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Global game US can’t win

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ALEX CALLINICOS on why Pentagon power has its limits
Issue 1900

THINGS ARE getting steadily worse for the US in Iraq. The fact that the Marines have been forced to step back from an all-out assault on Fallujah and accept the mediation of a former Republican Guard general is a real humiliation for the Pentagon. Last weekend the US was losing five soldiers a day to the insurgents in Iraq. Such a casualty rate, if it continues, is politically unsustainable in a presidential election year.

No wonder that criticism of George W Bush and Tony Blair from within the establishment itself is reaching a crescendo. The letter by 52 ex-diplomats denouncing Blair’s Middle East policy is an example of the growing discontent at the top. But perhaps the most striking case is provided by a new book by Zbigniew Brzezinski called The Choice: Global Domination or Global Leadership. Brzezinski is no bleeding-heart liberal. As national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s he devised the strategy of luring the Soviet Union into the guerrilla war in Afghanistan, and training and arming Islamist militants to fight the occupiers. Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaida were the fruit of this policy.

In 1997 Brzezinski published a book called The Grand Chessboard which had a big influence on the Clinton administration. Here he argued for a strategy of expanding NATO and the European Union as a means of maintaining and extending US “primacy” throughout the Eurasian continent.

Bush’s doctrine of unilateral preventive war and his administration’s efforts to split the EU between “new” and “old” Europe have left this policy in tatters. It’s no surprise that Brzezinski is scathing in his new book about the neo-conservatives’ global strategy.

He points to what he calls “a perplexing paradox: America’s global military credibility has never been higher, yet its global political credibility has never been lower”. This reflects the limits of even the Pentagon’s might.

The US faces, according to Brzezinski, the “basic challenge” of “global turmoil”, of which terrorism is only “a genuinely menacing symptom”. This turmoil is caused by a variety of factors including “persistent mass poverty and social injustice” and geopolitical instability in regions such as the Middle East and South and East Asia.

Brzezinski argues that the Bush administration’s unilateralism threatens to turn the US into “a Superpower Minus”, incapable of working with the rest of the world’s ruling classes to address these problems. The key to “the grand strategic choice facing America” is, according to Brzezinski, “the critical importance of a complementary and increasingly binding American-European partnership…

“Without Europe, America is still preponderant but not globally omnipotent, while without America, Europe is rich but impotent.” This “partnership” would be “asymmetrical”. In other words, the US would remain top dog. Brzezinski’s goal is still US “primacy” over the grand Eurasian chessboard.

In a sense he is repeating the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci’s famous argument that stable class rule rests not just on physical coercion-domination-but on what he calls direction or hegemony, or the ideological acceptance of its right to rule.

An interesting feature of Brzezinski’s book is the attention it pays to the anti-capitalist movement as a threat to US hegemony. He warns that “anti-globalisation…has the potential to evolve into a coherent and globally appealing anti-American doctrine”.

Strangely enough a very similar diagnosis to Brzezinski’s has been put forward by Michael Hardt and Toni Negri, authors of Empire, one of the most influential texts of the anti-capitalist movement.

In an article published in the journal of the big business World Economic Forum, Hardt and Negri call for “a new global Magna Carta”. In other words, the US, as the “global monarch”, should “abandon a strictly unilateralist position and collaborate actively with the aristocracy”. By this they mean “the multinational corporations, the supranational institutions and the other dominant nation-states”.

Hardt has responded to criticisms of this article by comparing it to Machiavelli’s famous handbook for princes. But the world’s ruling classes have their own Machiavellis, like Brzezinski, when they need advice on how to exploit us better. There’s no need for Hardt and Negri to volunteer for this role.

By contrast, in a fine piece called “Falluja and the Forging of the New Iraq” (available at, Walden Bello of Focus on the Global South calls on the international peace movement to recognise the significance of the Iraqi resistance and rally around it. That’s the kind of strategic thinking that our side needs.

  • Turn to page 10 for more from Walden Bello.

  • ALEX CALLINICOS is one of the speakers at…

    Marxism 2004 9 – 16 July, central London

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