- 'US power' relates more to popular perception than to the reality that we see on the ground.
Submitted by Steve Brown…
The inability to accept criticism, especially when constructive, is one indication of weakness; since its debacle in Iraq, the United States has been unable to accept the error of its ways, and has compounded those errors in Afghanistan and Syria to an even greater extent. Another sign of weakness is being unable to see ourselves as others see us. The United States has no idea that the rest of the world — with the possible exception of Israel — views it as a source of imperial hubris and arrogance, while America considers itself to be the exceptional ‘shining light of democracy on the hill’.
But the only true extension of US influence has been with the adoption of the US dollar as global reserve currency, the USD in conjunction with militarism having formed two of the five pillars of US power, even when US militarism has been ineffectual and misused. But ‘US power’ relates more to popular perception than to the reality that we see on the ground. On the ground, we see that George W Bush’s policy of pre-emptive war has now lapsed, and been replaced by…. well, by no real US foreign policy at all.
Considering Donald Trump’s election victory in 2016, a certain lack of direction and inconsistency in US foreign policy is not unexpected, and under certain circumstances has been a welcome development. For example, if Hillary Clinton had won the presidency, her likely choice for Secretary of State was Victoria Kagan-Nuland; it is likely too that Ms. Clinton would have confronted Russia in Syria, with disastrous results, not just for Syria, but for the entire world.
Unfortunately, while optimistically promising to ‘drain the DC swamp’ and oppose the hitherto corrupt dualist appropriation of power in Washington, Trump instead appointed miscreants like Mike Pompeo, John Bolton, Elliott Abrams, Patrick Shanahan, David Friedman, Jason Greenblatt, Jared Kushner, and many other Neocon-Neoliberal Statists to positions of power.
The interesting dichotomy is that while Donald Trump’s seemingly noble motivation for promoting such rabid characters to positions of power was to project the image of a mighty US, in fact he achieved precisely the opposite effect. In all foreign theaters where the US military operates, the continuation of Obama’s Statist foreign policy (by the current regime) has proven ineffectual, damaging, and costly*.
Besides the expected strangeness of Trump’s rise to power — since he is not a professional politician and due to the damaging Neoliberal ‘cause celebre’ of Russiagate — there is an even greater vacuum with regard to US power in the Middle East and Asia, due to changes in cabinet and unfilled – or badly filled – positions at State.
Of course, Donald Trump cannot be wholly blamed for the foreign policy pickle that the United States currently finds itself in, the troubles really began with the Iraq debacle. That ill-use of power (both overt and covert) continued right through the Obama years, with the advent of the ‘Arab Spring’ (or nightmare) to the present.
So let’s look at several theaters individually, see how they have developed, and why the United States is either ineffectual, or maintains a supremely malign influence by its presence there.
The weakness of the United States is most dramatically illustrated here by its failure to negotiate any peace agreement at all in the Middle East (readers may disagree but check Oslo and Camp David results and facts first) where Israel v Palestine represents that signal failure.
The United States has never been an ‘honest broker’ in the Middle East, manifestly underlined today by Palestinian rejection – in advance – of Kushner’s economic plan, a plan devised with no participation by the Palestinian people or by its leaders.
Similar to the Venezuelan attempted coup listed below, the most shocking fact is that Imperial Hubris in US State is so vast, US leaders believe people “assisted” by their plans must have zero involvement in their creation.
Significant too is US ignorance that a political peace plan is needed for Palestine first, before an economic one. By presenting the ‘economic plan’ first, the US leader’s son takes on the persona of Gordon Gecko where only greed is good, and that US-centric greed is especially good.
Instead of being an ‘honest broker’ for an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, the US can only act as a treacherous and duplicitous double-dealer, just as it acted with the JCPOA and that is no hallmark of strength. Can we say that rendering on to Caesar that which is Caesar’s is now the sole foreign policy mandate pushed by US State? Bottom line, the US is as powerless to effect peace in the Middle East as it has ever been.
Next consider Syria, because the conflict there represents the dichotomy as written about above, where the US wishes to appear strong and moral, but has instead proven itself to be weak and amoral.
The Israeli-US coordinated push for regime change in Syria has been in effect since 2011, and the mysterious origin of Trump’s announcement last year about withdrawal from Syria highlights that policy confusion. Whether Trump was attempting to act on his own or on the advice of CentCom (most unlikely) or even the General Accounting Office, the withdrawal announcement illustrates a remarkable lack of policy coordination and control. That is not to criticize a US withdrawal in Syria, only to highlight the confused state of US foreign policy.
Now against the Syrian government’s will, the US hosts air power (Manbij) to protect the SDF (Kurds) in the north, and in the south to protect the NLF and other takfiri terror forces, a policy of deliberate ambiguity. That’s because the US has vowed to defeat ISIS in Syria while doing nothing at all in that regard. Instead, the US arms and supplies HTS and the NLF terror factions (by proxy) only to pursue a policy of destabilization to effect Syrian regime change.
Meanwhile only Syrian security forces assisted by Russia and Iran control the battle versus HTS and NLF terrorists, while the goal of the United States is to protect takfiri militias in the countryside. Thus, the US operates a duplicitous double standard and hopes to bog down its partner Russia in Syria. Whether Trump is simply disinterested and leaves Syria policy matters to his National Security Advisor is unknown, but that is not a sign of strength.
Significant too is the US inability and unwillingness to contain Turkey in Syria, where Turkey is a major supporter of the NLF National Liberation Front terror group. Again the reason is that Israel – and thus the US — seek regime change in Syria, and do not seek peace or any humanitarian aim there.
The major point is that the US predilection is for war for profit, with no humanitarian or moral ground for its presence in Syria (or anywhere else) which renders the US weak and amoral, no better than the worst bad actor in the region.
In line with his idea of “Making America Great Again” — instead of making America strong again — and at the urging of his major donors, Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from the JCPOA. But instead of projecting strength that way, Trump’s withdrawal actually places the US in a very precarious position. First, such a move highlights the ultimate power that Israel maintains over the United States, and shifts the appearance of strength to Israel – not to the US. Second, Trump places the power of US sanctions in jeopardy since they may be evaded, and there is no doubt that Iran will evade them. Third, the US drives Iran closer to China and Russia, and challenges US hegemony in that regard, where Iran has multiple opportunities to make the US look weak, foolish, and ineffectual.
It is the US leadership which has taken all major steps toward war and aggression in Iran, whether by supporting the MEK, by making hollow vacuous threats, or by imposing ever greater sanctions. That does not project strength – only duplicity, weakness, and hubris.
In previous articles too we have explored the impossibility of a US attack on Iran, and Donald Trump himself has implicitly admitted to the impossibility of such US aggression. With three recent false flags reported near the Strait of Hormuz, it is most likely that the Trump regime has approached Israel or Saudi — depending on the perpetrator — and instructed their covert services to stop. Should either decide to ignore that warning and perpetrate another false flag at their peril, a resultant war will again cast the US in light of being a Warfare State – not a strong and moral state — and embroil the US in another costly and dangerous Middle Eastern war.
It is clear to the rest of the world too that the US is targeting Iran for its gold and oil, and not for any reason pertaining to nuclear ambitions. By withdrawing unilaterally from the JCPOA, the US has given Iran multiple opportunities to taunt the US, and Europe, and to remind the world that it is the US at the behest of Israel who jettisoned the agreement, and that the US is the duplicitous party here – not Iran.
Barring any false flag, all the US can do is sit and wait, and can’t even subsidize a new false flag, since the result for the US would be far more horrific than any conflict it has experienced since Vietnam. In other words, the United States is as hamstrung on Iran as it is anywhere else, regardless of military might or weaponization of the US dollar… the US is overall, powerless to effect events proactively.
The United States initiated the collapse of Libya and engineered its status as a Failed State, and as in Iraq, the US has done little else. Once again, Turkey is literally calling the shots now in western Libya -not the GNA. Via Ukrainian arms suppliers, Turkey just provided a massive load of weaponry to Misrata/GNA forces in the west, certain to prolong the chaos in Libya.
The power vacuum and chaos in Libya makes the US look bad because everyone knows the US did it, and currently because the US has absolutely no influence or control in Libya to undo it. That is, other than to sell weaponry to all sides, supplied via the United Arab Emirates.
Even so, Libya possesses great oil wealth, something that should be considered. But because the US is now a major oil supplier, the US can ignore Libya’s oil wealth, not to mention any humanitarian considerations there. While the United nations has called for a ceasefire in Libya, the US has been silent on the matter, another indication of weakness.
Perhaps that is the greatest lesson of all – that any US intervention in a foreign sovereign nation since World War 2 has always led to failure, to disappointment, and tragedy; not just for that nation, but for the US too. It is by this legacy that the US is as impotent to operate in Libya as it is anywhere else, and is reduced to selling weaponry to the warring factions.
Ruled by a ‘ruthless dictator’ or not (sounds familiar) the recent US attempted coup in Venezuela was about oil and gold – not about “human rights”. Venezuela produces a type of oil usually refined in the southern United States (until sanctioned) and Venezuela possesses a significant amount of gold. Gold is extremely important to the international carry trade, and operations of the Primary Dealers and sovereigns, who rely on gold for major trade deals in currency, finance and even weapons. Real gold — not the fake Wall Street stuff — underlines far more in world trade than commonly known or acknowledged, where the golden rule is that he who has the gold rules. So, we return to the point that despite the rhetoric and bluster about Venezuelan “human rights” and “democracy” coming from US State, it’s pretty clear what the real game is.
Furthermore, the United States appointed a CIA hack of a bureaucrat in the form of Kimberly Breier to mind the US-selected candidate, in a coup operation that backfired badly. The true Deep State apparatus proves again that the United States is weak, incompetent, and ineffectual. Not that it matters. What really matters is that the US only pursues an agenda of greed and hubris, while imposing sanctions that warp time and space with regard to any idea that the US supports human rights or any humanitarian goal in Venezuela. That’s real weakness on the part of the US.
The US leadership’s performance has provided North Korea with a unique opportunity. At the first sign of geopolitical trouble, or for any reason at all, Kim can simply fire off another rocket or two, and the US inability to act will be made apparent. Seriously, the United States has never had a consistent North Korea policy, other than sanctioning the country, while North Korea is quite happy to do business with China anyway.
Taking into account the entire history and existence of North Korea, there is perhaps no better example regarding US weakness. The US is powerless to act in the face of North Korea’s nuclear advantage, because North Korea understands what Saddam did not: that if you really do have nuclear weapons, the United States will shake your hand instead of attacking you.
Briefly, the US regime’s idea is not to do what is right, moral, or just in pursuit of peace, but only the opposite for profit. Even if a push for general disarmament globally were in US State’s best interest long term, short term profit is what drives the department. Essentially the United States is now only about showmanship – not Statesmanship.
China is a great example regarding the US inability to act. The US picked a trade fight with a formidable foe, and in truth this is a trade battle the US cannot “win”. That’s because any mercantilist match between the US and China will go to the top mercantilist and that is China, since the US gave away its trade advantage long ago. One example is the US license to China with regard to China’s import of Iranian oil. The US is unable to sanction China for importing Iran’s oil, and to save face issued a special waiver.
By initiating this trade war, the US has presented China with a real opportunity, too. The country can simply bide its time and wait as US tariffs lead to alarming and dangerous enforced inflation within the United States; and as the pain grows, the US will be forced to settle, in yet another sign of weakness. The tariff’s induced price inflation and resultant pain will eventually represent the unintended consequence of “making America great again”.
Despite touting better relations with Russia during his campaign – a Trump mantra that obviously sat well with voters – due to the Russiagate hoax, the US now leverages more sanctions versus Russia than it has at any other time. While the impact is not insignificant and has caused the ruble to fall versus other currencies, the weaker ruble has stimulated domestic manufacturing and increased exports, while the ruble has held steady in market value for several years now.
Of course the US-engineered coup on the Maidan was perhaps the most significant foreign policy achievement for the US in recent years. But the Russian Federation did subsequently realize the return of the Crimea – lost to it since 1954 – and also the Donbass, even if that region is still in dispute. The US has of course objected to what it calls the “annexation of the Crimea” – which is not a true representation – and the conflict in the Donbass, but is absolutely powerless to affect any influence there.
As for US sanctions, they only prompt their targets to discover ways around them, to further erode the influence of the US dollar and to further blunt US foreign influence.
Afghanistan is America’s longest war, and there is no sign that it will end any time soon. Lurching aimlessly from one ghostly or ghastly encounter to the next (and ultimately pointless) the US military has no real direction. Even the Mother of All Bombs failed to make any impact. Perhaps the US Army believes that a bomb father is now needed?
Again, rumblings by the US leader have expressed an interest in pulling the US military out of Afghanistan, but there is no real sign that the US will ever do so. More indecision, confusion, inability to act. We must draw the inference that external forces are just too deep and too complex for the US leadership to cope with, so let’s leave it for another day. The great example of America’s inability to act effectively and the waning of its former power is exemplified by America’s own acts, not by any others.
One of Trump’s top donors, a hedge fund manager named Paul Singer, once said, “Stability is not the way of the world.” The current regime is now the very incarnation of that statement. And as world instability grows in the face of US-inspired world destabilization, those words will ring true one day, in every ear. And as US power wanes in the face of its own destabilization by its own foreign policy, all that remains is tragic irony.
*Even if the US Central Bank can freely print $85B USD per month as it did during POMO, there are limits to the depth of this financial well!
Steve Brown is the author of “Iraq: the Road to War” (Sourcewatch) editor of “Bush Administration War Crimes in Iraq” (Sourcewatch) “Trump’s Limited Hangout” and “Federal Reserve: Out-sourcing the Monetary System to the Money Trust Oligarchs Since 1913”; Steve is an antiwar activist, and a published scholar on the US monetary system.