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The Democratic Party spearheads war drive against Russia; No More War!

2 Feb

The Biden administration and the Democratic Party are spearheading a campaign for war against Russia that is bringing the entire globe to the brink of World War III.

On CNN’s Sunday television interview program “State of the Union,” Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the ranking Republican on the committee, James Risch of Idaho, appeared side by side to demonstrate the bipartisan unity of the two big business parties against Russia.

Menendez dismissed the warning by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that US talk about an imminent Russian invasion of his country was unwarranted. “He wants to create a semblance of calm as it relates to his economy,” the Democrat said, “So I understand that.”

He hailed the bipartisan legislation authorizing the Biden administration to impose “the mother of all sanctions… that ultimately would crush Russia’s economy, and the continuing lethal aid that we are going to send, which means Putin has to decide how many body bags of Russian sons… are going to return to Russia.”

“This is beyond Ukraine,” Menendez warned. “We cannot have a Munich moment again. Putin will not stop with Ukraine if he believes that the West will not respond.”

The top congressional Democrat on foreign policy was only one of dozens of Democrats comparing Putin to Hitler and advocating measures that lead inexorably to a military confrontation between Russia and the United States, the countries which possess the two largest arsenals of nuclear weapons.

There are two interrelated political and social processes at work in the increasingly hysterical campaign against Russia: 1) The disintegration of the anti-war faction of the Democratic Party that emerged during and in the aftermath of the Vietnam War; and 2) the pro-imperialist evolution of the affluent middle class, which, beyond Wall Street and the military itself, forms a principal social base for the Democratic Party.

The Democratic Party has always been a party of the American capitalist class. A Democrat was president and commander-in-chief in World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the first half of the Vietnam War. But as the mass antiwar movement gathered strength in the course of the 1960s, the Democratic Party took on the role of co-opting and containing antiwar sentiment within the framework of bourgeois politics.

A substantial faction of the Democratic Party came out against the Vietnam War, associated with figures like Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee J. William Fulbright (Arkansas); Indiana Senator Vance Hartke; Minnesota Senator and 1968 presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy; Idaho Senator Frank Church; Connecticut Senator Abe Ribicoff; and Tennessee Senator Al Gore, Sr. In 1972, South Dakota Senator George McGovern won the Democratic Party nomination for president on an anti-war program.

Senator Church headed the Church Committee, established in 1975 to investigate abuses and illegal activities carried out by US intelligence agencies throughout the world. Even into the 1980s, most Democrats opposed US military intervention against the Nicaraguan revolution and other radical movements in Central America. As late as January 1991, 45 Democrats in the Senate voted against the resolution authorizing George H. W. Bush to launch the first Gulf War against Iraq, although 10 supported it, just enough to ensure passage by a 52-47 margin.

The administration of Bill Clinton (1993-2001) marked a significant shift. Clinton picked Al Gore, Jr., one of the 10 Democratic senators who had voted for the Gulf War, as his running mate, and his administration used military force aggressively in Bosnia, Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia and Haiti. When Gore became the Democratic presidential nominee in 2000, he chose another hawkish senator, Joe Lieberman, as his running mate.

By 2002, when the Authorization for Use of Military Force came before the Senate, authorizing the administration of George W. Bush to wage a second US war against Iraq, the balance within the Democratic Party had been reversed.

The vote among Senate Democrats was 29-21 in favor of the resolution, compared to 45-10 against the equivalent resolution in 1991. The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who backed the resolution and managed its passage, was Joe Biden of Delaware—now the US president. When mass antiwar demonstrations erupted in America and throughout the world, the Democratic Party turned its back on them and embraced the war drive of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Powell.

Two more significant steps to the right followed. In the 2008 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, Barack Obama attacked Hillary Clinton incessantly over her 2002 vote for the Iraq war. He was silent about his own close ties to the US intelligence agencies, which personified the deep connections between the Democratic Party and the Wall Street-military-intelligence complex.

President Obama quickly ditched the antiwar rhetoric of candidate Obama, using US military power just as aggressively as previous administrations. He escalated the war in Afghanistan as he carried out the drawdown in Iraq at the pace set by Bush, and launched new wars via NATO in Libya and via Islamic proxies in Syria and Yemen. Obama then sent US forces back into Iraq against ISIS. US forces conducted drone missile warfare on an ever wider geographic scale, from Pakistan through Central Asia and the Middle East and across North Africa.

The Obama administration was part of a broader elevation within the Democratic Party of candidates with a background in the intelligence agencies and the military, whom the World Socialist Web Site refers to as the CIA Democrats.

The final chapter in the Democratic Party’s abandonment of any pretense of opposition to war came in the course of the Trump administration. The principal, even the sole, axis of the Democratic opposition to Trump was the anti-Russia campaign, based on the bogus claim that Trump was either a Russian stooge or an outright agent of Vladimir Putin. This campaign led to the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, which turned up no evidence, and then to the first impeachment of Trump, based on his pressuring Ukraine to dig up dirt on the Bidens by withholding a shipment of US weapons, which disrupted long-running US plans to escalate the conflict with Russia.

Alongside and connected to the transformation of the Democratic Party is the pro-imperialist shift that took place in the middle class, particularly its most privileged layers. As it emerged in the 1960s, the antiwar movement was dominated by sections of the middle class, particularly on the campuses. The end of the military draft in 1973 was part of a broader strategy of the ruling class to integrate a section of the middle class into the political establishment, including through the cultivation of identity politics.

Beyond the corporate and financial aristocracy, a section of the upper middle class—the top 5 or 10 percent of American society—has enriched itself in the course of the four-decades-long Wall Street boom, which is dependent on the dominant global position of American capitalism. The Balkan War of the 1990s, promoted by the Clinton administration as a war for “human rights,” was a turning point. As the WSWS wrote at the time:

The objective modus operandi and social implications of the protracted stock market boom have enabled imperialism to recruit from among sections of the upper-middle class a new and devoted constituency. The reactionary, conformist and cynical intellectual climate that prevails in the United States and Europe—promoted by the media and adapted to by a largely servile and corrupted academic community—reflects the social outlook of a highly privileged stratum of the population that is not in the least interested in encouraging a critical examination of the economic and political bases of its newly-acquired riches.

These social processes find their reflection in all the official institutions of the ruling class. In the media, one cannot find a single voice that questions, let alone opposes, the official government lies being used to justify war against Russia from a left-wing standpoint. There is no equivalent to CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite, who famously declared his opposition to the Vietnam War in the wake of the 1968 Tet offensive. Among the well-paid media talking heads, as well as the privileged layers in academia, imperialism finds an absolutely devoted constituency.

Pseudo-left organizations like the Democratic Socialists of America play a central role in supporting American imperialism and channeling opposition behind the Democratic Party. The liberal magazine American Prospect reported on the weekend that in response to questions about US policy in Ukraine, Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib either declined to answer or did not return calls.

Such transformations are a worldwide phenomenon. In Germany, the Green Party, formed by environmentalists and antiwar activists in the 1970s, finally came to power as part of a coalition government in 1998, and the Green foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, a former radical “street fighter,” spearheaded the dispatch of troops to the former Yugoslavia in the first deployment of German forces outside the country since the Third Reich. Similar political metamorphoses took place in France, Britain, Italy, Canada, Australia, Spain and other countries.

Opposition to war is and must be centered in the working class. Opinion polls show overwhelming popular opposition to US intervention in any military operations in Ukraine or Eastern Europe. But this opposition finds no expression within the official US two-party system. The struggle against imperialist war cannot be waged through the Democratic Party or through any of the institutions of the capitalist political establishment. It requires the independent mobilization of the working class, on the basis of a socialist and internationalist program.

International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI)

Patrick Martin31 January 2022

Neoliberalism Has Always Been a Threat to Democracy

5 Jun

BYALDO MADARIAGA

More than just a set of free-market policies, neoliberalism has always sought to alter society’s balance of power in favor of bosses. Its assault on democracy and undermining of unions is now playing straight into the hands of the far right.

Neoliberalism has been with us now for more than three-quarters of a century. Since the Mont Pelerin Society’s efforts to reinvent old-fashioned liberalism in the 1940s, neoliberalism has taken various forms, be it the Chicago School and German ordoliberalism, the Pinochet-led Chilean coup of 1973, the Thatcher–Reagan revolutions, the IMF and World Bank–driven structural adjustments, or the European Third Way.

The topic of neoliberalism has produced a veritable cottage industry of commentary, which has only expanded in the last decade as pundits try to make sense of an increasingly contested and slippery term. Many of those who write about neoliberalism are now extolling what they believe to be its last waltz on the world stage: amid transformations brought about by the 2008–9 financial crisis, the rise of protectionist authoritarian governments, and the need for large-scale public policy solutions in the age of COVID-19, many have proclaimed that neoliberalism is indeed on its last legs.

But is that really the case? Or is neoliberalism simply lumbering on — in even more virulent forms?

As I have argued elsewhere, neoliberalism isn’t dying but is instead undergoing important transformations that make it especially dangerous for today’s democracy. Indeed, it’s this very threat to democracy that is the key to understanding neoliberalism’s resilience: its capacity to endure crises and rival systems is not so much a consequence of the enduring appeal of free markets and economic competition. Instead, neoliberalism has survived by altering the very foundations of our democratic institutions and organizations.

In doing so, neoliberalism has allied with forces — dictators and technocrats — equally contemptuous of democracy. This core aspect of the neoliberal project is what is setting the stage for a new breed of radical right leaders across the globe. Today, there is an emerging alliance between neoliberals and big capital drawing on the support of nationalists, social conservatives, and authoritarian populists. It is this alliance that may well pose one of the greatest threats to democratic politics.

Neoliberalism Is a Political Project

It’s a political project that aims not only to reduce the power of the state but, more concretely, to undermine the efforts of any collective actor.

For many, neoliberalism is a set of economic ideas that touts the superiority of markets as a form of social coordination among individuals. Read in this way, the thinking is that neoliberalism is capable of seducing, convincing, and ultimately prevailing over rival ideas like state planning. For those who subscribe to this definition of neoliberalism, suggestions that the state is making a “comeback” are taken as proof that the pendulum is swinging back toward a social consensus that rejects neoliberalism.

Neoliberalism is thus commonly understood as the ideology that puts markets over states and individuals over societies. However, decades of research have proved what Philip Mirowski calls the “double truth” behind the neoliberal doctrine: while offering freedom of choice and liberation from oppressive state regulations, neoliberals were always aware of the need for a strong, very often coercive state.

This has meant two things. First, neoliberals were less interested in markets per se (and even less in market competition) than in what could be achieved through them. Though neoliberals usually aim to eliminate any state intervention that interferes with the free decisions of private enterprise, they are not opposed to all forms of state intervention. Neoliberals are, of course, less concerned with forms of state intervention that redistribute to core business groups (through generous tax exemptions or massive bailouts during financial crises) than they are with the kind of intervention that mandates redistributive measures for the working class. Similarly, neoliberals vow to extend markets and market logics to all forms of social and political life but are less concerned if this ends up leading to unfair competition or outright monopoly.

Second, it is now well understood that neoliberals need strong states to impose — and enforce — their free markets, even if it takes the form of outright repressive state measures.

Neoliberalism, then, is much more than just a set of ideas about free markets. It’s a political project that aims not only to reduce the power of the state but, more concretely, to undermine the efforts of any collective actor — be it states, labor unions, political parties — to interfere with the decisions of private enterprises. This project to alter the balance of power is the key to its resilience.

Neoliberalism Versus Democracy

Neoliberalism’s assault on union organizations and collective bargaining rights is well documented. Less so is the way that our political institutions have been designed so as to block any credible political opposition.

To understand the relation between neoliberalism and democracy, we need to look to neoliberals’ age-old fear of the tyranny of the property-less majority and the possibility that their democratic ambitions might impinge on economic liberty. James Buchanan, one of the most revered exponents of the neoliberal tradition, explained this neatly in his famous coauthored book, Democracy in Deficit.

There, his focus was not on free competition, proper market operations, or even on criticizing state intervention. It was on “the political institutions through which economic policy must be implemented.” Applying this logic, Jaime Guzmán, the mastermind behind Chile’s Pinochet-inherited political and economic architecture, reasoned that political institutions should be arranged in a way that “if the adversaries were to govern, they [would be] constrained to take actions not so different from those that one would desire.” As explained by Walter Lippmann, the grandfather of the Mont Pelerin Society, “the crux of the question is not whether the majority should rule but what kind of majority should rule.”

Neoliberalism constrains democratic politics by altering the balance of power among its supporters and opponents with the ultimate aim of constricting available space for politics and policy. From a study of neoliberalism and democracy in Latin America and Eastern Europe, we can identify three concrete mechanisms at work.

The first involves creating a new business class by privatizing former state assets and allowing new business opportunities in the now deregulated sectors. It has long been held that the logic of dismantling the social state was all about maximizing efficiency and growth. However, in countries where neoliberalism has thrived, targeted privatization and deregulation primarily aimed to create or empower those businesses most likely to lend support to the broader neoliberal project.

This was especially the case in the financial sector, among competitive exporting firms and multinationals. Businesses with vested interests in neoliberalism’s perpetuity have used the structural advantage afforded them to push back against reformist attempts, ranging from taxationindustrial policy, and social measures to environmental and labor protections.

Second, neoliberalism has survived by keeping anti-neoliberal political forces from gaining a foothold. Neoliberalism’s assault on union organizations and collective bargaining rights is well documented. Less so is the way that our political institutions have been designed so as to block any credible political opposition. This has included increasing the power of the executive to circumvent more representative parliaments, the institutionalization of nonelected veto players able to overrule majority decisions, and more. The most successful of these tactics have been those affecting patterns of political representation, such as electoral engineering and gerrymandering.

This was the case in Chile, where in 1989 the electoral system and district magnitudes (the number of elected representatives in a given district) were designed in order to give the Right one-half of all representatives in parliament (up from its customary one-third). It was this move that kept the Left without representation for twenty years, while pushing the more moderate Left into a long-term alliance with centrist forces that watered down their otherwise reformist stances. Together with required supra-majoritarian thresholds to change basic features of Chile’s Pinochet-designed institutions, these actions were key in preventing any meaningful reform during four consecutive center-left governments during the 1990s and 2000s.

In other cases, efforts to limit representation included the outright disenfranchisement of large swaths of the population. This was the case in Estonia, where neoliberalism found common cause with the most radical expressions of the nationalist independence movement against the former Soviet Union. Neoliberals successfully exploited the Estonian people’s fears that the large Russian population in the country (about 40 percent in 1989) would block independence to leave ethnic Russians without voting rights. And they did so all while pushing through one of the most far-reaching neoliberal projects implemented in Eastern Europe.

As a consequence, those most hurt by these reforms either did not have the right to vote or voted on nationalistic, not socioeconomic, grounds. Eventually, this prevented the forming of social democratic forces capable of at least tempering the neoliberal onslaught, as was the case in most other Eastern European countries.

Finally, neoliberals have insulated policymakers from popular demands through what’s sometimes termed “constitutionalized lock-in,” meaning that key aspects of a country’s economic policy are kept out of reach of democratic deliberation, lest they be in Buchanan and Richard E. Wagner’s words, “left adrift in the sea of democratic politics.” Independent central banks and fiscal policy rules, for example, are key instruments in keeping monetary and fiscal policy away from democratic deliberation. Anchoring inflation as the key macroeconomic objective reduced the capacity of central banks to use monetary policy to soften economic crises and privilege employment considerations over price stability ones. Conversely, fiscal rules like balanced-budget procedures severely reduced government’s overall spending capacity. In addition, the establishment of high constitutional thresholds to change these arrangements locked key aspects of elected government’s economic policy tool kit out of their reach.

In neo-Gramscian terms, a multiparty social bloc rooted in specific business sectors has successfully defended the neoliberal project thanks to these concrete economic and institutional resources reducing the space available for politics and policy. And the direct consequence of this has been a stark decline in the representative character of our democracies.

Neoliberalism and Populist Reason

In the 1970s to ’80s, neoliberal ideals were aligned with authoritarian doctrines to create some of the most sweeping reforms — and dictatorships — the world had ever seen.

Considering neoliberalism’s hostile relation to basic democratic institutions, it is not hard to understand the elective affinity between neoliberalism and today’s radical populist right. In contrast to what Wendy Brown has argued, the radical right is not emerging “from the ruins” of neoliberalism but from the concrete possibilities that arise when the core tenets of neoliberalism are “hybridized” with populism.

How did this hybrid emerge? In the 1970s to ’80s, neoliberal ideals were aligned with authoritarian doctrines to create some of the most sweeping reforms — and dictatorships — the world had ever seen. Later, during the 1990s and 2000s, neoliberals conquered the hearts and minds of technocratic “third way” elites wanting to impose market discipline on irresponsible governments. Similarly today, the core principles of neoliberalism are prone to form alliances with the radical populist right.

These alliances are not based on a shared interest in market freedoms but on a common contempt for democratic politics and the perceived need to further limit representative democratic institutions (not to mention, an individualized conception of the social). Hence, despite claims that populism and neoliberalism are antagonistic tendencies, populist attempts to hamper basic democratic liberties and institutions actually reinforce neoliberalism’s antidemocratic project.

Almost everywhere, neoliberalism has been associated with enhanced executive authority and the delegation of democratic power to unaccountable bureaucratic institutions. Often, neoliberals have altered electoral systems and patterns of political representation to favor “economic liberty,” similar to how the radical populist right undermines democracy today.

The radical populist right does embrace a moralizing and nationalistic worldview, which would appear to be at odds with neoliberalism’s individualism and incredulous stance toward society in general. Whenever neoliberals have made appeals for broad social support, it has usually come in the form of the potential benefits of mass individual consumption brought about by freer markets. Populist mobilization, by contrast, has been said to re-politicize an increasingly apathetic and individualized society.

However, as Melinda Cooper’s research has shown, there are strong connections between neoliberalism and social conservatism. And as Wendy Brown reminds us, Hayekian-style neoliberalism aimed at protecting traditional hierarchies as much as it did economic liberties. Chief among these hierarchies were family values and the traditional division of domestic labor. This resonates strongly with the populist right’s drive to rally around the figure of the traditional family.

If we look beyond Western Europe and the founding OECD countries, the connections between neoliberalism and another core characteristic of the radical right, nativism, are nothing new. Nationalistic chauvinism was already present in the 1990s neoliberal-cum-populist leaders of Latin America and Eastern Europe, the paradigmatic cases being Alberto Fujimori in Peru and Lech Wałęsa in Poland — as well as Estonia.

What lies behind these elective affinities is an individualized conception of society that makes for easy appeals to a vacuous notion of “the people.” “The people,” in right-wing populism, is not a foundational unit of society nor is it based on a common set of bonds; it is constructed through an individual’s internal identification with the populist leader’s discourse. This is why Ernesto Laclau calls this construction an “empty signifier” that can be filled with a diversity of unspecific conservative, authoritarian, and nativist appeals. Observing the rise of a new type of radical right in 1960s Germany, the philosopher Theodor Adorno noticed precisely that their appeal rested not so much on ideas like the demos or the nation but rather on an individual’s authoritarian personality traits and a longing for authority and discipline. In that same sense, while the populist “re-politization of society” may lead to angry mobs, it does not give way to the type of organized collective power that the proprietor class truly fears.

In fact, populists have not empowered the workers they vow to protect, much less reduced the power of the business class in general, nor finance in particular. If anything, the alliance between neoliberals and populists seems to be about wresting control of the neoliberal project from third way technocratic elites: whereas third way technocrats may begrudgingly recognize the excesses of neoliberalism, increase social protections, and allow for greater accountability from technocratic bodies, true neoliberals understand that their project rests on the continued limitation of representative democratic institutions.

Neoliberalism’s alliance with the radical populist right is hastening the decline of democratic politics and stoking a desire for authority, order, and social conservatism, while also unleashing capital’s tendency toward unbounded accumulation. Whether neoliberalism and the radical populist right can manage to form a stable hybrid will depend on structural and institutional factors — that is to say, on politics. It is only once we recognize the concrete economic, political, and institutional mechanisms that make neoliberalism so resilient that we can begin to sketch some ideas about how to halt its forward march while defending democracy and equality.

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Aldo Madariaga is an assistant professor of political science at the Universidad Diego Portales, Santiago de Chile and associate researcher of the Center for Social Conflict and Cohesion Studies. He is the author of Neoliberal Resilience.

Washington’s delusion of endless world dominion

23 Mar

China and the U.S. struggle over Eurasia, the epicenter of world power.By Alfred W. McCoy -March 22, 2021

Empires live and die by their illusions. Visions of empowerment can inspire nations to scale the heights of global hegemony. Similarly, however, illusions of omnipotence can send fading empires crashing into oblivion. So it was with Great Britain in the 1950s and so it may be with the United States today.

By 1956, Britain had exploited its global empire shamelessly for a decade in an effort to lift its domestic economy out of the rubble of World War II. It was looking forward to doing so for many decades to come. Then an obscure Egyptian army colonel named Gamal Abdel Nasser seized the Suez Canal and Britain’s establishment erupted in a paroxysm of racist outrage. The prime minister of the day, Sir Antony Eden, forged an alliance with France and Israel to send six aircraft carriers to the Suez area, smash Egypt’s tank force in the Sinai desert, and sweep its air force from the skies.

But Nasser grasped the deeper geopolitics of empire in a way that British leaders had long forgotten. The Suez Canal was the strategic hinge that tied Britain to its Asian empire — to British Petroleum’s oil fields in the Persian Gulf and the sea lanes to Singapore and beyond. So, in a geopolitical masterstroke, he simply filled a few rusting freighters with rocks and sank them at the entrance to the canal, snapping that hinge in a single gesture. After Eden was forced to withdraw British forces in a humiliating defeat, the once-mighty British pound trembled at the precipice of collapse and, overnight, the sense of imperial power in England seemed to vanish like a desert mirage.

Two decades of delusions

In a similar manner, Washington’s hubris is finding its nemesis in China’s President Xi Jinping and his grand strategy for uniting Eurasia into the world’s largest economic bloc. For two decades, as China climbed, step by step, toward global eminence, Washington’s inside-the-Beltway power elite was blinded by its overarching dreams of eternal military omnipotence. In the process, from Bill Clinton’s administration to Joe Biden’s, Washington’s China policy has morphed from illusion directly into a state of bipartisan delusion.

Back in 2000, the Clinton administration believed that, if admitted to the World Trade Organization, Beijing would play the global game strictly by Washington’s rules. When China started playing imperial hardball instead — stealing patents, forcing companies to turn over trade secrets, and manipulating its currency to increase its exports — the elite journal Foreign Affairs tut-tutted that such charges had “little merit,” urging Washington to avoid “an all-out trade war” by learning to “respect difference and look for common ground.”

Within just three years, a flood of exports produced by China’s low-wage workforce, drawn from 20% of the world’s population, began shutting down factories across America. The AFL-CIO labor confederation then started accusing Beijing of illegally “dumping” its goods in the U.S. at below-market prices. The administration of George W. Bush, however, dismissed the charges for lack of “conclusive evidence,” allowing Beijing’s export juggernaut to grind on unimpeded.

For the most part, the Bush-Cheney White House simply ignored China, instead invading Iraq in 2003, launching a strategy that was supposed to give the U.S. lasting dominion over the Middle East’s vast oil reserves. By the time Washington withdrew from Baghdad in 2011, having wasted up to $5.4 trillion on the misbegotten invasion and occupation of that country, fracking had left America on the edge of energy independence, while oil was joining cordwood and coal as a fuel whose days were numbered, potentially rendering the future Middle East geopolitically irrelevant.

While Washington had been pouring blood and treasure into desert sands, Beijing was making itself into the world’s workshop. It had amassed $4 trillion in foreign exchange, which it began investing in an ambitious scheme it called the Belt and Road Initiative to unify Eurasia via history’s largest set of infrastructure projects. Hoping to counter that move with a bold geopolitical gambit, President Barack Obama tried to check China with a new strategy that he called a “pivot to Asia.” It was to entail a global military shift of U.S. forces to the Pacific and a drawing of Eurasia’s commerce toward America through a new set of trade pacts. The scheme, brilliant in the abstract, soon crashed head-first into some harsh realities. As a start, extricating the U.S. military from the mess it had made in the Greater Middle East proved far harder than imagined. Meanwhile, getting big global trade treaties approved as anti-globalization populism surged across America — fueled by factory closures and stagnant wages — turned out, in the end, to be impossible.

Even President Obama underestimated the seriousness of China’s sustained challenge to this country’s global power. “Across the ideological spectrum, we in the U.S. foreign policy community,” two senior Obama officials would later write, “shared the underlying belief that U.S. power and hegemony could readily mold China to the United States’ liking… All sides of the policy debate erred.”

Breaking with the Beltway consensus about China, Donald Trump would spend two years of his presidency fighting a trade war, thinking he could use America’s economic power — in the end, just a few tariffs — to bring Beijing to its knees. Despite his administration’s incredibly erratic foreign policy, its recognition of China’s challenge would prove surprisingly consistent. Trump’s former national security adviser H.R. McMaster would, for instance, observe that Washington had empowered “a nation whose leaders were determined not only to displace the United States in Asia, but also to promote a rival economic and governance model globally.” Similarly, Trump’s State Department warned that Beijing harbored “hegemonic ambitions” aimed at “displacing the United States as the world’s foremost power.”

In the end, however, Trump would capitulate. By January 2020, his trade war would have devastated this country’s agricultural exports, while inflicting heavy losses on its commercial supply chain, forcing the White House to rescind some of those punitive tariffs in exchange for Beijing’s unenforceable promises to purchase more American goods. Despite a celebratory White House signing ceremony, that deal represented little more than a surrender.

Even now, after these 20 years of bipartisan failure, Washington’s imperial illusions persist. The Biden administration and its inside-the-Beltway foreign-policy experts seem to think that China is a problem like Covid-19 that can be managed simply by being the un-Trump. Last December, a pair of professors writing in the establishment journal Foreign Affairs typically opined that “America may one day look back on China the way they now view the Soviet Union,” that is, “as a dangerous rival whose evident strengths concealed stagnation and vulnerability.”

Sure, China might be surpassing this country in multiple economic metrics and building up its military power, said Ryan Hass, the former China director in Obama’s National Security Council, but it is not 10 feet tall. China’s population, he pointed out, is aging, its debt ballooning, and its politics “increasingly sclerotic.” In the event of conflict, China is geopolitically “vulnerable when it comes to food and energy security,” since its navy is unable to prevent it “from being cut off from vital supplies.”

In the months before the 2020 presidential election, a former official in Obama’s State Department, Jake Sullivan, began auditioning for appointment as Biden’s national security adviser by staking out a similar position. In Foreign Affairs, he argued that China might be “more formidable economically… than the Soviet Union ever was,” but Washington could still achieve “a steady state of… coexistence on terms favorable to U.S. interests and values.” Although China was clearly trying “to establish itself as the world’s leading power,” he added, America “still has the ability to more than hold its own in that competition,” just as long as it avoids Trump’s “trajectory of self-sabotage.”

As expected from such a skilled courtier, Sullivan’s views coincided carefully with those of his future boss, Joe Biden. In his main foreign policy manifesto for the 2020 presidential campaign, candidate Biden argued that “to win the competition for the future against China,” the U.S. had to “sharpen its innovative edge and unite the economic might of democracies around the world.”

All these men are veteran foreign policy professionals with a wealth of international experience. Yet they seem oblivious to the geopolitical foundations for global power that Xi Jinping, like Nasser before him, seemed to grasp so intuitively. Like the British establishment of the 1950s, these American leaders have been on top of the world for so long that they’ve forgotten how they got there.

In the aftermath of World War II, America’s Cold War leaders had a clear understanding that their global power, like Britain’s before it, would depend on control over Eurasia. For the previous 400 years, every would-be global hegemony had struggled to dominate that vast land mass. In the sixteenth century, Portugal had dotted continental coastlines with 50 fortified ports (feitorias) stretching from Lisbon to the Straits of Malacca (which connect the Indian Ocean to the Pacific), just as, in the late nineteenth century, Great Britain would rule the waves through naval bastions that stretched from Scapa Flow, Scotland, to Singapore.

While Portugal’s strategy, as recorded in royal decrees, was focused on controlling maritime choke points, Britain benefited from the systematic study of geopolitics by the geographer Sir Halford Mackinder, who argued that the key to global power was control over Eurasia and, more broadly, a tri-continental “world island” comprised of Asia, Europe, and Africa. As strong as those empires were in their day, no imperial power fully perfected its global reach by capturing both axial ends of Eurasia — until America came on the scene.

The Cold War struggle for control over Eurasia

During its first decade as the globe’s great hegemon at the close of World War II, Washington quite self-consciously set out to build an apparatus of awesome military power that would allow it to dominate the sprawling Eurasian land mass. With each passing decade, layer upon layer of weaponry and an ever-growing network of military bastions were combined to “contain” communism behind a 5,000-mile Iron Curtain that arched across Eurasia, from the Berlin Wall to the Demilitarized Zone near Seoul, South Korea.

Through its post-World War II occupation of the defeated Axis powers, Germany and Japan, Washington seized military bases, large and small, at both ends of Eurasia. In Japan, for example, its military would occupy approximately 100 installations from Misawa air base in the far north to Sasebo naval base in the south.

Soon after, as Washington reeled from the twin shocks of a communist victory in China and the start of the Korean war in June 1950, the National Security Council adopted NSC-68, a memorandum making it clear that control of Eurasia would be the key to its global power struggle against communism. “Soviet efforts are now directed toward the domination of the Eurasian land mass,” read that foundational document. The U.S., it insisted, must expand its military yet again “to deter, if possible, Soviet expansion, and to defeat, if necessary, aggressive Soviet or Soviet-directed actions.”

As the Pentagon’s budget quadrupled from $13.5 billion to $48.2 billion in the early 1950s in pursuit of that strategic mission, Washington quickly built a chain of 500 military installations ringing that landmass, from the massive Ramstein air base in West Germany to vast, sprawling naval bases at Subic Bay in the Philippines and Yokosuka, Japan.

Such bases were the visible manifestation of a chain of mutual defense pacts organized across the breadth of Eurasia, from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in Europe to a security treaty, ANZUS, involving Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S. in the South Pacific. Along the strategic island chain facing Asia known as the Pacific littoral, Washington quickly cemented its position through bilateral defense pacts with Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and Australia.

Along the Iron Curtain running through the heart of Europe, 25 active-duty NATO divisions faced 150 Soviet-led Warsaw Pact divisions, both backed by armadas of artillery, tanks, strategic bombers, and nuclear-armed missiles. To patrol the Eurasian continent’s sprawling coastline, Washington mobilized massive naval armadas stiffened by nuclear-armed submarines and aircraft carriers — the 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean and the massive 7th Fleet in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific.

For the next 40 years, Washington’s secret Cold War weapon, the Central Intelligence Agency, or CIA, fought its largest and longest covert wars around the rim of Eurasia. Probing relentlessly for vulnerabilities of any sort in the Sino-Soviet bloc, the CIA mounted a series of small invasions of Tibet and southwest China in the early 1950s; fought a secret war in Laos, mobilizing a 30,000-strong militia of local Hmong villagers during the 1960s; and launched a massive, multibillion dollar covert war against the Red Army in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

During those same four decades, America’s only hot wars were similarly fought at the edge of Eurasia, seeking to contain the expansion of Communist China. On the Korean Peninsula from 1950 to 1953, almost 40,000 Americans (and untold numbers of Koreans) died in Washington’s effort to block the advance of North Korean and Chinese forces across the 38th parallel. In Southeast Asia from 1962 to 1975, some 58,000 American troops (and millions of Vietnamese, Laotians, and Cambodians) died in an unsuccessful attempt to stop the expansion of communists south of the 17th parallel that divided North and South Vietnam.

By the time the Soviet Union imploded in 1990 (just as China was turning into a Communist Party-run capitalist power), the U.S. military had become a global behemoth standing astride the Eurasian continent with more than 700 overseas bases, an air force of 1,763 jet fighters, more than 1,000 ballistic missiles, and a navy of nearly 600 ships, including 15 nuclear carrier battle groups — all linked together by a global system of satellites for communication, navigation, and espionage.

Despite its name, the Global War on Terror after 2001 was actually fought, like the Cold War before it, at the edge of Eurasia. Apart from the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the Air Force and CIA had, within a decade, ringed the southern rim of that landmass with a network of 60 bases for its growing arsenal of Reaper and Predator drones, stretching all the way from the Sigonella Naval Air Station in Sicily to Andersen Air Force Base on the island of Guam. And yet, in that series of failed, never-ending conflicts, the old military formula for “containing,” constraining, and dominating Eurasia was visibly failing. The Global War on Terror proved, in some sense, a long-drawn-out version of Britain’s imperial Suez disaster.

China’s Eurasian strategy

After all that, it seems remarkable that Washington’s current generation of foreign policy leaders, like Britain’s in the 1950s, is so blindingly oblivious to the geopolitics of empire — in this case, to Beijing’s largely economic bid for global power on that same “world island” (Eurasia plus an adjoining Africa).

It’s not as if China has been hiding some secret strategy. In a 2013 speech at Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev University, President Xi typically urged the peoples of Central Asia to join with his country to “forge closer economic ties, deepen cooperation, and expand development space in the Eurasian region.” Through trade and infrastructure “connecting the Pacific and the Baltic Sea,” this vast landmass inhabited by close to three billion people could, he said, become “the biggest market in the world with unparalleled potential.”

This development scheme, soon to be dubbed the Belt and Road Initiative, would become a massive effort to economically integrate that “world island” of Africa, Asia, and Europe by investing well more than a trillion dollars — a sum 10 times larger than the famed U.S. Marshall plan that rebuilt a ravaged Europe after World War II. Beijing also established the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank with an impressive $100 billion in capital and 103 member nations. More recently, China has formed the world’s largest trade bloc with 14 Asia-Pacific partners and, over Washington’s strenuous objections, signed an ambitious financial services agreement with the European Union.

Such investments, almost none of a military nature, quickly fostered the formation of a transcontinental grid of railroads and gas pipelines extending from East Asia to Europe, the Pacific to the Atlantic, all linked to Beijing. In a striking parallel with that sixteenth century chain of 50 fortified Portuguese ports, Beijing has also acquired special access through loans and leases to more than 40 seaports encompassing its own latter-day “world island” — from the Straits of Malacca, across the Indian Ocean, around Africa, and along Europe’s extended coastline from Piraeus, Greece, to Zeebrugge, Belgium.

With its growing wealth, China also built a blue-water navy that, by 2020, already had 360 warships, backed by land-based missiles, jet fighters, and the planet’s second global system of military satellites. That growing force was meant to be the tip of China’s spear aimed at puncturing Washington’s encirclement of Asia. To cut the chain of American installations along the Pacific littoral, Beijing has built eight military bases on tiny (often dredged) islands in the South China Sea and imposed an air defense zone over a portion of the East China Sea. It has also challenged the U.S. Navy’s long-standing dominion over the Indian Ocean by opening its first foreign base at Djibouti in East Africa and building modern ports at Gwadar, Pakistan, and Hambantota, Sri Lanka, with potential military applications.

By now, the inherent strength of Beijing’s geopolitical strategy should be obvious to Washington foreign policy experts, were their insights not clouded by imperial hubris. Ignoring the unbending geopolitics of global power, centered as always on Eurasia, those Washington insiders now coming to power in the Biden administration somehow imagine that there is still a fight to be fought, a competition to be waged, a race to be run. Yet, as with the British in the 1950s, that ship may well have sailed.

By grasping the geopolitical logic of unifying Eurasia’s vast landmass — home to 70% of the world’s population — through transcontinental infrastructures for commerce, energy, finance, and transport, Beijing has rendered Washington’s encircling armadas of aircraft and warships redundant, even irrelevant.

As Sir Halford Mackinder might have put it, had he lived to celebrate his 160th birthday last month, the U.S. dominated Eurasia and thereby the world for 70 years. Now, China is taking control of that strategic continent and global power will surely follow.

However, it will do so on anything but the recognizable planet of the last 400 years. Sooner or later, Washington will undoubtedly have to accept the unbending geopolitical reality that under girds the latest shift in global power and adapt its foreign policy and fiscal priorities accordingly.

This current version of the Suez syndrome is, nonetheless, anything but the usual. Thanks to longterm imperial development based on fossil fuels, planet Earth itself is now changing in ways dangerous to any power, no matter how imperial or ascendant. So, sooner or later, both Washington and Beijing will have to recognize that we are now in a distinctly dangerous new world where, in the decades to come, without some kind of coordination and global cooperation to curtail climate change, old imperial truths of any sort are likely to be left in the attic of history in a house coming down around all our ears.

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