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A New World Order?

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Posted on Mar 3, 2014

Photo by Sean Davis (CC BY-ND 2.0)

By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch

(Page 2)

There had, of course, been an ongoing “arms race” between great powers since at least the end of the nineteenth century.  Now, at a moment when it should logically have been over, the U.S. instead launched an arms race of one to ensure that no other military would ever be capable of challenging its forces.  (Who knew then that those same forces would be laid low by ragtag crews of insurgents with small arms, homemade roadside bombs, and their own bodies as their weapons?)

As the new century dawned, a crew led by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney ascended to power in Washington.  They were the first administration ever largely born of a think tank (with the ambitious name Project for a New American Century).  Long before 9/11 gave them their opportunity to set the American military loose on the planet, they were already dreaming of an all-American imperium that would outshine the British or Roman empires.

Of course, who doesn’t know what happened next?  Though they imagined organizing a Pax Americana in the Middle East and then on a planetary scale, theirs didn’t turn out to be an organizational vision at all.  They got bogged down in Afghanistan, destabilizing neighboring Pakistan.  They got bogged down in Iraq, having punched a hole through the heart of the planet’s oil heartlands and set off a Sunni-Shiite regional civil war, whose casualty lists continue to stagger the imagination.  In the process, they never came close to their dream of bringing Tehran to its knees, no less establishing even the most rudimentary version of that Pax Americana.

They were an imperial whirlwind, but every move they made proved disastrous.  In effect, they lent a hand to the de-imperialization of the planet.  By the time they were done and the Obama years were upon us, Latin America was no longer an American “backyard”; much of the Middle East was a basketcase (but not an American one); Africa, into which Washington continues to move military forces, was beginning to destabilize; Europe, for the first time since the era of French President Charles de Gaulle, seemed ready to say “no” to American wishes (and was angry as hell). 

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And yet power, seeping out of the American system, seemed to be coagulating nowhere.  Russian President Vladimir Putin has played a remarkably clever hand. From his role in brokering a Syrian deal with Washington to the hosting of the Olympics and a winning medal count in Sochi, he’s given his country the look of a great power.  In reality, however, it remains a relatively ramshackle state, a vestige of the Soviet era still, as in Ukraine, fighting a rearguard action against history (and the inheritors of the Cold War mantle, the U.S. and the European Union). 

The EU is an economic powerhouse, but in austerity-gripped disarray.  While distinctly a great economic force, it is not in any functional sense a great power. 

China is certainly the enemy of choice both for Washington and the American public.  And it is visibly a rising power, which has been putting ever more money into building a regional military.  Still, it isn’t fighting and its economic and environmental problems are staggering enough, along with its food and energy needs, that any future imperial destiny seems elusive at best.  Its leadership, while more bullish in the Pacific, is clearly in no mood to take on imperial tasks.  (Japan is similarly an economic power with a chip on its shoulder, putting money into creating a more expansive military, but an actual imperial repeat performance seems beyond unlikely.) 

There was a time when it was believed that as a group the so-called BRICS countries—Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (and some added Turkey)—would be the collective powerhouse of a future multi-polar planet.  But that was before the Brazilian, South African, Indian, and Turkish economies stopped looking so rosy.

In the end, the U.S. aside, great powers remain scarcer than hen’s teeth.

War: Missing in Action

Now, let’s move on to an even more striking and largely unremarked upon characteristic of these years.  If you take one country—or possibly two—out of the mix, war between states or between major powers and insurgencies has largely ceased to exist.


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