JOHN FEFFER, author
of forthcoming (2003) POWER TRIP
«Because of 9/11, more Americans
are more comfortable with being imperialists»
John Feffer is one of the researchers
of the Foreign Policy in Focus Project (in the Web at
www.fpif.org) of the
Institute of Policy Studies and the Inter-hemispheric
Resource Centre. He his preparing a book, titled Power
Trip, with contributions from different researchers,
like Michael Klare, that Gurusonline.tv has already
interviewed for this series "Pandora Oil Box".The
book will be launched by Seven Stories Press in early
2003. This interview focus on the different aspects
of the new global strategy of the United States of America.
Interview by Jorge
Nascimento Rodrigues (November 2002)
Feffer can be contacted
by email: Johnfeffer@aol.com
Why Power Trip?
The title "Power Trip" is from an expression
in English that refers to arrogant, selfish conduct
-- "He is on a power trip and thinks that he can
do anything he wants regardless of what others say or
think." We chose the title because we felt that
it expressed the arrogant, unilateralist approach to
foreign policy of the Bush Administration.
That "unilateralist" approach his a turning
point from a "benign hegemonism" to a neo-imperial
strategy, or there's a certain change in continuity?
There are definitely two trends in power-Cold War U.S.
foreign policy -- benign and malignant hegemonism. In
practice, it can be difficult to distinguish between
the two, however. When the Clinton Administration rejected
international treaties (on landmines, for instance),
it was being just as unilateralist as the Bush Administration.
But the Clinton Administration preferred a rhetoric
of global cooperation.
Sometimes this difference between
the malign and benign versions of U.S. hegemonism are
substantial (the difference between war and peace) and
sometimes it is simply a difference in rhetoric and
But, the difference matters?
There is, I believe, a liberal-conservative consensus
in America today on the need to maintain an overwhelming
military and economic superiority. There is some disagreement
on the means to this end -- through globalisation or
not, through transnational mechanisms or not, through
military alliances with dictatorships like Saudi Arabia
and Pakistan or not. There is also a disagreement over
style -- do we ask our allies to go along or impose
our policies regardless of their opinions. Sometimes
this difference between the malign and benign versions
of U.S. hegemonism are substantial (the difference between
war and peace) and sometimes it is simply a difference
in rhetoric and formalities.
American people decided to support the new global
Americans are generally happy to put up with the advantages
of empire (cheap oil, cheap food) but are usually not
happy about bearing the costs of empire. So the American
public has been reluctant to go to war unless they feel
that their "way of life" is at stake. Before
September 11, Americans might have focused on the costs
of empire and decided that U.S. military presence in
Saudi Arabia or the desires of U.S. oil companies to
build a pipeline through Afghanistan were generating
too much anti-American resentment around the world.
Instead, the Bush Administration was able to convince
the U.S. public that because terrorists threatened the
American way of life, all costs of empire should be
accepted. In other words, because of 9/11, more Americans
are more comfortable with being imperialists.
The recent mid-term elections is a clear triumph
of Bush new grand strategy?
I believe that the number of Americans comfortable
with an American empire is relatively small. The latest
election results show that Americans want to support
their president at a time of crisis. But the difference
in votes cast for Democrats and Republicans was very
small, only a couple percentage points. And most Americans
simply didn't vote. So it is difficult to use the recent
elections as evidence that Americans support Bush's
power trip. As I'm sure you know, Americans usually
vote on domestic issues, and foreign policy plays a
minor role in their deliberation. That is why so many
Americans are uncomfortable with going to war with Iraq
but support candidates who voted to give Bush authority
to go to war.
The American public won't be able
to challenge the war economics until the Democrats or
a third party provide a credible alternative.
The growing budget deficit will "kill"
the Bush power trip in the mid term?
The deficit is connected not only to the war on terrorism.
It has grown larger because of "homeland security"
and large tax cuts for the wealthy. The Democrats have
not presented any serious economic alternative. They
have supported enormous military and homeland security
budgets. Many of them have supported the tax cuts as
well. And the Democrats can't use the Enron card effectively
because of their own involvement in corporate malfeasance.
So the American public won't be able to challenge the
war economics until the Democrats or a third party provide
a credible alternative.
Or the strategic "competitors" will stop
the power trip, despite the historical opportunity of
the USA for a global primacy?
Historically it has been very difficult for empires
to prevent the rise of peer competitors. The policies
that are adopted to prevent peer competitors usually
backfire (such as European attempts to prevent the resurgence
of Germany after World War I). China has been an important
global power for centuries, much longer than the United
states. The U.S. has a choice: to encourage China to
become a responsible world player or to encourage the
intensification of Chinese nationalism and resentment.
Europe is by no means "dead" geo-strategically.
As you know, European governments are becoming frustrated
with following the U.S. military lead and want to develop
an independent military force that can intervene for
humanitarian (and security) reasons. Once Europe has
this capability separate from NATO, this will change
the transatlantic equation and the debate on humanitarian
The Far East region will be able
to form a common market and connect with Europe by rail
to create a powerful Euro-Asian link that can eventually
challenge U.S. hegemony.
One of the targets of the new grand strategy of
Bush Administration is Euro-Asia, the "encirclement"
of this continental mass from the Atlantic to the Pacific?
The control of Eurasia has been the defining issue
of geopolitics, beginning with Mackinder and continuing
into the Cold War era. It continues to have a great
influence on American thinking (see Brzezinski's book,
The Grand Chessboard). But I don't believe that China
and Russia will accept too much U.S. influence in Eurasia.
That is why they formed the Shangai Cooperation Council.
The U.S. will try to influence this large and important
region, but it will not be able to control it.
But is this the opportunity for the "American
Century" instead of the so-called "Pacific
Century", (with the emergence of China, the renewal
of Russia FarEast and the coming out of recession in
Pundits are too quick to give labels to centuries.
True, Japan is in recession, Korea experienced a setback
in the financial crisis, and China is dealing with inefficient
industries and ethnic unrest. But I believe that East
Asia in particular will experience an enormous growth
in economic and political power when North Korea is
further along in its economic reforms. The region will
then be able to form a common market and connect with
Europe by rail to create a powerful Euro-Asian link
that can eventually challenge U.S. hegemony.
Propaganda says that the public enemy is a mix of
civic anti-globalist movements, terrorist global networks
and some rogue states acting as "contrarians"
in some strategic regions. But are they the real "contrarians"
to the US power trip?
You mention three different categories of resistance
to U.S. policies: activists, terrorists, and regional
contrarians. I don't really see that these three will
work together tactically. Nor do any of the three have
enough power alone to challenge the U.S. I wish that
anti-globalisation activists had more power and perhaps
some day they will. But at the moment the greatest counter-force
to US policies are large states (Japan, China), regional
bodies (EU), and international institutions (UN). Consider
the GMO issue (genetically modified foods). The most
important contrarian force is the European Union and
its policy on labelling. This is the only force capable
of standing up to U.S. policies on GMO.
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