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Algora Publishing - Geopolitics have changed for the worse
                                               For a Kinder, Gentler Society
Tuesday,
Geopolitics have changed for the worse
William Pfaff International Herald Tribune/Los Angeles Times The temptation of hegemony

PARIS The attacks of last Sept. 11 broke the international geopolitical mold of the previous decade, which was set by the collapse of the Soviet system. That left an American military and political power monopoly, which generated fairly little real anxiety among the other major nations because the United States was considered a responsible custodian of world order.
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The result of the Sept. 11 shock has changed that. The United States drew back into "homeland defense," but homeland defense proved to mean war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, and has since been said to mean "preemptive" military action against Iraq, and possibly other countries.
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Washington demanded that governments declare themselves "with us or against us." It renounced arms control and other agreements constraining its freedom of action, identifying them as "obsolete."
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The domestic result of the crisis was to empower unilateralist and authoritarian forces in American political society that had grown in influence in recent years but had been held in check by the overall balance of institutional and popular power in the country. National emergency and patriotic solidarity upset that balance.
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The new leaders in Washington have a vision that is radical and utopian on the one hand, and complacent on the other. Their utopianism is their belief that American domination of international society is history's natural conclusion - since, as President George W. Bush himself recently said at West Point, America is the "single surviving model of human progress."
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Their complacence is that they think American power can bring this new international order into being. They believe in using American power without compunction. They are hostile to international constraints and regard international law as in important respects outmoded.
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Europe and Japan, they say, are irrelevant because, as Robert Kagan has written, on "the all-important question of power - the efficacy of power, the morality of power, the desirability of power - American and European perspectives are diverging." Europe "is turning away from power." Only the United States can reorder the world.
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They say that defeating Saddam Hussein and installing an American-controlled regime will make Iraq, and by contagion the rest of the Middle East, peaceful and democratic. In practice, their ambition is to neutralize "rogue states" and "failed states" by military means, as necessary, and establish a new international system attached to the United States by overlapping military alliances and by commercial, trading and financial associations operating under American norms.
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They want American domination of military high technology, justifying this by considerations of nonproliferation and alliance interoperability.
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This is their version of American Manifest Destiny. Its authors themselves describe it as a tough version of Wilsonianism, created in the higher interest of all.
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Such an ambition will fail in the long run, but will certainly generate resistance, and disrupt the existing international order in its attempt to turn what has been a loose and consensual American world leadership into actual hegemony. The potential for serious conflict is obvious. With this, the United States turns itself into a generator of international tension and conflict.
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Alliance relations already are the worst they have been since 1945. One American military reformer compares Washington's new ambition to the pan-German expansionism of Wilhelm II, before 1914. The kaiser also had unrealizable geopolitical ambitions, and a preemptive strategy for dealing with opponents. He followed the latter (the Schlieffen Plan, to preemptively defeat Russia and attack France through Belgium), and created "enemies faster than [Germany] could kill them."
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Washington is achieving something like this in the Muslim world, where enemies are being made of former friends, and new friends are undermined by the demands made on them in the war on terrorism.
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However, Bush, unlike Germany's Wilhelm, has a powerful domestic political opposition to deal with, and the American public is already uneasy about war against Iraq - and against what is presented as ubiquitous Evil.
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It is concerned about what is happening to relations with allies who have supported the United States for more than a half-century. There probably is a limit to how far the new Wilsonians will be allowed to go.
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Nonetheless the Western alliance system that has existed during the past half-century is unlikely to survive the new Wilsonianism. The Europeans will have no choice but to find a new way to assure their common security. Japan will find itself adrift. China and Russia are likely to find themselves identified again as threats to the United States.
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American security, which since the late 1940s has rested not only on power but on international respect and an acknowledged leadership, will have been decisively undermined by Washington's own actions. That will be Osama bin Laden's success. International Herald Tribune Los Angeles Times Syndicate International