During the administration of President Obama, the United States has unleashed, initiated or participated in at least seven major regional conflicts involving American allies from nearly every continent. No president, Republican or Democrat, has engaged the armed forces as much as Obama. Between 600,000 and 700,000 people, most of them civilians, have died in these conflicts. What is going on? Are we witnessing the world’s policeman asserting itself in the face of the growing power of a resurgent China and Russia? This supposition does not square with the outlook of Obama, who won the Nobel Peace Prize early in his presidency. Is it perhaps a sign that an imperialist America that assumes the responsibility for policing the globe is coming apart, losing strength? As history does indeed show, a dying empire creates chaos, violence and conflict as it stubbornly clings to the remnants of its former power. Judging by all indications, the latter phenomenon is what we are dealing with, as events in Syria, Libya and Ukraine make abundantly clear.
Washington evidently has determined that the American unipolar world order is over and that the international system is becoming multipolar. But the United States is not stepping soberly into this new reality and re-evaluating its place in the world. Whether it be the Middle East or Ukraine, top White House and State Department officials as well as leading American political scientists are instead trying to spread alarm in the international community. In their statements and actions, they are pushing the view that without a “global leader,” there will be chaos, and that many countries will even long for the days when the American empire was the cop for the whole world. “If and when American power declines, the institutions and norms that American power has supported will decline, too. Or more likely, if history is a guide, they may collapse altogether as we make a transition to another kind of world order, or to disorder,” wrote leading neoconservative thinker Robert Kagan. “We may discover then that the U.S. was essential to keeping the present world order together and that the alternative to American power was not peace and harmony but chaos and catastrophe—which is what the world looked like right before the American order came into being.”
And that’s understandable. Washington’s continual foreign policy defeats and errors follow one after another, and they can no longer be covered up or attributed to some sort of “evil forces.” Thus neoconservative Republicans in Congress and political pundits of Kagan’s ilk have recently taken to criticism of the Obama administration’s foreign policy during trips overseas. They rail against the administration for its inability to stand up to Moscow, Beijing, Tehran, Damascus, Caracas and other American “adversaries.” Gloomy predictions are bandied about warning of the imminent global disorder that purportedly will follow the lessening of American might.
Such predictions hold that the impending demise of the familiar unipolar order cannot be averted if the following things don’t come to pass: the United States doesn’t compel Russian leader Vladimir Putin to relinquish Ukraine to the U.S. and NATO; steps are not taken to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad; the Iranian nuclear program is not eliminated; peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians is not secured; American allies in East Asia are not defended in their territorial disputes with China, and leftist forces in Latin America are not brought to heel. Those predictions are however absurd or based on false assumptions. Indeed, the current Washington fortunetellers, who fancy themselves savants and prophets, base their thinking only on the period that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. They believe that this roughly 25-year golden age of American military dominance, which supposedly maintained world peace, is ending simply because President Barack Obama finds reasons to think out loud about the limits of American power. That is incorrect, they say, and America is still strong and capable of ruling the world. Washington’s talking heads have fallen silent following the recent U.S. defeats in Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria and Georgia. Piled on top of that is the Ukrainian conflict, and Washington’s dead-end course is evident to everyone. The best American minds assert that Obama’s lexicon of “weakness” sends the wrong signal to enemies of the U.S. around the world. It invites them to challenge America and its regional allies: Israel, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in the Middle East, Poland and the Baltic countries in Eastern Europe, Japan and South Korea in East Asia. New military conflicts will take place as time goes on. The result is that the Americas will have no choice but to distance themselves from the United States and act unilaterally to defend themselves.
But all this ranting is utter nonsense and lies. Applying the logic of these Washington politicians to the recent past, the world is said to have been dominated by the Pax Americana and the United States emerged from the Cold War as the sole global power. But the world continued to see war and conflict anyway, whether the U.S. liked it or not. Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, demonstratively defying the sole superpower and the new world order it had established. The United States had no choice but to use military force to dislodge Iraqi forces from Kuwait. The Gulf War culminated in a strategy of dual containment against Iraq and Iran, which included the presence of American troops in the region.
Yet this spectacular display of U.S. military power in the Persian Gulf in 1991, and again in 1996 and 1998, did not faze Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. He disregarded the dictates of the United States, and that led to NATO intervention and a bloody civil war in the former Yugoslavia. So the Americans once again had to use military force, this time against the Serbs. And then the United States agreed to the dismemberment of Serbia and a border reconfiguration that created a state for the Kosovar Albanians. This action contravened the international principle of territorial integrity, which was supported by Washington and reinforced in the UN Charter. America then went on to encourage Montenegro to break away from Serbia. And now, the United States is contradicting itself yet again by fiercely defending this principle in Ukraine, just as it did in 2008, when it tried to assert Georgia’s territorial integrity and push Tbilisi into a war with South Ossetia. On each of these occasions, Washington has completely disregarded Moscow’s position, which is based on respect for international law. In the case of Georgia, the U.S. was even willing even to risk military conflict with Russia. The realization that Russia is not Libya or Iraq and has a potent nuclear arsenal was the only thing that forced the strategists in Washington to back down. But the thirst for revenge remained. And when the United States failed to avenge the defeats Russia inflicted on it in the Arab world, especially in Syria and Iran, American strategists decided to venture into Ukraine. And this is dangerous, because a launch of military operations in the immediate vicinity of Russia’s borders would require an adequate response, especially since the U.S. is not just a powerful state but also a nuclear power. All this is more than enough for the maniacs in Washington who are sick with paranoia about a major war. After all, Hitler began with the Sudetenland and the Anschluss of Austria. But the subsequent world war was followed by the partitioning of Germany by the victors, who saw this as the only way to destroy fascism at its root.
But we ought to look at things in retrospect and go back to the event that marked the sunset of the American Empire. It happened 13 years ago. On 11 September 2001, Islamist terrorists from Saudi Arabia demonstrated that, contrary to the prevailing theory imposed by Washington itself, U.S. military superiority could not provide global stability. Moreover, it contributes to the emergence of new threats to U.S. security, both inside the country and beyond its border. America could not protect the economic and military symbols of its domination, the Twin Towers in the heart of New York and the Pentagon in the heart of Washington. Even then it was necessary to rethink the American approach to world affairs. Instead, the United States unleashed more wars in the Middle East, this time long and expensive ones in Afghanistan and then in Iraq. It seems as if it’s time to come back to reality. Yet quite a few people in Washington still believe that only the use of American military power to its fullest can keep “competitors” in check and build a foundation of stability. These so-called experts on foreign policy, whose actions after 11 September only destabilized the Middle East, have strengthened the influence of Iran and its Shiite partners and weakened the American military and economy. One would think that after the failure of the Arab Spring of 2011-2013, policymakers see the need to put their heads together and come to sensible conclusions. After all, any fool can see that if a huge coalition led by the U.S. and having unlimited financial resources can’t best Syria, then it most certainly shouldn’t be worth Washington’s while to stick its nose into Ukraine.
But instead of re-evaluating the situation in light of the examples of the Middle East, Ukraine and Georgia, U.S. hawks and their political brain trusts continue to urge Washington to be tough and use military force to intimidate the “aggressors”. Consumed by antipathy toward Russia, they cling to their obsession with the idea of world domination. And so they demand that Obama do everything possible to prevent him from adapting U.S. policy to the realities of a new era of multipolarity. As long as the occupant of the White House sides with them, the world will confront the unpredictable threat of war. For the sake of their harebrained ideas, they are willing to sacrifice even their own country.
Viktor Titov, PhD in History, a political observer on the Middle East, exclusively for the online magazine New Eastern Outlook.