Ruling Class confronts the Crisis of American Imperialism

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The collapse of Stalinism in 1989 and, in its wake, the disappearance of the system of imperialist military blocs that had dominated the world imperialist arena since the end of WWII, left the US as the world hegemonic imperialist power. However this historical moment of glory, the zenith of American imperialism, also had a downside. US imperialism found itself with no place to go but down and facing a crisis of historical proportions. This crisis seems to move in a permanent contradiction: on the one hand the US continues being the only world superpower, by far the most capable and strongest economically, military and politically, dwarfing any of its would-be competitors. On the other hand, this doesn’t prevent its hegemonic position from being constantly challenged at different levels by secondary, tertiary imperialist powers – or other gangsters even further down the scale. The result of this confrontation adds high-octane fuel to a world more and more engulfed in the flames of a frightening downward spiral of barbarism that is sapping the very bases of the future of humanity. This crisis of American imperialism, in the context of the historical crisis of world capitalism, creates for the bourgeoisie as a whole and the teams it has in positions of power, in particular, a very complex situation to which, in the long term, they don’t have a winning answer, mainly because in the last instance this situation does not have a solution in the framework of capitalism.

Nonetheless, it would be a mistake to think that the American dominant class is paralyzed in the face of this contradiction. On the contrary, in the context of its strategic objective of defending its world hegemony, the US bourgeoisie has repeatedly responded to the challenges of its competitors not only politically, but also militarily, increasingly relying on its terrifying MILITARY MIGHT as its main tool. This could be seen in the first Gulf war, the Balkans wars, Afghanistan and presently in the war in Iraq. This headlong rush into war also implies for the bourgeoisie the need to manage more and more its economy as a war economy at the same time that it confronts an historically undefeated working class that is unwilling to accept sacrifices in the name of the defense of the national interest.

Since the present Republican administration came to power in 2001, its preoccupation to defend by military means the US imperialist interests around the world has been so clearly at the center of its political agenda, that the extension of war will be seen as the main legacy of its 8 years at the head of the American State. According to Bush’s own rhetoric, he is a war-president, the representative of a country that is literally in a permanent state of war. Yet we need to underline that using military means to defend US imperialism is by no means the prerogative of the right-wing Republicans, in fact at the imperialist level there has been continuity between Republican and Democratic administration policies ever since the dominant class became conscious of the new situation open up by the collapse of Stalinism.

Just as the old system of imperialist blocks collapsed Bush, the father, while proclaiming the beginning of a “new world order,” put in place and lead the first round of devastation against Iraq -the so-called “Desert Storm”- in 1991. Three years later, the Democrat Clinton came to power with a pledge to reverse the damage to the US imperialist interest that had been caused by the hesitations of the Bush administration vis-à-vis the break up of Yugoslavia and the advances of Western European powers, mainly France and Germany in their imperialist influence towards Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Thus, during its two terms in power, Clinton kept up a permanent state of siege against Iraq, bombarding it at will throughout the years of his administration. While in the Balkans region, under the cover of the ideology of “humanitarianism”, the Clinton administration led the US military might into the imperialist war unleashed by the break up of Stalinist Yugoslavia.

In this sense, the current Bush administration's imperialist strategy laid out during the first months after coming to power—a more forceful and unilateral foreign policy, heavily dependent on the American military might—was not an aberration. On the contrary it was a valid response to the need to defend the imperialist interests of American capitalism. Bush’s colorful cowboy, shoot-first, ask questions-afterwards image attempted to portray American Imperialism as being more than up to the challenges of world imperialist supremacy. And in September 2001, under the cover of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, the dominant class, with very few exceptions, signed on to this strategy that would take the US in turn first to the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 and in March of 2003 to that of Iraq. And back then Democrats and Republicans alike, again with very few exceptions, went hand and hand into that war and celebrated together the “victories” of the American military machine.

Of course in hindsight the US bourgeoisie declared victory prematurely and today there is not much to brag about in those conflicts. After quickly overthrowing the badly outgunned Taliban regime and installing a client government, the US has accomplished little more in Afghanistan. Reconstruction has never really taken off and guerrilla war, drug trafficking and instability are rampant in many parts of the country. While in Iraq, the Bush administration is bogged down in a war that is rapidly becoming longer than other major military conflict in which the US has been involved – such as WWI, WWII and Korea.

Four years after it was launched under the cover of a mass of lies and grandiose promises, this war has become highly unpopular with the American population, tremendously expensive and with no winnable solution in sight. Internationally, the Iraq quagmire has been extremely costly to American imperialism. Its political credibility, so essential for its imperialist hegemony, has been greatly diminished, accelerating its historical crisis. Its real strategic objective in this war –the encirclement of Europe and thus the containment of its imperialist expansionist ambitions towards the Middle East – has been a total disaster. The war in Iraq War has not weakened the main imperialist powers of Europe. On the contrary, their political imperialist credibility and world influence has grown, just as the US's world standing has reached historical lows.

Domestically, the fiasco in Iraq, and, on top of that, the debacle of the so-called “war on terror,” has created growing tensions and mounting divisions within the bourgeoisie. The Bush administration itself is more and more isolated within the bourgeoisie and from its dominant fraction in particular. Already the Iraq quagmire has cost the jobs and influence of so-called “neo-cons,” the main architects directly responsible for the Bush administration's imperialist policies. Among those that have fled the sinking ship or were forced out are the number 2 in the Pentagon, Paul Wolfowitz, the ideologue credited for the so called “Bush doctrine.” In addition, the once much-admired (in bourgeois circles), abrasive and controversial ex-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Even Vice-President Dick Cheney has been involved in a flurry of political scandals that have ended with the conviction of Scooter Libby, friend and protégé of Wolfowitz and former top Cheney assistant. However, despite the dislike and lost credibility of Bush’s policies, the American political apparatus has great weaknesses in rectifying the situation. Unlike its European counterparts, with their parliamentary systems and votes of no confidence, the US can’t change a government outside its regularly scheduled electoral calendar, with the exception of some very destabilizing measures, like impeachment or assassination. Therefore, the most likely scenario for the immediate future is the continuation of the Bush clique in power at the head of the state apparatus until the 2008 election, albeit a very much watered-down version of the one that dominated in the first years of the administration.

What future political Strategy for the bourgeoisie?

With less than two years left in power for the Bush administration, the question is how will the dominant class try to manage the situation. Save dramatic events, such as an unlikely impeachment, the most likely course seems to be the one already put in place in the last couple years. This entails, on the one hand, pressuring the Bush clique to readjust its imperialist policy in Iraq and around the globe, even going as far as sabotaging its decision; and on the other hand, preparingtoa change the ruling team in the 2008 presidential elections, which could bring the Democratic Party to the White House or, at the very least, a reborn Republican party based on a total repudiation of Bush policies.

Since the failed attempt to change the Bush administration in 2004, we have seen it under constant pressure that in many instances has taken the form of juicy political scandals (see article on scandals in this issue), the ultimate goal of which is to push the administration to modify its disastrous handling of the Iraq war, and beyond that to revise its general imperialist policy in particular towards the Middle East and the Far East –particularly in relation to China and North Korea. As a result of this pressure, the core of neo-conservative hawks around Cheney and Rumsfeld, who were in large part responsible for setting the tone of the Bush administration's imperialist policy, have increasingly lost their dominant position within the administration to a more pragmatic “faction,” seemingly more in tune with the needs of American capitalism as voiced by many within the dominant faction of the bourgeoisie. This “faction” composed by career foreign service officers, part of the permanent foreign policy apparatus that has served past administrations, both Democratic and Republican, centered primarily in the State Department and is formally linked to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, has already achieved some so-called course corrections that were unthinkable just a few months ago. These have resulted in a de-nuclearization pact with North Korea, a new push in the Middle East aimed to revive the Israel-Palestinian “peace process,” and tentative moves towards negotiating with Iran and Syria about the future of Iraq. Even Latin America, which has been largely ignored by the Bush administration and where anti-gringo rhetoric has been mounting for years behind Venezuelan President Chavez and his populist/leftist buddies in other countries, seems to have suddenly appeared on the radar screens of American imperialist policy priorities. Furthermore, indicative of how discredited the old neo-conservative, unilateralist, take-no-prisoners rhetoric has become, there is a clear attempt to sound more multilateralist and open to diplomatic negotiations with the enemy. In other words, the Bush administration is responding to the pressure, reluctantly and without saying so, putting forward some of changes in imperialist policy recommended in particular by the Iraq Study Group, adjustments that it had just a few months ago largely rebuffed.

It is too soon still to say how far the Bush administration will go in the ongoing readjustment of its policies, because although the so-called neo-cons are in retreat, they have not disappeared from the scene. So far, against the Iraq Study Group recommendations, they have gone ahead with an expansion of the war in Iraq and starting to send over an additional 40,000 troops against the platonic opposition of the Democratic controlled Congress. In addition, just a few weeks ago they managed to wage a successful proxy war in Somalia (which of course, like Iraq, is now bogged down in continuing instability). The neo-cons also seem to be trying to open yet another war front in the Middle East, this time against Iran which has been already for sometime in the spotlight mainly because of its growing regional imperialist influence and refusal to give up on its nuclear ambitions.

In a speech in January, Bush accused both Iran and Syria of granting safe passage in and out of Iraq to "terrorists and insurgents" and accused Iran, in particular, of "providing material support for attacks on American troops." In response, Bush announced the deployment of a second aircraft carrier strike group to the Gulf and pledged to "destroy the network providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.” In early February, as the beating of war drums for military action against Iran built up, former Carter administration National Security Advisor Brzezinski sounded the alarm bells against the neo-cons in testimony before a Senate committee. After denouncing the Bush administration’s blunder in Iraq, he warned of possible Machiavellian maneuvers that could lead to war with Iran:

“ A plausible scenario for a military collision with Iran involves Iraqi failure to meet the benchmarks, followed by accusations of Iranian responsibility for the failure, then by some provocation in Iraq or a terrorist act in the US blamed on Iran, culminating in a ‘defensive’ US military action against Iran that plunges a lonely America into a spreading and deepening quagmire eventually ranging across Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan".

The fact that such a denunciation came from a foreign policy expert from within the inner circles of the dominant faction of the bourgeoisie itself bears witness to both the discredit and dislike of the Bush administration, and to the mounting confrontations within the dominant class. Leaving aside the Brezezinski’s intentions to sabotage the neo-cons’ policies in the Middle East, this declaration totally confirms the ICC’s analysis of the September 11 events, the invasion of Iraq and the more general question of the Machiavellian nature of the bourgeoisie.

In the last weeks there has been a tamping down of the anti-Iran war rhetoric both in the Bush administration and the neo-conservative press. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates attests that the US has no intention of going to war with Iran. This has been echoed by top military commanders who acknowledge that the US military, already waging war in Afghanistan and Iraq, is spread too thin to be able to open another war front. This is a far cry from Mr. Bush earlier “all options are open” declarations and the calls from some neo-cons to launch tactical nuclear attack against Iranian nuclear research facilities. Of course this is not the end of the story, the difficulties of American imperialism in the Middle East and Afghanistan have had the unintended side effect of increased regional influence of Iranian imperialism. This puts Iran in a collision course with the US and its main allies in the region –particularly Israel and Saudi Arabia – and sooner or later the US will have to deal with this situation.

It seems that the bourgeoisie is more or less resigned to having Bush and company in power for the next 18 months and to the reality, as Bush himself predicted sometime ago, that the problem of withdrawing American troops from Iraq would be left for the next president to resolve. This is why almost two years before the next presidential election, the presidential campaign is in full swing. No wonder! This will be a very important event for the bourgeoisie. At stake is the need to repair the international credibility of American imperialism which has been badly damaged by a particularly inept administration, which in turn has become a case study on how decomposition has affected the bourgeoisie of the most powerful capitalist nation of the world. Its level of corruption and political favoritism, its gusto for manipulation and use of the state apparatus for its own benefit, and its narrow-minded president, heavily influenced by Christian fundamentalism’s ideological disdain for science and scientific facts seem unparalleled in the recent history of teams in charge of managing the American State. But then one can say that this is a decadent administration that fits well a decadent system of a historically bankrupt dominant class.

Internationalism, March 2007.


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