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Wallerstein’s Unwarranted Optimism


Immanuel Wallerstein’s commentary on Znet of May 3, 2011 “War Weariness in the United States?” focuses on an intriguing possibility.  Wallerstein posits that the anti-intervention positions of two libertarian candidates, Ron Paul and Gary Johnson, in the Republican field of US presidential candidates will make the ongoing U.S. interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya a central issue in the Republican primaries, and the presidential election.  Unfortunately, there are recent examples of candidates who were included in televised Republican and Democratic primary debates who articulated anti-war positions, to little effect in the presidential elections- namely Ron Paul in 2008 and Dennis Kucinich in 2004.

Looking beyond the Republican primaries to the incumbent, Wallerstein writes, “Suddenly, the whole of the United States will be debating th[e] issue [of war involvement]. Barack Obama will find that the centrist position he has been trying to maintain has suddenly moved leftwards. In order to remain a centrist, he too will have to move left.”

It should be remembered, however, that brand Obama was adept in 2007-2008 at casting himself as an Iraq war opponent to progressive audiences.  Since then, he has proven himself as a commander in chief who is ready and willing to have U.S. forces and contractors continue to occupy Iraq, while supporting expansion of both the war in Afghanistan and the military budget.  It wouldn’t be surprising if he reprised a similar performance for the 2012 election, earnestly intoning about how he has wound down the war in Iraq, though in a most responsible way. 

Moreover, in light of the recent assassination of Osama Bin Laden, whom Obama used to good effect in the 2008 debates and elsewhere, we can be sure that his campaign will crow about this “success,” which is being so widely celebrated across the U.S.  And it is far easier to imagine that this “success” will be used to justify more military spending and operations, than to imagine that Obama will now declare victory on the war on terror and lead the way to draw down military operations, starting in Central Asia and the Middle East.

Wallerstein’s commentary concludes with a bigger picture view, based on “U.S. decline” and “geopolitical and economic pressures”:

“This will be a major turning-point in U.S. politics. The idea that the troops should come home will become a serious possibility. Some will fume with anger because the United States will thus be exhibiting weakness. And in some ways this will be true. It is part of U.S. decline. What it will remind U.S. politicians, however, is that fighting wars requires serious support in public opinion. And in this combination of geopolitical and economic pressures that everyone is feeling, war-weariness is a very serious factor from here on in.”

Surely the United States no longer bestrides the world like the Colossus it was in the decades following World War II.  And yes, there have been major shifts in the US economy since then, like the cancerous growth of speculative investments domestically and abroad, lower tax burdens on the wealthy , and a marked decline in manufacturing.  But it is still a Colossus, especially in the military sphere.
 
Alas, Wallerstein’s sighting of “a major turning-point in U.S. politics” seems naïve.  Presidential elections have been dominated by a narrow spectrum of vested interests from the beginning, and 2012 promises to be no different.  Perhaps some massive new coalition of powerful corporate investors will emerge that wants to draw down the military.  Or perhaps anti-war voters and activists will be well organized so that they can force someone like Obama to walk the walk after talking the talk.  Then some massive new coalition of powerful corporate investors would actually take them seriously, like Roosevelt’s core supporters took organized labor seriously.  And if these anti-war voters and activists kept organizing and were able to challenge the control of powerful corporate investors over the political process,  that would indeed be a major turning-point in U.S. politics.

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