Bye, Bye Unipolar World
time a year ago, U.S. forces had just pulled former Iraqi President
Saddam Hussein from his "spider hole" near the Euphrates River,
and top military commanders were trumpeting the crippling of the
unanticipated deadly insurgency that bedeviled the U.S. occupation
administration of President George W. Bush was also jubilant, stressing,
somewhat more cautiously perhaps, that, while the road ahead might
still be a little bumpy, the light at the end of the tunnel of Iraqi
resistance was now clearly in sight.
with Iraq safely under wraps, so the thinking went, surely the other
members of the "axis of evil," Iran and North Korea – as well as
other ne'er-do-wells like Syria – would now see the writing on the
wall. After all, chronic rogue Muammar Gadafi himself, apparently
deeply impressed by Saddam's fate, had just announced the voluntary
disarmament of all of his conventional weapons.
have clarified the choices left to potential adversaries," a newly
confident U.S. president boasted to reporters at the White House.
"I hope other leaders will find an example" in Libya's decision.
the false dawn marked by Baghdad's fall and Bush's subsequent "Mission
Accomplished" appearance on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham
Lincoln May 1, 2003, the moment of unconstrained U.S. supremacy
– the arrival of a "New American Century" – seemed finally at hand,
at least according to its advocates, as 2004 opened.
with U.S. troops still struggling against what, by all accounts,
is an even more lethal and sophisticated insurgency one year later,
the "unipolar world" so devoutly sought after by the neoconservatives
and aggressive nationalists that make up the Bush administration's
foreign-policy leadership seems more doubtful than ever.
Washington's continued preoccupation with the situation in Iraq
– in spite of its many muttered warnings to both Tehran and Pyongyang
– makes it clear to friend and foe alike (if not to the administration's
own diehards and "dead enders") that, while not yet the "pitiful,
helpless giant" that tormented former president Richard Nixon's
sleep, the American Colossus is not up to global domination.
is not just that the Pentagon finally admitted, if implicitly, that
it did not have enough troops in Iraq to control the country by
dispatching 12,000 more troops to add to the 138,000 already deployed
there. Washington's weakness is also manifest in the dwindling number
of countries of its famed "coalition of the willing" that took part
– however nominally – in the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.
unipolarists have long claimed that the United States was so dominant
that, as the world saw it succeed in Iraq, recalcitrant allies,
like France and Germany, and even strategic rivals, like Russia
or China, would have no choice but to fall dutifully into line behind
it, if only to claim a part of the spoils.
neoconservative Francophobe, columnist Charles Krauthammer, predicted
in the Washington Post last January, "France will be speaking
very differently of the United States when a decent, democratizing,
pro-American government in liberated Baghdad begins its rule – and
opens bids for oil contracts." Everyone loves a winner, so the proverb
of the 44 countries (including Palau and the Solomon Islands) the
Bush administration claimed to take with it as proof of its "multilateralism"
when it launched the invasion, only 28 (including Palau and the
Solomon Islands) remain – testimony as to how credible U.S. power
and its chances of "winning" are now seen even by its closest partners
21 months later.
damaging has been the defection of what Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld,
that most self-confident of hawks, called the "New Europe," which
the administration clearly calculated to be the pro-American Trojan
Horse that would prevent the European Union (EU) from emerging as
a geopolitical counterweight to the United States.
a telling irony, Washington's favorite, Viktor Yushchenko, promised
to withdraw Ukraine's several hundred troops from Iraq during his
successful presidential campaign.
himself laid out the neoconservative vision of early 2004 in a triumphalist
speech entitled "Democratic Realism: An American Foreign Policy
for a Unipolar World" at the annual celebration of Vice President
Dick Cheney's favorite think tank, the American Enterprise Institute
(AEI). It claimed that the United States "has been designated custodian
of the international system" by virtue of its military superiority.
it is precisely the administration's belief that U.S. military domination
– which in many ways has been challenged by the Sunni insurgency
in Iraq – provides it with the capacity and power to enforce its
will on the rest of the world without the support of other nations
that is seen as increasingly dubious.
Frances Fukuyama, a neoconservative realist, wrote already last
spring, Krauthammer's vision "is strangely disconnected from reality"
in its apparent belief that the Iraq war – "the archetypical application
of American unipolarity – had been an unqualified success."
is not the slightest nod toward the new empirical facts that have
emerged in the last year or so: the failure to find weapons of mass
destruction in Iraq, the virulent and steadily mounting anti-Americanism
throughout the Middle East, the growing insurgency in Iraq, the
fact that no strong democratic leadership has emerged there, the
enormous financial and growing human cost of the war, the failure
to leverage the war to make progress on the Israeli-Palestinian
front, and the fact that America's fellow democratic allies had
by and large failed to fall in line and legitimate American actions
ex post," wrote Fukuyama in The National Interest quarterly.
conclusion: "The poorly executed nation-building strategy in Iraq
will poison the well for future such exercises, undercutting domestic
political support for a generous and visionary internationalism,
just as Vietnam did."
insight, which has become only more persuasive as a result of events
– such as the torture of inmates at Abu Ghraib Prison, the growing
Iraqi and U.S. death toll, $125 billion in new administration requests
to fund the war, and the plunge in the U.S. dollar, to name just
a few – since he wrote his critique, is now widely accepted among
both U.S. allies and its foreign-policy elite, with the exception,
of course, of the hawks that continue to flock around Bush.
what extent it has penetrated Bush himself is the major question
confronting the president as he enters 2005 and a second term.
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2004 Inter Press Service