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Re: What Russia wants
by Threehegemons
05 October 2002 13:18 UTC
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It's always interesting to try to get some historical perspective on the 
present.  Think about how the world looked four, five, ten years ago vs. today. 
 In the recent past, it seemed at least plausible to describe the emergence of 
a proto-world government under US auspices.  The guiding values of it would be 
human rights (narrowly conceived), democracy (again, narrow version) and free 
markets. A universalist, enlightenment-derived vision.  Its coercive force 
would be the elements of the US military acting under UN cover.  Its shared 
material culture would be McDonald's and Microsoft, which proved everyone 
wanted to go the US's way.  Its financial underpinnings would be the IMF, the 
World Bank, and the US dollar.

Now look at things in the present.  The US has basically scuttled its version 
of the enlightenment.  Democratic movements have advanced about as far as 
they're going to go, or at least the US acts like it has no interest in 
supporting advocates of democracy in Iran, Palestine, China, etc. More 
surprisingly, the US doesn't even make much of a pretense of supporting free 
markets these days.  In the US, only Paul Krugman seems to've noticed, but 
elsewhere in the world, its hard not to.  A new enlightenment vision with 
ecological concerns and a broader willingness to address human rights abuses 
has emerged, and the US adamantly refuses to sign on.  The US military is still 
the most powerful in the world, but its mission seems to amount to nothing more 
than defending the US against ostensible enemies.  The Euro looks like a viable 
alternative/competitor to the dollar.

And finally, although its not discussed so much, it seems obvious to me that 
Americans are nowhere near as popular as they think they are.  The 
neoliberal-forged global middle class, perhaps even more than most people, has 
noticed that Americans are puritanical, anti-social, tasteless, arrogant, and 
remarkably ignorant about the world beyond US borders (think of how Europeans 
compare on that list of insults). I mention this middle class because they have 
the most reason to be favorably predisposed to the US--they have the money to 
enjoy  US style  consumerism, aren't generally militants of religions hostile 
to the West..

So now the proto-world government looks disaggregated.  There is no shared 
mission, and no single set of institutions with increasing legitimacy.  If the 
UN facilitates the US attack on Iraq, it gets discredited as an obvious center 
of horse-trading for short term geopolitical objectives.  If it doesn't, it 
opposes itself to the nation with the most powerful military in the world.

When I mentioned that the US might align itself with semi-peripheral bullies, 
we should be clear on what the deal is.  It is not a question of 
Westernization.  Nobody could realistically expect much help from the US these 
days anyway.  The deal instead would be that Israel, India, Russia etc would 
have the right to use military force to solve their local problems so long as 
the US could use them to militarilly address its global problems.  The contrast 
with the cold war, during which the US was allied with all of the wealthiest 
countries in the world, is quite sharp.

Bruce McFarling wrote to ask where the Pacific Rim fits into all of this.  If 
they're smart, and pay attention to history, they'll keep out of it until each 
side has bruised each other sufficiently that they can step in.  In the 
meantime, they can busy themselves with accumulating money.  Worked for the US 
during World Wars I and II.

Steven Sherman

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