State of Denial: Will The American Empire Die Before It Wakes Up?

By Michael Howard
Source

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At the start of a 1986 essay for The Nation, in which he had the chutzpah to tell the truth about Israel and American Zionism, Gore Vidal gave his prescription for the moribund American empire, its once-unrivaled economy having been caught up to by Tokyo and Beijing. “For America to survive economically in the coming Sino-Japanese world,” he wrote, “an alliance with the Soviet Union is a necessity. After all, the white race is a minority race with many well deserved enemies, and if the two great powers of the Northern Hemisphere don’t band together, we are going to end up as farmers—or, worse, mere entertainment—for the more than one billion grimly efficient Asiatics.”

Needless to say, the empire didn’t take his advice. The Russkis remained an “existential threat” until the fall of the Soviet Union, at which point NATO (aka Washington) set off on its belligerent march eastward. Said march is still going strong: Montenegro was gobbled up in June of last year, while Ukraine, Georgia and Macedonia have been tagged “aspiring members.” Ukraine and Georgia were promised future membership in 2008.

Cursory inspection of a map of Europe demonstrates why sane people are worried about this. As things stand, three countries—Norway, Estonia and Latvia—have the special distinction of sharing a border with Russia and belonging to a military alliance openly hostile to Russia. Ukraine and Georgia, should NATO make good on its promise, would bring that number up to five. The West is not prepared to rest until Russia is completely hemmed in. Recent military conflicts in Georgia and Ukraine (all Moscow’s fault, naturally) can only be understood in that context.

For those without access to a map, or whose brains have been permanently damaged by the US propaganda machine, a quick thought experiment. Suppose a Russian-led military alliance which has been expanding steadily westward for the past twenty-odd years, bombing and dismembering countries along the way, included most of Central America and had plans to incorporate Canada and Mexico. Suppose, moreover, that this hypothetical entity was in the process of surrounding the United States with a system of missile defense interceptors. Last, suppose Russia had a nasty habit of unilaterally invading and attacking sovereign countries, and a military budget eleven times the size of the United States’.

You could be forgiven for (1) feeling disconcerted and (2) concluding that Russia was a outlaw state, led by a gang of reckless thugs, that represented a grave threat not only to the US but to the whole planet. And the US could be forgiven for doing everything in its power to protect itself against Russia’s malignant behavior—would have an obligation to, in fact.

The reverse situation is what we now find ourselves in. It’s another Cold War, only without the parity that characterized the first one: today there’s no equivalence between US and Russian power (reminder: the Warsaw Pact was dissolved in 1991), nor is there any between their actions and intentions. Washington wants world domination; Moscow wants national security and a multi-polar world order. Russia is not a rival of, let alone a threat to, the United States. China, on the other hand, is. Having already surpassed the US as the world’s largest economy, Beijing is now in a position to challenge the American empire’s claim to global primacy. No amount of jailed Chinese executives is going to change that.

Which means that Vidal’s words are as relevant as ever, more than thirty years after they were written. If the US intends to hold on to its major-power status, a friendlier relationship with Russia is essential. (It’s also essential if we intend to avoid a nuclear exchange, but no one seems to care very much about that.) Demonizing and provoking Russia is a counterproductive waste of time—it will serve only to push Moscow closer to Beijing, as well as other, smaller countries being bullied by Washington.

Consider the case of Iran, on whose economy Washington has once again declared war. Europe may be spineless enough to play along, but what incentive does Moscow have to stop trading with Tehran? None at all. As George Galloway noted after Venezuela (also under economic attack) announced it would no longer use the dollar, it doesn’t make a bit of sense for countries like Iran, China and Russia to trade in dollars when that very currency is being weaponized against them. They have every reason to rebuff the US and, by extension, the petrodollar. By sanctioning everyone in sight, the US is undermining its own interests and contributing to its own decline.

Don’t count on the movers and shakers in Washington to recognize this any time soon. They’re determined to make as many enemies as possible. Caspar Milquetoast’s evil twin, The Honorable John Bolton (THJB), evinced this in a recent speech outlining the Trump regime’s new policy toward Africa. Going forward, THJB warned, the US will work to push back against China and Russia’s “predatory practices” on the continent. Per THJB, “China uses bribes, opaque agreements, and the strategic use of debt to hold states in Africa captive to Beijing’s wishes and demands. Its investment ventures are riddled with corruption, and do not meet the same environmental or ethical standards as US development projects.”

Trump’s strategy to counteract this? Blackmail.

“The United States will no longer provide indiscriminate assistance across the entire continent, without focus or prioritization,” THJB said. “And we will no longer support unproductive, unsuccessful, and unaccountable UN peacekeeping missions.” Elaborating, he added: “We want something more to show for Americans’ hard-earned taxpayer dollars”—like illegal Israeli settlements, for example.

In other words, Africa must choose between being exploited by China and being exploited by the United States. This continent ain’t big enough for two geopolitical rapists. So pick, and pick wisely, or you can kiss your peacekeeping missions goodbye. A fine example of Washington’s impeccable “ethical standards.”

As for them Russians, THJB says they export weapons and energy to Africa in exchange for votes at the UN that keep “strongmen in power, undermine peace and security, and run counter to the best interests of the African people.” The Trump regime, needless to say, is opposed to strongmen, in favor of peace and security, and has the African people’s best interests at heart. This trio of principles accounts for our humanitarian intervention in Libya, now a failed state marked by widespread violence, terrorism and human trafficking. It also accounts for AFRICOM, the Pentagon’s shady operation in West Africa. AFRICOM’s express purpose is—you guessed right—to fight terrorism and ensure regional security (they’re doing a bang-up job). Back in 2008, however, Vice-Admiral Robert Moeller let slip a grain of truth: one of AFRICOM’s “guiding principles” is to facilitate “the free flow of natural resources from Africa to the global market.” Shocking!

China, we’re told, uses “bribes, opaque agreements, and the strategic use of debt” to get what it wants in Africa. The United States uses soldiers. Africa, would you prefer to be strangled or stabbed to death?

The gangsters in DC evidently think that they can have the entire continent of Africa to themselves. That’s the level of delusion on which the United States is operating. The more vulnerable it becomes, the more convinced it is of its invulnerability. As it runs out of steam, it moves the throttle up a notch. It’s an acute case of verleugnung. We’re into Norma Desmond territory at this point.

The empire is on its death bed—it will die, and it will be an ugly death. That is, unless we wake up to the blindingly obvious reality that the world is no longer ours to rule, and that, in order to soften the blow of our impending collapse, we must make nice with old enemies. We can start with the Russians. After all, according to THJB, their hobbies include shoring up dictators, disrupting peace and security, and taking advantage of third world countries. We’ll get along famously.

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How the New Silk Roads are merging into Greater Eurasia

December 13, 2018How the New Silk Roads are merging into Greater Eurasia

Russia is keen to push economic integration with parts of Asia and this fits in with China’s Belt and Road Initiative

by Pepe Escobar (cross-posted with The Asia Times by special agreement with the author)

The concept of Greater Eurasia has been discussed at the highest levels of Russian academia and policy-making for some time. This week the policy was presented at the Council of Ministers and looks set to be enshrined, without fanfare, as the main guideline of Russian foreign policy for the foreseeable future.

President Putin is unconditionally engaged to make it a success. Already at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum in 2016, Putin referred to an emerging “Eurasian partnership”.

I was privileged over the past week to engage in excellent discussions in Moscow with some of the top Russian analysts and policymakers involved in advancing Greater Eurasia.

Three particularly stand out: Yaroslav Lissovolik, program director of the Valdai Discussion Club and an expert on the politics and economics of the Global South; Glenn Diesen, author of the seminal Russia’s Geoeconomic Strategy for a Greater Eurasia; and the legendary Professor Sergey Karaganov, dean of the Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs at the National Research University Higher School of Economics and honorary chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, who received me in his office for an off-the-record conversation.

The framework for Great Eurasia has been dissected in detail by the indispensable Valdai Discussion Club, particularly on Rediscovering the Identity, the sixth part of a series called Toward the Great Ocean, published last September, and authored by an academic who’s who on the Russian Far East, led by Leonid Blyakher of the Pacific National University in Khabarovsk and coordinated by Karaganov, director of the project.

The conceptual heart of Greater Eurasia is Russia’s Turn to the East, or pivot to Asia, home of the economic and technological markets of the future. This implies Greater Eurasia proceeding in symbiosis with China’s New Silk Roads, or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). And yet this advanced stage of the Russia-China strategic partnership does not mean Moscow will neglect its myriad close ties to Europe.

Russian Far East experts are very much aware of the “Eurocentrism of a considerable portion of Russian elites.” They know how almost the entire economic, demographic and ideological environment in Russia has been closely intertwined with Europe for three centuries. They recognize that Russia has borrowed Europe’s high culture and its system of military organization. But now, they argue, it’s time, as a great Eurasian power, to profit from “an original and self-sustained fusion of many civilizations”; Russia not just as a trade or connectivity point, but as a “civilizational bridge”.

Legacy of Genghis Khan 

What my conversations, especially with Lissovolik, Diesen and Karaganov, have revealed is something absolutely groundbreaking – and virtually ignored across the West; Russia is aiming to establish a new paradigm not only in geopolitics and geoeconomics, but also on a cultural and ideological level.

Conditions are certainly ripe for it. Northeast Asia is immersed in a power vacuum. The Trump administration’s priority – as well as the US National Security Strategy’s – is containment of China. Both Japan and South Korea, slowly but surely, are getting closer to Russia.

Culturally, retracing Russia’s past, Greater Eurasia analysts may puzzle misinformed Western eyes. ‘Towards the Great Ocean’, the Valdai report supervised by Karaganov, notes the influence of Byzantium, which “preserved classical culture and made it embrace the best of the Orient culture at a time when Europe was sinking into the Dark Ages.” Byzantium inspired Russia to adopt Orthodox Christianity.

It also stresses the role of the Mongols over Russia’s political system. “The political traditions of most Asian countries are based on the legacy of the Mongols. Arguably, both Russia and China are rooted in Genghis Khan’s empire,” it says.

If the current Russian political system may be deemed authoritarian – or, as claimed in Paris and Berlin, an exponent of “illiberalism” – top Russian academics argue that a market economy protected by lean, mean military power performs way more efficiently than crisis-ridden Western liberal democracy.

As China heads West in myriad forms, Greater Eurasia and the Belt and Road Initiative are bound to merge. Eurasia is crisscrossed by mighty mountain ranges such as the Pamirs and deserts like the Taklamakan and the Karakum. The best ground route runs via Russia or via Kazakhstan to Russia. In crucial soft power terms, Russian remains the lingua franca in Mongolia, Central Asia and the Caucasus.

And that leads us to the utmost importance of an upgraded Trans-Siberian railway – Eurasia’s current connectivity core. In parallel, the transportation systems of the Central Asian “stans” are closely integrated with the Russian network of roads; all that is bound to be enhanced in the near future by Chinese-built high-speed rail.

Iran and Turkey are conducting their own versions of a pivot to Asia. A free-trade agreement between Iran and the Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU) was approved in early December. Iran and India are also bound to strike a free-trade agreement. Iran is a big player in the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), which is essential in driving closer economic integration between Russia and India.

The Caspian Sea, after a recent deal between its five littoral states, is re-emerging as a major trading post in Central Eurasia. Russia and Iran are involved in a joint project to build a gas pipeline to India.

Kazakhstan shows how Greater Eurasia and BRI are complementary; Astana is both a member of BRI and the EAEU. The same applies to gateway Vladivostok, Eurasia’s entry point for both South Korea and Japan, as well as Russia’s entry point to Northeast Asia.

Ultimately, Russia’s regional aim is to connect China’s northern provinces with Eurasia via the Trans-Siberian and the Chinese Eastern Railway – with Chita in China and Khabarovsk in Russia totally inter-connected.

And all across the spectrum, Moscow aims at maximizing return on the crown jewels of the Russian Far East; agriculture, water resources, minerals, lumber, oil and gas. Construction of liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants in Yamal vastly benefits China, Japan and South Korea.

Community spirit

Eurasianism, as initially conceptualized in the early 20th century by the geographer PN Savitsky, the geopolitician GV Vernadsky and the cultural historian VN Ilyn, among others, regarded Russian culture as a unique, complex combination of East and West, and the Russian people as belonging to “a fully original Eurasian community”.

That certainly still applies. But as Valdai Club analysts argue, the upgraded concept of Greater Eurasia “is not targeted against Europe or the West”; it aims to include at least a significant part of the EU.

The Chinese leadership describes BRI not only as connectivity corridors, but also as a “community”. Russians use a similar term applied to Greater Eurasia; sobornost (“community spirit”).

As Alexander Lukin of the Higher School of Economics and an expert on the SCO has constantly stressed, including in his book China and Russia: The New Rapprochement, this is all about the interconnection of Greater Eurasia, BRI, EAEU, SCO, INSTC, BRICS, BRICS Plus and ASEAN.

The cream of the crop of Russian intellectuals – at the Valdai Club and the Higher School of Economics – as well as top Chinese analysts, are in sync. Karaganov himself constantly reiterates that the concept of Greater Eurasia was arrived at, “jointly and officially”, by the Russia-China partnership; “a common space for economic, logistic and information cooperation, peace and security from Shanghai to Lisbon and New Delhi to Murmansk”.

The concept of Greater Eurasia is, of course, a work in progress. What my conversations in Moscow revealed is its extraordinary ambition; positioning Russia as a key geoeconomic and geopolitical crossroads linking the economic systems of North Eurasia, Central and Southwest Asia.

As Diesen notes, Russia and China have become inevitable allies because of their “shared objective of restructuring global value-chains and developing a multipolar world”. It’s no wonder Beijing’s drive to develop state-of-the-art national technological platforms is provoking so much anger in Washington. And in terms of the big picture, it makes perfect sense for BRI to be harmonized with Russia’s economic connectivity drive for Greater Eurasia.

That’s irreversible. The dogs of demonization, containment, sanctions and even war may bark all they want, but the Eurasia integration caravan keeps moving along.

Seven Days of Failures for the American Empire

By Federico Pieraccini
Source

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On November 25, two artillery boats of the Gyurza-M class, the Berdiansk and Nikopol, one tugboat, the Yany Kapu, as well as 24 crew members of the Ukrainian Navy, including two SBU counterintelligence officers, were detained by Russian border forces. In the incident, the Russian Federation employed Sobol-class patrol boats Izumrud and Don, as  well as two Ka-52, two Su-25 and one Su-30 aircraft.

Ukraine’s provocation follows the advice of several American think-tanks like the Atlantic Council, which have been calling for NATO involvement in the Sea of Azov for months. The area is strategically important for Moscow, which views its southern borders, above all the Sea of Azov, as a potential flash point for conflict due to the Kiev’s NATO-backed provocations.

To deter such adventurism, Moscow has deployed to the Kerch Strait and the surrounding coastal area S-400 batteries, modernized S-300s, anti-ship Bal missile systems, as well as numerous electronic-warfare systems, not to mention the Russian assets and personnel arrayed in the military districts abutting Ukraine. Such provocations, egged on by NATO and American policy makers, are meant to provide a pretext for further sanctions against Moscow and further sabotage Russia’s relations with European countries like Germany, France and Italy, as well as, quite naturally, to frustrate any personal interaction between Trump and Putin.

This last objective seems to have been achieved, with the planned meeting between Trump and Putin at the G20 in Buenos Aires being cancelled. As to the the other objectives, they seem to have failed miserably, with Berlin, Paris and Rome showing no intention of imposing additional sanctions against Russia, recognizing the Ukrainian provocation fow what it is. The intention to further isolate Moscow by the neocons, neoliberals and most of the Anglo-Saxon establishment seems to have failed, demonstrated in Buenos Aires with the meeting between the BRICS countries on the sidelines and the bilateral meetings between Putin and Merkel.

On November 30, following almost two-and-a-half months of silence, the Israeli air force bombed Syria with three waves of cruise missiles. The first and second waves were repulsed over southern Syria, and the third, composed of surface-to-surface missiles, were also downed. At the same time, a loud explosion was heard in al-Kiswah, resulting in the blackout of Israeli positions in the area.

The Israeli attack was fully repulsed, with possibly two IDF drones being downed as well. This effectiveness of Syria’s air defenses corresponds with Russia’s integration of Syria’s air defenses with its own systems, manifestly improving the Syrians’ kill ratios even without employing the new S-300 systems delivered to Damascus, let alone Russia’s own S-400s. The Pantsirs and S-200s are enough for the moment, confirming my hypothesis more than two months ago that the modernized S-300 in the hands of the Syrian army is a potentially lethal weapon even for the F-35, forbidding the Israelis from employing their F-35s.

With the failed Israeli attack testifying to effectiveness of Russian air-defense measures recently deployed to the country, even the United States is finding it difficult to operate in the country. As the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War confirms:

“Russia has finished an advanced anti-access/area denial (A2AD) network in Syria that combines its own air defense and electronic warfare systems with modernized equipment. Russia can use these capabilities to mount the long-term strategic challenge of the US and NATO in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea and the Middle East, significantly widen the geographic reach of Russia’s air defense network. Russia stands to gain a long-term strategic advantage over NATO through its new capabilities in Syria. The US and NATO must now account for the risk of a dangerous escalation in the Middle East amidst any confrontation with Russia in Eastern Europe.”

The final blow in a decidedly negative week for Washington’s ambitions came in Buenos Aires during the G20, where Xi Jinping was clearly the most awaited guest, bringing in his wake investments and opportunities for cooperation and mutual benefit, as opposed to Washington’s sanctions and tariffs for its own benefit to the detriment of others. The key event of the summit was the dinner between Xi Jinping and Donald Trump that signalled Washington’s defeat in the trade war with Beijing. Donald Trump fired the first shot of the economic war, only to succumb just 12 months later with GM closing five plants and leaving 14,000 unemployed at home as Trump tweeted about his economic achievements.

Trump was forced to suspend any new tariffs for a period of ninety days, with his Chinese counterpart intent on demonstrating how an economic war between the two greatest commercial powers had always been a pointless propagandistic exercise. Trump’s backtracking highlights Washington’s vulnerability to de-dollarization, the Achilles’ heel of US hegemony.

The American-led world system is experiencing setbacks at every turn. The struggle between the Western elites seems to be reaching a boil, with Frau Merkel ever more isolated and seeing her 14-year political dominance as chancellor petering out. Macron seems to be vying for the honor of being the most unpopular French leader in history, provoking violent protests that have lasted now for weeks, involving every sector of the population. Macron will probably be able to survive this political storm, but his political future looks dire.

The neocons/neoliberals have played one of the last cards available to them using the Ukrainian provocation, with Kiev only useful as the West’s cannon fodder against Russia. In Syria, with the conflict coming to a close and Turkey only able to look on even as it maintains a strong foothold in Idlib, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United States are similarly unable to affect the course of the conflict. The latest Israeli aggression proved to be a humiliation for Tel Aviv and may have signalled a clear, possibly definitive warning from Moscow, Tehran and Damascus to all the forces in the region. The message seems to be that there is no longer any possibility of changing the course of the conflict in Syria, and every provocation from here on will be decisively slapped down. Idlib is going to be liberated and America’s illegal presence in the north of Syria will have to be dealt with at the right time.

Ukraine’s provocation has only strengthened Russia’s military footprint in Crimea and reinforced Russia’s sovereign control over the region. Israel’s recent failure in Syria only highlights how the various interventions of the US, the UK, France and Turkey over the years have only obliged the imposition of an almost unparalleled A2AD space that severely limits the range of options available to Damascus’s opponents.

The G20 also served to confirm Washington’s economic diminution commensurate with its military one in the face of an encroaching multipolar environment. The constant attempts to delegitimize the Trump administration by America’s elites, also declared an enemy by the European establishment, creates a picture of confusion in the West that benefits capitals like New Delhi, Moscow, Beijing and Tehran who offer instead stability, cooperation and dialogue.

As stated in previous articles, the confusion reigning amongst the Western elites only accelerates the transition to a multipolar world, progressively eroding the military and economic power of the US.

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