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Re: US compromise
by Threehegemons
22 October 2002 16:40 UTC
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I have always said that all of the core powers dread some sort of re-run of the 
world wars, and that efforts to act against US policy will be made in the 
context of that dread.  The maneuverings of France/Russia vis a vis the US are 
entirely in keeping with fairly traditional interstate conflict.  The biggest 
surprise this week is that Bush (or someone in his administration) is halfway 
competent about playing the chess games of this world, and has shown a 
willingness to take two steps back...  I wouldn't be too surprised if he tries 
to take one step forward in the near future.

There are some substantive disagreements about the implicit beliefs in your 
post, Elson, that I want to highlight here.

First, there is the question of the roots of interstate conflict.  
Historically, none of the world wars have been 'about' capitalism vs. 
socialism.  They have typically occurred because a hegemon's ability to enforce 
world order decreases as economic competitors become stronger.  There is this 
economic level, but it becomes entangled with the ideological level.  Opponents 
are demonized, debate is shortcircuited by the association of minority 
positions with the enemy.  The process, as it played out between France and 
England and Germany and the US should be clear enough (a similar process took 
place during the cold war, although the economic struggle in that case was much 
more one-sided).

Secondly, foreign policies in core countries (and elsewhere) are not 
exclusively the product of elite economic maneuvering.  They are also shaped by 
popular opinion, given the somewhat democratic institutions that rule these 
countries.  And popular opinion in Europe and the US is very different.  In the 
former, it is shaped by a revulsion from war, and also a somewhat paternalistic 
attitude about Europe's responsibilities toward poorer parts of the world and 
an optimism about the possibility of creating a world shaped by global laws and 
norms.  In the US, it is shaped by the legacy of Vietnam and the more general 
phenomenon of a declining hegemon.  Part of the US worries about US casualties 
on a Vietnam (or even smaller) scale, part wants to kick some butt and show the 
world whose boss (these two factors can coexist in the same person).  The US 
public has only the vaguest sense of what is actually going on in the rest of 
the world. 9/11 appears to have strengthened the 'kick some butt' crowd, 
despite the peace movement's attempts to argue that kicking butt will likely 
result in more terrorism (I agree with Alan that people might be willing to 
come around to this point if they hear the argument, but that is a big if). In 
any case, these attitudes will have some impact on their governments policies, 
as will elite's economic agendas.  Most dramatically, a good deal of the 
European and American publics pretty much support different sides in the 
Palestine-Israel conflict.

  Finally, the legitimacy of institutions, above all, rises and falls on the 
perception that they are acting in the general interest.  The UN's legitimacy 
is not bolstered simply because Bush bowed to domestic and international 
pressure to work through it.  At this point, the only way the UN's legitimacy 
can be bolstered is if the US backs away from attacking Iraq.  Should the US 
attack, the UN can only do two things--oppose the US (causing a split with the 
US, at which point the UN ceases to have any place for the biggest power in the 
world, and furthermore, it lacks any sort of military force to try to enforce 
this) or support the US (much more likely--but as last weeks debate amply 
demonstrated, no one in the world believes this war is in the global interest). 
 When an institution seems like it is simply carrying through the policy of one 
interest, it is usually seen as corrupt and useless.


Steven Sherman


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