On the eve of the American election



What will happen after the US presidential elections in November this year?

And what will happen in the world now, after the US presidential elections in November 2020.

“I'm not even here to persuade you that the liberal international order is necessarily all bad. I´m just here to persuade you that it´s over”. Niall Ferguson. The end of the liberal order.
(London: Oneworld Book, 2017, p.6).

It all started at dawn on November 10, 1989, when the gates that divided the city of Berlin opened. Then, as if it were a house of cards, the communist regimes of Central Europe fell, the Warsaw Pact was dissolved, Germany was reunified, and the Soviet Union disintegrated. And the end of the Cold War was celebrated as if it were the definitive victory of “democracy”, of the “free market”, and of a new “international ethical order”, guided by the board of “human rights”.

Thirty years later, however, the world scenario has changed radically. The old “geopolitics of nations” has returned to be the compass of the world system; economic nationalism was once again practiced by the great powers; and the great “humanitarian objectives” of the 1990s were relegated to the back burner of the international agenda. In these 30 years, the world has witnessed the vertiginous economic rise of China, the reconstruction of Russia's military power and the decline of the global power of the European Union (EU).

But most surprising of all happened at the end of this period, when the United States turned away from its former European allies and turned against the values ​​and institutions of the “liberal and humanitarian” order that they themselves had created, after the end of the World War II. Cold. And everyone wonders how the world did such a big somersault, back and forth, in such a short time? And what will happen in the world now, after the US presidential elections in November 2020?

Much has already been said about the role that economic globalization and its perverse effects played in the disenchantment with the “liberal order” of the 1990s: because it provoked a geometric increase in inequality between countries, classes and individuals; and because it was associated with a succession of localized economic crises that culminated in the great financial crisis of 2008, which infected the world economy – starting with the United States – through the veins opened by the deregulation of globalized markets. But there is another side to this process of self-destruction that is generally less mentioned, because it involves an essential aspect of the way in which the world leadership of the United States was exercised during these 30 years.

The Cold War ended without any kind of “peace agreement”, and after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the victorious powers did not define among themselves a new “constitution” for the world. Even before this problem could be put on the agenda, the overwhelming victory of the United States in the Gulf War ended up imposing the American will as the ordering principle of the “new world”. For this reason, it can be said that the “teledirected bombing” of Iraq, in 1991, played a similar role to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in 1945: it was the moment in which a new “international ethics” and a new new “sovereign power”, responsible – from that moment on – for the arbitration of “good” and “evil”, of “just” and “unjust” in the international system. With the big difference that, in 1991 – unlike 1945 – there was no other power in the world system capable of questioning the unilateral intentions of the USA. There were 42 days of continuous air strikes, followed by a swift and forceful ground invasion, with a few hundred American casualties and about 150 Iraqi dead. The same form of "remote" warfare, which was later used in Yugoslavia in 1998, and also in NATO's "humanitarian interventions" in Bosnia in 1995, and in Kosovo in 1999.

Many perceived that the American victory in the Gulf War had consecrated a new “ethical order” and a new “sovereign power”, with the capacity to impose and arbitrate the new system of values ​​around the world. But not everyone realized that this new order brought with it contradictions and tendencies typical of an almost absolute global power, with no limits capable of preventing its deviation towards arbitrariness, arrogance and fascism [1], covered by the euphoria of victory and the adherence enthusiastic about the new ideology of liberal globalization. In particular during the administration of Bill Clinton, which went down in history as the period in which the United States would have used its economic power and military force in defense of democracy, peace, free markets and human rights.

In practice, Bill Clinton's government followed in the same footsteps as George Bush's (senior) government, both equally convinced that the 48st century would be an "American century", and that the "world needed the United States", as they used to. repeat Magdeleine Albright, his Secretary of State. So much so that, during the eight years of his two terms, the Clinton administration maintained permanent military activism alongside its “globalist” and “humanitarian” rhetoric. In that period, according to Andrew Bacevitch, “the United States engaged in 2 military actions, far more than in the entire Cold War” [1992], including its “humanitarian interventions” in Somalia in 1993-1993; in Macedonia in 1994; in Haiti in 1995; in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1998; in Sudan in 1999; in Yugoslavia in 1999; in Kosovo in 1999; and East Timor, also in XNUMX.

As noted by Chalmer Johnson, a leading US international analyst: “(…) between 1989 and 2002 there was a revolution in North America's relations with the rest of the world. At the beginning of this period, the conduct of US foreign policy was primarily a civilian operation. By 2002, all this changed and the US no longer had a foreign policy; they had a military empire. During the period of little more than a decade (1990s), a vast complex of interests and projects was born that I call “empire” and that consists of permanent naval bases, garrisons, air bases, spy posts and strategic enclaves in all continents of the globe” [3].

Not to mention the almost instantaneous American occupation of territories that had been under Soviet influence until 1991 – starting with Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, moving on to Ukraine and Belarus, the Balkans, the Caucasus and all the way to Central Asia and Pakistan. The same expansive and occupation logic that explains the speed with which the US carried forward its NATO enlargement project, even against the European vote, in some cases, building in the 90s a real “sanitary cord” that separated the Germany from Russia, and Russia from China, so that by the end of the 90s, the new “peaceful, liberal, and humanitarian order” had already allowed the United States to build a true infrastructure of global military domination.

When history is read this way, it is better understood how the “humanitarian hegemony” project of the 90s was so quickly transformed into an explicit imperial project during the George W. Bush administration, in particular after the 11 attacks. September 2001. Because, in practice, it was the “attacks” and the immediate declaration of the “universal war on terrorism” that allowed George W. Bush to directly and frankly put on the table the construction project of the “American century”.

The new American strategic doctrine proposed to fight a “terrorist enemy” that could be any person or group, inside or outside the United States. It was a universal and ubiquitous enemy, that is, whoever was considered by the American government as a threat to its national security, being able to be attacked and destroyed wherever it was, above the right to national sovereignty of the peoples. Therefore, whoever agreed to participate in this war on the side of the United States also accepted to transfer to it a sovereignty that automatically made it an imperial-type global power, in a war that would have no limits and that would be increasingly extensive and permanent.

In fact, there was only one message, and it wasn't just aimed at terrorist groups: the US was determined to maintain its technological and military lead with all other powers in the system, not just terrorists. A distance that would give the Americans the power to individually arbitrate the time and place in which their real, potential or imaginary adversaries should be “contained” through direct military attacks. It goes without saying, of course, that in this new context, the ideas of sovereignty and democracy, and the defense of human rights, lost relevance or were practically forgotten, being used only occasionally and opportunistically to cover up wars and interventions made in the name of interests. strategic goals of the US and its closest allies.

This explains why resistance to American power ended up being reborn from within the very core of the old great powers of the interstate system, and Russia in particular, in the military field. A decisive moment in this history took place in Georgia, in 2008, when the imperial power of the USA and NATO – which proposed to incorporate Georgia – found its first limit after the end of the Cold War. The so-called “Georgian War” was very quick and perhaps even went unnoticed in the history of the XNUMXst century, if the unexpected had not happened: the intervention of the Armed Forces of Russia, which in a few hours surrounded the territory of Georgia, in a resounding demonstration of that Russia had decided to place a limit on the expansion of NATO troops to the East, vetoing the incorporation of Georgia as a new Member State of the organization.

It was exactly at that moment that Russia demonstrated, for the first time, its decision and military capacity to oppose or to veto the unilateral arbitration of the USA, within the new world order of the 2015st century. Later, in XNUMX, Russia took a new step in the same direction, when it intervened in the Syrian War, without prior consultations and without subordination to any command other than that of its own Armed Forces. With its military intervention in Syria, Russia was no longer just proposing to veto US and NATO strategic decisions and initiatives; it also imposed by arms its right to arbitrate and intervene in international conflicts, even if it was against the same enemies, and based on the same values ​​defended by Europeans and North Americans. This was the great novelty that changed the course of world events, when he questioned “Pax americana”' from the same principles, and through the same methods as the North Americans.

From our point of view, it was the surprise and seriousness of this “challenge” that led Donald Trump’s United States to attack with such violence its own “liberal, pacifist and humanitarian” project of the 1990s [4], giving up of his “moral messianism” and exchanging his liberal and humanitarian convictions for the pure and simple defense of his own “national interest”.

If Donald Trump is defeated in the presidential elections of November 2020, and if the Democrats elect Joe Biden as the new US president, it is very likely that they will propose to rebuild traditional alliances and the cosmopolitan and multilateral image of US foreign policy . But the crystals have already been shattered, and one thing is absolutely certain: the liberal and humanitarian utopia of the 90s is dead.

* Jose Luis Fiori is a professor at the graduate program in international political economy at UFRJ. Author, among other books, of Global power and the new geopolitics of nations (Boitempo).


[1] “If the Gulf War defined the new 'limit principle' within the world system, it did not resolve another fundamental question: it did not clarify what the 'limit of this principle' will be. And in this case, it is not wrong to think that this new 'Persian War' does not lead humanity to a new level of civilization with the universalization of the cosmopolitan ethics created by Enlightenment Europe, but that, on the contrary, it becomes the antechamber of a new era marked by force, fear and the political-ideological setback within the very coalition that emerged victorious from this war” (Fiori, JL The “Persian War”: an ethical war. Conjuncture Notebooks, no. 8. Rio de Janeiro: Institute of Industrial Economics/UFRJ, 1991, p. 5).

[2] Bacevich, A. american empire. Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2002, p. 143.

[3] Johnson, C. The Sorrows of Empire. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2004, p. 22-23.

[4] Fiori, JL Babel Syndrome and the New Security Doctrine of the United States. Journal of Humanitarian Affairs, v. 1, no. 1, p. 42-5, 2019.


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