US Decline? (No. 15) Joel Kovel: US functionally Occupies Much of the World

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Iran Review Exclusive Interview with Joel Kovel
By: Kourosh Ziabari

The United States, bearing the accolade of the world’s number one superpower, is facing numerous political, economic and social challenges both in the domestic and international level. A large and influential group of progressive, anti-war activists, journalists, university professors and thinkers have begun to question and defy the unwavering military adventures of the United States across the world and its expansionistic policies. The U.S. support for Israel which constitutes one of the hallmarks of Washington’s foreign policy has also irritated many people across the world, contributing to the growth of anti-American sentiments. Moreover, the governments which were used to blindly take orders from Washington are changing their path and adopting a more independent stance. We should also bear in mind that a large bloc of world countries as represented by the Non-Aligned Movement are joining forces to confront imperialism, capitalism and Zionism.

In order to study and investigate the different aspects of the decline of the U.S. Empire, we conducted a set of exclusive interviews with world-renowned academicians and political scientists. Iran Review’s interviews with 14 American, British, Indian and Italian political scientists appeared under the title of “U.S. decline” and we closed this series of interviews on February 9, 2013. However, one of our interviewees who had promised to grant us an interview just responded to our questions yesterday and given the importance of this interview, we decided to publish it as the 15th chapter of the U.S. decline series.

Dr. Joel Kovel is a world-renowned American scholar and author. From 1977 to 1983, he was the Director of Residency Training at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry where he was also Professor of Psychiatry from 1979 to 1986. In 1988, He was appointed Alger Hiss Chair of Social Studies at the Bard College. In 2009, he was told that his contract would not be renewed after termination. He contested that the decision was politically motivated and was mainly due to his anti-Israeli viewpoints. Kovel has written several books including “Against the State of Nuclear Terror”, “The Radical Spirit: Essays on Psychoanalysis and Society” and “Overcoming Zionism: Creating a Single Democratic State in Israel/Palestine”. Joel Kovel’s articles and commentaries have appeared on several publications across the world.

What follows is the text of Iran Review’s interview with Dr. Joel Kovel, American scholar and author who has explained for us his viewpoints on the political and economic decline of the U.S. Empire and the factors contributing to the erosion and weakening of the foundations of American imperialism and militarism.

Q: As you know, the unipolar, hegemonic system of global governance led by the United State constitutes the basis and structure of current international order. In this regard, some people believe that the signs of the decline of the United States and a consequent transformation in the international order have begun to emerge. A change based on the founding of a power balance against the United States has begun to emerge in the global equations of political power. What’s your analysis of this change and the challenges it poses to U.S. hegemony?

A: The United States became a superpower after the Second World War for the first time in its history, but had to share this role with its mortal adversary, the USSR. It made sense then to think of the world as divided into four parts: First World: the metropolitan capitalist industrial countries; Second World: the Socialist Bloc; Third World: emerging post-colonial nations; Fourth World: remnants of indigenous, “first nations” along with various stateless formations, for example, Kurds. The breakup of the Soviet system left the United States alone at the top of the heap, a circumstance that led it to become something beyond a superpower, rather, a “hyperpower.” Not since Rome in 100 CE had one power so dominated its known world. Nevertheless, it definitely appears that the American hyperpower will have a much shorter life span than Imperial Rome.

With the collapse of the USSR, a fundamental redrawing of the imperial map has taken place, including the emergence of new, complex and fluid alliances from formerly Second and Third world nations: for example, the “BRICS” group (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa); or the “CELAC” group of Latin American and Caribbean nations; and third, the ever-changing, and expanding, composition of stateless, or “War Lord” formations, and the alliances into which they enter. These are opposed to the former First World and its military arm, NATO, under the shaky hegemony of the United States.

Another manifestation of this is the so-called “war on terror.” This is largely fictional in its own terms, mainly an ideological device to pull the United States and the Western powers together under right-wing auspices.

The relation of all this to US hegemony is extremely complex and internally contradictory. Although it is true that the United States is weakening, in itself this does not make it less dangerous. American aggression is deeply embedded, and can be mobilized to compensate for weakness. Thus a weaker power can also be more aggressive and dangerous, the so-called “wounded beast” phenomenon. But there are also forces at work to make the US want to pull back from its recent spate of accentuated aggression.

Q: So, you believe that such blocs of nations as BRICS or CELAC are gradually challenging the U.S. hegemony. Let’s get to the next question. It seems that the United States is voluntarily retreating from its position as a global hegemon, as a result of a remarkable increase in the costs of the unipolar and hegemonic order and the considerable decrease in its utilities. What’s your viewpoint in this regard?

A: The chief instrument of United States hegemony has been its astounding military advantage, again, not seen since Rome, and a condition in which it spends roughly as much on armaments as the rest of the world put together, and maintains about 800 bases on foreign soil. Thus no state has the remotest chance of directly threatening US power; meanwhile, America functionally occupies much of the world.

Violence, as they say, is as American as apple pie--think only of the gun crisis that now seizes the nation—and is both a cause and effect of its militarism. It is also a major contributing factor to global violence, through direct intervention, and indirectly, gun sales, in which trade the United States is the leading player. Militarism also plays a major role in the excessive contribution of the United States to the ecological crisis [see below], as the military is the greatest contributor to energy waste and pollution.

Finally, militarism is a great contributor to financial waste, unemployment, and economic stagnation. The G. W. Bush era of military adventurism also brought about a staggering shift from an era of budget surpluses to the greatest increase in indebtedness in national history, with ominous implications for the national economy. Thus militarism drives the American imperial advantage while also being a major cause of economic stagnation. Presently, a big struggle is looming about whether to begin cutting the Pentagon budget or to take the money out of what are called “entitlements,” programs like Social Security and Medicare that are lifelines for millions of elderly people, and whose breakdown would be politically dangerous.

There is some evidence that President Obama has decided to pursue the former route, which potentially implies some reversal of the era of aggressive warfare. His resort to Drone warfare throughout much of the Middle East and Western Asia is part of this strategy, which has chiefly been imposed by the ruinous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

It is clear that America would love to get out of direct war in the region. It is even clearer that a decade of intervention has resoundingly failed to stabilize the region and create the basis for genuine peace. Furthermore, the “wounded beast” shows no sign of rolling back its recent explosion of intervention in Africa, in which it has been active in 35 countries, driven in large part by resource scarcity. The most consequential instances of Middle Eastern intervention at present are in Iran and Syria, with Egypt teetering on the brink. Alongside ordinary motivations of empire imposed by basic economic drives in these episodes, the role of Zionist Israel looms very large.

Q: Militarism is the driving force of the American empire, and this is what you implied in your response to my previous question. What about the economic aspects of the U.S. Empire? The global capitalistic economy is collapsing and its consequences for the uni-polar and hegemonic order are beginning to appear gradually. What do you think about the impact of the downfall of global economic recession and its effects on the compasses of the U.S. power?

A: The United States was designed to be a capitalist nation. However, the territorial aspect of its imperialism goes back to the days of Thomas Jefferson, long predating the rise of US capitalism in the late nineteenth century. Capitalism is also inherently cyclical with a tendency toward stagnation. Both its phases of expansion and contraction are associated with imperial reach.

Needless to say, we cannot give these relationships the attention they need. However, we would note that the starting point of US superpower status was widespread ruin at the end of WWII and America’s presence as the only standing industrial nation capable of seizing the opportunity of growth. This “golden era” of capitalism ran its course by the 1970s, at which point it precipitated a severe crisis that triggered the present phase of “neo-liberalization,” in other words, an epoch of hyper-exploitation to counteract stagnation. This led to the export of industries to sites where cheap labor could restore profitability, along with many associated phenomena:

• The rise of peripheral economies, most notably, of course, China (now the world’s leading holder of US debt), along with a host of others to provide a pool of potential imperial rivals (including, once more, Russia);

• Profound corruption in the United States, chiefly driven by widening differences between wealth and poverty, with disempowerment and humiliation of workers and continual growth of personal indebtedness. Politically, it has been a time of increasing dominance of right wing ideologies along with the impoverishment of the liberal consensus. Finance capital became the leading element of the system, with reckless speculation and “financialization” of assets. All this led to the great global downturn of 2008, the worst since the 1930s, widely regarded—including by myself—as the early death throes of a capitalist system unable to invent a viable alternative to neoliberalism.

But this does not mention the most important aspect of the crisis, for which we have to turn to a hitherto underappreciated aspect of the system, namely, its relation to nature.

The key to human nature is the transformation of nature in the act of production. But this implies the possibility of any mode of production to exploit and degrade nature, even to the point of destroying civilization. Capitalism is such a mode because of chaotic expansiveness in the scale of production along with the estrangement from nature inherent to an economy designed around the expansion of Value, hence dominated by monetary relations.

Neoliberal capital signifies the realization of this potential into a global ecological crisis in which natural disturbances have taken on increasingly chaotic and self-reinforcing driven potentials; to cite one example, the melting of glaciers and sea ice accelerates the processes of climate change.

This adds a new set of threats to capitalist accumulation alongside those intrinsic to the economy and threatens the very existence of civilization. For example, Hurricane Sandy in November 2012 came close to destroying the NY City subway system, which would have made the financial industry inoperable. The increasing range of such threats stands as further barriers to accumulation, and as such, stimuli to increasing capitalist rapacity. This appears in the United States, for example, as an insane race toward destructive resource extraction, as by mountaintop removal for coal, building monstrous pipelines to bring tar sands oil to Texas, tearing up the landscape to gain a transient boost in natural gas production, digging deep under the seas to squeeze yet more climate destroying petroleum, etc. In other words, the crisis of neoliberal capital is self-reinforcing. The system is doomed, and this realization enters the course of events.

Q: Right. Based on the emergence and intensification of global resistance against capitalism and liberalism, especially resistance on the microphysical level of global power against the lifestyle of imperialist system, the political power and influence of the United States has been diminishing in the recent years. What’s your take onthat?

A: There is definite evidence that this is happening, although one should be wary of writing off the hyper-power just yet, given the enormous complexity of the global system and the immense resources of violence that remain at its command.

For example, the United States has, in the pursuit of its nightmarish “War against terror,” achieved levels of barbarism as would have been unrecognizable in the US Republic before it became a superpower. A chief modality has been the practice of “extraordinary rendition,” through which suspected “terrorists” are turned over to other countries who are in no need of promoting their image for “enhanced interrogation,” in other words, torture (routinely involving the CIA). The degree of domestic acceptance of this brutal project by a wide swath of United States society is shocking. It effectively erases two centuries of legitimation as the “land of the free and the home of the brave,” and shows just how degenerate empire—and the “War on Terror” within it—has made the United States. For example, Yale University, a bastion of liberal society, now offers psychologists a program in the methodology of interviewing captive terror suspects.

The hyper-power is dependent upon a continuing supply of terrorist adversaries for purposes of legitimation and to unify its increasingly desperate subalterns under the power of the National Security State. Both of these goals are attainable, though ruinous. Statistic after statistic shows that assaults on ordinary civilians in the course of snuffing out “terrorism” in the periphery (these days by the increasingly dominant weapon: the Drone) succeeds mainly in producing new cadre of an anti-imperial mentality and the sufficient resolve to take on the global hyperpower in a fight to the finish. The prescription now is for endless war, leading to more overextension of the American hyperpower and, augmenting the proliferating ecological crisis, to the collapse of empire itself in the mid-range future.

There is another dimension: the recruitment of partners for the sordid process of rendition. This involves alliances in the war on terror, and hence the viability of United States imperialism. No fewer than 54 states have been drawn into this sordid process.

But there is a fact of great interest here—for not a single one of the 54 is a member of CELAS, the alliance of 34 states from Latin America and the Caribbean. In fact, the US and Canada were not even invited to the most recent meeting of CELAS, which celebrated Cuba’s endurance after more than fifty years of US intervention. The region included in CELAS had been traditionally known as the “backyard” of the US since the days of the Monroe Doctrine, that is, as the region most directly under its thumb. Countless dictators and puppet regimes were hatched during this period.
Now these countries, even Colombia, the greatest recipient of US military aid in the Hemisphere, shun the hyperpower.

There is no clearer evidence of the actual US decline—and also of the reasons behind this; because CELAS is the result of a fierce anti-imperial struggle over generations—continually beaten back but persevering and now beginning its victory over the imperial power. And also, it need scarcely be added, a beacon of hope for the whole world.

Q: The resistance and opposition of the United States’ domestic forces against the interventions of the U.S. government in the other countries and the imperialistic traits of the U.S. political system have been contributing to the weakening of the global position of the United States. Would you please share your perspective on that with us?

A: One must begin by asserting that there has been far too little resistance and opposition within the United States over the recent period. The reasons for this would take us too far afield, but the fact must be acknowledged. However, everyone who studies and lives these things can testify to the beginnings of radical change. Two closely related factors drive this development.

First, increasing disillusionment with established society and government. The hopeless predicament of capital lies behind this, which can no longer use its upbeat and triumphalist mass culture to paper over its radical inability to surmount its crisis. The sustaining myth of capitalist reproduction, that each person has the opportunity to make for him-, or herself, a better life than one’s parents, is now no more than a joke, thoroughly shattered in a society of radically widening differences in wealth, total domination by money, and the lies and propaganda that accompany this. Increasing numbers of people, especially the young, are opting out of the system. Their verdict is summarized in the following mockery (taken from the internet) of the nauseating chauvinism characteristic of America in decline:

We’re #1! In locking our citizens up; in obesity; in energy use per person; in small arms exports; in per capita health expenditures; in student loan debt. We’re #1! In oil consumption; in gun ownership; in breast augmentation; in death by violence; in anxiety disorders. We’re #1! In military spending, spending more than the next twenty largest military spenders combined.

While many succumb to the nihilism enforced by the culture of capitalist consumerism, a small and growing percentage have come to recognize that the saying of “when you have nothing, you have nothing to lose” now holds. The system-detachment is bound to grow because of the inexorable power of the second factor:

A growing awareness of the gravity of the ecological crisis as revealed in climate change and other mortal threats. The issue here is radically existential: it poses to humanity the inexorable destruction of civilization and life itself as this arises from imperial power structure comprised by our industrial, military, capitalist system as it has been centered in the United States. Usually this realization is beaten back by the propaganda machine, or distorted into apocalyptic fantasies. But the logic of events is bound to make its realization increasingly compelling. The period ahead will almost certainly be one of incalculably heightened struggle.

Q: And finally, aside from these propositions which we’ve mentioned as the factors contributing to the decline of the U.S. socioeconomic and political power and the downfall of the imperialism, can you think of other possibilities which may in one way or another further and accelerate the demise of the U.S. Empire?

A: Briefly: One must add the name of Israel and its ideology of Zionism to the list. United States support for Israel’s Jewish State comprises one of the most bizarre relationships ever to unfold in the history of humankind, as the first occasion in which a client state has so thoroughly dominated its master. When the same client state has been exposed as the world’s number one aggressor nation, and when said aggression is directly enabled by impunity granted by the master; and, further, when the transformation of the United States from super-power to hyper-power was mediated by the appearance in its security circles of rabid Zionists under the name of “neo-conservatives,” then the significance of the Israeli relationship can begin to be appreciated.

Blind support for the Jewish state has harmed everybody, including Jews now facing increasing hostility on a world scale, as well as increasing internal divisions, especially between generations, with younger Jews in the Diaspora becoming increasingly indifferent to and/or disenchanted with Israel.

The greatest menace posed by Israel (excepting that it may undertake the “Samson Option” and unleash nuclear war) is that it may succeed in fomenting war against Iran, which, along with the elimination of Iraq and Syria as independent states, is Zionism’s leading strategic goal. This would provoke a calamity of unprecedented proportions, and not just toward the Iranian people. Israel’s goal is to draw the US into war with Iran alongside itself. Recent developments suggest that the United States may be moving away from this strategy, in so doing increasing the division between itself and Israel, and thus hastening the downfall of the Zionist dream, an altogether beneficial development in human history, though not one that would in itself spare America its own destiny with the fate of empire.

Key Words: US Policies, Domestic-Global Impacts, Unipolar-Hegemonic System, Imperialism, International Order, Capitalistic Economy, US Empire, Kovel

US Decline? (No. 14) Bartholomew H. Sparrow: US Policies: Deleterious Domestic and Global Impacts

US Decline? (No 13) Paul Craig Roberts: Washington Established a Police State in US

US Decline? (No. 12) Paul Atwood: US Faces Challenges that Undermine its Continued Dominance

US Decline? (No. 11) John D. Wilkerson: China Replaces US as World’s Largest Economy

US Decline? (No. 10) Giulio M. Gallarotti: US Presidents Find Industrial-Military Complex Difficult to Tame

US Decline? (No. 9) Peter Rutland: US Trying to Reduce its Global Commitments

US Decline? (No. 8) John Owen: The United States Not completely Controlling its Allies

US Decline? (No. 7) Deepa Kumar: Anti-Imperialist Sentiments Growing across the World

US Decline? (No. 6): Paul Sheldon Foote: America, A Country Controlled by Warmongers

US Decline? (No. 5): Tahir Abbas: American Hegemony Is on the Wane

US Decline? (No. 4) Walter Hixson: Counter-hegemonic forces challenging U.S. global hegemony

US Decline? (No.3): Michael Brenner: American Public’s Appetite for Military Intervention Diminishing

US Decline? (No.2): William Wohlforth: The United States Lost Some Ground over the Past Decade

US Decline? (No.1): Francis Shor: The Us Economy & Military Fading Gradually

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