Hobsbawn over dominantie USA in Le Monde Diplomatique

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The US drive for world domination has no historical precedent, by

Eric Hobsbawm

America's imperial delusion

The US drive for world domination has no historical precedent

Eric Hobsbawm

Saturday June 14, 2003

The Guardian

The present world situation is unprecedented. The great global empires

of the past - such as the Spanish and notably the British - bear little

comparison with what we see today in the United States empire. A key

novelty of the US imperial project is that all other empires knew that

they were not the only ones, and none aimed at global domination. None

believed themselves invulnerable, even if they believed themselves to be

central to the world - as China did, or the Roman empire. Regional

domination was the maximum danger envisaged until the end of the cold wa

The British empire was the only one that really was global in a sense

that it operated across the entire planet. But the differences are

stark. The British empire at its peak administered one quarter of the

globe's surface. The US has never actually practised colonialism, except

briefly at the beginning of the 20th century. It operated instead with

dependent and satellite states and developed a policy of armed

intervention in these.

The British empire had a British, not a universal, purpose, although

naturally its propagandists also found more altruistic motives. So the

abolition of the slave trade was used to justify British naval power, as

human rights today are often used to justify US military power. On the

other hand the US, like revolutionary France and revolutionary Russia,

is a great power based on a universalist revolution - and therefore on

the belief that the rest of the world should follow its example, or even

that it should help liberate the rest of the world. Few things are more

dangerous than empires pursuing their own interest in the belief that

they are doing humanity a favour.

The cold war turned the US into the hegemon of the western world.

However, this was as the head of an alliance. In a way, Europe then

recognised the logic of a US world empire, whereas today the US

government is reacting to the fact that the US empire and its goals are

no longer genuinely accepted. In fact the present US policy is more

unpopular than the policy of any other US government has ever been, and

probably than that of any other great power has ever been.

The collapse of the Soviet Union left the US as the only superpower. The

sudden emergence of a ruthless, antagonistic flaunting of US power is

hard to understand, all the more so since it fits neither with

long-tested imperial policies nor the interests of the US economy. But

patently a public assertion of global supremacy by military force is

what is in the minds of the people at present dominating policymaking in


Is it likely to be successful? The world is too complicated for any

single state to dominate it. And with the exception of its superiority

in hi-tech weaponry, the US is relying on diminishing assets. Its

economy forms a diminishing share of the global economy, vulnerable in

the short as well as long term. The US empire is beyond competition on

the military side. That does not mean that it will be absolutely

decisive, just because it is decisive in localised wars.

Of course the Americans theoretically do not aim to occupy the whole

world. What they aim to do is to go to war, leave friendly governments

behind them and go home again. This will not work. In military terms,

the Iraq war was successful. But it neglected the necessities of running

the country, maintaining it, as the British did in the classic colonial

model of India. The belief that the US does not need genuine allies

among other states or genuine popular support in the countries its

military can now conquer (but not effectively administer) is fantasy.

Iraq was a country that had been defeated by the Americans and refused

to lie down. It happened to have oil, but the war was really an exercise

in showing international power. The emptiness of administration policy

is clear from the way the aims have been put forward in public relations

terms. Phrases like "axis of evil" or "the road map" are not policy

statements, but merely soundbites. Officials such as Richard Perle and

Paul Wolfowitz talk like Rambo in public, as in private. All that counts

is the overwhelming power of the US. In real terms they mean that the US

can invade anybody small enough and where they can win quickly enough.

The consequences of this for the US are going to be very dangerous.

Domestically, the real danger for a country that aims at world control

is militarisation. Internationally, the danger is the destabilising of

the world. The Middle East is far more unstable now than it was five

years ago. US policy weakens all the alternative arrangements, formal

and informal, for keeping order. In Europe it has wrecked Nato - not

much of a loss, but trying to turn it into a world military police force

for the US is a travesty. It has deliberately sabotaged the EU, and also

aims at ruining another of the great world achievements since 1945:

prosperous democratic social welfare states. The crisis over the United

Nations is less of a drama than it appears since the UN has never been

able to do more than operate marginally because of its dependence on the

security council and the US veto.

H ow is the world to confront - contain - the US? Some people, believing

that they have not the power to confront the US, prefer to join it. More

dangerous are those who hate the ideology behind the Pentagon, but

support the US project on the grounds that it will eliminate some local

and regional injustices. This may be called an imperialism of human

rights. It has been encouraged by the failure of Europe in the Balkans

in the 1990s. The division of opinion over the Iraq war showed there to

be a minority of influential intellectuals who were prepared to back US

intervention because they believed it necessary to have a force for

ordering the world's ills. There is a genuine case to be made that there

are governments so bad that their disappearance will be a net gain for

the world. But this can never justify the danger of creating a world

power that is not interested in a world it does not understand, but is

capable of intervening decisively with armed force whenever anybody does

anything that Washington do

How long the present superiority of the Americans lasts is impossible to

say. The only thing of which we can be absolutely certain is that

historically it will be a temporary phenomenon, as all other empires

have been. In the course of a lifetime we have seen the end of all the

colonial empires, the end of the so-called thousand-year empire of the

Germans, which lasted a mere 12 years, the end of the Soviet Union's

dream of world revolution.

There are internal reasons, the most immediate being that most Americans

are not interested in running the world. What they are interested in is

what happens to them in the US. The weakness of the US economy is such

that at some stage both the US government and electors will decide that

it is much more important to concentrate on the economy than to carry on

with foreign military adventures. Even by local business standards Bush

does not have an adequate economic policy for the US. And Bush's

existing international policy is not a particularly rational one for US

imperial interests - and certainly not for the interests of US

capitalism. Hence the divisions of opinion within the US government.

The key questions now are: what will the Americans do next, and how will

other countries react? Will some countries, like Britain, back anything

the US plans? Their governments must indicate that there are limits. The

most positive contribution has been made by the Turks, simply by saying

there are things they are not prepared to do, even though they know it

would pay. But the major preoccupation is that of - if not containing -

educating or re-educating the US. There was a time when the US empire

recognised limitations, or at least the desirability of behaving as

though it had limitations. This was largely because the US was afraid of

somebody else: the Soviet Union. In the absence of this kind of fear,

enlightened self-interest and education have to take over.

This is an extract of an article edited by Victoria Brittain and

published in Le Monde diplomatique's June English language edition. Eric

Hobsbawm is the author of Interesting Times, The Age of Extremes and The

Age of Empire


Land: USA