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Cracks in the empire

 


As the death toll in Iraq continues to escalate, new revelations about the true cost of the US/UK war and occupation should concentrate minds on both sides of the Atlantic. US Congress has already allocated $251 billion for military operations and expects to pay out the same again in the next 10 years. But Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz estimates the real costs of the war will be between $1 and £2 trillion. Just as defeat in Vietnam 30 years ago forced American policy makers to rethink military strategy, so the current debacle in Iraq is showing the limits of US imperial power. Almost 3 years after Bush declared ‘mission accomplished’, resistance to the occupation is growing and polls show that 80% of Iraqis want the coalition troops out. Oil production, which was supposed to finance the reconstruction programme, remains well below pre-war levels. Ordinary Iraqis lack many of the basic essentials of life: clean water, electricity, fuel, jobs and, above all,

security. Petrol prices have increased threefold creating a wave of fuel protests. And the election has dealt a further blow to the occupiers, with the pro-US parties being heavily defeated everywhere and power passing to the clerical Shia parties with close links to the government of Iran. Just prior to the election Ahmed Chalabi had rushed through a deal to hand over the development of Iraq’s huge oil reserves to US and British companies in binding 30 year contracts. It remains to be seen, however, whether the oil majors will be ready to invest serious money in a very insecure environment, or indeed, whether the new government in Baghdad will honour any new contracts.

In open revolt

 

Evo Morales

Bolivian workers demonstrate


And if the Middle East seems to be resisting American attempts to restructure it, then much of Latin America is in open revolt. In the wake of Cuba and Venezuela, the poor and disadvantaged of Bolivia have elected a new champion in Evo Morales. He stands for reversing water privatisation, taking back control of Bolivia’s oil and gas resources and using the proceeds to takle poverty. Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil have all,

rejected US plans for a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). In Chile, Michelle Bachelet, the left of centre woman who was imprisoned by Pinochet after the 1973 coup, is likey to win the run-off presidential election having secured 45.8% of the first vote. And in Peru and Ecuador elections are due this year in which indigenous movements will make their voices heard.

The common theme running through all this is widespread hostility and distrust of the United States, compounded by a very unpopular war in Iraq. Privatisation and open economies are seen as failed policies which have exacerbated poverty and inequality in the region. The Bush administration faces a growing challenge to its dominance in ‘its own backyard’ on a scale that is without precedence in recent history.

The next superpower

But there is another and perhaps more fundamental challenge to the notion of an American 21st century and one which could have huge implications for the peace movement. The rise and rise of China (and to a lesser extent India) challenges the US and EU on their own

terms. China out-globalises the globalisers. Its success in exporting, particularly in textiles and footwear, has already led to the adoption of protectionist measures by the US and the EU and to demands that China devalue the Yuan. Its GDP will overtake that of the United States before 2020. And China is not just competing for market share. Its rapid industrialisation is sucking in oil - China’s oil consumption rocketed by 16% last year - and is a key factor in the rising price of that depleting resource. Chinese oil companies are becoming major players in the international market and a series of oil and gas deals have been concluded with Iran, Indonesia, Australia, Burma, Uzbekistan, Gabon, Sudan, Saudia Arabia and Venezuela. China is clearly the new rival superpower in the making. And already the fault lines of future conflict have been marked out by Donald Rumsfeld when he had the audacity to attack China’s very modest military spending (which remains around one twentieth of that of the United States). Ultimately China’s growing economic strength is likely to translate into a growing military role and Bush has already stated that the US would not allow a rival military superpower to emerge. On the surface this might look like Cold War mark II. But there are important differences.

Firstly, there is the complicating factor of the EU. It is already the world’s biggest trading bloc with 25 states and 450 million inhabitants and accounts for one quarter of world GDP. It has often been described as an economic giant but a military dwarf. Its independent military ambitions have been clearly spelled out in the European Security Strategy and the ill-fated EU Constitution.

The beginning of the end
Secondly China’s economy is much more closely intertwined with that of the rest of the world than was the old Soviet economy. If the US government resorted to large scale protectionism, China could retaliate by diversifying its huge foreign exchange holdings away from the dollar with devastating effects on the US economy. In the event of a trade war there would be no winners, but there would be one very big loser.

All empires come to an end and the current American

Red Army soldiers on the parade ground

 

empire will be no exception. It faces formidable challenges from the Middle East, Latin America and the far east. But its future probably depends most on events taking place in the most crucial arena of struggle - that in the United States itself. Bush’s domestic ratings continue to plummet as opposition to the Iraq war grows and he is engulfed by charges of racism, incompetence and corruption at the heart of government. But it is too early to write the obituary. The Republican right could still solve the present crisis at the expense of the American people. America retains overwhelming global military superiority and a Bush/Cheney administration with its back against the wall could resort to military adventurism to shore up its position.

In short, the current period looks like the beginning of what could be a long and dangerous end game for American imperialism.

In this issue, US peace campaigner Bruce Gagnon describes the US bid to dominate the world through the militarisation of space, Kate Hudson counts the cost of replacing Trident, John Jappy reminds us of the unsolvable problem of nuclear waste as the Blair government gears up for a new round of nuclear power stations, and Mike Martin shows us some of the alternatives to arms spending.

Alan Mackinnon

 

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