Friday, December 31, 2004

Wallerstein Commentary 152 Jan1st 2005 Bush and the World

Immanuel Wallerstein's bi-monthly commentary (1st and 15th of every month) arrives.
This is no 152, January 1, 2005 and entitled 'Bush and the World: The Second Term'

Wallerstein draws a distinction between the clarity of Bush's 'classic rightwing agenda' for domestic policies: tax cuts, privatizing social security, conservative judicial appointments, dismantling environmental legislation, strong state; and the obscurity of his future foreign policy.

In the first term foreign policy had been marked by 'unilateral pre-emptive action', but has also been rather unsuccessful. What is the the second Bush administration going to get up to? Will it be an identical foreign policy?

Wallerstein makes the obvious point that the most immediate question remains Iraq, especially holding Iraqi elections at the end of January. It's important that U.S. can show that it can hold these elections at all. The U.S. also fears that if they aren't held then Sistani might move from distance to active hostility. The U.S. also hopes to shift the political/military battle from Iraqi insurgents versus the U.S. to Iraqi insurgents versus legitimate elected Iraqi government. The US state also sees it as prerequisite to reduction in number of the U.S.troops in Iraq.

The elections will 'almost certainly be held amidst continuing and probably escalating violence and amidst a high rate of abstentionism, especially in Sunni areas'.
A government with Ayatollah Sayed al-Hakim of the main Shia party(SCIRI) as Prime Minister will probably be formed.
The insurgency will almost surely continue, charging that the new government is a U.S. puppet.
The new Iraqi government will have to choose between the overtly pro-American policy of Allawi and a nationalist line and a nationalist line is more probable, 'in order first of all to be more legitimate'.
Wallerstein thus sees pressure for troop withdrawal coming from insurgents, the Iraqi government, and public opinion at home.
Thus, for Wallerstein, the U.S. is at the beginning of an isolationist reaction, a traditional position inside the Republican party, despite the bitter opposition of the 'militarists' and 'neo-cons' in the administration, who are politically weaker now than in 2003.
So, says Wallerstein, 'we may get a big swing in U.S. foreign policy. What we will not get is the modulated middle position of "multilateralism" dear to the heart of Colin Powell and to the first President Bush's advisors likeBrent Scowcroft and dear to the leaders of the more conservative wing of the Democratic Party (such as Senators Biden and Lieberman).'
Already, 'Bush has pulled back on North Korea and Iran to a position of tacit recognition of impotence. The Bush team is huffing and puffing, but they know there is very little they can do.'
Bush isn't going to do much about Cuba. In the Ukraine business, 'Bush went out of his way to indicate that the U.S. will continue to work with Putin.'
China? 'The economic interests of the United States preclude anything hostile, despite the uneasiness the Bush administration has with China's increased political role in Asia.'
And if the US withdraws from the world, displaying U.S. geopolitical weakness:
'there will be much unsure jostling among all the other geopolitical players. The U.S. was already a declining hegemonic power when Bush came to power in 2001. In seeking to restore the U.S. world position in his first four years of power,Bush actually made the situation much worse for the U.S. The U.S. (and Bush) will reap the harvest of his folly in the second term.'
Well I'm still very impressed by Immanuel Wallerstein's contribution to understanding the world in his 'world-system' theory, even if he has a 'neo-Smithian' focus on markets at the expense of production (it's true, falling profit rates, etc. mean little to him, see Robert Brenner's 'The Origins of Capitalist Development: A Critique of Neo-Smithian Marxism', New Left Review 1/104 (1977); and also by his continuing social and political radicalism (he was born in 1930). I do have criticisms of his perspective here. The situation in Iraq looks more catastrophic than he makes out, even if the election takes place the possibilities of the insurgency undermining and overthrowing any Iraqi authority seems pretty high, and there are strong possibilities of civil war developing - the more so if the Bush regime is successful in 'Iraqization' of the situation. But it's good to see an analysis that doesn't just follow the line that the neo-cons are in control and they will follow the interests of American imperialism by more pre-emptive war.
More Wallerstein.
A convenient introduction to Wallerstein's ideas about the decline of American hegemony can be found in 'The Eagle has Crash Landed' in Foreign Policy July-Aug 2003 and 'US Weakness and the Struggle for Hegemony' in Monthly Review July-Aug 2003.
There is an archive of his commentaries at


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