"What comes next is anybody's guess"
were the closing words of this
column in December 2007. That had been a turbulent year, marked by a series
of setbacks for the Empire on all fronts. Aside from the ongoing quagmire in
Iraq and Afghanistan, even in the Balkans – the region handpicked for the demonstration
of hegemony – things were not proceeding according to plan.
Ironically, during 2008 the situation became reversed. While the Empire managed
to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in the Balkans, its grip slipped away
everywhere else. If the purpose of creating an "independent" Kosovo
was to reinforce US hegemony, then it was a Pyrrhic victory, set against the
rise of China, a resurgent Russia, a rebellious Latin America, and an economic
crisis that shook the very foundations of the West. The sight of two
shoes hurled at Emperor Bush by an Iraqi journalist during a press conference
in Baghdad was just the finishing touch.
A "Victory" in Kosovo
As of January, it
looked as if cracks were beginning to show in the plan to declare an "Independent
State of Kosovo." Criticism of Washington and Brussels' Kosovo policy grew
more pronounced. Even Newsweek, a stalwart bastion of interventionism
in the Balkans, offered a cautionary
"With so much at stake, the West must ask itself whether a free (sic)
Kosovo is worth further humiliating a volatile, Russia-backed Belgrade in the
heart of the Balkans. This is one small, poor Eastern state that the EU may
eventually want more than it wants the EU."
There was no doubt that the Empire intended to create a puppet state in Kosovo;
Bush the Lesser had publicly promised that during his visit
to Albania in June '07. But as of January 2008, all the regular avenues
for this seemed closed. Due to Russian opposition, the UN could not agree to
violate or rewrite Resolution 1244, and Belgrade's stubborn defense made it
unlikely Serbia would voluntarily accept dismemberment either. One last card
remained in play, however.
Serbian President Boris Tadic, noted for his overt
sycophancy towards Washington and Brussels, arranged for early presidential
elections in January. The Imperial commentariat at the time openly admitted
that a reelected Tadic would be have an easier time "selling" the
loss of Kosovo to the Serbs.
Tadic almost lost.
After the first round of voting, he was trailing the "ultra-nationalist
hardliner" Tomislav Nikolic of the Radical Party, and it looked as if the
Empire's last gambit might fail. Two weeks later, however, a steady media diet
of fear and empty promises of EUtopia tipped
the scales just far enough.
That was the cue the Empire was waiting for. On February 17, the Albanian
provisional government of Kosovo declared
independence. The first country to recognize it wasn't the United States,
but its puppet satrapy of Afghanistan. Within days, however, the "Independent
State of Kosovo" was recognized by the US and most NATO members. Those
who built an Empire by invoking the specter of Munich 1938 had actually made
a Munich of their own.
For its part, Serbia looked like it
might resist; general elections were called for early May, and popular sentiment
indicated that Tadic and his pro-Imperial bloc would lose. Between the open
endorsement by powers that had just carved out a piece of Serbian territory
and a bogus pact with
the EU clearly intended as an electoral stunt, promises of "better
life" and "European integrations" never sounded more hollow.
The Serbs' choice was not easy, but it was simple
enough, and for a moment – again! – it looked as if Empire's favorites had
foundered. Any which way one did the math, the pro-Empire "reformers"
could not get a majority.
Several ambassadorial interventions and tycoon junkets later, Tadic had
his majority and his government – by embracing the party once led by Slobodan
Milosevic. Alternately demonized for a decade as die-hard communists and nationalists
(while in reality being neither), the Socialists had apparently made a secret
pact with the Democrats ahead of the election, lulling their Radical and Populist
allies into a false sense of security. With their defection to the Imperial
camp, the Serbian opposition crumbled. The Radicals even split
into two parties, with the faction led by Nikolic making overtures to the
Tadic bloc (!). All this translated into near-absolute power for Tadic and his
party, not seen since the days of Zoran
Djindic. True to predictions, Serbia became a lot more "compliant"
to the desires of Brussels and Washington. Here and there, it has made
waves over the issue of Kosovo, but it hasn't actually done anything
to retake the occupied province. With Belgrade finally pacified, the Empire
could bask in the glory of victory.
Or could it?
The Guns of August
The Beijing Olympics, which opened on August 8,
were more than an international athletic competition. From the grandiose opening
ceremony to the lavish closing call, the games were also a demonstration of
China's power and desire to be an influential and respected force in the world.
However, China's limelight was inadvertently stolen by Russia.
Believing the world sufficiently distracted by the Olympics spectacle, Washington's
client and president of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili launched
a strike on South Ossetia, a region that never accepted Georgian rule in
the aftermath of Soviet dissolution. Brought to power in a "popular revolution"
copied from a similar coup in Serbia, Saakashvili cribbed another page from
the Empire's Balkans playbook, seeking to duplicate Croatia's 1995 blitzkrieg
against its Serbian territories.
Moscow's response was swift. Within days the Georgian military had ceased
to exist, Russian troops were lounging around in the birthplace of Stalin, and
the panicked Saakashvili chewed
his tie and screamed for help. The Empire had none to give. All it could
do was talk tough, as the Georgian military – trained and equipped by the US
and Israel – was dismantled by the victorious Russians. By the end of the month,
Russia had recognized both Ossetia and Abkhazia, another region that rejected
Saakashvili is still the president of Georgia, but probably not for long. The
Empire dislikes quislings who try to overplay their hand, and is unforgiving
of embarrassing failures.
Events in Georgia were but one of the challenges
to US hegemony that 2008 brought. The pro-Imperial regime in Ukraine plunged
into a crisis. In Latin America, Venezuela and Bolivia expelled US Ambassadors,
while Brazil and Argentina signed a deal to stop using US dollars in bilateral
trade. And as the anniversary of September 11 – now merely
an echo buried in the rubble of subsequent Imperial adventures – rolled
around, the economic chickens finally came home to roost.
Collapse and "Change"
Much has been said about the origins and meaning
of the current economic crisis. Much of it has been false or downright nonsensical.
Elementary logic dictated that an enormous credit bubble fueled by inflationary
policies of the US government would eventually burst. Now all the outlandish
financial con games and Ponzi
schemes are rebounding on their "investors" with a vengeance,
and the suicides
of failed bankers and investors
have already begun. It's beginning to look a lot like
Little wonder, then, that in 2008 Americans turned to a Messianic figure in
the person of Barack Hussein Obama. The man who came out of nowhere to make
a brilliant career in the Democratic Party in just a few short years first beat
Hillary Clinton in the primaries, then Republican frontrunner John McCain at
the polls in November.
Obama's carefully crafted message promises "hope" and "change."
But would it be a meaningful
change, restoring liberty at home and dismantling the costly and crumbling
Empire abroad? Hardly. All of Obama's cabinet secretaries and advisors are old
Washington hands, from VP Joseph Biden to Hillary Clinton taking over Foggy
Bottom. By the looks and sounds of it, Barack Obama's inauguration in January
will actually be the Clinton
Restoration, at home and abroad.
Over the past eight years, Bush the Lesser and his cohorts ran America – and
tried to run the world – with a conviction that their willpower alone could
shape reality. The consequences of their hubris are just beginning to be
felt. Yet the "liberal" imperialists remain
convinced that the world actually desires American hegemony, and all they
have to do is change the flavor.
Events of the past year have shown that the American Empire is ultimately
a failed proposition, and perhaps even that the very concept of global hegemony
is an idea whose time
has passed. However, there has always been a delay between reality and the
awareness thereof. At the end of 2008, the world finds itself in just such a
moment of transition, unsure what the future may hold, and how to deal with
it. More of the same with expectations of a different result would fit Einstein's
famous definition of insanity. Right now, however, it seems that's precisely
what we're going to get.