By William Pfaff
Global domination is a relatively recent ambition of nations. Wars of religion and ideology existed in Europe, notably the wars of religion, which ended with the Treaties of Westphalia and established the system of state sovereignty, and the French revolutionary wars, which ended with Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo and the Congress of Vienna in 1815.
Peace did not prevail after 1815, but peace was recognized as of general interest among the European great powers. Beyond the mounting Franco-German rivalry, 19th century conflicts mainly were dynastic or reflected the rise of nationalism inside the Ottoman and Hapsburg systems, presaging what was to come in the 20th century. There was a relative stability in Europe before 1914 that would not exist again until the stability of the bipolar Cold War.
The Cold War did not seem a Cold Peace to those of us who lived through it, but that is what it was. Communists and America and its allies fought their ideological wars in Asia by proxy—which is what frightened Washington, which saw ideological Communism as an aggressive program that could sweep Asia, Latin America and Africa. That was paranoia, but Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon, and their successors, were still trying to establish or support anti-Communist dictatorships in Argentina, Nicaragua, Brazil, South Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq and in the Caribbean until the 1980s.
The late international relations theorist Kenneth Waltz (who died in May) was right to say that the Cold War produced stability, and that nuclear weapons proliferation in the non-Western world tended to pacify international relations. According to that judgment, a nuclear Iran and a nuclear Israel would be compelled to get along. The effort of Israel to block Iran from acquiring nuclear power follows from Israel’s permanent policy of destroying any challenge to its military domination of the region. Even its security guarantee by the United States is not enough. (After all, the U.S. might acquire an interest in cooperating with one or another of Israel’s enemies.)
Post-Cold War world military domination has proven not enough for the U.S. As Waltz said in 2011, in an oral history interview at the University of California at Berkeley, in the post-Cold War unipolar world, the United States “abuses its power, singling out poor, weak countries—that’s what we specialize in—and beating them up.” As Professor Waltz did not add in that interview, this has not been a successful policy, since Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan (and Iran) have all taken the worst the U.S. has been able (or willing) to do to them and emerged defiant, going their own ways—as, for that matter, have Panama, Grenada, Venezuela and Cuba.
World domination, as it is conceived in American think tanks, would purportedly impose democratic client regimes everywhere and extirpate Islamic religious fanaticism, both goals inherently impossible to achieve by whatever military or political means, as history has repeatedly demonstrated. One does not have to be a Realist academic political theorist, like Professor Waltz, to see that—merely a person of simple common sense.
Now the Obama administration has been made a laughingstock by the homespun ethical stance of the high school dropout computer geek Edward Snowden, who simply didn’t believe that the U.S. should be intercepting the communications of all its friends as well as enemies, and lying through its teeth about what it was up to, for no better reasons—so far as one is able to make out—than that it is able to do so and now that its leading political institutions envisage (benevolent) power over everyone else in the world. Not to speak of all the troublesome citizens of the American Republic, whose Bill of Rights, in the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, declares that “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.”
The U.S. may be expected to exercise every effort and apply every means in its possession to seize Mr. Snowden, as it is doing to seize Julian Assange, an Australian national, and has done to Bradley Manning, a prisoner of conscience, already subjected to unconstitutionally cruel and unusual pre-trial punishment while deprived of his Sixth Amendment constitutional right to “a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury.” It undoubtedly would impose a similar treatment upon Snowden and Assange.
Someone who says that he has been a reader of this column for 25 years recently wrote to me about the article that on my website is entitled “The Public-Private Megastate.”
It was called that because I suggested that, in the U.S. today, all the decisive actors on the national scene—the individuals in government itself, both elected and appointed; corporate industry; Wall Street and finance; the communications businesses; advertising and broadcasting; the university departments dealing with politics and government; and nearly all of the individuals who work in these mainstream institutions, including journalists—have powerful personal, career and financial interests in collaborating with and perpetuating the role our national government now aggressively plays, and in advancing the goals it professses.
My correspondent (no doubt best left unnamed, the NSA notwithstanding) wrote that if this really should be true, “is it possible that this partnership has already actually succeeded in taking over the government and we simply do not see it? Maybe we can see it, but we cannot believe what we are seeing. It seems that the result of the 2012 election was heavily decided by Obama’s mastery of databases. It feels like there is an arrogant ability to select candidates and dictate outcomes. It feels like candidates and voters are no longer relevant. As you conclude, the only solution is war or revolution.”
I would like to think that conclusion was wrong.
Visit William Pfaff’s website for more on his latest book, “The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America’s Foreign Policy” (Walker & Co., $25), at www.williampfaff.com.
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