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

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Iran Review Exclusive Interview with Tahir Abbas
By: Kourosh Ziabari

The United States gained independence from Britain 236 years ago, so it’s almost a young nation. However, in these almost two and a half centuries, it successfully managed to thrive as an economic, political and technological superpower thanks to its diligent population and the opportunities it has provided for the immigrants to come and share their manpower, talents and abilities for the wellbeing and prosperity of the nation. Therefore, it’s not the case that they were simply the natural resources or the intelligence of the American people that contributed to these achievements. However, it seems that all of these socioeconomic, political and scientific achievements are gradually disappearing and one of the main reasons contributing to this disappearance, as stipulated by high-ranking political scientists, is the aggressive foreign policy the United States has adopted.

The United States is failing to cooperate and interact with the world nations in a peaceful and constructive manner, and it’s estimated that it has been directly or indirectly involved in some 50 wars and military expeditions since its independence in 1776. This is the main reason the world nations are learning to hate the U.S. militarism and political hegemony as manifested in the killing of innocent civilians and suffering of the masses.

The economic influence and dominance of the United States is also being contested by emerging powers such as Russia, China, Brazil and Iran, and it seems that the economic values which have been promoted and practiced by Washington are giving their place to fresh alternatives.

In order to investigate the compasses of the decline of the U.S. Empire, Iran Review has started to conduct exclusive interviews with world-renowned political scientists. What follows is the 5th interview in the series of U.S. decline interviews conducted with Tahir Abbas, Professor of Sociology at Fatih University in Istanbul, Turkey.

Prof. Abbas was born in Birmingham, England and is the editor and co-editor of 10 books and author of more than 70 scholarly articles. He has delivered public lectures in some 30 countries and until June 2009, he was the Reader in Sociology and founding Director of the University of Birmingham Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Culture. He has cooperated with different world governments and organizations as the World Economic Forum, EU, the Council of Europe, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the United Nations. What follows is the text of our interview with Prof. Tahir Abbas.

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: Over the last two decades or so, while we have seen the playing out of the ‘clash of civilisations’ thesis we have also seen the emergence of the Eastern world, now returning back to global dominance, as was the case many thousands of years ago. In the 1990s, the so-called Asian tiger economies were blooming. Places like Indonesia and Malaysia were experiencing exceptional economic development and growth. In 2000s, while the Western world was engaged on the ‘War on Terror’ and global stagnation followed during the latter part of the last decade, it is China and India which now emerge as economic superpowers to compete directly with the USA and Western European economies.

In particular, as a result of the economic crisis facing the Western world, a large part of the debt of the USA is held with the Chinese. This gives them incredible leverage over particular currency and trade issues. Moreover, nations such as Brazil and India are also able to compete at the global level, placing considerable pressure on the Western economic model. This particular change to the world economic order is likely to continue, such that in the next 20 to 30 years India, China and Brazil will be among the leading world economies. What it does do is to put pressure on the USA in relation to its role as a global policeman, something which it emphasises through its activities as part of the UN, IMF, World Bank, NATO, as well as through its cultural influence over the world through institutions such as Hollywood and the impact of its global media outreach potential.

If anything, the last few decades have demonstrated the end of US global economic dominance. It is an ironic twist that in an effort to promote freedom, liberty, democracy and capitalism to the rest of the world, the USA has found itself unable to compete. What is more important is that inside the USA there are particular problems in relation to inequalities that are deeply set. It results in the dominance of the very few who work towards fulfilling self interests at all costs while remaining increasingly out of touch with the rest of American society and of course the rest of the world.

Q: Scholars believe 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: With other economies across the world now able to demonstrate their capacity for efficiency, marketization and resourcefulness, what was regarded as essentially Americanization of global society has somewhat retreated. It is felt in relation to an economic, political as well as cultural dynamic. While there has been considerable emphasis put on Barak Obama to determine a more open-ended geopolitical approach, there still remains a great deal to be done undo much of the damage of American foreign policy of the last two decades, and principally since the collapse of the former Soviet empire. It is quite the case of the US has been reaching into the Middle East for the better part of the twentieth century for various reasons to do with the need to maintain market penetration but also to ensure the availability of fossil fuels should the reserves in the USA become increasingly susceptible to depletion.

Q: Some researchers opine that 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: While much of the 2000s focused on US attempts to bring about freedom and democracy to various parts of the most world in particular, the events in relation to the Arab awakening have demonstrated that in fact Arabs across the Middle East are not prepared to take any further abuse of power, injustice in society, illegitimacy of authority based on years of undemocratic rule and ultimately the huge social divisions in society that have been created between elites and the masses. It led to a demographically young Middle East effectively overthrowing the powerful, who sometimes had been in place for more than four decades. What this does for the USA is that it creates alarm bells because no longer is the Middle Eastern in the hands of chosen leaders placed at the hands of foreign interests. Rather, it is because of the whims of the local people. It seems as if that the end of history thesis put forward towards the end of the 1980s by certain neo-conservative scholars has in fact revealed the end of American history, paradoxically.

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: As stated above, it is clear that American hegemony is on the wane. Much of the reason for this is to do with disaffection in relation to American foreign policy, the Crusades also function of media, and by this I mean information communication technologies as well as the liberalization of satellite and television within many nations of the Muslim world. Citizens have more access to different forms of media and never before. This has created a sense of awareness that would otherwise have been unavailable in the past. People are able to critically engage with a whole host of topics, but actually taking part in the formation of that very media itself, i.e. through forms such as Twitter and Facebook, as well as visual manifestations such as YouTube and the development of independent broadcasting. Why much of hegemony is based on economic, military, political and cultural power concentrated in the hands, it is availability of media in all of its various forms that has also in part impacted on the breakdown of US power.

Q: According to political scientists, 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: Yes, that is right. The very institutions and mechanisms that have been established by the Western economic neoliberal framework have in fact created the opportunity structures for the eastern part of the world to actually respond to the challenges that are raised by them.

But it must be said that America is still a relatively new nation, only around 250 years old. The USA itself came about as a result of the migration of the Puritans from England and other European discoverers who took to eliminating the indigenous native populations of the lands. Imperialism and colonialism is in the DNA of its people, for those who were the oppressors and through their of rule and authority to those who have been subject to its forces, directly and indirectly, historically and today due to the ongoing forces of racism and discrimination that impact on the lived experiences of various minority group.

While it is easy to demonstrate the extent of American economic hegemony in the context of how foreign and domestic policy of the country is used to maintain its position, there is also a range of important and valuable contributions that have been made, which the rest of the world has benefited from. It is without a doubt that the best universities in the world are based in the USA, whether it is something that we like or not. In them there remains energy, passion and commitment to technology and understanding the world in its entirety. There are a great many people who promote fairness, justice, tolerance and liberty for all its values that are good for humanity rather than the opposite, and we must remember that the work of the good will always be least recognized and appreciated in the context of the work of the bad, who are the few, but can also be some of those who are most easily heard. At times of a lack of cohesion, it is often the extremes that are heard loudest. American society is likely to be affected by such as set of outcomes as other countries and the people who inhabit them.

Key Words: American Hegemony, Global Governance, International Order, Global Economic Recession, Abbas

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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