April 14, 2022
Opinion by Greg Ray
Case number 1:
Ukraine seeks to join NATO. Russia complains that this will bring US weapons bases to its very doorstep and that this is a security risk it can’t afford to tolerate. The US empire says Russia shouldn’t be so precious. Anyway, it’s all about freedom. Ukraine wants to join NATO and it should be allowed to. Result? A proxy war in Ukraine between Russia and the US empire.
Case number 2:
The Solomon Islands sign a security deal with China. Australia and the US complain that this is a threat to the empire’s interests. China says the empire shouldn’t be so precious. Anyway, it’s all about freedom. The Solomons want to sign a deal with China and they should be allowed to. Result? At this stage, massive pressure from the empire on the Solomons to renege on the deal. Next stage? Who knows? Some kind of proxy contest between China and the US empire, I suppose.
Is it just me, or is there a certain amount of inconsistency here? I mean, if our US empire was primarily concerned with freedom in these matters then the Solomons’ exercise of freedom should be no big deal. Let’s drop the pretence and admit that freedom is not a priority in this or any other case of great power rivalry. Freedom is just a word that gets waved around when it’s convenient, and ignored when it’s inconvenient.
We citizens of empire have learned to do the doublethink required in situations like those above without missing a beat. We dutifully wave coloured flags on demand and nod in unison when told it’s time to defend freedom wherever the empire declares it to be under threat. But when freedom is a nuisance to the empire we cheerfully agree it’s a menace and support the obligatory coup, bombing, sanctions or whatever is decreed necessary for empire’s wishes.
In my opinion there are no “good guys” in great power politics. I’m not barracking for China, Russia or the USA. I’m just trying to take a broad view of things.
Looking broadly I feel it may be wrong to think of our empire as a “US empire”, although it’s clear the United States is host to the heartland of the real power behind the bombs. I tend to think of it more as an empire of global finance capital. I mean, if it was really a US empire, then I’d imagine the actual population of the US would be doing a lot better than it is. Instead of overseeing massive and growing inequality in wealth and income, decrepit public infrastructure and a political system that patently serves the interests of its wealthy patrons and corporate owners at the expense of all else, the government would be using some of the vast resources at its disposal to improve the lives of its people. Am I wrong?
I’ve said before that this period we are living in reminds me of what I’ve read about the years leading up to World War 1. Then we had Germany champing at the bit to grow its power and to create an empire to compete with that of Britain. Britain wasn’t keen to see that happen. There was a big naval arms race and lots of diplomatic shenanigans. Germany got twitchy, feeling that its enemies were getting stronger as time passed and that its main ally – Austria-Hungary – was weakening. It saw that it had a window of opportunity for action which was closing. It lashed out. Millions died. Germany failed to rise and Britain began to lose its empire.
Today I see China champing at the bit to grow its global influence and wealth while the US, as inheritor of the British Empire, is desperate to maintain its position as number one. One of the biggest factors I see here is the global reserve status of the US dollar. This arrangement, under which all the other countries of the world are obliged to use the dollar for their international trade transactions, has given the US a massive free ride for decades since the end of World War 2. More than just the ultimate free ride for its economy, this arrangement also gives the US the ability to punish countries that stray out of line from US policy. It has been apparent for some time that a growing number of countries are becoming nervous and unhappy about being so vulnerable to this kind of attack. Bit by bit, countries have been trying to find ways to slough off their dependency on the US dollar in order to shield themselves from confiscations, devaluations and punitive measures like the SWIFT ban recently imposed on Russia.
It strikes me that, if enough big countries succeed in breaking free from the dollar shackles then the USA will be in serious strife. If it loses the stupendous subsidy that other countries have been paying via the reserve currency arrangement its economy might very well collapse. The dollar, deprived of foreign demand, could fall dramatically in value. The US may not be able to afford to support its colossal military at current levels and may have to withdraw from some of its hundreds of global military bases.
Clearly, the main countries that have been striving to get free from the US dollar are Russia and China. They don’t want to keep subsidising the weapons that are trained on them from US forward bases. They don’t like trading goods for dollars that fall in value when the US revs up its printing presses. (It’s been reported that 40 per cent of all dollars in existence were created last year, which should help explain the inflation now occurring.) I am speculating that the US can’t afford to let China and Russia get away with escaping from dollar dominion. The stakes are incredibly high, as far as the powers behind the US empire are concerned. Those powers have made it clear, again and again, that mere human lives are a secondary consideration when enough money and access to resources are involved. If they feel themselves under existential threat then we should assume that nothing is off the table.
China and Russia, with other countries in tow, have been making progress towards their vision of freedom from the dollar hegemony. The US must see that it has a window of opportunity to prevent this: a window that has steadily been closing.
If I had to speculate why, at this point in history, we seem to be pressing inexorably towards one of the regular global death orgies that our system appears to demand, then I would suggest that it might be primarily a contest over the future of US dollar hegemony. If that is so, then whichever way the result ultimately goes, the contest will involve – literally – a world of pain.