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Against the Stream

A review of The Great Delusion – Liberal Dreams and International Realities by John Jay Mearsheimer

John Jay Mearsheimer speaking at the launch of his new book.

From such a crooked wood as man is made no carpenter will ever fashion anything completely straight.” Immanuel Kant

Part One

So, when did the Trente Glorieuses (1945-1975) end, and the great counter-reformation begin exactly? Some would argue when Nixon took the dollar off of the gold standard in 1971, or perhaps with the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, or again possibly during the late 70s early 80s when the Anglo-American duo, Regan and Thatcher, rewrote the political playbook. It seems probable that the inflexion point was reached when the interaction of these variables attained critical mass; but this exact moment cannot be known. What is known, however, is that an historical shift – probably irreversible – took place involving the demise of the social-democratic, welfare-capitalist, model in western Europe and New Dealism in the US.

Moreover, it seems unlikely that, in the short to medium term at least, we will see its like again. For such a reconstitution would require not simply a break with the globalist project of neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism, but additionally entail a determined opposition to the relentless hostility of the Anglo-American political and business elites, this combined with active resistance against the fashionable identity politics of contemporary fake-left, evident in the rightward shift of the US Democrats, the German SPD and, worst of all the German Greens, the archetypal fake-left outfit.

The new post-modern, liberal orthodoxy has seemingly been imbibed by other European social-democratic parties which have fallen in line with the new political zeitgeist, with the possible – and I would emphasise, possible – exception of the British Labour party.

Suffice it to say that the new order which has so far carried all before it has consolidated itself as a new enlightenment with its own priesthood ensconced in the media. This is quite normal in revolutions, when the turbulent, dynamic period ebbs and the stabilization process begins. In Max Weber’s terms there takes place a ‘routinization of charisma’ when legal-rational authority supplants charismatic authority, as it has to. Thus, Talleyrand displaces Danton, Stalin displaces Trotsky, Chou En Lai, a party moderate, comes to power on a par with Mao Tse Tung. Globalisation, neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism have now in their mature phase become the established church, the unchallengeable articles of faith, the defining features of a new order which must never be questioned.

We see (globalisation) its effect everywhere in social, economic and political life … journalists and politicians insist that it is a mighty beast which savages all who fail to respect its needs. They assure us that its gaze ‘blank and pitiless as the sun’ (W.B.Yeats) has turned upon the (ex)Soviet bloc, the European social-democratic model, the East Asian development model, bringing them all to their knees. For these pundits, globalization is the bearer of a new planetary civilization, a single market-place, a risk society, a world beyond the security of states, an unstoppable, quasi-natural force of global transformation.[1]

A specific geopolitical feature of the new order which had been incubating during the first cold war and was to emerge from its embryonic state as the doctrine of neo-conservatism, a geopolitical dogma which became known as the ‘Wolfowitz doctrine’ after its chief architect. It had been the brain-child of Under Secretary of Defence Paul Wolfowitz who together with co-author and deputy, Scooter Libby were responsible for an initial draft in February 1992. In published form the Wolfowitz doctrine became the ‘Defence Planning Guidance for 1994-1999 fiscal years’ and was made available in the public realm at this later date.

However, the initial draft had been handed to the New York Times prior to this, presumably by persons unknown. This unexpurgated, neo-conservative policy doctrine contained the main premises of a militant foreign policy worldview. The document ran as follows:

Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere, that poses a threat on the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union. This is a dominant consideration underlying the new regional defense strategy and requires that we endeavour to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to generate global power.”

Unlike today, sentiments such as these caused something of a stir in political and diplomatic circles. Even an establishment politician in the shape of Edward Kennedy described the document as “a call for 21st century American imperialism that no other nation can or should accept.” How times change!

Thus, neo-conservatism irrupted into the political arena claiming poll position. The rest of what was an extremely ideological baggage train followed in due course. This involved:

  • US Primacy
  • Unilateralism
  • Preventive Intervention
  • Russian Threat
  • Further refinements included R2P Responsibility to Protect (for which read bombing defenceless states)

And so on and so forth. It is interesting to note that a few years later the same US, Zionist gaggle which dominated the neo-con movement was to a great extent involved in the production of the Israeli-Zionist text A clean break – A New Strategy for Securing the Realm.

The new policy that was prepared in 1996 by a study group led by Richard Perle for Benjamin Netanyahu, the then Prime Minister of Israel.[2] Which in plain English should be read as “It’s open season on Palestinians.”

The ongoing imbroglio in the Middle East has had its roots in neo-conservative foreign policy, as did events in Europe with the expansion of NATO and the colour revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia. These events have received a critical examination and evaluation in the work of John J Mearsheimer – a self-designated foreign policy ‘realist’ – and Stephen M Walt in their voluminous rebuttal and critique of the Zionist cause in The Israel Lobby first published in 2006. This is not the place to examine this particular work, but it was perhaps the first indication that the neo-con project had begun to run into traffic as the Americans are wont to say. All of which brings me to an examination of Mearsheimer’s latest work The Great Delusion.

At the outset Mearsheimer delineates the purpose and structure of his book.

Liberal hegemony is an ambitious strategy in which a state aims to turn as many countries as possible into liberal democracies like itself while also promoting an open international economy and building international institutions. In essence the liberal state seeks to spread its own values far and wide. My goal in this book is to describe what happens when a powerful state pursues this strategy at the expense of balance-of power politics.[3)

Fair enough. But it should be noted that Mearsheimer is using terms such as ‘liberal democracies’, and ‘open international economy’ in a somewhat cavalier fashion tacitly assuming that these descriptions are non-contestable but let that pass for now.

The main points of liberal hegemonic theory and practise as charted in the book are firstly: the belief in the absolute virtue of liberal democracy; among the faithful, this view is regarded as axiomatic and known a priori through its various manifestations and practises which are inherently ‘good’. It follows that spreading liberal democracy around the world – if necessary, by force – is a wise and humanitarian policy.

Secondly: it is further argued that since liberal democracies do not go to war, the liberal democratisation of the world would result in peace and an open trading system (this is where neo-liberalism comes in) whose upshot would be prosperity for all.

Even if these beliefs and policies were true and effective, which they aren’t, in Mearsheimer’s view the policy of liberal hegemony still wouldn’t deliver the goods; indeed, they were not only incapable of producing the outcomes proclaimed, but often the policies had quite opposite and deleterious effects.

Part Two

At least half of the first part of the book is taken up with political and sociological theories of human nature and domestic and transnational political systems. Domestic liberalism, an internal liberal-democratic order, is given pride of place by Mearsheimer, though not without reservations. He refers to two types of liberalism: liberalism which traces its origins to political theorists, John Locke, Thomas Hobbes and the economic liberalism of Adam Smith.

Emanating from these theorists was the view that in the ‘state-of-nature’ the individual finds himself/herself an individual marooned in an anarchic, threatening environment without laws or social order. This accent on ‘individualism’ was a view shared by both Hobbes (who, although he was not a liberal theorist articulated some of the seminal ideas underpinning liberalism) and Locke; but this was not altogether surprising since both men lived during the long period of the English Civil War 1642-1651 involving the conflict between the King and Parliament which saw widespread anarchy and lawlessness throughout the land.

Following the train of liberal logic, a return to a peaceful environment would necessarily involve a voluntary sacrifice of the absolute equality and liberty ‘enjoyed’ by societies’ inhabitants. Therefore, a sovereign power was needed – a Leviathan, in Hobbes’ words – to impose law and order. This intervention was and still is a sore point with libertarians like Ron Paul and Peter Schiff in our own time, ideologues who Mearsheimer terms modus vivendi liberals. These gentlemen argue in favour of a minimisation of public intervention into the lives of the citizens. Guarantees of freedom of speech, of assembly, freedom of the press, the right to hold property are intrinsic to their political credo.

However, liberalism was not a static theory and its transmutations developed pari passu with historical trends. As an overarching theory of liberalism Mearsheimer uses the term political liberalism – a theoretical perspective which comes in two varieties, modus vivendi liberalism, already mentioned, and a more updated version, progressive liberalism. There would be no argument initially from the progressive liberals, on the values as espoused by their modus vivendi forebears. But unlike their purist antecedents the progressives are favourably disposed to government intervention, including legal statutes enshrining policies on equal opportunity, freedom from discrimination on racial, gender, and affirmative action. The British historian Isiah Berlin described these freedoms as being negative or positive, freedom ‘from’ or freedom ’to’ – public authority as enabler or as disabler.

However, the bottom line for both types of liberalism is a deep commitment to individual freedom and autonomy which means collectivist and communalist theories tend to get short shrift. In passing perhaps this is possibly why the US has the highest prison population in the world, the lowest rate of social-mobility, and a Gini Coefficient which puts them on level pegging with developing countries (including China). Is this really liberal-democracy or a de facto oligarchy? It is a debatable issue.

The above political theories are premised upon and presuppose a particular view of human nature in a social context. Here Mearsheimer outlines his own preferences thus parting company with the liberals by emphasising the collectivist nature of social being and its nationalist and realist manifestations (particularly when applied to foreign policy). It seems self-evident that the state-of-nature never existed; there would not be any individual of any description since individuals are social products and individual freedom is a function of social conditioning. Man is a social animal a zoon politikon (Aristotle). Without society any human being would wither and die.

Law and morality represent the totality of bonds that bind us to one another and to society, which shapes the mass of individuals into a cohesive aggregate. We may say that what is moral is everything that is a source of solidarity, everything that forces man to take account of other people, to regulate his actions by something other than the promptings of his egoism, and the more numerous ties are, the more solid is the morality … Man is only a moral being because he lives in society, since morality consists in solidarity with the group and varies according to that solidarity. Cause all social life to vanish, and moral life would vanish at the same time having no object to cling to.” [4]

What is therefore the most dysfunctional aspect of liberalism is the centrifugal social forces unleashed by unfettered individualism, the emphasis on rights to the neglect of duties which in certain respects gives rise to decadence, corruption and social disintegration. All of which was grist to Mearsheimer’s mill. He takes the position that nationalism is the most powerful force in the modern world and liberal hegemony – i.e., the foreign policy and export of liberal democracy – is bound to lose any fight with the more deeply rooted nationalist impulses which are pretty well universal. It was George Orwell who realised this from an early stage.

One cannot see the modern world as it actually is unless one recognises the overwhelming strength of patriotism, national loyalty. In certain circumstances it can break down, at certain levels of civilization it does not exist, but as a positive force there is nothing to set beside it. Hitler and Mussolini (not to mention Franco) rose to power in their own countries very largely because they could grasp this fact and their opponents could not.”[5]

Interestingly Orwell uses the term ‘patriotism’ rather than ‘nationalism’ presumably ‘nationalism’ carried some unpalatable political baggage courtesy of Messer’s Franco, Hitler and La Duce.

Talking of nationalism, as a belief-system it can take on various political hues, reactionary, as is the case with fascism, or a radical nation-building project possibly including an armed struggle against an occupying power, as was been the case in Algeria or Indo-China, both former colonies of France. Significantly enough both movements were called National-Liberation-Front.

Sovereignty is at the core of nationalism. Free sovereign nations around the world are self-governing and organized socially, economically and politically. Occupied nations – members of NATO – sometimes referred to as allies, are not sovereign and therefore also not democratic (liberal or otherwise).

Nationalism is a powerful social integrator engendering a group loyalty perhaps as powerful as a family. Other loyalties are generally subsumed under the umbrella of nationalism and form part of an individual’s cultural identity. It would be true to say that nations do not always have states (Palestinians and Kurds) and states do not always have nations.

In the pre-industrial age states as we now know them, did not exist. Instead there were small principalities who ruled by local potentates and warlords. After the Romans left England the system broke down and the land was vulnerable to Viking and Danish raids, and eventually into the warring principalities of Wessex, Mercia and Northumbria. One of the most typical examples of this internecine conflict was the ‘War of the Roses’ 1455-1485 fought between the houses of York and Lancaster.

The Tudor dynasty came to power when Henry Tudor was crowned King of England on the battlefield at Bosworth after his army defeated and killed the Yorkist leader Richard III. The beginnings of the British state which starts with Henry VIII and the setting up of the Royal Mail, the building of a deep-water large fleet, the promotion of the protestant religion, the treaty with Scotland, were all parts of the incipient centralisation of power which led ultimately to the creation of the modern United Kingdom. The same was to happen in Germany and Italy at a later stage.

Accordingly, states need a nation to function as an economic/political unit as Mearsheimer explains:

In the industrial age states which want to compete economically have no choice but to create a common culture … industry requires workers who are literate and who can communicate with each other through a common language. This means universal education … in other words demand a high degree of cultural homogeneity; they require a nation. The state plays the leading role in fostering that shared culture where it plays a central role in determining what is taught in the classroom.” [6)

It might also be worth mentioning that the state also plays a crucial role in the provision of public goods (through taxation) including infrastructure, legal system, armed forces and police, public health, and publicly funded research. The state and the economy are not antipodes, they are twins. In times of war the state could also mobilise the whole economy in addition to hundreds of thousands, if not millions of conscripts who were willing to die for their country, whereas paid mercenaries might run away. In the words of Machiavelli:

The fact is, mercenaries have no other inducement or reason for keeping on the battlefield other than the small stipend you pay them. This is not sufficient to make them willing to die for you. They are ready enough to be your soldiers while you do not make war, but if war comes, they either disperse or desert…” [7]

Liberalism with its emphasis in individualism, simply does not and cannot produce sufficient social solidarity, a sense of shared common values or an awareness of community which are the absolute pre-requisites which give rise to the integration of societies and the formation of nation states as we now know them. In liberal ideology society is seen as secondary to the individual, but this failure to make individuals part of vibrant collective weakens the individuals’ attachment to the social organism. This is important to people psychologically as well as for keeping society intact. In the liberal regimen everyone is enjoined to pursue his/her own self-interest as narrowly defined. And from this atomistic melting pot is based the assumption is that the sum of all individualistic behaviour will maximise the common good.

Part Three

The existence of nation-states and the propensity to conflict has been a feature of geopolitics since at least middle-ages, but really got into gear in the 20th century. Periods of peace where interrupted by wars and ultimately by world wars. US foreign policy took a decisive militaristic turn in the late 20th century. This was undoubtedly due to its unipolar position circa 1991, and the prevalence of the newly established ideological paradigm – liberal hegemony – a policy in which a domestic liberalism was applied to foreign policy issues.

Prior to this ‘post-modern’ foreign policy model – a model which had been almost universally adhered to, apart from rogue states such as Germany and Italy, was the Westphalian system. The Treaty of Westphalia (1648) brought about an end to the Wars of the Reformation which had been the scourge of Europe in the middle ages. The doctrine invested sovereign states with legitimate power within the international system which granted each state the right to total (negative) treatment to do as it desired, provided only that it does not infringe on the freedom of others to do likewise. It follows that a world political order in which each states sovereignty is respected is basically a just order. It goes without saying that Mearsheimer is a keen advocate of this ‘realist’ doctrine.

However, this paradigm is now regarded by the foreign policy establishment in Washington, London and Tel Aviv (or should I say Jerusalem) as being hopelessly passé. Although the imperial actors officially adhere to its provisions, these are often disregarded. This is particularly the case with the Anglo-Zionist empire who continually oscillate between the Westphalian position when it suits, and the liberal hegemonic position when it doesn’t. We should not expect consistency in liberal-hegemonic circles.

The export of liberal hegemony is regarded by Mearsheimer as naïve in theory and calamitous in practice. He writes:

The importance individualism accords to human rights inexorably leads to a belief that the best way to guard those rights is for every country to be a liberal democracy … We should therefore expect a liberal state to pursue a foreign policy that emphasises advancing liberal democracy … The task will obviously involve regime change, sometimes by military force, as well as some heavy-duty social-engineering to transform the target state. When you consider that aim is to spread liberalism around the world, it becomes clear that a liberal foreign policy is extremely ambitious and highly interventionist…” [8]

Mearsheimer notes that regime change and forced liberalisation of a foreign nation state is no easy matter. Please note this is not a moral judgment but a pragmatic one, this in keeping with his realist position. Firstly, such expansive and over-ambitious policies can only take place when the would-be hegemon is the only player in town, i.e., in a unipolar world. If there is more than one powerful state this is likely to form a strong counter-balance to the more aggressive state. Such was the case during the first cold war where the US had its sphere of influence in the Western Hemisphere and Western Europe and the Soviet Union had its sphere of influence in Eastern Europe.

Paradoxically, the fact that the US has up until quite recently been the sole super-power has been a strategic disadvantage rather than an advantage. It is a fact of life that nationalism, and nations of whatever internal structure, have an over-riding commitment to self-determination and will fight tooth-and-nail against foreign invasion and occupation. This is the reason that US foreign policy adventurism has been such an abject failure in both realist and nationalist terms.

It gets worse. The growth and power of the military-industrial-security complex has been the unintended (we assume?) upshot of this foreign policy adventurism. Like all bureaucracies the MICS has a will to expansion and survival often moving well beyond its original goals – a phenomenon known as ‘goal displacement’ – with a constant search and justification for its continued existence. War is the usual rationalization for this excrescence of the US polity and economy and is not peculiar to the United States.

Joseph Schumpeter contended that in ancient Egypt ‘a class of professional soldiers formed during the war against the Hyksos (the Fifteenth Dynasty of Asiatic rulers of northern Egypt) persisted, even when those wars were over along with its warlike interests and instincts. He averred that “created by the wars that required it, the machine now created the wars that it required.”

The founding fathers of the United States were well aware of this problem also, and we well know, had a pronounced fear of and antipathy toward standing armies — large, permanent, professional military establishments — because of the dual temptations for domestic oppression and international adventurism by those in power, the drain on public resources, and, not least, the not-infrequent aberrant behaviour of those in uniform. This fear led them to invest Congress with specific power to determine the size and composition of the armed services, make rules to govern those forces, mobilize and oversee the federal use of the militia, control the size and distribution of the military’s budget, and, most importantly, declare war.

Such statements would not go down at all well with the US media complex who are little more than PR outlets for the increasingly illiberal institutions noted above. Mearsheimer notes in this respect:

…Liberal hegemony involves significant costs for the American people, in both lives and money. The ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are expected to cost more than $5 trillion. Surely if we were intent on adding that much to America’s huge national debt – sovereign and private – the money might have been better spent on inter alia, education, public health, transportation infrastructure, and scientific research… Perhaps the greatest cost of liberal hegemony, however, is something else: the damage it does to the American political and social fabric. Individual rights and the rule of law will not fare well in a country addicted to fighting wars.”

Tragically, however, the US is not only addicted to fighting wars, it is also addicted to fighting wars in perpetuity as part of its global crusade to ‘make the world safe of democracy’. Moreover, these are not just wars against weak secondary nations, but wars planned against other powerful states – states which possess the military, technical and economic power to fight back. Taken at face-value this is a crackpot policy premised on a crackpot ideology, liberal utopianism.

Such hare-brained ideologies have been an historical leitmotif which surfaced during the Enlightenment and continue to the present day. Mearsheimer would argue – unquestionably correctly – that liberal hegemony is not consistent with US’s vital interests and should not be taken up to this military level unless it is absolutely imperative to do so.

This was also the view of George Kennan who in 1996 had cautioned the American foreign policy establishment that expansion of NATO into those areas “was a strategic blunder of potentially epic proportions.” Kennan warned against a foreign policy that was “utopian in its expectation, legalistic in its concept … moralistic … and self-righteous.”

So, Kennan’s view was pretty much aligned with those of Mearsheimer. However, the realists are not in the driving seat and the neo-cons and liberal hegemonists are. Therein lies the problem. Like all crackpots they cannot be reformed, they are not amenable to reason, and the believe they have been given a divine mandate to do good (their version of course) in the world.

But of course the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

But this is an internal struggle within the US foreign policy elites. It is simply that the pragmatic realism of Mearsheimer and company is at least sane, whereas the frenzied posture of their neo-conservative opponents is not, or at least appearing not. It would be foolish not to expect a realist belief in ‘America First’ even if that means the end of its imperial ambitions. With the neo-cons it seems apparent that such imperial ambitions should be boundless and that they are ready to sacrifice American national interests to that end.

It would be a mistake, however, to imagine that the realists believe in peace harmony and everyone being nice to each other. In the pursuit of US national interests Mearsheimer and the rest of the realist fraternity would be just as ruthless as the neo-cons, but minus the ideological baggage carried by the latter. Thus, if the realists believed they could fight and win a war against Russia, with minimal costs they probably would do so. However, they are savvy enough to appreciate Russia’s military capability and conclude that a war against Russia is decidedly not in America’s national interests. And besides with the rise of China this poses the question of a war on two fronts. Suffice it to say that wars fought on two fronts usually result in defeat.

According to Mearsheimer:

Realists believe that institutions are important instruments of statecraft. The US for example relied heavily on NATO the EU, IMF, World Bank and other institutions waging the cold war … Realists actively supported globalization during the Cold War which certainly worked to America’s advantage. The nub of the disputes between liberals and realists regarding institutions and economic inter-dependence has to do whether they promote world peace. Liberals believe that they ameliorate conflict, realists do not.

Mearsheimer has also gone on record his view that that a war between China and the US is inevitable in the not too distant future; indeed, its contours are already discernible at present with naval games in the South and East China seas being conducted by the US Navy.

Conclusions

At first sight developments in the international situation look to be a precursor to a ‘hot’ war between NATO and Russia. All the pieces are falling into place and a NATO semi-mobilization is taking place along a front ranging from the Baltic to the Black Sea and now the Sea of Azov. This is accompanied by NATO provocations which are becoming increasingly threatening.

A war in Europe against Russia waged by the US and its wretched Petainist European vassals begins to look like a genuine possibility. The situation is reminiscent of 1941 or even 1920 when the allied intervention powers and their White Guard allies sought to defeat the Bolshevik regime. But the notion of a possible ‘hot’ war – unless it happens by accident – is, I believe, contestable. Do the neo-cons actually believe what they are saying, or is the whole thing simply a bluff? If it is a bluff, it wouldn’t be the first time that the Americans have tried it. On 10 October 1969, 18 B-52 bombers took off from Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, each loaded with nuclear weapons. Although the bombers were headed toward Moscow, the goal was to influence outcomes around Hanoi.

he bombers’ mission was to proceed directly to the Soviet Union in order to convince the Soviets that America at the hands of President Nixon was willing to resort to nuclear war to win in Vietnam. A critical component of Nixon’s foreign policy was to make the leaders of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc think he was insane —genuinely insane — and he wanted the Communist leaders of the world to believe that he was ready to start World War III to prevent communist expansion. He was quoted as saying “I want the North Vietnamese to believe I’ve reached the point where I might do anything to stop the war,” Nixon told his Chief of Staff. “We’ll just slip the word to them that, ‘for God’s sake, you know Nixon is obsessed about communism.”

Forward to the present day. The possession of a whole new range of Russian hypersonic weapons, mobile ICBM’s submarines armed with nuclear torpedoes, Electric Magnetic Pulse Weapons, as well as the dead hand system of Perimeter defence, must be well-known to the war party in Washington, and the question is – do they really believe that they can ‘win’ a nuclear exchange? I am personally not convinced. Neo-cons incinerate just like anyone else.

Secondly there is a tendency throughout the book to take the US estimation of itself at face value.

The United States is a deeply liberal country that emerged from the first cold war as by far the most powerful state in the international system. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 left it in an ideal position left it in an ideal position to pursue liberal-hegemony.”[10]

Deeply liberal country? Really? You might find some disagreement with this internal liberal-democratic order, particularly from (what’s left of) the indigenous inhabitants, not to mention newly arrived slaves as well as the structural racism and the actually existing oligarchic social/political/economic structure. The bald fact is that US has been an unashamed imperialist juggernaut both internally and externally and has been engaged in various wars for 222 years out of 239, i.e., 93% of its existence.

Its record of interventions and wars against independent sovereign states which did not threaten US soil has involved mass exterminations – this is simply a matter of record. This is the country whose ex-Secretary of State, Madeline Albright spilled the beans during a Television interview who was asked if the death of 500,000 Iraqi children due to US sanctions was worth it, replied, ‘Yes, it was worth it.’

This is the reputed ‘liberal-democratic ‘country which in fact in its own backyard uses tactics which would shame the mafia. The US regime-change strategy does not take into account whether or not a government is democratically elected or the human rights consequences of such interventions, nor does it much care. In fact, virtually all of the Latin American governments that the United States has successfully overthrown over the past 65 years were democratically elected.

Among the democratically-elected leaders that have been ousted were Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala (1954), Salvador Allende in Chile (1973), Jean Bertrand Aristide in Haiti (2004) and Manuel Zelaya in Honduras (2009). Washington targeted all these leaders with economic sanctions and destabilization campaigns that created the economic chaos and humanitarian crises required to justify a military solution.

So much for the shining city on the hill.

In this sense its hostility to Russia and China is in keeping with its record of wars, conflict and genocide, both internal and external.

These facts are incontrovertible and not worth the time for any further discussion.

On the whole Mearsheimer’s book is very timely, challenging, well informed and well-worth a read.

NOTES

  • [1] – The Global Gamble – Peter Gowan (p3)
  • [2] – The report explained a new approach to solving Israel’s “security” problems in the Middle East with an emphasis on “Western values.” It has since been criticized for advocating an aggressive new policy including the removal of Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and the containment of Syria by engaging in proxy warfare and highlighting its possession of “weapons of mass destruction”.
  • [3] – Op.cit. (p1)
  • [4] – The Division of Labour in Society – Emile Durkheim (p331)
  • [5] – The Lion and the Unicorn – George Orwell – 1941
  • [6] – Mearsheimer Ibid. (pp99-100)
  • [7] – The Prince – Niccolò Machiavelli
  • [8] – Ibid. Mearsheimer (p123)
  • [9] – Ibid. Mearsheimer (pp142-143)
  • [10] – Ibid. Mearsheimer (p4)

26 Comments

  1. James Connolly says

    A good read. Despite all the disasters in the middle east and all the promises that “lessons will be learned”, berserker liberal fundamentalism remains at least as powerful a force as it was at the height of the Blair-Bush years. Witness the lionization across all MSM of unrepentant war criminals like McCain and Bushs I and Ii and the steady escalation in demonization of any country that doesn’t bend the knee to the Hegemon. Left-liberal media that had been most vocal in insisting that lessons be learned (such as Guardian, C4 News) are now among the most strident of the liberal-fundamentalist chicken hawks, permanently agitating against Russia, China, Venezuela, etc. Very dispiriting and unsettling times.

    10
    • You are so right about Ch4 news, the lengths they went to over Syria were astonishing. No other news purveyor in this country, as far as I’m aware, gave voice to Syrian “activists” and “film makers” like Ch4 did interviewing pretty obvious spokesmen for Islamist terrorist groups and taking what they said as gospel. In my opinion Ch4 is the face of the Liberal hegemony.

  2. “Sovereignty is at the core of nationalism. Free sovereign nations around the world are self-governing and organized socially, economically and politically. Occupied nations – members of NATO – sometimes referred to as allies, are not sovereign and therefore also not democratic (liberal or otherwise).

    Nationalism is a powerful social integrator engendering a group loyalty perhaps as powerful as a family. Other loyalties are generally subsumed under the umbrella of nationalism and form part of an individual’s cultural identity.”

    This too is very Kantian; see his essay on Perpetual Peace. It goes back to Kant’s attempt to reframe Christian morality in terms of The Enlightenment: “Treat people as ends in themselves, not as means. Which goes back to Rabbi Yeshua’s childhood instruction in Jewish Religious Law “Love thy neighbour as thyself”.

  3. BigB says

    Concerning individuation: I started to frame the politico-philosophical meta-debate yesterday.

    [Even the politico-philosophic debate is subset of an overarching ‘model crisis’ debate that could precede a Kuhnian ‘scientific revolution’ (‘paradigm shift’ from dualism to holism) …but I won’t digress.]

    As I see it: the progressive liberal/libertarian ‘democratic’ theory of individuation has ideologically occupied the centre. It presents itself as an “end of history TINA” (there-is-no-alternative) and occupies the historical moral high ground. In its own fixated ego-portrayal, at least. It can do no wrong, and will bring maximal benefit globally …to all: bomb by bomb …depleted uranium round by (DU) round…

    One of it’s main ideological defences is a ‘double slippery slope’ fallacy. Picture two wedges, back-to-back, with the centre elevated. This centre is an elevated uber-individuation theory (a libertarian-Enlightenment hybrid). Left and right are slippery slopes leading to the ‘left collectivisation’ and the ‘right collectivisation’ of identity (I’ve taken these definitions from Stephen Hicks, one of the ideologues who is framing the ‘academic debate’). Obviously, the historical precedents are the failure of Marxism-Communism (on the left); and Fascism-Nazism (on the right). Anything that radicalises or challenges the ‘liberal’ establishment status quo is on a slippery slope to the Gulag or gas chamber …according to Hicks, Peterson, Pinker, Scruton, etc.

    It is a de-legitimation polemic and anti-debate that is spreading virally, forum by forum. Yet it barely conceals the vicious (inverse: built from the top down) totalitarianism of the centre itself: just as the article contends. Another way of representation of the disintegration of any meaningful debate is: totalitarianism to the left, totalitarianism to the right …you better stick with the totalitarianism you know best …welcome to the vicious centre.

    [Other defence strategies include: “it’s just the way it is”; it’s genetically determined; scientifically determined; mathematically determined; philosophically determined; psychologically determined; ‘natural’ …in a socio-Darwinian sense; etc]

    Everywhere we might turn – in terms of the anti-debate – is a despot, advocating a collectivisation of identity, and a ‘slippery slope’ to totalitarianism. Of course, this is an overview. There are oases, such as Off-G, where you can express a radical opinion …but that is an exception that epitomises the wider death of discourse (the social media silencing is another aspect of controlling the ideation of alternatives) …wittingly or unwittingly, in defence of the liberal democratic hegemony of individuation. Soon, it will be the only topic you can agree with.

    To reframe the debate, perhaps we should redefine ‘individuation’? Along with ‘democracy’; it is actually a contestable term. As it stands: individuation is a metaphor for the self-maximising self-maximiser homo economicus …the mathematical model of man deified in Neo-Classical dogmatics (at the pseudo-economic heart of neoliberalism). This is the uber-individuation principle. Or Ubermensch-individuation transcendent ego, perhaps? (That’s a slippery slope definition, BTW)

    In psychology, particularly Jungian: individuation is an antithetical process …whereby one diminishes the ego-self – from a fixed, permanent, independent entity – to a minimum (non-self) awareness process (a process of interconnectedness). Aristotle referred to the principium individuationis. To differentiate, perhaps there should be a principium individuationis maxima and a principium individuationis minima (or PImax and PImin)? Or principium individuationis and principium sapientiae (PI and PS) – the ‘wisdom principle’ (in honour of the ancient wisdom traditions)?

    These are merely suggestive: but words, concepts, and frames of reference matter. Right now, they are being dictated by the vicious centre …but no one believes their definition of ‘democracy’ and ‘justice’ any more. Why should they define what ‘individuation’, and by inference, what it means to be an individualised person. I am a person, and what the liberal democrats tell me I am, I am not. I stand for the antithesis of their values – real justice, real democracy, real peace – and not just their snowflake redefining. We are in a psychological war of words and definitions that will shape the future. The majority do not even know that there is a conceptual battle to redefine the mind: the outcome of which affects the wars and atrocities liberal democracy perpetrates in our name…

    …time to claim back the middle ground of language to truly speak of what it means to be human? Before we slip too far on the slippery slopes?

  4. mark says

    All the pretensions to the “liberal order”, R2P etc are just so much guff to provide a fig leaf of respectability for western imperialism and western aggression, which are no less rapacious and inhuman now than they have been at any time over the past 500 years. Maybe they impress the simple minded, but that’s about it. Mearsheimer and Co. appeal to rationality against insane neoliberal ideology, but they buy into a lot of the same ideological garbage. “Maybe Bombing Brown People IS good for them, but it’s a bit expensive and tends to produce rather a lot of chaos and mayhem, so let’s not do so much of it. Let’s just have comic opera invasions of tiny little countries like Grenada and Panama instead, which don’t cost very much and leave us feeling good about ourselves.”

  5. Eh, dear “five eyes” – what is going to defeat you is IMMIGRATION. Do you have any idea how many tens of millions of nationalists you have imported so far? Make no mistake, these are not American nationalists even if they live in America and wave your silly flag. When s*** hits the fan they will all remember very well who they are and where they came from. Are you going to nuke your own cities? Circle is closing and the best you can do is bite your own tail.

  6. Liberal hegemony and the fake left spin-off have turned things inside out. Great to read an article that makes some sense of it as it’s much needed, many don’t see the illiberal in liberal.

  7. Narrative says

    The Wolfowitz doctrine:
    “we endeavour to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to generate global power”

    This is precisely what China is facing right now. It is far more than a trade war. The US is no longer keeping their global dominion ambitions secret.

    In fact, many of those US allies are already colonised politically and economically.

  8. This is an excellent review; Frank Lee?

    From the banner by Kant to the opening sentence Trente Glorieuse it echoes some of my favourite political themes; and goes on to a serious consideration of a serious book. Well done! and the discussion starts well too.

  9. Gezzah Potts says

    Am gobsmacked after reading this brilliant article, even tho a lot of the information contained in it, I already knew. I grew up in New Zealand when it was still a Keynesian welfare state, basically cradle to grave welfare for all citizens, and a vastly more caring, community minded, collective focus; looking out for each other, and those less fortunate. Thats gone forever, as in all Western countries. New Zealand had one of the most equal societies in the World too now one of the most unequal in OECD countries. The genie can’t be put back in the bottle. Pinochets Chile was the test tube for Neoliberalism, followed by Reagan and Thatcher. I am old enough to experience both World’s, and strongly sense the social disintegration; the atomisation, the alienation, the individualisation of ‘Society’. All those under 35 have been bombarded with Neoliberal propaganda, and now with the poisonous crap of Identity Politics, combined with mass consumerism, its truly insidious. Its also almost bizarre that you never here the term ‘Working Class’ anymore. Why? Are we all ‘middle class’ now, even the many homeless and unemployed in Western countries, including all those under the poverty line? Another person here used the term ‘Pyschic Wasteland’ the other day, and I replied that was the logical outcome of Neoliberalism. This is what we see all round us now.

    • RealPeter says

      I also grew up in welfare-state New Zealand and can mostly confirm Gezzah Potts’s analysis. Despite coming from a working-class family (living in a state house), I had a very good education, for example. I was very sorry to witness (from the other side of the world) this social model progressively abandoned under the ‘Labour’ governments of the 1980s and 1990s, when New Zealanders were apparently hoodwinked by Reagan-Thatcher-style economic theories, locally called Rogernomics after the then Finance Minister.

      On the upside, there has been a definite improvement in the interactions of Maori and pakeha (European New Zealanders), particularly with the efforts to restore Maori land rights resulting from the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi and the recognition of te reo (Maori) as an official language, even if much remains to be done in both areas. When I was growing up, I hardly knew any Maori people and there were hardly any Maori children in the schools I went to, despite the fact that I lived in provincial areas with relatively large Maori populations.

      Once proud of its egalitarian society and pristine landscapes, New Zealand now suffers from growing economic and social inequality and continuing environmental degradation – particularly of its waterways – due to destructive agricultural, energy-production and mining practices. (This requires some nuancing – the former ‘egalitarianism’ largely excluded the Maori, and environmental destruction by British and Irish settlers had begun in earnest in the 19th century with massive deforestation for farming.)

      Geopolitically, evolution has been slow – once unthinking stalwarts of the white-dominated British Empire, New Zealand is now an equally subservient part of the US ‘Five Eyes’ surveillance programme and regularly sends troops (albeit in token numbers) to US theaters of war such as Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. The only sign of revolt was in the 1980s, when the country refused entry to its ports by US nuclear-powered or -armed warships. As far as I know, US bullying (suspension of provisions of the ANZUS treaty) has not led NZ to reverse its anti-nuclear policy.

      • RealPeter says

        I forgot to mention in my previous post that NZ’s Labour government of PM Jacinda Adhern did not expel any Russian diplomats over the Skripal affair, with the rather elegant excuse that they had been unable to find any who were spies. NZ also voted, unlike the bootlicking Australians, in the UNGA against the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

      • Gezzah Potts says

        Real Peter: Kia Ora Peter. Yeah, I find it ironic that it was the Lange Govt that started this whole process, and what of the slimebag Roger Douglas now? The last time I was back there, just the amount of people really struggling – I was working in Christchurch, on $10 an hour before tax, 3 or 4 days a week, and getting a rent subsidy to help pay my rent! Now back in Aussie for last 14 years, and find Australia much more subservient to United States, aka The Empire, and things much more americanised… Cultural Imperialism has strongly taken root here, and most Aussies seem totally oblivious to what’s happening in the World, except to regurgitate mainstream media soundbites. Very strong Zionist lobby over here also viz the Embassy move. Most politicians and journalists don’t dare rock the boat regards the relationship with Israel. Have a good week Peter😁

        • RealPeter says

          Thanks, Gezzah. I’m not always proud to be a NZer (the ‘Pure NZ’ advertising campaign was especially mendacious and cringe-worthy), but I was recently able to hold my head up somewhat when a joint letter written by two young NZ women, one of Palestinian origin, the other Jewish, persuaded the singer Lorde to cancel her concert in Tel Aviv.

          On the other hand, the NZ rugby union has consistently refused to apologize for its disgraceful racist collaboration, almost until the bitter end, with the former South African apartheid regime.

    • milosevic says

      I am old enough to experience both World’s, and strongly sense the social disintegration; the atomisation, the alienation, the individualisation of ‘Society’. All those under 35 have been bombarded with Neoliberal propaganda, and now with the poisonous crap of Identity Politics, combined with mass consumerism, its truly insidious.

      Identity Politics IS neoliberalism combined with mass consumerism.

      Whatever you think your identity is or should be, you can buy it at the shopping mall. If anybody gets in the way of maximizing your consumer satisfaction, you can just claim that they’re oppressing you, and call building security to have the obstacle eliminated.

      • Gezzah Potts says

        Milosevic: agree, and also forgot to mention before the role Technology has played in the lobotomising of society also; everyone staring at their smartphones, laptops, playing computer games, in essence zoning out from their surroundings. Everything is a market, everything is for sale; even us…..

  10. bevin says

    It took generations of real struggle to bring the post war welfare state into being. It represented the victory of the poor against the workhouse, a partial recuperation of the losses of the enclosure process, the game laws and centuries of war against the people by those who had taken their property and come to milk their labour.
    The welfare state was built under the eyes of millions of trained soldiers, none of whom had not learned what the essence of captalism was, in the long years between the wars. And under the eyes, too, of millions of armed men in the liberation armies of Asia and the Red Army and millions of ‘natiives’ in the colonies spoiling for…change.
    The ruling classes came to understand the justice of the claims made by workers because not to do so was to invite revolution. At the same time the bases of liberal thought were unaffected: neo-liberalism is but old liberalism, the political economy of capitalism, the elite empowerment of imperialism, in contemporary gear.
    Once the split between communists and others-ranging from Trotskyists breathing revolutionary fire to milquetoast faux reformists ready to pay for an NHS by mobilising the people to fight for America’s Empire- had been managed (Taft Hartley, Greece, Korea) the welfare state’s days were numbered.
    Even as the post war settlement seemed to go from strength to strength- in the fifties and sixties – the real nature of ruling class plans was becoming clear. It was clear in the genocidal punishments meted out to socialist movements in Latin America, for example and Asia. After Greece comes Guatemala and Iran; after Malaya, The Philippines and Vietnam comes Indonesia- a million peasant radicals murdered and a rich archipelago turned over to foreign plunder, again with assistance from local military and other elites (such as Obama’s step father.)
    By the time that Allende is killed and neo-liberalism applied to Chile’s economy the die is cast in western Europe. At the time it seemed clear that the only force that could prevent a return to laissez faire capitalism was the Trade Union movement- a broken reed. You could count the varieties of corruption in society by looking at the various forms found in the Unions, Corruption that is still there as the Unions have become little more than dues collectors specialising in surrendering what little their membership has left.
    The one constant in the history of the period and the triumph of neo-liberalism has been the relationship between the working class and its ‘leaders’: the people have been happy to slip into clientage, relying on others to think and act on their behalf, happy to watch politics while queuing at the slaughterhouse door.
    The truth is that capitalism can barely maintain its tenuous grip. It is utterly discredited among those who use their brains to think. All it can do is barefaced thievery, of the most sordid kind, stealing the milk out of the mouths of babies, ripping off pensions, speculating in public property, ‘levying rents on essential services, cancelling benefits, holding bonfires of regulations, then barbecuing high rises, re-instituting gang labour in the countryside. “Innovation” has come to mean new wrinkles in cheating and conning the punters. And out of these wrinkles come our billionaires.
    All that it has going for it is the apathy of the poor and the corruption of public life, from the media to the judiciary and the academy to the office holders and elected representatives. It must lead into fascism, it has exhausted every other option, it comes back to its origins- stealing land, enslaving labour, working people to death rather than refunding the surpluses they created and lost. It is small consolation that it cannot last- the cannibal feats ends when the planet dies. And the real rats-the professionals in the game in which capitalists are mere dabblers- polish off their bones.
    Of course there is an alternative: democracy, but that involves thinking for ourselves and working together for change.

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    • BigB says

      I could not agree more, with one small proviso …it must be true participatory democracy. It is the very non-participation in elite representative democracy, that leads to the loss of identity and loss of a sense of agency that becomes a breeding ground for nationalist demagoguery and fascism. For me, participatory means removing the whip, negating binary politics (FPTP two-horse race to see who gets to be the ‘pro-business’ representative), and having a bi-cameral representation (elected upper and lower house). Representatives would be representative to the community, not ‘elected for life’ or hereditary. All major institutions would be public, nationalised, and independent …under true democratic administration. The telos of the system would be to maximise the ‘social good’ (not imperial war and maximal TNC profit) …democracy for the people, by the people.

      There is the small matter of a true education system and unbiased media that would be needed to allow this system to flourish. And the will, but we can work on that.

  11. Godfree Roberts says

    Perhaps competition will reawaken our more generous tendencies? Sometime between 2020-2025 every Chinese will have a home, a job, plenty of food, education, safe streets, health and old age care.  On that day there will be more drug addicts, suicides and executions, more homeless, poor, hungry and imprisoned people in America than in China.

    By 2021, 450,000,000 urban Chinese will have more net worth and disposable income than the average American, their mothers and infants will be less likely to die in childbirth, their children will graduate from high school three years ahead of–and outlive–American kids.

    As Kishore Mahbubani, former President, UN Security Council, says, “The key question the West must ask is: how was the relative over-performance of Western societies in the second half of the 20th century replaced by underperformance in the 21st century? The answer will not come from looking at China. It will come from looking in the mirror”.

    10
    • DunGroanin says

      Interesting chat in pub with a returning english educator from China recently. Three very interesting opinions:

      China has no people in poverty. Everyone is educated and has access to health. They move as villages to high rises, preserving their ties and extended family living. The free enterprise spirit allows the rise of the sucessful – it is the actual ‘American Dream’, available to all in China!

      Xi is well liked. He is a scientist, agronomist, who had a hand in increasing agricultural productivity. He ain’t going anywhere soon and is a real ‘genius’.

      Even with all the polluted cities, industry and agriculture, all of that and 2 billion people occupy less than 10 percent of the Chinese land! The rest is still undeveloped and many parts are pristine.

      Compare that with the US or Europe.

      The review excellent as it is fails to consider that the whole liberal, neo liberal/con facade is perhaps a mask that hides the racial fear of the Anglo imperialists half a millenia of imperialist conquests, planting and respecting each others flags- since before the Westphalia treaty. They are looking at a future when they will not be able to play the big white chief card anymore and they just can’t stand it. They may even be dumb enough to go MAD – hey that way the remnants of humanity may be a lot more whiter!
      Yes they really are that crazy.

  12. Fair dinkum says

    And the poisonous icing on the toxic cake is the exponential growth of the ‘l, l, l, me, me, me generation, where self worship and the celebration of greed (especially in the West) has pushed the Earth over the edge.

    • Gezzah Potts says

      Fair Dinkum: spot on. The fecken cancerous dogma of Neoliberalism has truly warped people’s pysche’s, especially those under 35. What hope for the future when they have been completely brainwashed; and the minority of young people who are politically aware, all seem to have been well pickled in Identity Politics, which does Absolutely Nothing to challenge the Status Quo, namely Neoliberalist hegemony that affects all of us. I see such narcissistic hedonism in bucketloads in Melbourne CBD at the weekends, its just fucked, aye. Me Me Me….

  13. grandstand says

    This is an excellent article. Can Off-G have more reviews of this quality? I’ll certainly buy Mearsheimer’s book but by the look of it (admittedly it was a fast read) the reviewer has a better grasp of the situation than he does. Keep it up!

  14. wardropper says

    Just a personal reminiscence on the idea that it can never be known when the actual beginning of the “counter reformation” occurred:
    I am old enough to remember when the UK switched to a new, decimal currency. It was 1971, and we were promised that the value of the old shilling and that of the new 5p coin, which had the same size, would remain identical.
    That was a lie, and a year later, the purchasing power of the new version could be shown to have fallen comparitively by 250% – no small amount, and I distinctly remember noticing it.
    That, for me, was the beginning of the increasingly clear revelation that the people in power were no friends of the public.
    I often wonder what makes people go into politics today. Many of them are not very bright, and many of them are utterly unknown to the public before their new profession gets them onto TV a few times.
    Of course there is the promise of good pay for little work, as well as magnificent pay for those who are prepared to sell their souls, but what concerns me is the scarcity of truly experienced, highly intelligent, and socially conscious individuals who manage to make it to the top in today’s politics.
    I’m still wondering, yet I suspect I really know:
    The answer is that it is the truly experienced and highly intelligent individuals who are NOT socially conscious, who strive night and day to ensure that those who are socially conscious never make it past the starting post.
    After all, it’s what I, too, would do, if I were a ruler for whom power was everything and if I was being advised by Macchiavelli…

    11
    • Maggie says

      Wardropper,
      >>> What concerns me is the scarcity of truly experienced, highly intelligent, and socially conscious individuals who manage to make it to the top in today’s politics.
      Anthony Wedgewood Benn, Michael Foot, John Smith and Jeremy Corbyn?

      I’m still wondering, yet I suspect I really know:
      The answer is that it is the truly experienced and highly intelligent individuals who are NOT socially conscious, who strive night and day to ensure that those who ARE socially conscious never make it past the starting post.
      After all, it’s what I, too, would do, if I were a ruler for whom power was everything and if I was being advised by Macchiavelli…

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