The Happy Arab News Service

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Art of being an Empire

An intelligence report for the next American president, or at least some parts of it already finished, was previewed a few days ago by the US top analyst Thomas Fingar. Among the highlights of the future report is a continuing erosion in the US standing as the world's leading power.

"The U.S. will remain the preeminent power, but that American dominance will be much diminished," Fingar said, according to a transcript of the Thursday speech. He saw U.S. leadership eroding "at an accelerating pace" in "political, economic and arguably, cultural arenas."

Source: The Washington Post

Grozny, 1995

The rise of regional powers will challenge the US supremacy in different parts of the world, but it does not necessarily mean that the US will be soon facing a global rival. The comparison often made today between the old Soviet Union and modern Russia is missing the point. Russia may be the world's top second oil producer, and it may even stage an impressive economic comeback at some point in the future using its vast natural resources, huge expanses of cultivable land and relatively well educated workforce, but the driving force behind the Soviet expansion was ideological in its essence. And its huge global impact was based on the powerful attraction that ideology had for millions of people around the globe. Russia possesses nothing of this kind today. Neither does China for this matter.

The worn out Marxist cliches that dominate the thinking of large chunks of Western academy and media about economic interests as primary forces shaping history will never account for the fact that for decades Japan had all technological and economic resources to become the world number two and yet it did not happen. China may quietly sabotage all US and UN efforts to impose economic blockade on Sudan and Burma and basically it's just doing whatever it sees as beneficial for itself, yet no sane person would consider China imperialist. In fact, China seems to be so little interested in confrontations and so immersed in developing its economy and managing its mounting environmental problems, that it's very unlikely that the world will see the imperial navy hurrying fleets of aircraft carriers across oceans any time soon.

Having economic interests is simply not a good enough reason for striving to become a global superpower. At least, not in our days. The much written on struggle for control of oil resources, which is actually a misinterpretation of what's in reality a very prudent and reasonable policy of securing energy supplies (that benefits just about everybody and not only the US and big oil), does not require so much of global presence. Certainly, not for Russia. And, in any way, it may be rendered obsolete over the next one-two decades by a major breakthrough in alternative energies.

The senseless mumbling by GWB about freedom and democracy for every human being down to the last cannibal in Papua New Guinea makes it difficult for some people to recognize that among major world powers the US remains just about the only one both with resources of a super power and with something resembling an ideology and determination fitting this status. In fact, the irony of the present situation is that the US is gradually losing its global position in the world as a result of its being triumphant over rival ideologies it was fighting for decades. The gradual decline of its global status comes as a result of the US having achieved what used to be the primary objective of its foreign policy since the WW2. Russia, China and others owe most of their success to adopting the Western model of running society and economy, spreading which had been one of the cornerstones of the US policy for the last half of the past century.

This fact would have been even more obvious if the US continued to have that pragmatic and realistic approach that led it to support the regime of Pinochet and Iranian Shah during the cold war. Lately both the US and much of the West seem to have been badly afflicted by all sorts of politically correct lunacies and fantasies and the old way was forsaken. But in the good old days US administrations would have been thanking god every single day for bestowing on the world Putin and China's communist reformers.

Grozny, 2007

There may exist a certain difference, difficult to pinpoint precisely, between an empire and a global superpower. Russia may not be ready to trade a healthy doze of investment into its hi-tech or nano-tech industries for extravagant oversees adventures and in this sense another global cold war is unlikely. But when it comes to what Russians call their near abroad, Russia remains a regional power, or better an empire, whose determination to assert this role has been only growing in the last years.

These attitudes are bound to set Russia on a collision course with another regional block, the European Union, unless the West firmly decides to keep a safe distance from Russia. How big this distance should be can be negotiated but, at the minimum, it should be as wide as Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova and the Caucasus together. The combined GDP and population of the members of the EU notwithstanding, the block is still badly failing to meet the requirements for making a global, and even a regional, power, never mention facing Russia on its own. And the shameful episodes of European soldiers surrendering at the first sign of Iranian patrol boats, whole nations caving in in the face of terror attacks and military alliances unraveling after the first dozen of plastic bags is sent home from Afghanistan or elsewhere, are only proving that far from becoming a counterweight to the American influence, as was expected by some, the EU may need America more than ever in a very near future.

The prerequisites for running an empire the Russian style, or becoming a global super power the American way, or just playing the role of a regional power, include not only technological and economic prowess. The power will fail to be projected beyond the borders, and even within them, unless there is somebody willing to project it. Whether to put out regional conflagrations in the Balkans, or to confront the increasingly more assertive Russia, Europe seems to be just hardly capable of managing this stuff on its own. Europeans have got more polite towards the US recently. That's a smart boy.

And when it comes to running real empires, it involves some really hardcore stuff. It involves the ability to densely pack the ground below one's feet with dead bodies. And it involves going out to collect bodies of one's soldiers by truckloads as well. In fact, being prepared to do the latter may well be the most important of them all. Over the last two decades Russia reportedly killed dozens of thousands, some claim hundreds of thousands, in the Caucasus, losing thousands of its own soldiers in the process and proving on the way that the new Russia is fully worthy of its old imperial legacy. The Euro-hippies in Brussels should better notice that Russians have been in the business of running empires for centuries and, unlike some, they are still preserving most of their imperial skills largely intact.

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