The unipolar domination of the United States

Image: Erik Schereder


American Interests in the Ukraine War: The Advancement of Freedom or Empire?

The disaster that is the war in Ukraine has not yet found its Francisco Goya, but the journalists' reports allow us to visualize a picture of death and destruction. This war, like all previous ones, is hell. Writing about a supposedly good war, World War II, Nicholson Baker, in human smoke, describes the beginning of this as the advent of the end of civilization from the record, on both sides, of the most horrible war crimes.

Nicholas Turse's account, in Shoot Anything That Moves, about the Vietnam War, and the report by Vincent Bevins, em The Jakarta Method, about the massacres supported by Washington around the world during the Cold War, placed the Americans, in these two cases, as perpetrators of war crimes. Chalmer Johnson, in the trilogy Blowback and Dismantling the Empire, compiled a long list of atrocities in what he called the “obsessive imperial wars” in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Vladimir Putin's record in Ukraine may be as bad as his worst enemies make it out to be, but it's still well within the norms for a war, despite the selective outrage about him. Wars and crimes go hand in hand. A broader question than Putin's war crimes is about the origin of this war. Who or what caused it? From this first cause, ineluctable consequences of a criminal personality followed.

On the principle that historical analyzes depend on an attempt to understand all sides in a war, Russo's argument deserves a fair hearing. Roy Medvedev, one of the most distinguished Russian historians and a historic supporter of Vladimir Putin, gave an interview on March 2, 2022 to Corriere della Sera. The 96-year-old succinctly expressed the Kremlin's view of the Ukraine crisis as a confrontation that involved much more than Vladimir Putin's concern about NATO expansion on his country's borders. The metastasis of NATO illustrated, but did not define, for Russia, the fundamental issue, which related to the failure of the US to understand that the unipolar moment of being the rule-makers was coming to an end. The time had come for a paradigm shift in international relations.

As an example of the failure of American hegemony, Medvedec commented on the effects of Washington's supervisory role on the Russian transition to capitalism. He was referring to the misery that befell his country at the end of the Cold War and was clearly described by Columbia University Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz in his Globalization and its evils. Overall, Stiglitz found nothing competent or moral about the way globalization was imposed on the world by the IMF, the World Bank, and the US Treasury Department. Globalization has become a get-rich scheme for international elites to implement and benefit from the Washington consensus.

When Stiglitz discusses the US-led post-Cold War Russian economy, which developed along the lines of the Chicago school of free-market capitalist believers, he spells out in detail what Medvedev alluded to in his interview with the biggest Italian newspaper. This crash course in free-market economics produced a harrowing increase in that nation's poverty. Russian GDP declined by two-thirds between 1989 and 2000. Standards of living and life expectancy declined while the number of people in poverty increased. Levels of inequality rose as oligarchs took advantage of insider information to clear the country of its assets, which were invested not in Russia but in the US stock market. Billions of dollars disappeared along with a huge immigration of talented and well-educated young people who saw no future there.

Revisiting the experience of the 90s, Medvedev cited the social consequences of those terrible years as the main reason for Putin's popularity in Russia today. After ten years of Western democratic tutelage, the country has fallen apart. Medvedev credited Putin with reviving Russia and returning it to the status of a respectable power. Accusations leveled against her in the Western media, linking her rule to Stalin's murderous tyranny, were seen by Medvedev as a misunderstanding of Russian history. He had lived under these two leaders. There is no way to compare them. Russia was a controlled society, certainly, but Putin did not operate over its complex political system like a dictator.

Marked by his great prestige throughout the nation, Vladimir Putin had the support of the Russian people in his intervention in Ukraine. It is possible to deduce from Medvedev's interview that they accepted the dual justification for Russian actions. First, for the Russians, the US-NATO-Ukraine alliance constituted an existential threat, made even more dangerous by the inclusion of right-wing anti-Russian elements in the Ukrainian military. Beginning with the 2008 meeting in Bucharest, the George W. Bush administration pushed Ukraine and Georgia into NATO membership, by definition and practice an anti-Russian alliance.

Furthermore, the march of events in that part of the world only went in one direction, arriving on November 10, 2021, in the US-Ukraine Strategic Partnership Charter. That agreement outlined the country's integration process into the European Union and NATO. Indeed, Ukraine's military success against Russia reveals the far-reaching nature of NATO's relentless training program. From the Kremlin's perspective, an invasion became necessary to prevent an even more lethal threat from materializing at the front door.

As a result of the enactment of the Charter and the American refusal to acknowledge Russian concerns, Chancellor Sergey Lavrov declared that his country had reached its “boiling point”. Even those scathing words weren't enough to impress policymakers in Washington. Secretary of State Antony Blinken made a strong statement about Ukraine's right to choose its own foreign policy and to apply for NATO membership if it wanted to, disregarding the practical inapplicability of this principle should Canada or Mexico discover its right to militarily ally with Russia or China. The consequent deployment of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border resulted in more statements by Blinken: “There is no change. There will be no change”.

What would not change in essence refers to the Wolfowitz Doctrine. American interest in Ukraine stems from this doctrine. Its stated purpose is the focal point of the second rationale for Ukraine.

As undersecretary of defense in the administration of George Herbert Walker Bush, Paul Wolfowitz authored the 1992 Defense Policy Guide memo. This seminal foreign policy document advocated maintaining US supremacy in the post-Cold War era. No rival superpowers were to emerge. The unipolar dominance of the United States will be maintained in perpetuity. Democrats did not object. During the Clinton administration, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright announced that the United States enjoyed a unique status in the world as the only indispensable nation. The preservation of US economic and military primacy had support from both parties.

That Vladimir Putin is most concerned about the American creed of supremacy was evident on February 4, 2022, when he and Chinese President Xi Jinping released the Joint Declaration on the New Era in International Relations and Sustainable Development. They declared that, in place of US hegemony, the UN panel would be a more solid foundation for international relations. In short, the unipolar moment that Medvedev would talk about a month later would go down in history.

The danger of the current crisis with Russia in Ukraine and the one to come from China with Taiwan involves the way in which such powers see themselves as facing existential threats. For Russians and Chinese, the immediate problems are territorial, for Americans, their global hegemony. The rules-based order advocated by the Biden administration speaks in defense of its Ukraine policy is the same one we have conceived and defended since the Bretton Woods financial conference in July 1944. The Wolfowitz doctrine takes its place as one of many appendices and clauses additions to the American mindset that took tangible institutional form with the creation of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank along with the investment and military support of the Marshall Plan and NATO.

The entire panoply of American power now faces its first openly and openly challenged challenge since the end of the Cold War. How to face it? We could continue to fuel the war in Ukraine with money, weapons and economic sanctions while hoping that our direct involvement can be avoided. However, given our already multifaceted involvement, the shadow of war greatly reduces our chances of successfully staying away from the actual war.

With the continuation of the war now in sight, lucid containment by either side would be a risky gamble. Negotiating a settlement would be a rational next step, but the powers that be see themselves as in a dubious battle on the plains of heaven rarely think of yielding until all alternatives are exhausted. These alternatives include nuclear war.

With the perpetuation of American hegemony at the heart of Ukraine and the main motive for the Biden administration's extreme response to Putin's challenge, it is convenient for us as a nation to look frankly at the policy we are advocating. We are not there to save Ukrainians from death or to save Ukraine from destruction, two goals that would be more efficiently achieved if we worked to end the war as quickly as possible, rather than perpetuating it as we are doing. As a nice bonus for our side, profits are rising in the arms industry, which should feel ennobled by its assistance to the media-blessed Ukraine.

Outside the USA, however, the international reaction to the sanctions imposed by Washington against Russia gives a small idea of ​​the division, in the world, regarding the order that we are defending. Even in NATO nations below the official level, resistance to sanctions is growing due to fear of the economic impact on European populations. Gas and food prices rise while wages remain stagnant or declining, with an even worse trend in the near future as sanctions take full effect. For a growing number of Europeans, the cost of becoming an official member of NATO is already too high.

Beyond Europe, the reaction to the Ukraine crisis favors Vladimir Putin because nations in the Global South know they will be the most vulnerable to the unintended effects of sanctions targeting Russia. More importantly, the vivid memories of Western imperialism in nonwhite nations have a dampening effect on the reception of NATO's narratives about its philanthropic and irenic goals. NATO's wars in Serbia, Iraq and not Libya had the same effect.

That Africa, Latin America and Asia, in general, have not supported sanctions suggests that the war in Ukraine is the litmus test for Pankaj Mishra's thesis on The age of anger: a history of the present. It depicts a world seething with hatred and resentment as people and cultures are humiliated and deprived of the protection of ruling elites. The most visible evidence of the global emergency he describes is worsening income inequality and environmental degradation. The world order we are fighting for with the arms supply in Ukraine lacks a moral foundation and requires a complete overhaul.

In persisting with our current policy in Ukraine, we hope that this time, unlike any since Woodrow Wilson put the US in charge of making the world safe for democracy, the savage war will be something other than the murderous pen placed in the service of what Thorstein Veblen called it "the good old plan". He was referring to maintaining, protecting, and extending domestic control over territories, markets, and resources around the world. This profound critique of American foreign policy appears, in its most developed form, in two of our greatest historians, Charles Austin Beard and William Appleman Williams whose work deserves, these days, reconsideration as we try to wean ourselves from empire as a lifestyle.

*Richard Drake is a professor of political science and history at the University of Montana. Author, among other books, of The Education of an Anti-Imperialist: Robert La Follette and US Expansion. (University of Wisconsin Press).

Translation: Lucius Proves.

Originally published in counter punch.

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