (from the Western perspective), the vacuum created by controlled chaos was being increasingly filled not by NATO but by Russia. So the policy has become not only unsustainable but even counter-productive, meaning something would have to replace it.
The Post-Obama Hangover
The question here being: what? And with what likelihood of success? Looking at the current crop of US presidential front-runners, it is clear that the US elite is still relatively undecided on what to do next. Hillary is clearly going to win the Democratic nomination, though not without a significant challenge mounted by the anti-imperialist forces led by Senator Sanders. The signs on the GOP side are even more encouraging. The far-away favorite is Donald Trump, who favors making deals with Russia and reducing US international commitments, including to NATO and Japan. The most aggressive of the favorites, Marco Rubio, went down in flames, and Ted Cruz is closer to Trump’s positions than Rubio’s, when it comes to foreign policy.
Given these differences among the candidates, it would seem that the US elite is facing a choice. In one corner we have Hillary Clinton who will certainly attempt to revive the controlled chaos approach once in office, though the other corner we are seeing people who are alarmed at the level chaos the policies of the Obama administration have caused. Trump is by far the most outspoken against international involvement which in no way has hurt his standing with the American voters–rather the opposite, the US public seems to be tired of “US leadership” around the world too. Therefore some damage control seems to be in order. But what form will it take?
A return to George H.W. Bush’s multilateralism does not seem to be in the cards. The UN is too broken an organization to play that role well. Moreover, it is not even clear which other powers have similar interest and ability to run world affairs. EU is in a crisis which may already be in its terminal stage. China’s interests are largely regional and the country’s military power projection ability is very low. India’s interests are limited to its own immediate neighborhood, and the country is not even a member of the UNSC. What seems rather more likely is a US-Russian “co-dominium” based on a shared interest to return to a certain level of stability and predictability based on an agreement that would recognize buffer zones and spheres of influence between Russian and US interests. That Kerry’s visit to Moscow may be intended to re-establish something of a realistic working relationship with Russia is also suggested by the fact that the EU is not represented in the talks (while Steinmeier is there too, there are no French representatives which seems to mean the Minsk 2 format is dead), and that the US is not conducting a similar negotiation with China, which would naturally have to be a party to a return to multilateralism along the lines of a “Concert of Great Powers” similar to what gave Europe nearly a century of peace following the end of Napoleonic Wars, peace whose main guarantor was Russia.
One way or the other, it would seem the world is returning to a bipolar power balance. But this time the two politically dominant powers just might figure out how to get along and collaborate on making the world safe, instead of wasting half a century on an unnecessary “cold war.”