US Ambitions Need Reality Check
by Leon Hadar
American invasion of Afghanistan and Iran has ignited hopes among
Washington's neoconservatives that the US, taking advantage of the
post-Cold War unipolar moment and its dominant military power, would
be gradually transformed into a global empire.
the debate among neocons range over such topics as: Will Iran and/or
Syria and/or North Korea be the next target for American-led "regime
change"? Will American take steps to contain the rise of China
as a potential challenger to its hegemonic power which could lead
to war between the two powers? Is the US encouraging a split in
Europe to prevent the emergence of a powerful European Union that
could contain US economic and military power?
the insurgency in "liberated" Iraq two years after US
President George W Bush declared that "major combat operations
in Iraq have ended" against the backdrop of a banner proclaiming
"Mission Accomplished," have raised doubts about whether
Washington can produce reruns of Iraq in Iran or other countries.
the war of images
it's not surprising that much of the neocon-produced propaganda
in recent months has been aimed at trying to counter-spin the depressing
reality in Mesopotamia by suggesting that a "tipping point"
was about to be reached at any moment in Baghdad, and that it would
mark the defeat of the anti-American insurgency and the triumph
of "freedom" in Iraq.
neocons have already celebrated several such tipping points – the
bringing down of Saddam Hussein's statue in Baghdad, the capture
of the Iraqi dictator and the killing of his sons, the "handover
of sovereignty" to a provisional Iraqi government; the invasion
of Fallujah (actually, its re-invasion and destruction); and finally,
the parliamentary election on Jan. 30 in that country.
journalist Mark Danner noted in an article in the New York Review
of Books, each of these events has been highly successful as
an example of "the management of images – the toppling of Saddam's
statue, the intrusive examination of the unkempt former dictator's
mouth and beard, the handing of documents of sovereignty from coalition
leader L Paul Bremer to Iraqi leader Iyad Allawi, the voters happily
waving their purple fingers – and each image has powerfully affirmed
the broader story of what American leaders promised citizens the
Iraq war would be."
they promised, Danner pointed out, was "a war of liberation
to unseat a brutal dictator, rid him of his weapons of mass destruction,
and free his imprisoned people, who would respond with gratitude
and friendship, allowing American troops to return very quickly
as these images dissolved into thin air, it became difficult to
fit the "pseudo events" into the storyline promoted by
the neocons that was supposed to bring about freedom and peace in
anti-American insurgency has resumed in full force. The election
proved to be a triumph not of American-style liberty but of the
victory of Shiite identity and Kurdish nationalism over the Sunnis.
America is being drawn into what is gradually evolving into a low-level
we have to wait for another of those tipping points.
in the Real World, as opposed to the universe of "pseudo events"
and wishful thinking, there are some indications that economic and
military pressures are making it a Mission Impossible to accomplish
the imperial fantasies concocted in think tanks in Washington by
American intellectuals who have never met a war they didn't like
(as long as they don't have to actually fight in it).
the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times reported
last week that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff concluded
in a classified analysis presented to Congress that the strains
imposed by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have made it far more
difficult for the US military to beat back new acts of aggression
and launch a preemptive strike or prevent conflict in another part
of the world.
in what the LA Times described as "a sober assessment
of the Pentagon's ability to deal with global threats," General
Richard B Myers concluded that the American military is at "significant
risk" of being unable to prevail against enemies abroad in
the manner that Pentagon war plans mandate.
seems that empire building is a costly and risky business, and according
to several polls that is certainly the conclusion of the American
people, some of whom have to actually get into real tanks and fight
in real wars in the Middle East and elsewhere.
polls have indicated that the majority of Americans don't believe
that the costs of the war in Iraq in terms of US dollars and casualties
were worth fighting. That in turn should raise major constraints
in the willingness of the Bush administration and Congress to launch
new preemptive war and expand the empire.
would it? In the short run one should expect the imperial project
masquerading as the neocon narrative of freedom to continue its
advance as long as the costs are perceived by Americans to be bearable.
the combination of an over-stretched US military – the US army,
for example, fell short of its recruiting objective in April, the
third straight monthly deficit – as well as rising budget and trade
deficits and a weakening US dollar are bound to have some effect
on the policies pursued by Washington.
the notion of the US experiencing an "imperial over-stretch"
as a result of growing costs, in the forms of rising military budgets
and trade deficits, and of maintaining its hegemonic position was
very popular in the late 1980s when it was promoted by such strategic
thinkers as Paul Kennedy.
seemed to have lost its appeal at a time when the American high-tech
boom and stock market euphoria reduced budget deficits and a growing
sense that Americans would be able to secure their military predominance
without engaging in major wars.
now things are starting to look different. Kennedy's thinking seemed
to have reignited new interest as the US account deficit seems to
be exploding, reflecting the growing defense spending and trade
deficits, which are over 5 per cent of GDP.
practical terms, that means the US needs to attract around a billion
dollars a day so as to prevent a dollar collapse and keep interest
foreigners to decide to shift a portion of their dollars reserves
into euros, the US could face an economic crisis. Now that could
be a real "tipping point."
Hadar [send him mail] is
Washington correspondent for the Business
Times of Singapore and the author of the forthcoming Sandstorm:
Policy Failure in the Middle East (Palgrave Macmillan).
© 2005 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved. Reprinted
with permission of the author.