Date: Sat, 7 Aug 1999 13:15:20 -0500 (CDT)
From: MichaelP <>
Subject: Democracy Against Hegemony
Article: 72116
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
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Democracy against hegemony

By Samir Amin, al-Ahram (Cairo), #426, 28 April 1999

The 28 March issue of the New York Times contains an informative article on US political strategy. Its content is summed up by an eloquent image that takes up one page of the publication: a boxing glove in the colours of the American flag, accompanied by the following caption: What the world needs now—for globalisation to work, America can't be afraid to act like the almighty superpower that it is. The reason for the announced punches is elucidated in these terms: The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley's technologies is called the US Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. The writer of these words is not a provocative joker, but none other than Thomas Friedman, Madeleine Albright's adviser.

We are very far, here, from the unifying discourse spouted by fashionable economists on the self-regulating market as a guarantor of peace. The American ruling class knows that economics are political, and that it is relations of power—including military power—that command the market. There will be no global market without an American military empire, they say—for the above-mentioned article is but one amongst hundreds. This brutal frankness is no doubt possible over there because the media are sufficiently controlled for the government's strategic objective never to be subject to debate; freedom of expression—a freedom which often reaches the burlesque—applies only to matters involving individuals and, beyond them, to conflicts within the ruling class, rendered perfectly opaque in these conditions. There is no political force capable of combating the system and enlightening a public manipulated with such consummate ease.

More curious is the silence of the European powers and some others who, pretending not to read the press on the other side of the Atlantic (I dare not think they have no idea what it says), forbid their adversaries from hinting at the very existence of Washington's global strategy, falling back instead on facile accusations that these opponents harbour a conspiratorial view of history, or even that they are behaving like visionaries who see the shadow of the Great Satan around every corner.

And yet the strategy in question is quite limpid. The US is less convinced than its allies, so it would seem, of the virtues of competition and fair play—virtues, incidentally, which it violates with impunity every time its interests are at stake (cf. the banana wars among many other instances). Washington knows that, without its military hegemony, America cannot force the world to finance its savings deficit, which is the condition for the artificial maintenance of its economic position.

The instrument of choice in the imposition of this hegemony is therefore military, as the highest US authorities never tire of repeating. This hegemony, which in turn guarantees that of the Triad (US-Canada; Japan; Western Europe) over the global system, would therefore demand that the US's allies accept to navigate in its wake. The UK, Germany and Japan have put forth no objections, not even cultural ones. But the speeches European politicians feed their audiences—with respect to Europe's economic power—thereby lose any real significance. By placing itself exclusively on the terrain of mercantile disputes, with no project of its own, Europe is beaten from the start. Washington knows this well.

The weapon against the US's global strategy is a process of globalisation which must be at once multipolar, democratic (at least potentially), and negotiated. The margin of autonomy that this allows is the only means of correctly addressing fundamental social problems, which differ due to the unequal development of markets, and is by the same token the condition for democracy to take root seriously, since it gives a better chance to demilitarisation, security and peace. In contrast, American hegemony, in association with neoliberalism, has so far only produced chaos, the multiplication of conflicts and large-scale military intervention. This, after all, was only to be expected.

The principal tool in the service of Washington's chosen strategy is NATO -- hence its ability to survive the collapse of the adversary that was its raison d'etre. Today, NATO speaks in the name of the international community, thereby expressing its contempt for the democratic principle that governs this community through the UN. In debates conducted in the US on the global strategy we are discussing, human rights or democracy are mentioned only rarely. They are invoked, in fact, only when this is useful for the functioning of this same global strategy, which explains the blinding cynicism and systematic use of double standards in evidence.

There is no question of intervening in favour of democracy in Afghanistan or in the Gulf, for example, no more than there has ever been any question of hampering Mobutu yesterday, Savimbi today, and many others tomorrow. People's rights are sacred in certain cases (Kosovo today, perhaps Tibet tomorrow), and forgotten in others (Palestine, Turkish Kurdistan, Cyprus, the Serbs of Krajima, expelled at gunpoint by the Croatian regime, etc.).

Even the terrible genocide in Rwanda gave rise to no serious investigation into the responsibility of diplomats who had supported the governments that were openly advocating it. Certainly, the despicable behaviour of certain regimes—like those of Saddam Hussein or Milosevic—makes the task easier by offering pretexts that are easy to exploit. But the complete silence that meets other cases deprives the discourse of democracy and people's rights of any measure of credibility. It would be impossible to do a greater disservice to the fundamental requirements of the fight for democracy and human respect, without which no progress is possible.

The avowed goal of the US's strategy is not to tolerate the existence of any powers capable of resisting Washington's orders, and therefore to seek to dismantle all those countries deemed too big, as well as to create the largest possible number of pawn states—easy prey for the establishment of American bases guaranteeing their protection. Only one state has the right to be big: the United States, as its two last presidents have said explicitly. The method put into practice, however, is not limited to wielding the bludgeon and manipulating the media. It attempts to enclose people in immediate and unacceptable alternatives: bowing to oppression, disappearing, placing themselves under the US protectorate. For this to take place, it is necessary to draw a veil of silence over the policies that have created the tragedy. For example, we may cite the rapid recognition of the states of the former Yugoslavia, with no concern for preparing them by regulating the fate of the concerned peoples in a democratic manner.

Alignment with the strategy of the US and its subaltern NATO allies has dramatic consequences. The UN is about to succumb to the fate of the League of Nations. Clearly—and fortunately—American society is not that of Nazi Germany, but for the decision-makers in Washington, like those of Berlin before them, force has been established as a supreme principle, to the complete detriment of international law, for which the dominant discourse has substituted an odd right of intervention, disturbingly reminiscent of the mission civilisatrice of 19th-century imperialism.

The struggle for democracy will remain completely ineffective if it is accompanied by submission to American hegemonism. The struggle for democracy is indissociable from the fight against Washington's hegemony.