US Decline? (No. 4) Walter Hixson: Counter-Hegemonic Forces Challenging U.S. Global Hegemony

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Iran Review Exclusive Interview with Walter Hixson
By: Kourosh Ziabari

What will the future of the U.S. Empire look like? Where is it heading to? Is the United States capable of sustaining its hegemonic dominance over the world or is it becoming costly and expensive for the United States to continue featuring itself as an uncontested economic and political superpower? There are lots of questions and ambiguities regarding the future of the U.S. Empire and the repercussions of the decline it has begun to experience, and these questions are being seriously discussed in the intellectual circles around the world.

Realistic and independent political scientists and even some prudent American officials have been long warning against the consequences of the political downfall of the United States and the serious blows it has been receiving as a result of the strategic mistakes the different U.S. administrations have made in their calculations in dealing with the developing world and the emerging powers such as China, Russia and Brazil.

Along with the foreign contenders, there are a large group of domestic opponents of the U.S. militarism, capitalism and political expansionism who have been challenging the policies of the U.S. government routinely, and are growing more dynamic and vivacious every day. They are the progressive academicians, journalists, intellectuals and peace activists that have been working hard to shed a light on the hidden and unnoticed aspects of how the United States is ruled and rules the world.

Iran Review has started to conduct a series of interviews with the prominent political scientists across the world to investigate and explore the different dimensions of the decline of the U.S. Empire. Today, we have done an interview with Prof. Walter Hixson, a distinguished professor of history at the University of Akron, Ohio. He has been working on the history of American settler colonialism in theoretical and comparative context and is in the process of completing a book manuscript tentatively entitled, “The Boomerang of Savagery: Settler Colonialism, Ambivalence, and Ethnic Cleansing in American History.” Prof. Hixson has also carried out research on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and presented a public lecture titled “People and Places in the Israel-Palestine Conflict.”

What follows is the text of Iran Review’s interview with Prof. Walter Hixson, historian and political scientist from the University of Akron with whom we have discussed the different political, social and economic aspects of the decline of the U.S. Empire. 

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. However, it seems that 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: Counter-hegemonic forces are challenging American global supremacy. Hostility toward American global power extends from the Latin American "backyard" (Cuba, Venezuela, Brazil) through the Middle East and China, as well as among intellectual circles in even in allied Europe, where there is plenty of concern about the U.S. penchant for "cowboy" diplomacy.  Many observers of course perceive China as a rising power that will one day displace the United States; China itself references its "peaceful rise," but China is and is likely to remain plagued by myriad domestic challenges owing to the demands of its vast population, if nothing else.  U.S. relations with Russia are strained and echo the era of the cold war but Russian power too is limited, though its veto power on the UN Security Council is important. In the Middle East, U.S. enabling of Israeli aggression and militarism, along with the Iraq War and a long prior history of interventions, both overt and covert, has generated deep suspicions of American power and accordingly an unwillingness to follow its leadership. Countries such as Egypt and Iran demand to follow their own prerogatives and groups such as Hizbullah and Hamas let along Al Qaeda are dedicated to the erosion of U.S. power and influence.  In sum, there is no doubt that there are forces arrayed against U.S. Global hegemony the issue is how long this process will take and to what extent American power will recede.

Q: It seems that the United States is voluntarily retreating from its position as a global hegemon, which is because of the remarkable increase in the costs of maintaining a unipolar and hegemonic order and the considerable decrease in its utilities. What’s your viewpoint in this regard?

A: I would not characterize the United States as "retreating" in the world. The mythology of American exceptionalism and widespread belief that the United States has a "mission" to lead the world remain very powerful. Moreover, the United States remains heavily militarized--far more powerful militarily than any other country and indeed than most combined. A superpower backed by such a powerful ideology and military rarely "retreats" willingly. That said, the U.S. power has peaked and the only direction it can go is toward a steady erosion of power. That process, however, probably will not be rapid.

Q: 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 repercussions of the global economic recession and its effects on the compasses of the U.S. power?

A: The Great Recession has been a blow for Europe even more so than the United States but of course the economies are inter-connected. If it is indeed a “recession” and not a “depression” then the impact may not be so significant in the long term. Of course, there is no question that the Chinese economy has grown more powerful while the U.S. economy is plagued by debt and mal-distribution of wealth (into the hands of the rich while the poor get poorer and the middle class gets squeezed. Note the vehement opposition to Obama’s efforts to mount even a modest challenge to this economic royalism). Other countries, notably India and Brazil, have fast emerging economies but like China they also have tremendous social challenges and widespread poverty. The Washington Consensus era is over and U.S. economic supremacy has peaked and is in decline, but the terms used by Paul Kennedy in his classic work (Rise and Fall of the Great Powers) are useful here: it is a “relative decline.”

Q: 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 on that?

A: There is resistance to the notion that liberal capitalism is the only model for human development. Among the more interesting sites of resistance are the U.S. “backyard” where Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador have joined Cuba in rejecting the American model. Brazil goes it own way and is not afraid to resist the United States. The days of the Monroe Doctrine in which the United States could claim hegemony over all of Latin America are long past.  Clearly many of the forces driving the Arab Spring reject liberal capitalism though many of the “solutions” offered are reactionary. I would hesitate to embrace the idea that the “lifestyle” represented by the United States is being widely rejected. People no matter where they live want to live well and American consumerism has powerful appeal. Hollywood television and film and American popular culture more generally remain the most influential in the world regardless of what one might think about their quality or the wisdom of rampant consumerism in an age of grave environmental deterioration and challenges.

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: I take a Gramscian hegemony model response to this question. American patriotism and support for the state especially in the international arena remain strong. One can observe this in the current debate over cutting the federal budget--virtually no one proposes meaningful cuts in the “defense” budget. Domestic hegemonic forces continue to bolster the American imperial system even as Americans grew weary of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The public would instantly rally behind the United States at the outset of the next global conflict. An iron hegemony also exists around support for Israel, which no public official can challenge in the United States or he or she will be sure to lose the next election. Thus U.S. support for Israeli dispossession and colonialism at the expense of Palestinians continues unabated. The American public lacks sophistication in foreign affairs and rallies behind the flag. All that said, there is opposition to failed wars and to imperialism more generally but it is a minority opposition and it is contained by hegemonic forces and if necessary by police forces. The vast national security bureaucracy can also infiltrate anti-imperial organizations and spy on citizens, now made legal by the “Patriot Act.”  As critics of U.S. Empire tend to be marginalized and contained, I do not think American imperial power will decline as a result of domestic opposition but more likely from the forces it encounters and its inability to dictate the course of events in the international arena. I do agree with the overall direction of these questions, that we are moving toward a more multilateral world and leaving behind--albeit gradually--the unilateral U.S.-centered global framework.

Key Words: American Public, Military Intervention, Global Governance, Hegemonic System, Power Balance, Global Equations, Capitalistic Economy, Imperialist System, Hixson

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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