America’s Mad Rush to the Bottom

US foreign policy is the country’s Achilles heel. On the domestic side, it faces few challenges and can get away with pretty much what it pleases, e.g., massive surveillance, Espionage Act prosecutions to silence revelations of war crimes, taxation policies which widen inequities of income distribution, regulatory policies ditto for further concentration of wealth and power through ever-tighter monopolization, and, not least, a militarization of capitalism itself, all of which bring the domestic sector into alignment with the foreign sector, making for a ruthless machinery of political-ideological aggrandizement. No wonder the fear of the US government in the world. Trade agreements appear innocuous and the normalization of international relations; in reality, they are one-sided arrangements as part of a US-defined global power struggle, as much ideological and military as purely economic. Covert operations drive the pace of negotiations (and with the Trans-Pacific Partnership, joint military exercises with “friends and allies” facilitate greater structural closeness).

We leave foreign policy to the experts, whose credentials of anticommunism and counterrevolution are without blemish. The pattern has been uninterrupted since the close of World War Two, bi-partisan in ways more difficult to realize in domestic policy, itself more narrowly circumscribed than is admitted in public. The syncretism of the policy framework, always artificial at best, is constantly in search of unity, so that when I speak of foreign policy this is in a sense arbitrary: advanced ground is staked out in one area, as in the pursuit of global hegemony, and brought up to the same level in the other, as in State-assisted exports, international financial stabilization, and the groundwork for commercial penetration and the security of investments. Conversely, accelerated domestic planning and performance summons the requisite changes, from intervention to general war scares, in the foreign realm. Industrial/banking accumulating resources must find satisfactory, i.e., expanding, outlets to ward off pressures endemic to capitalism of stagnation, saturation, depression.

Unlike at any time in the last 70 years, the US is running scared because the structure of world power is changing. The Cold War was a convenience every which way; simply, gather enough power to contain and stare down a single adversary, staying ahead, flexing muscle, spreading ideology, meanwhile being focused on the prevention of new players from gaining independent major-power status. The Soviet Union, by not acting as a force for world revolution, instead following closely a policy of self-interest, was a willing accomplice to a bipolar schema in which it had an assured but secondary place. All of this began to change, less because of an emboldened Russia than an awakening Third World that even Russia had to take notice of, and chiefly, the rise of China. Here we find the early fragmentation of the bipolar world, and with it, America’s greater stridency, its ideological shrillness, its overtly orchestrated moves toward asserting world supremacy, whereas before this could be merely assumed.


Come forward to today. Obama is possibly the most dangerous president, amoral from head-to-toe, in the postwar era, this through a combination of factors: his manifest lack of knowledge and experience in all areas of public policy, creating a dependence on the military and intelligence communities which has made him their uncritical spokesman, and because sharing with them the hard-nosed quest for power, in reality something of a shill for their extreme purposes (as in regime change, an unstoppable global paradigm); his unbecoming quality of opportunism, Janus-faced in disguising domestic Reaction (e.g., deregulation) and Repression (e.g., massive surveillance) in the rhetoric of liberalism and reform; most telling, his wiliness/cynicism in conducting policy across the full spectrum of issues, from environmental policy to the recent rapprochement with Cuba, in neither of these cases positions that could stand the light of day. In one particular he excels, the Executive branch becoming the nerve center for upper-class prerogatives of power, bad enough in its own right, yet, fused with militarism and hegemonic goals, the perhaps still informal foundations for a fascist state: the integration of business and military elites, an aggressive, expansionist foreign policy, and domestic order achieved through institutional supports for conformity and allegiance to the state.

Why should a changing world structure appear so menacing to America? First, the change itself is very real. While the West is in decline, largely because accepting the unqualified leadership of the US in such areas as austerity, intervention, consequent embroilment with other power blocs, a settling recognition of loss of energy, will, idealism, i.e., stuck in the same old historical tracks, when comparing itself, which cannot be helped, with newer centers of advancing civilization, primarily Asia and Latin America, this means the US must largely go-it-alone on the world scene, increasingly isolated, drawing further inward as a society while bursting outward as a global Intruder on other nations’ roads to development and progress. Dr. Strangelove had already wanted to plug into the juices to avoid structural enfeeblement, the condition already affecting much of Europe.

Menacing? America is increasingly without friends, even those who heretofore had no choice but to accept, as the condition of friendship, neocolonial policies backed by force: to wit, Latin America, which, with the fall of dictatorships in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, for starters—all recipients of CIA largesse and its sponsorship of assassination squads—enables the region to turn a corner, get off its knees, assert its individual and regional autonomy with pride, to the point now of challenging the OAS framework by the organization of CELAC. What makes this new-found independence truly frightening to policy makers in America (and a parasitical US capitalism, ah, the Rockefeller Brothers of the 1950s-60s and beyond) is that it owes a great deal to China, the new bête noir on which we obsess, in the form of investment capital, reciprocal markets, and implied protection against US flagrant depredations. It appears this story is repeating itself on the west coast of Africa and even with market relations in Japan and Vietnam. When the vaunted, magisterial power of the US is bested at its own game, decline beckons over the horizon.

Nor under Putin is Russia a slouch in international markets. That, too, worries the US, not least in auguring a possible shift in political-economic relations, starting with Germany, pointing eastward, and therefore away from symbiotic ties with American capitalism. More disturbing, however, is Russia’s own turn to the East, a seismic happening in that a Russia-China rapprochement, after decades of mutual mistrust, definitively reshapes global power arrangements: the multi-polar world to which the US cannot and will not adjust. And out of petulance, infantilism, selfishness, self-indulgence, and plain hunger for economic advantage (along with a demand for acceptance of its ideological supremacy), it very likely now becomes more militaristic, unyielding in its power quest, prone to intervention, than ever before. For me, Obama = drone assassination; but worse, he = a gut militarism, thinking he is acting in the service of American capitalism, but actually participating in its fossilization and decline on the world stage.

Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

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Norman Pollack Ph.D. Harvard, Guggenheim Fellow, early writings on American Populism as a radical movement, prof., activist.. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

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