The Crisis of American Imperialism's World Dominance

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The collapse of the Russian superpower in 1989 and with it the disappearance of the system of imperialist blocs that dominated world affairs since the end of World War II, left the US as the dominant imperialist power.  After more than a decade and half, in spite of a relentless questioning of this hegemony, the US has been able to maintain its economic, political and particularly its military global supremacy. And for the moment there isn’t another country, or group of countries, that can challenge this  position of power on the global level. This lack of  a viable imperialist competitor, capable of strategically challenging American world dominance, is in great part the product of the present  historic state of capitalism, in particular decomposition’s  chaotic dynamic preventing the formation of permanent imperialist alliances. But it is also the consequence of the US bourgeoisie’s political imperialist strategy centered around the  battle to block the rise of any power, whether a single country or a group of countries, that could effectively challenge its world supremacy. This policy has been in place and has served as the cornerstone of American imperialist strategy since the collapse of the system of imperialist blocs, regardless of whether a Democrat or Republican has occupied the White House.

However, even though the US bourgeoisie has for the last 16 years successfully defended its world hegemony, this success has to be very much qualified.  In fact behind the preservation of American world supremacy is the hard reality of the historic crisis of   US leadership against which all the policies of the American state have proven ineffective.

This decline of the American empire, has been particularly obvious in the failure of  the last world-wide offensive of  the  US bourgeoisie launched under the cover of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.


At the end of May 2006, the Bush administration announced that, with the formation of a new democratically elected government in Iraq, there has been a turning point in the struggle against terrorism and the fight for “democracy” in the world. Empty words of an embattled president who seems to continue to hold power only thanks to the weaknesses of the American bourgeois political apparatus. Unlike its European counterparts with their parliamentary systems, which permit them to change horses in the middle of the race, the American bourgeoisie has almost no way to dump its ineffective head of state before a full term has been served. With two and a half years more left in the White house, there is one sure legacy that this president will pass to his successor: a declining imperialist power, seemingly unable to extricate itself from the quagmire that its actions have created in Iraq, and heavily restricted in its ability to respond to the constant questioning around the world of its hegemonic imperialist position.

In past declarations Bush has said candidly that the problem of withdrawing US troops from Iraq will be left for the next president to decide. This declared impotence to bring the war in Iraq to a successful resolution is just the crowning jewel in the administration’s growing disarray in  the implementation of US imperialist policy.

In the beginning of his first term Mr. Bush put forward the belligerent imperialist “Bush doctrine,” which had as its centerpiece the notion that the US would take the initiative in knocking down any would-be enemy before it had the chance to attack America –a so called “preemptive action.” This declaration of war against the world served well the immediate post-September 11 situation during which the American bourgeoisie launched, under the cover of the so called “war on terrorism”, a major political and military offensive in South Asia and the Middle East aimed to advance US military and political position in those regions in order to better contain the expansionist imperialist appetites of Russia and various European powers.

Today this grandiose Bush “doctrine” is nowhere to be heard of in America. And this is not an accident. The fact is that the political military offensive engineered by the Bush administration is a total shambles. The “war on terrorism” ideological banner  has  lost the appeal that it had within the American population following the September 11 terrorist attacks. Besides, five years after these terrible events and the ensuing American response, the US is far from “winning the war on terrorism” as the government would like us to believe. In fact Osama Bin Laden and his loose network of  followers of Islamic extremists seem only to have gotten stronger, while the American bourgeoisie has lost domestically and internationally the high moral ground that it had at the time of the barbaric Al  Qaida terrorist attacks—attacks facilitated, to say the least, by the higher echelons of the US state itself. Even though the war in Afghanistan has allowed the US to improve its strategic  military position in South Asia –curbing Pakistan’s imperialist ambitions, establishing American military bases in former Russian satellites in Central Asia-- the situation in post-Taliban’s Afghanistan itself is hurting American political credibility enormously. Five years after being taken over by America, this country is far from stable with permanent  on-again-off-again flare ups of war in many regions and no visible improvement in the fortune of a population  that for decades has been ravaged by war and abuse by one or another foreign power and/or local political clique.

However it is in the Middle East where the implementation of American imperialist policy by the Bush administration  has been a total fiasco.  In Iraq, where Bush’s preemptive action doctrine got its real first test, after three years since easily toppling  Sadam Hussein regime, the US is bogged down in a costly and increasingly unpopular war with no victory in sight. Over 2600 American soldiers have been killed, and 8 billion dollars are spent a month in this conflict. The US invaded this country, for reasons that have long since been proven to be phony, and overthrew its brutal regime, promising the moon and the stars to its brutalized population. Instead, the misery,  suffering,  insecurity, and dehumanization that it has  brought about are beyond anything imagined at the time of the invasion.   Also in the Middle East the American strategy vis-à-vis the Palestinian question has been a total failure. Completely busy with Iraq  the US role in the Israel/Palestine conflict has been reduced to one of spectator. It makes one  laugh to remember Mr Bush’s “road map” for peace in this conflict that was announced with great fanfare after the “victorious” Iraqi invasion. Powerless to play any substantial role in this conflict the US has witnessed the recent  election to power of  the terrorist group Hamas in Palestine, and the continued re-drawing of the Palestine/ Israel  borders by the Israeli government to its own liking, neither of which  fit at all with the needs of American imperialism in the region.


The Bush administration’s failure to be up to the needs of the imperialist requirements of  American capitalism is creating tremendous difficulties both for the present and future policy needs of American imperialism.

Its political credibility in shambles, there exists a growing international isolation of the US In Iraq even the “coalition of the willing” –the little gang that the US managed to put together to give its invasion of Iraq an international flavor-- has, little by little disintegrated. Spain has long retreated.  Italy, now that Berlusconi is gone, will probably pull its troops out soon. There is even tremendous pressure on the lame-duck government of Blair to withdraw Great Britain’s troops.

Its mounting loss of political authority and credibility and the very material fact that it is bogged down in Iraq are exacerbating imperialist tensions around the world and encouraging other countries to play their own imperialist cards. In this context, there is a growing recognition among the high level military officials that, under present conditions, America cannot fight another war simultaneously to the ones in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the Far East, North Korea, one of the so called “axis of evil” countries, has been able to continue its defiant attitude towards the US vis-à-vis- its nuclear ambitions.  China, despite being identified recently by the Pentagon as the greatest potential threat to the US, has gone unchallenged by the US and has continued to increase its regional and international power status. The European powers, the real targets of the US invasion of Iraq, have not given up on their ambitions in the Middle East, as demonstrated by their diplomatic meddling in the Israel/Palestine conflict and Iran’s nuclear activities. Iran has been able to improve its status as a regional imperialist power increasing its influence in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine, leading many bourgeois commentators to suggest that the big winner from American imperialism’s offensive and democratization campaign in the Middle East are pro-Iranian groups like Hamas and Hezbollah triumphing in Palestine and Lebanon, and the dominant Shiite groups in Iraq maintaining close links to Iran. At the same time, Iran has been able so far to get away with its efforts to develop a future nuclear armaments program and European powers have resisted the US call for sanctions against Iran. In Somalia the “war on terrorism” resulted in a debacle with the triumph of extremist Islamic militias against the war lords supported by the US secret services. In Latin America, the tendency to question US control in its own backyard by other powers has just gotten another boost with the ascension to power of one more “anti-imperialist” left government, now in Bolivia. Even Canada, with its new conservative government, has been giving the US a hard time over the control of the Artic Ocean waterways.  

In the face of this questioning of its hegemony, the US bourgeoisie, given its present difficulties, is having a hard time to respond with a coherent policy, thus giving the impression that it is jumping erratically from situation to situation with no clear orientation. For instance, when Israel decided to redraw its  borders with Palestine without  Washington’s consent, the US was incapable of opposing this policy –after all Israel is America’s only trusted ally in the Middle East— and the American government  decided to endorse its actions. Vis-a-vis China, even though this country has been  identified by the Pentagon as a main challenger to the US,  unable to do much about it in the present situation, the US had no choice but to placate China in a recent controversy over the itinerary of Taiwan’s head of state. When Taiwan’s democratically elected president wanted to stop in the US on his way to Latin America, the Bush administration, in order not to upset China –which considers Taiwan a renegade province-- did not allow a stopover. India, which against the US wishes went nuclear and has faced US sanctions ever since, has now been rehabilitated. The US and India have signed a treaty allowing India to buy nuclear technology from the US. This could seem rational in the sense of the need that the US has to contain China, yet what is remarkable is that according to bourgeois commentators, India has not made  any commitments to the US in response to this new policy. What is most incredible is that India seems to be helping Iran with nuclear technology. Vis-à-vis this last country the official position of the American bourgeoisie has been not to negotiate. The US considers Iran a “country sponsor of terrorism”, one of the “axis of evil” nations in Bush’s terminology, but recent diplomatic developments around Iran’s nuclear program seems to imply that the US is changing this hardline position. 

The continued eroding of American world leadership will without doubt lead to another crisis. As we have said before the US is obliged more and more, given its historic decline, to use its military muscle as the central element in its imperialist policy. The pressure is building more and more for a new American show of military force. In particular the Iran question seems far from exhausted.  09/06 Eduardo Smith               


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