Thursday, August 16, 2012
The Asian Pivot
This is a bit of Washington-speak I picked up from watching the news: It basically means that the American strategy for world dominion, shall we say world peace, have changed its focus to Asia. The Cold War is well and truly over, and despite its vast nuclear arsenal and apparent ambitions, Russia is no longer considered a threat. The American military personnel and arsenal would now shift to Asia, particularly East Asia, where the Chinese presents the biggest threat to the current world order, one of American hegemony. Or, at least that's the plan.
Indeed, despite the professed Asian pivot, very little has actually happened on the ground. The United States has started withdrawing troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as Europe, but they have mostly gone home. The American military may have the biggest budget in the world, but they may have been over-reaching, not in terms of technology or military prowess, but in terms of willingness to engage all over the world and to be able to generate the necessary on-ground support for such engagements from the local population. No empire in history has crumbled because they were weak, but always because they could not keep the internal and external support going for the engagements they must do all the time. Despite the impressive leaps of technology, there are reasons to believe the American power is waning.
The symptoms of this waning power are first and foremost to be seen in this ongoing recession. I am not talking about the follies of the banks, which is a subject by itself. But the unending recession also indicates a disillusionment with the twentieth century middle class dream, fuelled primarily by cheap credit, which meant millions of people all over the world signed up to an American view of the world. This obedience, only if to a dream, meant that people sold off a lifetime of labour in advance in pursuit of happiness as defined by the powers that be, which suited the expansion of American hegemony. The fact that such a system is unsustainable, as evidenced in the recession, starts a different discussion. This is why the global middle class, which is supposed to keep the consumer revolution going, is taking the streets all over Middle East. While the Arab Spring is being given a positive spin and co-opted into the march of freedom in Middle East story which has gone badly wrong, the disorders in Arab states is threatening the world order as American wished and maintained. The dissolution of regimes, even those as murderous as Qaddafi's and Assad's, denote the unleashing of the freedom genie which wouldn't just stop at undermining the authority of the local chieftains, but will challenge all the notions of authority constructed at this time.
At the other end of Asia, there is another set of forces at play. China isn't taking on America as it chooses to do so, but holding the American (and European) companies and banks at ransom. My view of Chinese power is that it has constructed itself as a true post-nationhood nation, and therefore, despite its internal frailties, should be treated with awe. There is no point comparing the Chinese and the American state: China may have less missiles and tanks and everything else compared to America, but American state is beholden to American corporate interests and Chinese state controls those corporate interests. It is a mistake to use American (or European) benchmarks to measure the Chinese power. We must remember, after all, it is the Chinese who have studied the mechanics of power for more than two millenniums. The Chinese strategist today will see this recession as the waning of power of the nation states, all nation states all over the world, and the power shifting to the Hedge fund managers, who can now dictate what happens in a country, who should pay what tax, and who should get what share of national wealth (as they are doing for Greece, Italy and a host of Southern European nations). The biggest fund of all at this time is the Chinese sovereign fund, and they can wipe out many national systems of government, including possible America's, by diverting their funds elsewhere. What looks like (and claimed to be) capitalism's triumph on China may exactly be the opposite.
The Asian pivot is, therefore, possibly meaningless as it indicates the assumptions of a world order that may no longer exist. Old habits die hard, as the European powers seem to be consider themselves above any system of law (as evident in Britain's threat to revoke the diplomatic status of the Ecuadorian embassy in Julian Assange case), and indeed, talk like the Asian Pivot soothes nerves across union meetings and tea parties across America: In reality, however, a bigger change, a pivot in the world order is currently under way, with decline of the institutions (of banks, of politicians, of press, of countries and sovereignty), fragmentation of authorities and of belief, coupled with the rise of alternative world views, free of influence of Western media and thinking: America (and its allies) may indeed have over-reached themselves by over-estimating not just what they can do militarily, but also the dictum "one can fool some of the people all the time, and all the people some of the time, but not all people all the time".
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How To Live
"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."
- Theodore Roosevelt
- Theodore Roosevelt
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
- T S Eliot
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