Friday, November 17, 2006

Martin Jacques on imperial decline

America faces a future of managing imperial declineBush's failure to grasp the limits of US global power has led to an adventurism for which his successors will pay a heavy price

Martin Jacques
Thursday November 16, 2006 The Guardian

Just a few years ago, the world was in thrall to the idea of American power. The neoconservative agenda not only infused the outlook of the White House, it also dominated the global debate about the future of international relations. Following 9/11, we had, in quick succession, the "war on terror", the "axis of evil", the idea of a new American empire, the overarching importance of military power, the notion and desirability of regime change, the invasion of Iraq, and the proposition that western-style democracy was relevant and applicable to every land in the world, starting with the Middle East. Much of that has unwound with a speed that barely anyone anticipated. With the abject failure of the American occupation of Iraq - to the point where even the American electorate now recognises the fact - the neoconservative era would appear to be in its death throes.

But what precisely is coming to an end? Neoconservatism in all its pomp conceived - in the Project for a New American Century - that, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the world could be remade in the American image, that the previous bipolar world could be replaced by a unipolar one in which the US was the dominant arbiter of global and regional affairs. In fact, the Bush administration never came close to this. For a short time it did succeed in persuading the great majority of countries to accept the priority of the war against terror and seemingly to sign up for it: even the intervention in Afghanistan, in the aftermath of 9/11, elicited widespread acquiescence. But the US singularly failed to command a majority of states in support of the invasion of Iraq and garnered even less support when it came to global public opinion. It demonstrated its unilateral intent by ignoring its failure to gain assent within the UN and invading Iraq, but the subsequent failure of its Iraqi adventure has served only to reinforce its isolation and demonstrate the folly of its unilateralism. Its strategy in the Middle East - always the epicentre of the neoconservative global project - lies in tatters.

Elsewhere the neoconservative project was stillborn. North Korea was branded as part of the "axis of evil" but the US, in agreeing to the six-party talks as a way of handling the crisis on the Korean peninsula, tacitly admitted that it simply did not enjoy enough leverage to deal with the Kim regime. This was demonstrated more forcibly with its failure to prevent the recent nuclear test, and the US's subsequent dependence on China for seeking some means of engaging North Korea in dialogue. In fact China has now cajoled the US into accepting the need for it to do something it had previously resisted: entering into direct talks with North Korea, with China playing the role of honest broker. For all the neoconservative bluster, the US is simply too weak in east Asia - and China too strong - for it to be anything other than a secondary player in the North Korean crisis. It has been a striking illustration of the slow, remorseless decline of American influence in the region.

Meanwhile, in the region that it has dominated for well over a century, which it has traditionally regarded as its own backyard and in which it intervened with impunity throughout the cold war - namely Latin America - the US is now facing its bleakest ever situation, far worse than anything the Cuban regime represented during the cold war. The US is confronted with a formidable and well-resourced adversary in Chávez's Venezuela, and a continent in which the left has made extraordinary progress. The Bush administration, so far at least, has been quite unable to halt its growing isolation in Latin America and the left's onward march.

Even in the Middle East, the weakness of the neoconservative position has become increasingly evident in its handling of Iran, another member of the "axis of evil". As in the case of North Korea, the US, partly as a result of its preoccupation with the occupation of Iraq, in effect devolved negotiations over Iran's nuclear ambitions to the group of four consisting of Germany, France, Russia and the UK.

Although the west Europeans have been happy to do most of America's bidding, Russia has not and nor, it would appear, has China. Both are permanent members of the UN security council, and both are resistant to sanctions and the threat of military action. As a result, negotiations over Iran have been mired in something of an impasse. Of course, if the neoconservatives had felt strong enough, they could have forced the issue in a manner similar to their approach in Iraq. The point is that they did not. And now it would seem inconceivable that they can contemplate military action against Iran.

On the contrary, the tables appear to be in the process of being turned: the US, instead of seeking to isolate Iran, is now likely to need Iranian and Syrian support in helping to sort out the debacle in Iraq. Taken with the failure of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the continuing disaster of the occupied territories, we can see that the US is in retreat. Ever since 1956, it has been increasingly and formidably dominant in the region, with Israel riding pillion, and since 1989 it has been the overwhelming arbiter of events there. This year marks the beginning of the decline of American power in the Middle East, with untold consequences.

Here we can see the cost of Bush's adventurism for American imperial power. In failing to understand the inherent limits of US global power consequent upon deeper, though seemingly unrecognised, longer-term global trends, the Bush administration hugely overestimated American power and thereby committed a gross act of imperial over-reach, for which subsequent administrations will pay a heavy price. Far from the US simply conjoining its pre-1989 power with that of the deceased USSR, it is increasingly confronted with a world marked by the growing power of a range of new national actors, notably - but by no means only - China, India and Brazil.

Just six years into the 21st century, one can say this is not shaping up to be anything like an American century. Rather, the US seems much more likely to be faced with a very different kind of future: how to manage its own imperial decline. And, as a footnote, one might add that this is a task for which pragmatists are rather better suited than ideologues.

· Martin Jacques is a visiting research fellow at the Asia Research Centre, London School of Economics

Richard Gott on race and class in Latin America

Latin America is preparing to settle accounts with its white settler elite
The political movements and protests sweeping the continent - from Bolivia to Venezuela - are as much about race as class
Richard Gott
Wednesday November 15, 2006 The Guardian

The recent explosion of indigenous protest in Latin America, culminating in the election this year of Evo Morales, an Aymara indian, as president of Bolivia, has highlighted the precarious position of the white-settler elite that has dominated the continent for so many centuries. Although the term "white settler" is familiar in the history of most European colonies, and comes with a pejorative ring, the whites in Latin America (as in the US) are not usually described in this way, and never use the expression themselves. No Spanish or Portuguese word exists that can adequately translate the English term.

Latin America is traditionally seen as a continent set apart from colonial projects elsewhere, the outcome of its long experience of settlement since the 16th century. Yet it truly belongs in the history of the global expansion of white-settler populations from Europe in the more recent period. Today's elites are largely the product of the immigrant European culture that has developed during the two centuries since independence.

The characteristics of the European empires' white-settler states in the 19th and 20th centuries are well known. The settlers expropriated the land and evicted or exterminated the existing population; they exploited the surviving indigenous labour force on the land; they secured for themselves a European standard of living; and they treated the surviving indigenous peoples with extreme prejudice, drafting laws to ensure they remained largely without rights, as second- or third-class citizens.

Latin America shares these characteristics of "settler colonialism", an evocative term used in discussions about the British empire. Together with the Caribbean and the US, it has a further characteristic not shared by Europe's colonies elsewhere: the legacy of a non-indigenous slave class. Although slavery had been abolished in much of the world by the 1830s, the practice continued in Latin America (and the US) for several decades. The white settlers were unique in oppressing two different groups, seizing the land of the indigenous peoples and appropriating the labour of their imported slaves.

A feature of all "settler colonialist" societies has been the ingrained racist fear and hatred of the settlers, who are permanently alarmed by the presence of an expropriated underclass. Yet the race hatred of Latin America's settlers has only had a minor part in our customary understanding of the continent's history and society. Even politicians and historians on the left have preferred to discuss class rather than race.

In Venezuela, elections in December will produce another win for Hugo Chávez, a man of black and Indian origin. Much of the virulent dislike shown towards him by the opposition has been clearly motivated by race hatred, and similar hatred was aroused the 1970s towards Salvador Allende in Chile and Juan Perón in Argentina. Allende's unforgivable crime, in the eyes of the white-settler elite, was to mobilise the rotos, the "broken ones" - the patronising and derisory name given to the vast Chilean underclass. The indigenous origins of the rotos were obvious at Allende's political demonstrations. Dressed in Indian clothes, their affinity with their indigenous neighbours would have been apparent. The same could be said of the cabezas negras - "black heads" - who came out to support Perón.

This unexplored parallel has become more apparent as indigenous organisations have come to the fore, arousing the whites' ancient fears. A settler spokesman, Mario Vargas Llosa, the Peruvian-now-Spanish novelist, has accused the indigenous movements of generating "social and political disorder", echoing the cry of 19th-century racist intellectuals such as Colonel Domingo Sarmiento of Argentina, who warned of a choice between "civilisation and barbarism".
Latin America's settler elites after independence were obsessed with all things European. They travelled to Europe in search of political models, ignoring their own countries beyond the capital cities, and excluding the majority from their nation-building project. Along with their imported liberal ideology came the racialist ideas common among settlers elsewhere in Europe's colonial world. This racist outlook led to the downgrading and non-recognition of the black population, and, in many countries, to the physical extermination of indigenous peoples. In their place came millions of fresh settlers from Europe.

Yet for a brief moment during the anti-colonial revolts of the 19th century, radical voices took up the Indian cause. A revolutionary junta in Buenos Aires in 1810 declared that Indians and Spaniards were equal. The Indian past was celebrated as the common heritage of all Americans, and children dressed as Indians sang at popular festivals. Guns cast in the city were christened in honour of Tupac Amaru and Mangoré, famous leaders of Indian resistance. In Cuba, early independence movements recalled the name of Hatuey, the 16th-century cacique, and devised a flag with an Indian woman entwined with a tobacco leaf. Independence supporters in Chile evoked the Araucanian rebels of earlier centuries and used Arauco symbols on their flags. Independence in Brazil in 1822 brought similar displays, with the white elite rejoicing in its Indian ancestry and suggesting that Tupi, spoken by many Indians, might replace Portuguese as the official language.

The radicals' inclusive agenda sought to incorporate the Indian majority into settler society. Yet almost immediately this strain of progressive thought disappears from the record. Political leaders who sought to be friendly with the indigenous peoples were replaced by those anxious to participate in the global campaign to exterminate indigenous peoples. The British had already embarked on that task in Australia and South Africa, and the French took part after 1830 when they invaded Algeria.

Latin America soon joined in. The purposeful extermination of indigenous peoples in the 19th century may well have been on a larger scale than anything attempted by the Spanish and the Portuguese in the earlier colonial period. Millions of Indians died because of a lack of immunity to European diseases, yet the early colonists needed the Indians to grow food and to provide labourers. They did not have the same economic necessity to make the land free from Indians that would provoke the extermination campaigns on other continents in the same era. The true Latin American holocaust occurred in the 19th century.

The slaughter of Indians made more land available for settlement, and between 1870 and 1914 five million Europeans migrated to Brazil and Argentina. In many countries the immigration campaigns continued well into the 20th century, sustaining the hegemonic white-settler culture that has lasted to this day.

Yet change is at last on the agenda. Recent election results have been described, with some truth, as a move to the left, since several new governments have revived progressive themes from the 1960s. Yet from a longer perspective these developments look more like a repudiation of Latin America's white-settler culture, and a revival of that radical tradition of inclusion attempted two centuries ago. The outline of a fresh struggle, with a final settling of accounts, can now be discerned.

· This article is based on the third annual SLAS lecture, given to the Society for Latin American Studies in October. Richard Gott is the author of Cuba: A New History (Yale University Press)

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Wallerstein on American defeat

Commentary No. 197, Nov. 15, 2006
"Mother of All Defeats"

George W. Bush is a high-stakes gambler. When high-stakes gamblers lose, they lose big. George W. Bush has lost big - in Iraq and in the United States.

When the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, it seemed that, despite overwhelming military power, the United States might even lose the war. It didn't take too long to see that the United States actually was losing the war. By now, it is obvious that the United States has lost the war, irremediably. The U.S. objective in Iraq was to put in power a stable, friendly government, and one that would allow U.S. military bases. It is clear now that if it is stable, it won't be friendly. And if it is friendly, it won't be stable.

On November 7, the Republican Party lost the midterm elections. As Bush himself said, in all the close races, the margin was very slight, but overall it was a "thumping." The degree of thumping is underlined by the fact that, after the elections, Bush's poll ratings went down still further.

Reason number one was the fact that most Americans felt that the war was going badly in Iraq and they wanted to get the military home. Even in districts where the Democratic candidate did not make this an issue, it played in the background. There were other reasons to be sure. Many centrist voters voted against the Christian right, and having some Democratic candidates who took a more centrist position on the "social" issues didn't hurt.

The question is what is going to happen now. Bush is not, and has never been, an ideologue. He is a pragmatic rightwing politician, who does what he thinks necessary to win elections. He has been pretty good at this, and he is aware of the mistakes he has made in recent years - not in geopolitics (where he basically understands nothing and cares about very little), but in U.S. politics, where he has gotten a "thumping." He is adjusting. He has fired Rumsfeld, will back seat Cheney, and (no doubt following Karl Rove's advice) has called for help from the old "realist" wing of the Republican party - his father, James Baker, and the incoming Defense Secretary, Robert Gates. He is hoping to co-opt the Democratic leadership into his revived bipartisan veneer.

Can he do this? Specifically, what can he do about Iraq? And what can he do about the Democratic thrust forward? The short answer on Iraq is that it is hard to see any way he can extricate himself and the United States elegantly from the Iraq fiasco. The Baker-Hamilton commission will soon let us know what "new directions" they see, but I doubt that they can come up with anything that can work.

Some people talk about dividing Iraq into three parts. This is a non-starter. Neither Turkey nor Iran can tolerate an independent Kurdistan, and the Kurds will be far better off in their present de facto autonomy than in fighting a war with neighbors. The majority of the Shia do not want a separate state. For one thing, why have Shia-stan when they can more or less dominate a united Iraq? And in any case, what would happen to Baghdad? And of course, the Sunni are dead opposed. So of course are all Iraq's neighbors, without exception. And as we have seen in Yugoslavia, separate states do not end ethnic conflict; they actually enhance it.

Basically, there are only two ways the United States can withdraw from Iraq with minimal further loss of life and minimal political damage. They can ask Iran to be their intermediary to dampen internal conflict in Iraq, which might work. Or, alternatively, the al-Sadr faction of the Shia and the Sunni resistance can join forces on an anti-American platform and ask the United States politely to leave immediately (that is, kick the United States out), which also might work.

Neither alternative is the least bit palatable to Bush or to the U.S. Congress. But these two alternatives represent probably the best deal the United States can get at this stage. Any other road almost surely leads to an ending in which helicopters ferry people out of the Green Zone to Kuwait.

The one thing that is sure is that there will be no U.S. troops in Iraq as we approach the 2008 elections. The voters and the military made that clear in the 2006 election. Of course there will be a massive blame game - among Republicans as to who lost the 2006 elections, and between Democrats and Republicans as to who lost Iraq. But the word on everyone's mind is "lost."We can also be sure that bombing either North Korea or Iran is off the real agenda (including for Israel). The U.S. armed forces and the U.S. electorate will not tolerate it (not to speak of the rest of the world). Where will this leave the United States as a world power? It will probably result in a big push towards drawing inward. Already, in the 2006 elections, many candidates won by opposing "free trade" and Iraq was a dirty word. The political temptation will be to go local in emphasis. One of the major side effects will be a notable reduction in U.S. support for Israeli foreign policy, which will be wrenching for Israel.

The Democrats are united on internal economic legislation - higher minimum wages, better and more affordable health care, financial aid to college students. They are also going to push ecology issues and medical advances (stem cell research, for example). If the Republicans hope to recuperate strength, they will have to move their economic program as well as their program on social issues somewhat in a centrist direction.

The result, as is already obvious, is to create major turmoil in the Republican party, while reducing it in the Democratic party - the exact opposite of what has been the case in the last decade. And in early 2009, George W. Bush will fade into the wilderness, remembered (if we bother) for being the front man for the mother of all defeats - in Iraq, in the world-system, and at home for the Republican party.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Gregor Gall Pathways to Progress

Pathways to progress
From Solidarity magazine web-site, reproduced from the Morning Star (Tuesday 31 October 2006)GREGOR GALL looks at the potential for progress from two initiatives to get the trade union movement reactivated and draws positives from both approaches.

At the RMT-initiated national shop stewards' conference last Saturday, the 250 trade unionists present passed an enabling statement from the union's executive.

At the Respect-initiated Organising for fighting unions conference on Saturday November 11, those attending will be asked to vote on a statement called the Workers' Charter.

Many of the main speakers at the RMT conference, like Bob Crow and Matt Wrack, will also speak at the Respect conference and the Trade Union Freedom Bill, which was central to gathering at the weekend, will again be crucial.

The RMT statement outlined the basis for establishing a steering group whose task is to help orchestrate the first steps towards creating a national shop stewards network, primarily by organising a formal delegate conference in spring 2007. That conference would see the attempt to create the national shop stewards network itself.

The purpose of the national shop stewards network will be to offer trade unionists help and support in their campaigns and disputes as well as to support existing workplace committees and trades councils.

The proposed Workers' Charter has a much more ambitious task - to promote the right to living wages, union rights, decent public services, protection of the environment, wealth redistribution and the like.

More immediately, the proposed charter states that its priorities will be to organise lobbies and activities in support of the Trade Union Freedom Bill, the Public Services Not Private Profit initiative and so on.

So, although many on the left have commented on the great similarity of the two conferences, concluding that it would have been better to have just one united conference rather than two, the differences are actually quite stark. And they represent significantly different strategies.

If the RMT-initiated conference just gone had been called with the purpose of declaring the establishment of a national shop stewards movement, it would have rightly been derided for being unrealistic and far too ambitious. A conference, no matter how well attended, cannot simply call into being a movement. Movements emerge organically from mass struggles, where people engage in purposeful actions.

But the conference sought to begin the process of bringing together on a national level the workplace reps who have the potential to themselves constitute a national shop stewards network. The use of the term "network" and not "movement" is important, because it is more appropriate to the current state of workplace union organisation.

The conference, therefore, did not attempt to take on the lofty task of recreating the shop stewards movements of the past. Whether of the first world war period or the 1950s to 1970s, the shop steward movements of these periods emerged from more solid ground of entrenched workplace bargaining and in times of rising trade union struggle.

Today, we face the task of knitting together what grass-roots organisation has survived and is still working after a period of retreat and defeat. The job here is to try to make it into more than just the sum of its parts. So, the task of the shop stewards network is to support and encourage struggle when its breaks out rather than initiate it in the first place. Once this has been achieved, we may then be in a position to try as a network to initiate struggles.

There is where the Respect-initiated Workers' Charter is likely to come unstuck. All the demands are, in one sense, correct and sensible. The demands raise necessary and important issues, but they are also too wide-ranging and ambitious to be acted upon practically.

The social forces required to secure the charter's aims unfortunately do not yet exist. Put bluntly, the aims do not match up with the available means. No amount of exhortation and pulling of emotional, left-wing heartstrings can get around this. That is why the RMT initiative more squarely hits the nail on the head.

All of this should focus our attention on best way to introduce higher demands into the union movement, as well as to how higher demands can emerge themselves from within the union movement in a more organic manner.

Different organisations of varying sizes, but all of the far left, dating from the 1970s, have presented charters of rights and action programmes to the union movement. Some of these charters and programmes have been presented in more conducive times than those of the present.

Setting aside the barren party-building aspects of some of these attempts, what they have in common is that they have not connected with the active, non-aligned trade unionists in a widespread and concrete manner.

An obvious example of when this did happen concerns the Liaison Committee for the Defence of Trade Unions (LCDTU) at the time of the killing of both the In Place of Strife white paper in 1968 and the Industrial Relations Act 1971.This lack of subsequent substantial connection of charters and programmes is because the demands either fail to do one or other or both of the following.

First, they do not match where the mass of the union movement is at, where the demands aim to take people two or three steps, as opposed to 10 or 20 steps, on from where they are. Second, the demands have not genuinely or organically arisen in a substantial way from the mass of workers' struggle.

Although only a single but, nonetheless, high-profile strike, the Gate Gourmet action highlighted to the workers involved and to a huge swathe of others looking on that legalised solidarity action is vitally needed to make trade unionism effective.That is why the Trade Union Freedom Bill is so appropriate. Unfortunately, we have not seen any such similar examples since.

So, because the RMT initiative is more attuned to the lived experience of workplace reps as they are now and begins from where they are, it is more likely to be successful than the Respect initiative, which may serve the better purposes of raising ideas and creating discussion.

That does not mean that the RMT initiative is guaranteed success. In itself, it is quite ambitious. Its success will depend upon a higher level of trade union workplace struggle unfolding, workplace reps broadening their horizons out of their own industry and a clutch of successful struggles, aided by solidarity support, being seen as offering a way forward.•

Gregor Gall is professor of industrial relations at the University of Hertfordshire's Centre for Research in Employment Studies