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The More Things Change…

March 16, 2009

The More Things Change…

…the More Washington’s Quest for Global Dominance Stays the Same.

The war waged by the U.S.-led North Atlantic Alliance against Serbia started ten years ago and it is substantively unfinished to this day. That Clinton’s war was illegal, illegitimate, aggressively premeditated, justified by blatant falsehoods, and “€œobjectively”€ disastrous in its consequences, is eminently beyond dispute to the remaining thinking men. We are still facing the complex task of defining the geopolitical essence of that war, however.

That essence is apparent in the fact that the attack’s key architects believe that it was successful. Not one has had any second thoughts over the past decade. Particularly noteworthy is the position of the U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, who remains proud of having pressed her husband to start the Kosovo war in 1999. In her 2003 Senate speech just before the Iraq war vote she pointed approvingly to his decision. She has reiterated that position during last year’s presidential campaign. At a time when the power and authority of this country are increasingly challenged around the world, she sees the Balkans as the last geopolitically significant area where the U.S. can continue to assert its “€œcredibility”€ along the lines charted in the spring of 1999.

From the standpoint of its initiators, the Kosovo war was successful because it has achieved three objectives:

1. The immediate objective of weakening the Serbian factor in the Balkan equation, which had been the salient feature of the U.S. Balkan policy in the preceding decade;
2. The medium-term goal of redefining NATO’s mission and operational doctrine as a tool of U.S. policy, at a time when the collapse of the USSR and the abolition of the Warsaw Pact had removed the Alliance’s original raison d”€™etre.
3. The long-term strategic objective of legitimizing the doctrine of full-spectrum global dominance that treats every country as America’s “€œnear-abroad,”€ and (at least potentially) every nook and cranny of the planet as the U.S. “€œvital interest.”€

The fact that Serbia was the material loser in the 1999 war is self-evident. The loss of life and massive damage, tens of billions of dollars”€™ worth, remain uncompensated, ignored, and unatoned. One-seventh of Serbia’s sovereign territory”€“Kosovo”€“remains occupied, cleansed of most Serbs, with their cultural legaly largely destroyed, and run by the KLA as a mono-ethnic criminal fiefdom.

Over the past decade, NATO has been successfully redesigned in accordance with the requirements of global hegemonist requirements. Non-U.S. NATO troops outnumber GIs in Afghanistan, but all aspects of policy determining their deployment remain strictly controlled by Washington. An independent European defense force, under whatever acronym, has been effectively shelved. De Gaulle’s heir at the Elysee Palace is every bit as firmly Atlanticist as his colleague at No. 10 Downing Street.

It is the third, strategic objective of the 1999 war that merits particular attention. That war was based on the Clinton Doctrine of “€œhumanitarian intervention,”€ which claimed the right of the United States to use military force without UNSC authorization, to prevent or stop alleged human rights abuses as defined by the American Administration. This doctrine explicitly denied the validity of international legal norms and treaty obligations in favor of a supposedly higher objective. It paved the way for the Bush Doctrine of global dominance that asserted the right of the United States to resort to preventive war, “€œregime change”€ and unilateral action as it deems fit. This doctrine was formally codified on September 20, 2002, in a truly remarkable NSC document, the “€œNational Security Strategy of the United States.”€  The concept of preemption was further elaborated in March 2006 by Mr. Bush and the NSC.

The recently-inaugurated President of the United States and his administration will not give up on this bipartisan legacy, which is evident from the retention of Bill Gates at the Pentagon, the appointment of Mrs. Clinton, and the return of old Balkan hands like Richard Hollbrooke to the center stage. The essence of the Bush Doctrine will be merely concealed by a variety of ostensibly multilateralist devices and by the use of neoliberal quasi-humanitarianist rhetoric.

The model of U.S. foreign policy over the past decade, founded upon the 1999 war against Serbia, represents the global extension of the Soviet model of relation with Moscow’s satellites of 40 years ago that was applied in the occupation of Czechoslovakia in August 1968. Ideological justification for that intervention was provided by the Brezhnev Doctrine, which was defined by its author, the late Secretary-General of the CPSU, as the obligation of the socialist countries to ensure that their “€œfreedom for determining the ways of advance of their respective countries”€ should not “€œdamage either socialism in their country or the fundamental interests of other socialist countries.”€ “€œThe norms of law cannot be interpreted narrowly, formally, in isolation from the general context of the modern world,”€ Brezhnev further claimed. By belonging to the “€œsocialist community of nations,”€ its members had to accept that the USSR”€”the leader of the “€œsocialist camp”€”€”was not only the enforcer of the rules but also the judge of whether and when an intervention was warranted. No country could leave the Warsaw Pact or change its communist party’s monopoly on power.

Thirty years after Prague 1968, the USSR was gone and the Warsaw Pact dismantled, with NATO expanding into its former heartland. The principles of the Brezhnev Doctrine were not defunct, however. They were given a new life in the “€œneoliberal”€ guise.

The nineties were an era of global institution-building. In 1991 the Maastricht Treaty speeded up the erosion of EU member countries”€™ sovereignty by transferring their prerogatives to the Brussels regime of unelected bureaucrats. On the western side of the Atlantic the passage of NAFTA was followed by the 1995 Uruguay round of GATT that produced the WTO. The nineties thus laid the foundation for the new, post-national order.

By early 1999 the process was sufficiently far advanced for President Bill Clinton to claim in the New York Times in May 1999 that, had it not bombed Serbia, “€œNATO itself would have been discredited for failing to defend the very values that give it meaning.”€ This was but one way of restating Brezhnev’s dictum that “€œthe norms of law cannot be interpreted narrowly, formally, in isolation from the general context of the modern world.”€

The international system in existence ever since the Peace of Westphalia was signed in 1648 was dead as far as the United States was concerned. That old system, based on the principle of state sovereignty, was imperfect and often violated, but nevertheless it provided the basis for international discourse from which but few powers had openly deviated.

Like his Soviet predecessor, Clinton used an abstract and ideologically loaded notion as the pretext to act as he deemed fit, but no “€œinterests of world socialism”€ could beat “€œuniversal human rights”€ when it came to determining where and when to intervene. The key difference between Brezhnev and Clinton was in the limited scope of the Soviet leader’s self-awarded outreach. His doctrine applied only to the “€œsocialist community,”€ as opposed to the unlimited, potentially world-wide scope of “€œdefending the values that give NATO meaning.”€ The “€œsocialist community”€ led by Moscow stopped on the Elbe, after all. It was replaced by the “€œInternational Community”€ led by Washington, which stops nowhere.

The credentials of a “€œdemocracy”€ are easy to establish in this scheme of things: democratic governments act in accordance with the will of the U.S.-led “€œinternational community”€ “€“ like the late Franjo Tudjman in 1995, say, or Saakashvili last year. When they don”€™t, like Serbia did not when asked to sign the Rambouillet document, they are ipso facto undemocratic (regardless of whether they have elections and free media or not), and liable to punishment. The less logic and predictability, the stronger the position of the Hegemon.

The subsequent Bush Doctrine now stands, under George W. Bush’s successors, as the ideological basis and fully developed self-referential framework for the policy of permanent global interventionism. By postulating America as “€œthe good,”€ and those who resist her will as the incarnation of evil, and by telling the rest of the world that the choice is clear and had to be be made, the President precluded any meaningful debate about the correlation between ends and means of American power: we are not only wise but virtuous; our policies are shaped by “€œcore values”€ which are axiomatic, and not by prejudices.

The two “€œAmerican”€ doctrines”€”the one inaugurated by the war against Serbia in 1999 and its elaboration triggered off by 9-11″€”both suffer from the same problem, however, as the Brezhnev Doctrine. Each act of resistance, however costly for the defender, undermines the hegemon’s credibility and self-confidence. After 1968, just beneath the drab surface of “€œReal Socialism,”€ anti-Sovietism was rampant. Three decades later, Serbia’s resistance was impressive both militarily and morally. That is why so much energy and resources have been devoted, in subsequent years, to the breaking of Serbia’s will, up to the present point when this country’s current government prefers not to mention at all that unpleasant episode from the spring of 1999.

Neoconservative strategists who were in charge under Bush and their neoliberal colleagues who run Obama’s show believe that the job in Serbia is almost complete, and they are no longer bothered by what Belgrade has to say. They are not giving up on tightening the cordon sanitaire around Russia by extending NATO along the northern shore of the Black Sea, or on meddling in the Middle East. They are still neurotically hyperactive and convinced that the U.S. hegemony can be maintained in the decades to come as a divinely ordained, morally mandated, open-ended and self-justifying mission. They are blind to the fact that, after a brief period of American monopolar dominance (1991-2008), the world’s distribution of power is gaining characteristics of asymmetric multipolarity. This is, as it happens, the most unstable model of international relations, which (on past form) leads to a major war.

For almost half-century after World War II (1945-1991) the world system was based on the model of bipolarity based on the doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD). The awareness of both superpowers that they would inflict severe and unavoidable reciprocal damage on each other was coupled with the acceptance that each had a sphere of dominance or vital interest that should not be infringed upon, which was evident in the muted U.S. reaction to Hungary (1956) or Czechoslovakia (1968). Proxy wars were fought in the grey zone all over the Third World, most notably in the Middle East, but they were kept localized even when a superpower was directly involved (Vietnam, Afghanistan). Potentially lethal crises (Berlin 1949, Korea 1950, Cuba 1963) could be de-escalated due to the implicit rationality of both sides”€™ decision-making calculus.

The bipolar model was the product of unique circumstances without an adequate historical precedent, however, which are unlikely to be repeated in the foreseeable future.

The most stable model of international relations that is both historically recurrent and structurally repeatable in the future is the balance of power system in which no single great power is either physically able or politically willing to seek hegemony. This model was prevalent from the Peace of Westphalia (1648) until Napoleon, from Waterloo until around 1900, and from Versailles until 1933. It demands a relative equilibrium between the key powers that hold each other in check and function within a recognized set of rules that has come to be known as “€œinternational law.”€ Wars do occur, but they are limited in scope and intensity because the warring parties tacitly accept the fundamental legitimacy and continued existence of their opponent(s).

If one of the powers becomes markedly stronger than others and if its decision-making elite internalizes an ideology that demands or at least justifies hegemony, the inherently unstable system of asymmetrical multipolarity will develop. In all three known instances”€”Napoleonic France after 1799, the Kaiserreich from around 1900, and the Third Reich after 1933″€”the challenge could not be resolved without a major war.

The government of the United States is currently acting in a manner structurally reminiscent of those three powers. Having proclaimed itself the leader of an imaginary “€œinternational community,”€ it goes further than any previous would-be hegemon in treating the entire world as the American sphere of interest. Bush II is gone, but we are still stuck with the doctrine that allows open-ended political, military, and economic domination by the United States acting unilaterally and pledged “€œto keep military strength beyond challenge.”€

Any attempt by a single power to keep its military strength beyond challenge is inherently destabilizing, and results”€”sooner or later”€”in the emergence of an effective counter-coalition.  Neither Napoleon nor Hitler knew any “€œnatural”€ limits, but their ambition was essentially confined to Europe. With the United States today the novelty is that this ambition is extended”€”literally”€”to the whole world. Not only the Western Hemisphere, not just the “€œOld Europe,”€ Japan, or Israel, but also unlikely places like Kosovo or Bosnia, are considered vitally important. The globe itself is now effectively claimed as America’s sphere of influence, Russia’s back yards emphatically included.

Anti-hegemonistic coalitions against Napoleon, the Kaiser and Hitler were constructed regardless of ideological differences and potential or real rivalries between the partners. Today, Russia, China, India and Brazil also have potential or real causes of dispute, but they are overshadowed by the existential need to curtail the hegemonistic power devoid of natural checks and balances yet no longer able to impose its will like it did in the 1990s.

We are witnessing an ironic switch of roles. The Soviet Union had been for decades the revolutionary power, while the United States was the “€œconservative,”€ i.e. status-quo power seeking to maintain the given configuration. With the war against Serbia in 1999 the roles were finally reversed: the U.S. became the agent of revolutionary dynamism with global ambitions, in the name of ideological norms of “€œdemocracy, human rights and open markets.”€ That neurotic dynamism is resisted by the emerging coalition of weaker powers acting on behalf of the essentially “€œconservative”€ principles of state sovereignty, national interest, and reaffirmation of the right to their own spheres of geopolitical dominance.

Still convinced that ten years ago in the Balkans they completed a good job in accordance with their global ambitions, the “€œforeign policy community”€ in Washington is yet to grasp that the doctrine of global interventionism sooner or later must reasult in the emergence of a counter-coalition. It remains to be seen when, and at what price for America and for the rest of the world, the neoliberal-neoconservative duopoly will grasp this fact.

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The More Things “Change”

NEW YORK—Election nights in the Bagel were always spent at 73 East 73rd Street, in Bill and Pat Buckley’s house, more often than not described as palatial by eager-to-please gossip columnists. In reality it was a fine New York maisonette, better suited for entertainment rather than cosy living, the latter reserved for their tiny and warm Connecticut house. Alas, both Bill and Pat are now gone, so I had to fend for myself, liberal and politically minded New Yorkers not eager to entertain someone who found Palin sexy and appreciated McCain’s service to his country. Actually, it felt strange on election night not to be rubbing elbows with the likes of Norman Podhoretz — watching him squirm at my presence, rather — or listening to the delightfully accented English of Henry Kissinger. But rubbing elbows was fun these past 40 years chez Bill and Pat. People like Tom and Sheila Wolfe, Tom always in his white suit, always impeccably polite with his southern manners, Jay Nordlinger, his expertise of classical music and culture matched only by his friendliness and lack of pomposity, and my old proprietor Conrad Black, a fountain of knowledge about elections past, so much so, in fact, that I once accused him of having read up on them the night before. (He had not.)

In 1968 we watched as Richard Nixon’s southern strategy won him the White House, and in 1980 Reagan’s landslide had us cheering early on. Then came 1988, and the good Bush victory over a Greek, to be followed by the two draft-dodger victories which gave me an excuse to drown my sorrows in public and rather messily. In 2004, having founded the American Conservative, I was asked by Dr K which candidate I had backed. My choice was an obscure professor, who headed an even more obscure party, whose name I had momentarily forgotten. ‘You mean you don’t even know his name?’ said Professor Hank, for once looking very surprised. This year I had a Catholic priest, Father Ramsey, my good friend Willy von Raab, and a few friends around. It was a sombre party and it got more sombre as the night wore on. Going to a friend’s election-night party later on I watched as Noo Yawkers came out in droves, cheering and blasting their horns. They all seemed synchronised and united, and all I can say is I hope they enjoy it while they can. The honeymoon will last — the media are for Obama and the media rule American public opinion — but the gargantuan messes that Bush and his neocon cronies got us into will be around for a very long time. I only hope that those of us who think Obama is an empty suit and an unreconstructed leftist will be proved wrong. But even on the upper east side of Manhattan, Third World nationalities were out in force hooting it up. I was under the weather so I didn’t bother to ask how many of them were over here legally. Black Americans, in the meantime, were celebrating in Harlem and downtown, but where I live it was mostly Hispanics who were tripping the light fantastic. I found that very strange.

Almost as strange as Obama’s selection of Rahm Emanuel to be his chief of staff. Emanuel is known as a foul-mouthed ruffian with sharp elbows who volunteered for the Israeli army during the first Gulf war, and whose father has been linked to a once-militant Jewish nationalist group. His brother is known as one of the most abrasive agents in Hollywood, a rather impressive accomplishment in a place known for the brashness of its denizens. But my problem with this appointment is neither his father nor his sibling. It’s the conflict of loyalty. Dual loyalty in very high and sensitive places is a no-no, and Obama is showing great naivety in this particular appointment.

And speaking of Israel, Einstein’s definition of a madman is somebody who keeps doing the same thing over and over while hoping for different results. Despite repeated pledges to dismantle illegal settlements, the Israeli government is still abetting them. And this is an Olmert government supposedly sympathetic to the Palestinian plight. If the crazed Zionist Netanyahu wins next spring, kiss the West Bank goodbye. Militant settlers have recently announced that any removal by the government of illegal settlements will be matched by the removal by dynamite of Palestinian houses in the vicinity. In other words, what an Israeli government does to me I will do to the Palestinians.

When I was in Gstaad last, I dined with a Palestinian teacher who had been invited by a friend for a fund raiser. Having lived in Arab lands, I am familiar with Arab hyperbole and imagination. What struck me was the lack of exaggeration on his part. The daily humiliation of going to work, the horrors he faces each day as the water and electricity is cut off, the boys he has lost to the call of the militants has taken its toll. He reminded me of some faces I had seen in Hue two years after the 1968 communist takeover. There was no anger there, just sadness. I wish the 44th President all the luck in the world, but naming Emanuel chief of staff is not change, it’s pure and simple ‘plus ça change…’

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