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Primacy


Finally, from an unlikely direction, the US media has asked the question: why did the Bush administration take the US to war with Iraq? The timing is awkward. As Rove-Libbygate unravels, so does the power of the Hammer and the Scalpel: the executive branch’s two reliable allies in Congress are embroiled in corruption probes. And meanwhile, in a Baghdad fantasy court, the US presents an unrepentant Saddam Hussein, ready to unmask his paymasters for their combined chemical crimes. The jubilation of this trial is eclipsed by the fetid smell of Washington corruption. What the DeLay-Frist-Rove events reveal is that there is a close connection between corporate and military corruption, and that the political class is simply the conduit for the overwhelming power of the corporate elites.

Little of that is in the papers, because it is far easier to be obsessed over the lies of a reporter (Judith Miller) or the downfall of a political titan (Rove). The tendency to see the Bush clique as a “rogue fraction” of the ruling class enables the establishment media to exculpate the system itself, and to lay the blame, as it were, on the “cabal” (as Powell’s man, Lawrence Wilkerson, did in late October). Did the US go to war because of the machinations of a small fraction of intellectuals and policy hawks, or did the machinery go to war because of a long-standing and well-entrenched policy that intends to maintain US primacy across the planet? Very useful books like James Bamford’s A Pretext for War and George Packer’s Assassin’s Gate indicate that the Iraq war came as a result of deception, not of long-standing policy. But, if this is the case, then why did the establishment figures in the Democratic Party (including John Kerry) consider the overthrow of Saddam Hussein a fitting strategic goal? They disagreed in the tactics, but not in the overall strategy. In other words, the Democratic Party’s elites would have gone to the UN for more ammunition, and it might have strengthened the murderous sanctions (recall: President Bill Clinton signed the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 which further emboldened then Pentagon-neocon stooge, Ahmed Chalabi). Either way, both political fractions dominated by the ruling class agreed on the strategic necessity to overthrow the inconvenient regime led by Saddam Hussein. Its inconvenience stemmed not only from its threat to its neighbors, but also to the Dollar-Wall Street Regime (a concept developed by Peter Gowan). On November 6, 2000, Iraq switched its oil sales from dollars to euros, a challenge to the dollar-Wall Street hegemony. In July 2003, China shifted a part of its dollar reserves into euros. These gestures terrified both factions of the US elite. The view from around the former Third World is different. A series of new books from well-established figures in India, for example, demonstrate a deep suspicion of the entire strategy of US primacy. “In Cairo, Damascus, Teheran, Delhi, Islamabad, Djakarta, Seoul, Pyongyang, Tokyo or Tashkent, you will find a premonition of impending disaster in peoples’ minds: a sense of unease at the growing awareness of a distant power’s determination to make the world its economic and political domain.” So writes Patwant Singh, the former editor of Design magazine, in one of the many new books (this one, The World According To Washington: An Asian View, has been recently republished by Common Courage Press in Maine).

The “unease” is well founded, not only because of the virulence of US policy in Asia over the past fifty years, but also because the three “axis of evil” nations reside in the continent. Asia, from the counter-insurgency campaign in the Philippines to the Iraq conflict itself, is the primary theatre for the US attempt to consolidate its hegemonic position: that is the simple fact that produces the “unease” so clearly developed in Singh’s book (and in the work of Ninan Koshy’s two books from Leftword in New Delhi). The demand for primacy is not new. In 1947, the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff argued, “To seek less than the preponderant power would be to opt for defeat. Preponderant power must be the object of US policy.” In other words, the US must seek not only to consolidate its position of military and economic strength earned during World War II, but it must ensure that all its rivals, in every sector, must be crushed.

In 1993, Harvard scholar Samuel Huntington defended the primacy strategy because “it is central to the welfare and security of America and the future of freedom.” It is therefore entirely rational that more than eighty percent of Indonesians and seventy percent of Pakistanis believe that the US might pose a military threat to them. Their freedom is not guaranteed by US primacy, even though “our” freedom in such an unequal world might rely upon it. Those within the advanced industrial states are beneficiaries of the policy of US primacy, because it is this that enables the extraction of wealth, resources and knowledge from the darker nations with impunity. >From Asia come myriad proposals against US primacy. Before 9/11, Russia and China gathered four Central Asian states (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The US shunned this group as a means to constrain al-Qaeda. The Chinese talked about “multipolarity” at the initial meetings of the SCO, and the phrase has continued to resonate among its leadership. Before he took over leadership in China, Hu Jintao went on a trip to Europe just after 9/11, where he explained, “Multipolarity constitutes an important base for world peace and the democratization of international relations is an essential guarantee for that peace.” In other words, the UN and inter-state collaboration should be the ground for conflict resolution rather than the guns of the US.

In January 2005, the Indian and Chinese governments agreed on the need to promote “multipolarity,” “that the current international situation characterized by globalization presented an opportunity as well as posed a challenge. They emphasized the need for making international relations democratic in order to face the challenge.”

In December 2004, the South American countries gathered in Cusco to craft the South American Community of Nations, whose principle of international relations were “based on the affirmation of the effective exercise of multilateralism that link up economic and social development firmly and effectively on the world agenda.”

The demand for “democratization” of the UN Security Council might be simply be the “great power” ambitions of regional powerhouses (South Africa, India, Brazil), but the only reason this has traction is because of the general frustration around the planet with the US policy of primacy. When Condoleezza Rice visited London in 2003, she said that multipolarity “is a theory of rivalry, of competing powers ­ and at its worst, competing values. We have tried this before. It led to the Great War” (this argument received intellectual “heft” from Robert Kagan in the Summer 1998 issue of Foreign Policy, although it was also repudiated by John Mersheimer in his book, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics).

Any talk of the messiness of democracy is met with impatience, and fear mongering. To allow other views onto the table is to invite “rivalry” and not democracy. Such is the anti-democratic ethos of US primacy ­ if you are not with us, you are against us, where the different fractions of the elite are united in the formula even if they disagree with its contents. The curtailment of the Bush regime is essential, but so too is the repudiation of the idea of US primacy.

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