Frank Lee reviews Beyond US Hegemony by Egyptian economist Samir Amin, who died earlier this year.
This work by the Egyptian Marxist, Samir Amin, was first published in 2006, but has been remarkably prescient in its evaluation of US strategic imperial policy before, and, a fortiori, after that date. Many, if not most, Americans and of course their Petainist vassals in Europe, have always been in denial about the imperial ambitions and practises of the US.
There are honourable exceptions – Pilger and Chomsky come immediately to mind – but on the whole the motives of US foreign policy have been regarded by the Atlanticist public as being conceived in good faith and benign in intent.
This America qua global good-guy was very well illustrated in the British writer Graham Greene’s novel The Quiet American. Set against the background of the first Indo-China war, the novel has also been made into two motion pictures, the most recent starring inter alia the British actor, Michael Caine.
The plot involves one of the central characters in the book, Alden Pyle, the ostensibly idealistic young American Aid Worker, who presents himself as a proto third-way reformist opposed to the excesses of French colonialism on the one hand, and Chinese Communism on the other. He is in fact nothing of the sort, and his ostensible humanistic motives are soon uncovered by the cynical, world-weary, British journalist, Thomas Fowler. Pyle had been working for the CIA all along. Those lavishly funded US CIA-front NGOs and colour revolutions perhaps serve to illustrate the timeless axiom of Biblical wisdom, namely, that there is nothing new under the sun.
Thus, Greene’s novel served as a microcosm of actually-existing US imperialism; a theory and practise which, until recently at least, dare not speak its name. In what we used to call, the third world, however, and increasingly in the developed world, the facts are plain to see except for all but the ideologically purblind. The US, particularly since the neo-conservative ascendancy, is a rampaging imperial juggernaut, with a blatant empire-building agenda. The US imperial project was from 1945 onwards partially held in check by social democratic obstacles in western Europe, the existence of the Soviet and East Asian Communist bloc and national anti-colonialist movements in the south.
This fact seems to have been missed by what I will call the symmetrical left, that is to say the notion that the world struggle is between two rival imperialisms, which I believe to be wrong in theory, and disastrous in practise. The road to neo-conservatism has often started with the theory of imperial equivalence between east and west. The contrary view is that the anti-colonial struggle would have been impossible without the presence of the Soviet Union whose existence kept in check the imperial ambitions of the US. But with the collapse of communism, the ongoing enervation and retreat of social democracy and the stalling of the anti-colonial struggle in the south, the rapacious beast of American imperialism has been let off the leash.
Moreover, the US has made it perfectly clear that it will not tolerate the reconstitution of any economic or military power capable of challenging its global domination; this was first made clear in the Wolfowitz doctrine in the nineteen nineties. A doctrine described at that time by US politician, Edward Kennedy as “a call for 21st century American imperialism that no other nation can or should accept.”
How times change! To this end the US has arrogated to itself the right to wage ‘preventive wars’ and ‘humanitarian’ interventions against those who may in sometime in the future threaten its global ambitions. The global system is still (just) unipolar but is becoming increasingly less so – this in spite of the frenzied and desperate efforts by the Americans to hang on to the status quo.
Suffice it to say that the project is assuredly not lacking in ambition. It aims at extending the ‘Monroe Doctrine’ to the whole planet; the establishment of a new type of US global suzerainty. This would be difficult for the US to accomplish alone – it therefore has to form alliances and spheres of influence with other (subaltern) partners in the developed world. Roughly speaking the geopolitical configuration for America’s global project is as follows.
The phase of the (present) global development of capitalism … is characterised by the emergence of a collective imperialism. The “triad” – that is, the US, plus its Canadian external province, Europe west of the Polish frontier and Japan, to which we should add Australia and New Zealand defines the area of this collective imperialism. It “manages” the economic dimension of capitalist globalization and the political military dimension through NATO, whose responsibilities have been redefined so that in effect it can substitute itself for the United Nations.” Amin, op.cit
This project required some adept intellectual dexterity as well as diplomatic balancing between the US and its junior partners – particularly within the EU, where conflict between European states and the US has always been a possibility. To this end the mobilization of various Euro-Quisling elites – particularly in the UK, Poland, and the ‘new’ Europe – was vital for America’s policy of divide and rule in this area. It was a policy of euro-widening designed to offset the initial euro-deepening of the EU.
Thus the ‘new Europe’ of former soviet satellites and ex republics were cultivated as political courtesans and literally fell over themselves to become the enthusiastic, pro-American, pro-neoliberal, NATO-centric, anti-Finlandization supporters of the US intervention against the staider and less reliable social-democratic structures and institutions of western Europe. It should be remembered that both France and Germany along with Russia refused to endorse the US ‘the coalition of the willing’ in the war against Iraq.
Thus, the globalization agenda (the economic prong in the US global offensive) has now become the received wisdom in the EU as a whole. As for the Euro it has become a satellite currency of the dollar, although it is in fact a stronger currency since it is based upon a euro economy which runs persistent trade surpluses.
With the political marginalisation of the Gaullist counter-weight in France carried out by Sarkozy and Hollande, the EU now meekly tags along in the wake of the US hegemon ensnared in an Atlanticist doctrine for which the raison d’etre – if there ever was one – definitively ended with the first cold war. And the world pays a heavy price for this. According to Amin:
The US economy lives as a parasite off its partners in the global system, with virtually no national savings of its own. The world produces while North America consumes … The fact is that the bulk of the American deficit (on Federal and Current Account) is covered by capital inputs from Europe and Japan, China and the South, rich oil-producing and comprador classes from all regions in the Third World – to which should be added the debt service levy that is imposed on nearly every country in the periphery of the global system. The American superpower depends from day to day on the flow of capital that sustains the parasitism of its economy and society.” Amin, op.cit.
It is not generally known that the US with its chronic federal and trade deficits is actually on the brink of technical bankruptcy, particularly when long term commitments on Medicaid, Medicare and social security payments are factored into the calculations.
According to research carried out by Professor Laurence Kotlikoff for the Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis, a leading constituent of the US Federal Reserve, Fed liabilities come to a staggering $70 trillion – this is roughly 5 times the size of the US GDP.
Against this backdrop the foreign policy of the US becomes clear. Its purpose is loot pure and simple. The south must continue to be plundered for cheap inputs and raw materials and in order to do this comprador elites must be promoted who are friendly to US interests. Economic development of course cannot take place in this context as there will be an outflow of capital from south to North. Markets must be opened up to the rapacious incursions of US and other western capitals.
Possible rivals – Russia, China – must be regarded as long-term enemies and will be divided and marginalised or possibly in 1970s geopolitical jargon ‘Finlandised’. And uppity allies in Europe – like France, now neutered – have been brought to heel.
Of course, this has and will continue to be met with stiff resistance. Most of this has been spontaneous and centred around the crisis in the Middle East, Eurasia the South and East China seas and South West Asia, and the growing opposition to the reputedly Promethean gifts of globalisation and dollar hegemony.
Amin identifies 4 aspects of a political programme which would give organizational coherence to this opposition.
1) A campaign against all American ‘preventive’ wars and for the closure of all foreign US bases
2) A campaign of right to access to the land, which is of crucial importance to the world’s 3 billion peasants
3) A campaign for the regulation of industrial outsourcing, and
4) A cancellation of third world external debts.” Amin,Op.cit
One could of course add more to this – imposition capital controls, global minimum wage and labour standards, global harmonization of taxes … and so forth. This would only be a beginning however. Amin himself looks forward to the reconstitution of the UN as a forum where the third world and smaller countries could find voice legitimate voice, as opposed to the dominant institutions of the present – the IMF, WTO, IBRD (World Bank) and NATO which are frankly little more than instruments of US led collective imperialism.
So, the post-1945 world order led by the imperial US-NATO bloc seems to be reaching a denouement – a slow-motion fragmentation brought about by its own internal and external contradictions and more specifically by the policy of imperial over-reach, an historical leitmotif of empires in decline. A period of indeterminate length and increasing geopolitical turbulence has opened up whose eventual outcomes can only be guessed at.
La lotta continua.
 This was the figure just prior to the blowout of 2008. Herewith a more recent study.
First, corporate debt is now 72% of GDP. That’s in addition to the government debt that is US total debt – private and sovereign – is approaching (or has passed depending on how you count debt) 100% of GDP and household debt at 77% of GDP.
Add in 81% financial sector debt, and the U.S. combined debt-to-GDP ratio is near 330%.
Second, 60% of new corporate debt is coming not from bond sales but new bank loans—and those bank loans have much shorter maturity, averaging 2.1 years. That means refinancing time is coming for much of it, and rates are not going lower.
Third, IIF infers about $3.8 trillion in corporate loan repayments each year—just in the U.S. That’s a lot of cash companies need to find and I’m not sure all can do it. Aside from higher interest rates, the companies that need credit (as opposed to high-rated ones that borrow only because they can do it cheaply) tend to be riskier.
From a recent Moody’s report, we see that 37% of U.S. non-financial corporate debt is below investment grade. That’s about $2.4 trillion.’’
See Further: John Mauldin, June 2018 – Yet Another Debt Crisis is Brewing