Review (Guest): World in Crisis – The End of the American Century

5 Star, America (Founders, Current Situation), Complexity & Catastrophe, Congress (Failure, Reform), Corruption, Country/Regional, Crime (Government), Culture, Research, Empire, Sorrows, Hubris, Blowback, Executive (Partisan Failure, Reform), Impeachment & Treason, Insurgency & Revolution, Intelligence (Public), Justice (Failure, Reform), Military & Pentagon Power, Misinformation & Propaganda, Politics, Power (Pathologies & Utilization), Threats (Emerging & Perennial), True Cost & Toxicity, Values, Ethics, Sustainable Evolution, Voices Lost (Indigenous, Gender, Poor, Marginalized), War & Face of Battle
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Gabriel Kolko

5.0 out of 5 stars Simplify, Simplify, Simplify,June 22, 2009<

By Tracy McLellan (Chicago) – See all my reviews

One could almost condense the whole of Kolko thought into a single sentence: “Political problems have political and social, not military solution.” He says this at least four or five times in the current volume, as he has even more often previously. A common criticism of Kolko is that he’s repetitive. This doesn’t speak to the fact that the deafening silence with which his work is greeted is a far harsher, and equally invalid, criticism. Kolko’s alleged repetitiveness is more grasp of nuance and comprehensiveness than it is lack of imagination.

World in Crisis: the End of the American Century is an implicit rejoinder to what Kolko himself calls the lunatics in the Bush regime. It is the typically unique type of excellence in political observation I, at any rate, expect of Kolko. The essays in the current volume are a second, yet enduring draft of history reviewing the political turmoil of the last four or five years. They examine the financial crisis, US foreign policy, Israel, the current and historical US alliance system, US intelligence agencies, and other US policies. The essays have appeared previously on ZNet, […], Counterpunch, in anthologies, and elsewhere. All of them are updated for this book, because, as Kolko notes, they become obsolete almost as soon as they are published due to the accelerated trajectory of geopolitical, technological, financial, and sociological events.

What is so delightful in Kolko’s prose is its plain-spoken simplicity. The subject matter of which he treats is convoluted, complicated, and poorly reported. He is able, however to distill these complications into simplified truisms easily understood in a handful of sentences. Kolko is not as successful here as he was in his magnificent After Socialism, or his more recent Age of War. But how could he be? Nor is it for lack of brevity. Kolko still manages to say more in a single sentence in this book, and quite often, than most pundits and scholars say in tomes of 600 pages. Indeed, a paragraph of Kolko contains as much truth as you could expect in a lifetime of viewing the corporate media.

Kolko begins the book with an almost obligatory analysis of the economic crisis. A new note in Kolko’s historical philosophy is the worrying observation that nations’, and Kolko’s focus is on the US, like individuals’ actions, are completely circumscribed by economics. Moreover, “The contradictions of the economy will meet the immense costs of adventures abroad, and American power will inevitably decline; its century of hubris will come to an end.” Break out the champagne, okay? One must see this in its optimism, in both its first and second parts, although I daresay say I’m not the only one not quite sure how the economy is going to be able to meet the vast challenges it faces. The economy, writes Kolko, “is the ultimate constraint on [every country], whatever their nationality – the arbiter of what they can and cannot do.”

Kolko studiously examines the uselessness of technologically superior, overwhelming firepower as a political tool, whether or not it’s used for neocolonial, imperialist, nationalist ambitions, especially of the US, but also to a lesser degree, of Israel, against a decentralized, guerilla insurgency: “The American [and Israeli] way of war is technology intensive, firepower focused, logistically superior but politically and culturally ignorant to the point of being pathetic.” Kolko also recounts his first-hand experience of Zionism in Israel in 1946.

Kolko goes so far as to write that current policy will inevitably lead to the destruction of Israel not least because Israel’s existence is predicated on US aid, which could desert Israel along with all the other caprice in its history. Israel, writes Kolko, treads treacherous waters, both morally because the Jews which comprise its citizenry are not a religious unity but a cultural heterogeneity that expresses the nation’s identity through its citizens’ nationalist origins, and under terms of international law because of its absolutely reprehensible historical conduct: “Israel’s power after 1947 was based on its military supremacy over its weaker neighbors. It is in the process of losing this dominance – if it has not already. Lesser problems, mainly demographic, will only be aggravated if tension persists. It simply cannot survive being allied with the United States, because the Americans will either leave the region or embark on a war that threatens Israel’s very existence. It is time for Israel to become `normal’ and make peace with its neighbors, but that will require it to make major concessions. It can do that if it embarks upon an independent foreign policy, which it can immediately undertake in relation to Syria.” [emphasis added]

Kolko repeatedly draws parallels between US foreign policy in general, and Vietnam and Iraq in particular, and exposes them for the colossal failures they are, and why. He traces an intense US history expressed in the simplified terms unique to Kolko, which includes its initial need of NATO through which it could express its national ambitions and its subsequent practical jettisoning of the organization, its historical penchant for doctoring intelligence, and its need of allies and its abuse of them: “[After the fall of the Soviet Union] the US needed a new enemy and Islamic nations that were once friends became its foes,” notes Kolko. Indeed, the whole, so-called war on terror, he shows, is an escapade designed to concoct fear and justify massive military outlays. Kolko writes that while universal disarmament is preferable, the fact that the US is shedding allies like a snake skin, and that it is becoming more and more isolated, make for a greater chance for world peace. These geopolitics make the world a much more complicated and dangerous place than it was even during the terror of the Cold War when the US and the USSR were at loggerheads. Kolko notes that the Bush regime made enemies of Russia and China, who just as easily would have been friendly toward the United States.

Kolko notes that at least eight countries have nuclear weapons, but that another 30 could very easily acquire them: “The world is escaping from US control, but it is also escaping the forms of control that were in place when the USSR existed and states were too poor to build nuclear weapons. The world is more dangerous, in large part because the US refuses to recognize the limits of its power and retains the ambitions it had 50 years ago.”

Kolko’s repeated allusions to the fact that political problems have political and social, not military solutions are all the more urgent.