Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Giant steps toward a new balance of power: The US in a multipolar world," August 7, 2006.

Is the US still the world's only superpower? And what does that mean anyway?

The US is certainly not the only country to be motivated by national grandeur, ideological fulfillment, religious messianism, economic aggrandizement, regional domination, or global standing. France, Germany, Russia, China, and India come to mind. Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela. Even Canada has developed a sudden interest in projecting power although the reasons why are still in the undisclosed part of the Harper agenda.

Huntington describes the US as "the only superpower with overwhelming dominance in virtually every category of power, whether it's military, economic, technological, cultural, diplomatic or what have you" (Huntington Macleans Feb 10 05).

But US dominance has taken several big hits in the last few weeks, mostly in the areas of diplomacy, trade, and politics--while the lesson that military might cannot do it all continues to be ongoing.

After the Rome Summit on Lebanon failed to produce anything but an Israeli declaration that no action was as good as a green light, the New York Times (July 25) accused Rice of "foot-dragging" and called the pledge of humanitarian aid "much too little and extremely late." Just as a point of reference, the Israeli soldiers were captured on July 12 and the Beirut airport bombed on the 13th. Rice arrived in the Middle East 10 days later on the 23rd.

Then France and Iran stepped into the diplomatic vacuum after the Qana bombing (on the 30th) with visits to Beirut by their foreign ministers when Lebanon told the Secretary of State they had cancelled her visit. (Fattah and Hauser, NYT, Jul 31 06)

France does not list Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. While Israel continued to treat diplomacy as a last resort and the United States criticized Iran for supporting Hezbollah, Mr. Phillipe Douste-Blazy, the French Foreign Minister, said Iran could play a quote “stabilizing role” endquote in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, Mark Malloch Brown, a British diplomat promoted this year to deputy secretary general of the UN, provoked one US spokesman to anger when he told the Financial Times, that Bush and Blair should quote "know not just when to lead but when to follow", allowing France, among others, to "share the lead." endquote

In the end, the French have joined the US in presenting a draft resolution to the Security Council. Lebanon has rejected it because it allows Israeli soldiers to remain on Lebanese soil. But that takes us to another story.

In a recent interview with Jim Lehrer, EJ Dionne of the Washington Post joined the chorus of those who now admit that the US is losing influence as a result of the Iraq war and then referred delicately to "the administration's tendency to stay away from diplomacy."

Charles Freeman, a former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia says that the Bush administration's has used the principle of avoiding the international players it finds most objectionable in North Korea ""burying any contact in the six-party talks while counting on China to use its influence, even though our interests are not the same" as Beijing's; and toward Iran, "where we've subcontracted diplomacy to the Europeans because we won't talk to Tehran."

Just as the invasion of Lebanon was beginning, the G8 convened its annual meeting, this time in St. Petersburg. MK Bhadrakumar, a retired diplomat from India, provided an interesting perspective. quote "Putin indirectly drew attention to the US isolation when he said Russia's advantage was that it did not close its doors to any parties to the Middle East conflict. Putin asserted that Russia's 'regular contacts' with Hamas and Hezbollah actually helped to work on the G8's Middle East resolution. If this in itself wasn't an extraordinary statement, Putin rubbed it in: 'Iran, of course, is an influential country in the region and its interests must be respected so as to prompt it to use its influence to change the situation [in Lebanon] for the better.'

"...The most significant point made by Putin [in Bhadrakumar's opinion] was that the deployment of any international force in Lebanon must be on the basis of a mandate from the UN Security Council and that Russia would participate in any such operations, but quote 'we first need to get the agreement from all the sides involved in the conflict.'"

"All in all, [Bhadrakumar continued] the G8 revealed the erosion in the United States' ability to bend the world to its will. The US exposed itself as having very little leverage in the Middle East situation....It [also] failed to get the G8 to fall in line on energy security or the Iran nuclear issue." endquote

On July 24, at the beginning of that same week, the WTO's last opportunity to save the Doha round before Bush's special trade promotion authority to fast-track an agreement past the US Congress expires came to nothing. Six key members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) - the United States, the European Union, Japan, Australia, Brazil and India - decided to bring an end to the Doha Round of trade talks.

IPS News reported that in India, there was rare unity amongst diverse groups who believed the decision for India to quit the Doha round was a good one.

Aileen Kwa of Focus on the Global South reported that despite formal declarations of regret, outside of the meeting, a few developing country delegates she spoke to could barely contain their euphoria. One delegate cautioned against prematurely labeling the round as dead. He said he would believe it quote “only when he sees it”. endquote He was clearly delighted but said he should contain it quote “while I’m still here (in the WTO compound)”.

Plans are under way to try to save the Doha Round this September in Brazil. Even if they are successful, numerous events are coming together to reveal the limits of Washington's ability to become the unquestioned political and military arbiter of the globalizing world economy.

While the Doha Round failed to gain traction, Prime Minister Maliki of Iraq, a Shia who spent much of his life in Damascus, has not supported Israel's actions and has refused to denounce Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.

This week, several hundred thousand Shias demostrated solidarity with Hezbollah in Baghdad. Several thousand more did the same in Saudi Arabia where demonstrations are illegal.

Looking beyond Lebanon and Iraq, a recent editorial in the Baltimore Sun found that "Symptoms of failure are becoming harder to deny in Afghanistan. The Taliban is resurgent in the south, probably in part because of support from within Pakistan. Hundreds of civilians have died in fighting this year, including some killed in NATO bombing raids. President Hamid Karzai has told two governors to re-arm their private militias, which is a big step backward but indicative of the weakness of the Afghan police. Drought is once again afflicting the north, pushing farmers either to move or to concentrate on the one crop that doesn't need much irrigation - the opium poppy. [and] Mr. Karzai has reportedly given his blessing to the reincarnation of a Department for the Promotion of Virtue and Suppression of Vice.

"The Western nations, distracted by Iraq and now Lebanon, have stumbled badly in Afghanistan....The Western presence has not significantly improved schools, roads, order and prosperity - but it has encouraged prostitution and alcohol consumption." A week ago Thursday, Mr. Karzai attended a three-way summit of neighbours in Tajikistan. The third neighbour was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran. "The US [the Baltimore Sun editorialist warns] could still lose in Afghanistan." endquote

None of these--neither Iraq nor Lebanon nor Afghanistan--can be claimed as a wildly successful operation.

If it seems that American influence is in decline where diplomacy and trade are concerned, let's not forget that Lebanon was one of the celebrated "colour revolutions."

In fact, just a few days ago, the Ukrainian parliament approved former president Viktor Yanukovich as prime minister. Yanukovich won 271 votes from the 450 deputies in parliament. He and his allies, who now include the president's Our Ukraine party, also dominate the country's new cabinet. However, under the constitution President Viktor Yushchenko has control of key ministries such as foreign affairs and defence. With the continuing trouble in Lebanon and separatist uncertainty in a number of provinces in Georgia, the policy of using pseudo-NGOs like the National Endowment for Democracy to influence elections and train activists may cost the US its political dominance too.

On this side of the pond, the Organization of American States is a moderate pro-American organization of governments in the Western hemisphere. On July 28, its human rights branch, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission urged the US to close the Guantanamo Bay facility without delay. In 2002, shortly after detainees began to arrive, the Commission granted what it calls precautionary measures in favor of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay requesting that the United States take the quote “urgent measures necessary to have the legal status of the detainees at Guantanamo determined by a competent tribunal.” endquote

Since then, the Commission has held three hearings and has reiterated the measures to the United States on four separate occasions. The Commission also amplified the measures to include possible torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and the possible removal of detainees to jurisdictions such as Syria, where they could be subjected to torture.

The US has responded by saying that the Commission doesn't have juridiction in the matter. In February 2006 the United Nations Human Rights Commission urged the United States to close the facility without further delay. The United Nations Committee Against Torture made similar recommendations in May 2006.

On June 29, 2006, in the case of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld the US Supreme Court struck down the military commissions that the United States proposed to use to try the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, based in part upon concerns that the commissions did not satisfy the minimum protections under Common Article 3 to the Geneva Conventions.

Clearly, the US is not conducting the orchestra. On the contrary, it is behaving like any other partisan with some allies. The US does not determine who is isolated and who is not. The US does not determine who is legitimate and who is not.
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