Once upon a time, the United States had many friends, or at least relatively obedient followers. These days, it seems to have nothing but adversaries, of all political colorations. What is more, it seems not to be doing too well in its adversarial encounters.
Take what has been happening in November of 2011 and the first half of December. It has had confrontations with China, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Iran, Germany, and Latin America. One can’t say that it has gotten the better part of any of these controversies.
The world interpreted the presence and announcements of Pres. Obama in Australia to be an open challenge to China. He told the Australian Parliament that the United States was determined "to allocate the resources necessary to maintain our strong military presence in this region." To this end, the United States is deploying 250 Marines to an Australian air base in Darwin (and possibly raising the number in the future to 2500).
This is only one of a number of moves of similar military display in the region. So, as the United States pulls out (or is being forced out) of the Middle East — for both political and financial reasons — it flexes its muscles in the Asia-Pacific region. Is this really believable, given both the U.S. public’s growing reluctance to be involved externally and its urgent demands to reduce expenditures, even in the military? So far, China’s "response" has been virtually a non-response, as if to say that time is on China’s side, even for its relations with the United States, or perhaps especially for its relations with the United States.
Then there’s Pakistan. The United States has thrown down the gauntlet. Pakistan must cease coddling its Islamist movements. It must cease seeking to undermine the Karzai government in Afghanistan. It must cease menacing India with threatened military action in Kashmir. Or what? That’s the problem. It seems, from leaked documents, that the United States was thinking that its last remaining friend in Pakistan, the current president, Asif Ali Zardari, might fire the Army’s leader, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. In response, Gen. Kayani arranged that Pres. Zardari go to Dubai for medical treatment. The potential U.S.-backed coup failed. And if the United States tries to retaliate by cutting off financial aid, there’s always China to take its place.
In the Middle East, what Pres. Obama wants above anything else is that nothing dramatic happen between Israel and the Palestinians until, at least, he is re-elected. This doesn’t really satisfy the needs of Saudi Arabia or of Prime Minister Netanyahu in Israel. So they are both proceeding in ways that continue to stir up the pot from the United States’ point of view. And the United States has been put in the position of pleading with them, not commanding or controlling them.
Then there’s Iran, supposedly the main immediate worry of the United States (as it is of Saudi Arabia and Israel). So the United States has been using its most supersecret drones to spy on Iran. Nothing surprising in this, except that it seems that somehow one of these drones landed in Iran. I say "landed" because the key question is why and how did it land. The CIA, whose drone this is, has unconvincingly tried to suggest that some mechanical failure accounts for this. The Iranians have implied that they brought down the plan with cyberaction. The United States says "impossible" — but Debka, the internet’s voice of the Israeli hawks, says it’s true. I for one think it’s likely. In addition, now that the Iranians have the drone, they are working on deciphering all its technical secrets. Who knows? They may publish the secrets for the entire world to know. And then, how secret will the supersecret drones be?
And, oh yes, Germany. As everyone knows, there is a "crisis" in the Eurozone. And Chancellor Merkel has been working very hard to get the Eurozone countries to buy a "solution" that will work for her, both politically within Germany and economically within Europe. She has pressed for a new European treaty that would impose automatic sanctions on Eurozone countries that violate its provisions. The United States thought that this was the wrong approach. The U.S. position was that this was a middle-run action that did not address the very short-term situation. Obama dispatched his Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner, to Europe to insist on his alternate suggestions. No matter the details, nor who is wiser. The important thing to note is that Geithner was totally ignored and the Germans have gotten their way.
And finally, the Latin American and Caribbean countries met in Venezuela to found a new organization, CELAC — which are Spanish initials for the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States. Every country in the Americas signed on, except for the two that weren’t invited — the United States and Canada. CELAC is designed to replace the Organization of American States (OAS), which includes the United States and Canada, and has suspended Cuba. It may take a while for the OAS to disappear and only CELAC remain. Still it’s not exactly something they are celebrating in Washington.
Immanuel Wallerstein, Senior Research Scholar at Yale University, is the author of The Decline of American Power: The U.S. in a Chaotic World (New Press).
Copyright ©2011 Immanuel Wallerstein — used by permission of Agence Global