Politics, Superpower, Globalization/Americas
Superpower Dying - Americas

Superpower Dying

Posted by Aneela Shahzad on

Like living things stars live and die in time too. A star, like our sun, is a huge glowing ball of fire made largely of hydrogen with some helium and little of any heavy atoms in it - nothing but a factory of burning hydrogen, changing into helium and some other heavier atoms as it is consumed in its own nuclear fusion. When about all the hydrogen will be used up, the star squeezes in its core due to increased weight there, and the heat in the core forces the outer layers to expand making it a red giant. Finally the core will cool down making the star contract into a white dwarf - but if the star is larger than a specific size - it may explode into a supernova.

A ‘superpower’ may have its own fuel and glow, but it certainly has to die in time too. It is difficult to define a relative term such as a superpower as examples from different times in history may vary much in their outlook. In time not only has man developed technologically and in terms of his warfare ability but also the ways the economy moves; the fashion in which international relationships are extended - and the extent of the reach of imperialism on the lives of those they concur has also never been the same. Therefore attempts to define a superpower have not been empirical nor based on the effects which the superpower may exert upon the world community, but have been defined reciprocally by measuring the ability it may have in asserting itself as a superpower, without necessarily being able to fully ascertain as to what degree those assertions have been materialized.

Precisely because of this very fragile way of defining, wherein a superpower may not actually be holding as much practical power as it is able to assert or superimpose upon the world audience, the superpower may be dwelling in a permanent dread of any major or minor global event that may become the cause of the falling apart of the façade of its glorified image.

An ancient superpower such as Cyrus the great, titled ‘king of the four corners of the world’, who had conquered all area from modern day Turkey to parts of Pakistan, all of Persia and the Levant - would have simply required military conquest and the subsequent presence of a substantial army, a trusted general and the will to recapture any land that dares to rebel out of his command, to sustain superpower status in his time. But this would be a simpleton example compared to the very complex one faced by anyone who would want to assert power in today’s world. In today’s world the mere number of human population makes things impossible to penetrate, conversely the different means of communication make their own exclusive spheres of influences upon their user-populations. On the one hand increasing strength in the identification of oneself to one’s exclusive nationality, culture and ethnicity makes it difficult for a hegemon to win acceptance of a local population; but on the other hand cultural invasion by way of different international media channels and cultural exchange activities, hegemons tend to bring their target populations symbolically into one color - which is theirs.  

In his famous essay ‘the Lonely Superpower’, published 1999, Samuel Huntington made a case against the perception of the United State as a real superpower, and predicted a near end for any such status. He wrote, ‘Global politics has thus moved from the bipolar system of the Cold War through a unipolar moment - highlighted by the Gulf War -  and is now passing through one or two uni-multipolar decades before it enters a truly multipolar 21st century’. Thus calling the rise of the US to superpower status a mere moment in history, that followed from the decline of Russia in asserting its will on international issues.

In his essay, Huntington explained the reasons for the US not to be a superpower - its inability to enforce a ruling upon a global issue without legitimizing it through an international organization such as the UN, where it faces the veto of Russia, China and France; its inability to create global detest against rulers it dislikes and demonizes; and the disinterest of the American public for seeing the US as a global hegemon. He said, “two principal tools of coercion that the United States now attempts to use are economic sanctions and military intervention. Sanctions work, however, only when other countries also support them, and that is decreasingly the case. Hence, the United States either applies them unilaterally to the detriment of its economic interests and its relations with its allies, or it does not enforce them, in which case they become symbols of American ‘weakness’. For a military intervention he said, ‘they have to be legitimated through some international organization… require the participation of allied forces… have to involve no American casualties… (still) it risks stirring up not only criticism at home but widespread political and popular backlash abroad’.

Huntington demonstrated in his essay that although the US claims to be speaking ‘on behalf’ of the ‘international community’, most countries and country-clusters of the world do not consider the US to be their mouthpiece, but rather ‘two-thirds of the world's people… see the United States as the single greatest external threat to their societies... intrusive, interventionist, exploitative, unilateralist, hegemonic, hypocritical, and applying double standards, engaging in what they label "financial imperialism" and "intellectual colonialism", with a foreign policy driven overwhelmingly by domestic politics…’

Now that we have practically entered the decade of Huntington’s prediction, it must be analyzed if the prediction has passed the test of time or not. Has the world turned into the multipolar world he predicted from the uni-multipolar of his years, with no more a possibility for the US pursuing a policy of ‘global unilateralism, promoting its own particular interests with little reference to those of others’?

Today we find many in the US defending US position as a superpower despite of the many rotten issues the US is trapped in. Robert Kagan, a co-founder of the now closed Project for the New American Century (PNAC), wrote in the Washington Post, ‘The United States remains among the world’s safest and most attractive investments. The shale gas revolution is transforming America into an energy giant of the future. The dollar, once slated for oblivion, seems destined to remain the world’s reserve currency for some time to come. American military power, even amid current budget cuts, remains unmatched in quantity and quality… For all of America’s problems at home — the fiscal crisis, political gridlock, intense partisanship and weak presidential leadership — other great powers, from China to India to Russia to the European Union, have debilitating problems of their own, that in some cases, promise to grow more severe’.

This is surely a passive approach that goes ‘you can’t beat someone with no one’ - an approach not suited in global matters that concern the lives and livelihoods of billions of people. The truth is that the US’s claim for superpower status was not substantiated by military and political influence alone, or for being economically, scientifically and culturally superior, rather the plea for the US to advance upon other nations, whether in influence or by boots on ground, was their ideological supremacy; their democratic values, their successful capitalistic model and their championing of human rights. The US portrayed itself to be the ‘greatest nation’ of the world, the model of whom should be followed by others and who should use its power and influence to bring the same bliss of democracy, human rights and prosperity to the whole world.

The US failed to justify this plea.

For, such a superpower role demanded a respect, an admiration and an underlying belief that in dealing with the US all is to be gained and nothing lost, and a trust in the minds of the nations around the world upon the US that it is capable of delivering justice and higher human standards. No doubt the US did play this role immediately after World War ǁ, when it poured in funds and resources to help modernize ally European countries and set new standards that would ensure alliance between them and would diminish the possibility of war between European nations.

But most everywhere else the superpower experience with the US was taken as dire catastrophe. From El Salvador to Nicaragua, and to Libya, Angola and Vietnam, the US hurled-in its funds and forces, and used anything required to ensure any communist-bent regime changed to a capitalist one. Outwardly the US would portray that its support of these regime-changes where to rid the people from the communist model that snatches away basic human rights of the people and bring to them the justice, equality and freedom, which comes with the capitalist/democratic model; but inwardly they all proved to be grand scams that were meant for the permanent control of US & Allies-based companies on their resources. Each regime-change was followed by long spells of dictatorial rules over these countries that allowed the people to be ruled by the US via proxy. With more political awareness people around the world began to think of the US as not the giver of - but the snatcher of their democratic rights.

Each country that would be lured into or coerced to join the Capitalist Club post WWII would soon find itself bankrupt under the IMF and World Bank, and bounded in cycles of mass production of cash crops at prices barely allowing the farmers to survive, letting the soil of the land lose its fertility and have its resources extracted through mass extraction. The lure of free-market-economy was in reality ‘dominated by multinational organizations, which in turn formed cartels between themselves to control the prices of capital goods globally, forcing the minimum possible selling rates upon the producers’. The long list of countries where such resentments have been registered include Mali, Burundi, Jamaica, Ghana, Maldives, Togo, Ukraine, Romania… and the list goes on.

Before invading Iraq, VP Dick Cheney remarked in a briefing to veterans saying, ‘the Regime change in Iraq would bring about a number of benefits to the region. When the gravest of threats are eliminated, the freedom-loving peoples of the region will have a chance to promote the values that can bring lasting peace’. Bush remarked in the Congress, ‘Freedom and fear are at war. The advance of human freedom… the great achievement of our time, and the great hope of every time… now depends on us… We will not tire, we will not falter, and we will not fail”. Three years after Afghanistan was invaded George Bush issued a statement in the White House saying, ‘A democratic Afghanistan will serve the interests and just aspirations of all of the Afghan people and help ensure that terror finds no further refuge in that proud land… and we will continue to assist the Afghan people as they build a free and prosperous future’.

But after a 10 year invasion in both countries, they were left with barely any speck of democracy. The electoral process goes on midst endless acquisitions of fraud and rigging, and under the auspice of the most corrupt governments and in war-like situations, where no independent media is allowed to enter. Iraq has had the highest average of bomb blast causalities in the world, where hardly a day went by without news of violent death, government writ is established only within the green zones, and the rule of different terrorist faction has been rampant in the land. The US did not give the Iraqi people the freedom, democracy or the prosperity they promised, nor to the Afghans. More rape and torture was committed by US/NATO forces in their infamous detention centers than Bush had accused Saddam of doing; for one terrorist namely Osama Bin Laden, countless likes swarm in both countries and with yet more power and command; girls are still not in the classroom nor are the boys; if there has been any progress, it has been in the Shia/Sunni divide in Iraq and in opium production in Afghanistan.

The fruit of 10-year occupation has now fallen ripe in the laps of the Iraqi people, when the new terror outfit labeling itself ISIL has now taken large belts of the land under its command, effectively breaking the country into 3 zones, a Shite, a Sunni and a Kurdish one. The US officially left Iraq in 2011, but its combat missions and permanent influence in Iraqi politics has kept the possibility of a fair democracy crippled and has thus improvised all non-state actors to the extent that they have warp neighboring state Syria in civil war since 2014.

If prior to now the definition of a Superpower was ‘a nation that can project power, anywhere in the world, at short notice’, then it should be changed into ‘a nation that can kill without remorse, devastate that society beyond repair and plunder all there is for take away, in the shortest notice and period of time’, and the US would live up to this definition. From Nicaragua, to Mali, to Libya and to Syria and Afghanistan the US and its European Allies have make permanent raptures not only to the possibility of democracy but to any fair system at all.

S. M. Walt of the Harvard wrote in his essay, ‘one ingredient in U.S. global influence was other states' perceptions that Americans knew what they were doing, would deliver as promised, and would get the job done… By contrast, repeated blunders led other states to doubt our wisdom or our capacity to deliver, and make them more inclined to tune us out’. But the truth is that the US has not only failed to do what it promised, rather all its promises and self-aggrandizing have been a set-up to stage global rip-offs.  Global rip-offs are immoral, exploitative and leave humanity deprived even of their basic human rights. Global rip-offs demand a condition of constant chaos, instability and unlawfulness to give sustained fruit. They are precisely the things that leave humanity with the poverty and backwardness that bars the individuals from ensuring the preservation of their rights.

So let us return to our question ‘is the world still uni-multipolar or has it become multipolar already?’ It is said that the world turned from a bipolar to a unipolar one with the fall of the USSR, in 1991. It is true that after 1991 the world economy seems to swiftly change into the capitalist model; the global economy has come under the dictates of the IMF and the World Bank, which have ensured that capital is swiftly and sustainably syphoned to US and its European allies, this was called ‘globalization’. This one-sided syphoning allowed such accumulation of wealth which facilitated much investment in research and production of weapon and strong militaries, which in turn served as deterrent against anyone who would challenge this system. But the shrinking supplies of water, soil, uranium, oil, natural gas, and coal limit this constant-growth model. On the other hand, the constant accumulation of capital with an elite class and multinational companies necessiates newer growth oriented projects, a growth that leaves the local earth-dwellers poorer and poorer, and has become a cause of heightened resentment of people around the world against this system.

The United States is the flag-bearer of this system. This system has helped it become and sustain its position in the world as a superpower. If the capitalist model goes down so will the supremacy of the US and its allies. Several dire indicators are showing the nearing collapse of this system, in and outside the US. Inside the US, the constantly recurring fiscal crisis, increase of poverty in major US urban areas, inability to deal with internal natural crisis, more than 49 million Americans living below poverty line and increasing long-term unemployment show a country quietly tattering down.

But the global scenario is much worst. The US’ grave failure to bring any stability or peace in Iraq and Afghanistan after invading both for over a decade; their grave failure in their strategy on their War on Terror, which instead of eradicating terrorist has served to their becoming increasingly organized and rampant around the globe; their failure in proving their just position on the WMDs in Iraq; the mistrust of global observers on the un-credible way they eliminated OBL from Abbottabad, all add up to loss of respect in the global arena.

More recently, the inability of the US to oust Bashar al Assad from Syria, despite the use of all its diplomacy and unconventional warfare; their stepping-back in forcing Iran to accept the nuclear disarmament deal; and their inability to take back Crimea from Russia, all state that the power of the US to dictate its will upon global matters is diminishing if not stalled.

American weakness is also portrayed when rulers like previous Afghan President Karazai that are deemed to be US puppets and who see no survival for themselves without NATO protection are seen to continuously bash the US government for its actions in Afghanistan. In 2013, Karzai rejected the Loya Jirgas' advice to sign US deal that would allow troops to operate in the country beyond next year. Karzai bluntly refused saying, ‘If there is no peace, then this agreement will bring misfortune to Afghanistan’. In March 2014, he said he feels "betrayed” and that "Afghans died in a war that’s not ours". He said, "To the American people - give them my best wishes and my gratitude. To the US government, give them my anger, my extreme anger". Does this sound like a proxy ruler bent towards his imperial master, or one who knows that his masters is now trapped and it’s time to dictate his own terms on them.

Senator Kerry was delegated to move the Palestine Peace Process ahead. Since Obama’s second term he has made over 15 meetings with the two parties. As Kerry struggles between the two parties, it seems that both seem to care little about what Kerry has been calling the ‘end-game’. On one side the Israeli are adamant on keeping settlement expansion at pace, having continued Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley, and reasserting plans to build a steel security barrier along the border with Jordan. Israel has made peace even closer to impossible by asserting that any peace would require an end to the nuclear capability of Iran. On the other hand Palestine has also moved to make its terms for peace stiffer, now it wants  Israel to ‘halt settlement construction; withdraw Israeli troops from the West Bank’s Area-C to the lines held before the Second Intifada; release the fourth wave of prisoners…; end… “disruptions” in Jerusalem, and open Palestinian institutions in the city’.

On one side Israel's defense minister disgraced Kerry  by saying, ‘Secretary of State John Kerry came here very determined and operates based upon an unfathomable obsession and a messianic feeling’ - and on the other side Mahmoud Abbas asserts that the US is not the only one to look at, ‘Palestine is aware of Russia's role and political weight in helping forge a fair and lasting solution’. So much so for the US to pose as a superpower unable to dictate relationships around the world; it seems like those it has pampered with undue affection and those it has traumatized for decades, equally repel its Big Brother Status over their internal affairs, and the stature of the US in the eyes of the global audience erodes.

Behind the scene the US faces an even grimmer picture of allies falling into austerity and debt crisis bailouts. Economic recession has become a recurring phenomenon in the US and European economies; Capitalism is breathing its last. Yet superpowers never just give up, they resist with full force and make sure the world is amused by its extra-ordinary red-giant state before it has to fall as a disgraceful dwarf.

Or is the US more then we assess, is it capable to bring down the whole world as we know it, as it warps in all nations in the crisis of its own identity; a supernova that en-gulps its surroundings as it explodes to annihilation. Will the US, in its strife to reassert itself, be able to polarize the world once again to an extent that religiously or ethnically harmonized regional groups will once again find themselves confronting each other, in a war which would mean – their survival, their identity and their independent existence in near future – as Samuel Huntington put it – a War of Civilizations.