the early 1990s, the fall of the Soviets produced
a surge of triumphalism in the US. After defeating
the fascist challenge in the 1940s, liberal capitalism
had trumped its last adversary, global communism.
This triumphalist mood was caught pithily in Francis
Fukuyama's claim that mankind - of course led
by the West - had reached 'the end of history.'
This quickly produced a global regime change.
Within a few years, the capitalist centers stripped
most countries in the periphery of the autonomy
they had gained in stages, starting in the 1930s.
In this latest wave of integration, the periphery
would not be 'colonized,' but Washington would
define their economic rules. Most countries in
the periphery would now be forced to open their
doors to foreign capital, privatize their economy,
scrap their plans, and dismantle their welfare
systems. In all but name, they began to look like
the Open Door economies of the nineteenth century.
US economic dominance, however, was not enough
for two segments of the American neoconservative
movement, consisting of ultra-nationalists (Cheney,
Rumsfeld and Bolton) and the Ziocons (Wolfowitz,
Feith and Perle), a term coined by James Petras.
They wanted the US to take advantage of the unipolar
moment - opened up by the demise of Soviet Union
- to make its political dominance irreversible.
There were two components to the neocon plan.
First, they began to work on plans to extend US
military superiority to a point where no potential
rival would dare to challenge its hegemony in
any region of the world. In violation of international
laws, the US would enforce its total hegemony
by waging preventive wars against any country
that acted contrary to its economic or political
This military plan would first be tested in the
Middle East. This is what brought the ultra-nationalists
and the Ziocons together. The first wanted to
take complete control of the world's oil spigot
in order to destroy the OPEC and hold Europe,
Japan and China at ransom. The Ziocons wanted
to destroy the few remaining centers of resistance
to Israeli hegemony in the Middle East - Iraq,
Iran and Syria.
But these plans had to be put on hold. President
Bill Clinton was not ready to fully embrace their
plans, even though his war and sanctions against
Iraq prepared the base on which the neocons would
build later on. The neocons were back in the saddle
with the election of George W. Bush in 2000. They
waited for the right time to unleash their wars
in the Middle East. The events of 9-11 arrived
as their Pearl Harbor. The Americans could now
be bamboozled to support their dreams of creating
a global and everlasting American Empire.
For the Periphery, the world looked quite bleak
in the 1990s. Having lost the leverage of Soviet
Union, most regions of the periphery capitulated
to the blackmail of IMF, the World Bank and the
WTO. Those who resisted - or refused to make 'peace'
with Israel - were blacklisted as rogue states.
The communist economies in the former Soviet Union
and Eastern Europe suffered melt down; their living
standards and life expectancy plummeted. The development
regimes in the Third World were dismantled, exposing
them to the ravages of global financial manipulation.
In 1997, even the 'miracle economies' of Southeast
Asia were laid low by Wall Street and the IMF.
In the aftermath of 9-11, matters appeared to
get worse in the periphery. Under the pretense
of waging 'war against global terrorism,' the
neocons launched their plan for establishing global
dominance. Overnight, following the lead established
by Israel, the US defined all resistance to American
hegemony as terrorism. It was now licensed to
carry its preventive wars to all corners of the
globe. It also licensed regional powers and local
despots to expand their violation of human rights
under the cover of the 'war against global terrorism.'
In the weeks after 9 April 2003, when US troops
captured Baghdad, it appeared that the United
States was on a roll. Iran, Syria, North Korea
could count the days to their own quick demise.
Israel was getting ready to complete its ethnic
cleansing of all Palestinians. Pakistan would
be asked to liquidate its nuclear arsenal or prepare
to be bombed back to the stone age. In time, Egypt
and Saudi Arabia would be dismembered into smaller
client states. At some point in this sequence,
the oil resources of the region would be privatized,
sold for a song to US oil corporations. Finally,
with a firm American grip on the Middle Eastern
oil spigot, Europe, Japan and China would take
their humble stations under the shadow of American
In the weeks after launching their war against
Iraq, the neocons began to imagine that the world
was theirs for the taking; the new American century
had begun. Yet how their plans have gone awry.
All because a few thousand damned Iraqis decided
to rob the Americans of the richly-deserved fruits
of their victory.
A sea change has been unfolding since April 2003,
though it is not going in the directions projected
by the neocons. More than three years after the
invasion of Iraq, the Americans are deeply troubled
by the war they are losing in Iraq. While the
9-11 attacks failed to energize the Arab street,
the Americans who entered Iraq were immobilized
in the streets of Baghdad, Falluja, Najaf, Ramadi,
Basra and Kut. This is an earth-shaking event,
all of whose consequences have yet to unfold.
Instead of falling victims to US-sponsored regime
change, the Iranians are now stronger than they
have ever been in their recent history. For the
first time in centuries, their influence extends
deep into Iraq and Afghanistan, where they now
possess the ability to ramp up the costs of the
US occupation. In addition, Iran has positioned
a battery of missiles that can close down shipping
in the Gulf, threaten oil installations in the
Sheikhdoms, and strike inside Israel. Due in part
to its own hubris, the US has dramatically reduced
its options in the Middle East.
In July 2006, Israel made a bid to weaken Iran
and Syria by destroying Hizbullah and starting
a civil war in Lebanon. The gambit failed on both
counts. Hizbullah was hardly scratched. Unlike
three Arab armies in June 1967, Hizbullah responded
by disrupting life in northern Israel, destroyed
more than 40 Israeli tanks, and poking holes in
Israeli intelligence gathering. Most importantly,
by choosing to fight, the few thousand Hizbullah
fighters destroyed Israel's myth of invincibility.
Together, these developments have seriously exposed
the vulnerability of America's Arab client states.
Scared of the consequences of US defeat and the
imminent withdrawal from Iraq, they have been
forced to ally themselves more closely and openly
with Israel ambitions in the region. These client
states do not now possess even a patina of legitimacy.
In desperation, Saudi Arabia is pinning its hopes
on using its oil wealth to incite an Islamic civil
With America forces caught in the Iraqi quagmire,
Latin America is breaking free from US hegemony.
Governments 'unfriendly' to the US have now been
established in Peru, Bolivia and Nicaragua, in
addition to the growing strength of the Bolivarian
revolution in Venezuela. A leftist victory was
missed by a narrow margin in Mexico - or more
likely, stolen. Cuba is demonstrating that it
can survive without Castro.
Admittedly, these changes in the political map
of Latin America consummate trends that began
with the onslaught of neoliberal policies in the
1980s. Moreover, this time the Latin American
resistance is being led or fueled by a resurgent
native population eager to overthrow the colonial-settler
elites imposed on them since the seventeenth century.
Yet, it is doubtful if the United States would
have allowed these changes to occur - or to stand
- if it were not bogged down in Iraq.
Unexpectedly, even Pakistan's servile ruling class
is stealthily taking advantage of US troubles.
More likely, Islamist elements within the army
are ramping up their support for the Taliban resurgence.
Once again, the Pashtuns, who had led the jihad
against the Soviet occupation, are gearing up
for a big fight against the US-led occupation
of their country. As Afghanistan slips out of
control, Americans will find it harder to sustain
their challenge to Soviet and Chinese ambitions
in Central Asia.
The American loss of prestige in Iraq is taking
its toll in Africa too. African rulers are feeling
freer to enter into long-range economic relations
with China. Rapidly, China is increasing its ownership
of a whole range of resources in the African continent,
mostly at the cost of positions the US and Europe
had built up over centuries. The Chinese have
the advantage - at least now - of offering economic
investments without any political strings. With
the attention of the US establishment riveted
on Iraqi, Africa is slowly slipping out of America's
grasp and moving into the Chinese sphere of influence.
It is doubtful if the US would have rushed into
its risky military adventure in the Middle East
without the support of Ziocons. Empires in decline
are tempted to shore up their standing with military
adventurism. With their superb salesmanship, the
Ziocons sold the Iraq war to the US administration
and the American public as a cake walk, a historic
tipping point, and America's calling in the Middle
East. At least for now, Israel is happy to see
Iraq disintegrate into chaos, a goal that it has
long cherished for the entire Middle East. However,
as US losses accumulate this could easily backfire.
Even if the war's human toll does not force an
early withdrawal of American troops, it is unlikely
that the Iraqi war can be sustained for long.
The rising economic costs of the war - together
with ascendancy of the Asian agents, escalating
oil price, rising trade deficits, and sliding
dollar - will force the US to reconsider its posture
in the Middle East. Whenever the US reaches this
point, Israel is likely to face its neighbors
without the American shield. Worse, a growing
number of Americans will begin to see the Israeli
fingerprint over their Iraqi defeat.
Taking advantage of the tragedy of 9-11, the neocons
instantly activated their plans to re-colonize
the Middle East, starting with regime change in
Iraq, Iran, North Korea and Syria. The US and
Israel were hoping to improve upon the success
achieved by the British and Zionists during World
War I. At this stage, it appears unlikely that
these hopes will be realized. For sure, the neocons
quickly effected regime in Iraq, but soon after,
the resistance of a few thousand Iraqi insurgents
also set in motion forces that are threatening
to change the global regime.
A sober reckoning of all the costs of the Iraq
war - and these costs are still unfolding - suggests
that the US bid for regime change in the Middle
East has boomeranged. Instead, the war has been
forcing a regime change on the protagonist.
Shahid Alam teaches economics at a university
in Boston. He is the author of Challenging
the New Orientalism (IPI: December 2006).
© M. Shahid Alam