The West vs. the Rest

IN FOCUS, 6 May 2024

Michael Brenner – TRANSCEND Media Service

30 Apr 2024 – Is the West launching an all-out war against global ‘South,’ against the BRICS – plus, against the ‘other’? Are we in the first stages of a civilizational struggle initiated by the U.S.-led assemblage we call the “collective West”? That would have seemed an absurd idea until very recently. How can one reconcile such a dire proposition in the age of Globalization, of inter-dependence? Where is the threat of a magnitude and immediacy that might stir that kind of thinking?

Yet, there are remarkable developments on the world scene that suggest that dramatic alterations indeed are in the offing. Let us examine them; then interpolate what systemic meaning they might auger.

1) Palestine is the most revealing, graphic indicator that something is badly askew in the mentality of political elites in North America and Europe – with resonance among their accommodating publics. Complicity in the genocidal actions of Israel in Gaza – accompanied by pogroms in the West Bank – is a stunning phenomenon. It forces us to reconsider who we in the West are and what we stand for. Few could have imagined that our celebrated moral compass being unmoved by the most gross, calculated crimes against humanity committed on our doorstep in full view. Indeed, declared publicly and repeatedly by those perpetrating them.

This is not a display of indifference toward genocide as took place in distant (geographically and culturally) Rwanda 30 years ago. Rather, we are talking active participation in the form of massive arms deliveries, political encouragement, diplomatic cover, and promotion of fictional rationales that justify, even encourage, the slaughter.

Discourse centers on the modalities, on marginal moves, on the exact wording of communiques. In Western societies there is virtually no engagement with the compelling moral issues that distinguish the Palestine tragedy. Nor, for that matter, much confronting of the wider geo-strategic issues that frame events in Palestine-Israel. We are witnessing the passionate cheer-leading, the uniformity of emotion and attitude, the righteousness that we associate with wars. However, no Western country has a serious a security or economic stake in the current crisis. Quite the contrary, by every objective criteria America and its partners are suffering a costly loss of influence in the region, across the Islamic world, and elsewhere in the non-West. Most important for the long term is the strong boost its giving to consolidation of the already well-advanced Sino-Russian led bloc.

2) The impressions of the West’s performance beyond its members’ self-regarding sphere is diametrically different. Most obviously, the West is condemned for its hypocrisy, its self-serving claim to moral authority and its sheer lack of humanity. Those perceptions are melded into an acute sense of recrudescent racism embedded in the societies of their former colonialists, exploiters, overseers and of constant condescension. The Westerners’ message is that they still feel themselves superior to the others.  That deep down, the others are intrinsically Wogs (Worthy Oriental Gentlemen), hajis, slants, spics or sambos – appellations in minds if not in (public) statements. The unkindest cut was the declaration by the EU’s de facto foreign minister Josepf Borrell: “The West has nurtured a ‘garden’ of peace and tolerance. “Most of the rest of the world is a jungle, and the jungle could invade the garden.”  He urged the assembled EU ambassadors to see themselves as “gardeners….to go to the jungle.”

One could contest the grounds for such feelings of prejudicial disparagement. There is no debating, though, that they have spread and intensified in reaction to the West’s treatment of Gaza-plus. They will endure and they will color dealings with the West whether ignored or not.

3) Justification for the charge of hypocrisy levelled against Western countries is found in their radically different approach to other situations where alleged human rights abuses have occurred.The concurrent Ukrainian conflict is the outstanding case in point. There, Russia immediately was subjected to comprehensive punitive actions: unprecedented sanctions, theft of its monetary assets, swift indictment of Vladimir Putin as a war criminal (despite the absence of an investigation or documentary evidence or a judicial process) – accompanied by all manner of military support for Ukraine. This despite the sharp divergence between alleged atrocities and actual events. The campaign is pursued relentlessly in 15 escalatory stages even though there has been dire blowback that has inflicted irreparable harm on European economies.

A similar example is provided by Secretary of State Tony Blinken’s latest ill-starred visit to Beijing. In private talks and in a concluding press conference, he admonished his hosts for their supposed violation of human rights in their treatment of the Uighur population in Xinjiang. He boldly indicted a China that is guilty of “genocide and crimes against humanity” there.  Coming from the senior representative of a government engaged at that very moment in the slaughter of 35,000 Gazan civilians (roughly 15,000 children), this breathtaking display of chutzbah signaled the extent of the American self-entitlement to instruct others on matters of ethics while exempting itself from any judgment whatsoever.

[Puzzle: What exactly was Blinken’s motive in harping on the Uighur question? Why highlight American hypocrisy? Why go out of one’s way to irritate Xi who clearly is fed up with being on the receiving end of moral instruction from the Americans. Three possible explanations suggest themselves. First, the Biden people may indeed want to see a rupture of relations with China. That would confirm their simplistic binary view of the global power/status constellation. Neo-con militants like Victoria Nuland and her clan in fact have been working diligently toward that end. Blinken seems to share a somewhat modified version of that dogmatic, radical thinking – as does Biden. Sullivan, Austin, Burns et al. The difference, such as it exists, lies in the level of tolerance for possible apocalyptic outcomes.

Second, there may be a domestic political consideration in mind. Sino-phobes never stop hammering away at China’s supposed human rights violations. If Blinken had skirted that hot-button issue, the administration would be denounced. The actual political cost might in fact be minimal. How many voters are likely to make their choice based on a matter of such low saliency? The total ‘Uighur vote’ nationwide is probably in three figures. Living in the insular Washington hothouse, though, distorts perceptions of what’s happening in the real world. So, Blinken could have elided the issue; there was no apparent need to stress it.   

Finally, this performance in Beijing fits a pattern of attitude and conduct, elaborated in this essay, characterized by the substitution of a confected worldview, rooted in the perplexity of the anxious American mind, for a dispassionate understanding of the true picture. We can observe an uneasy yet relentless attempt to impose on the external world an outdated – and unrealizable – model that places the United States in the throne of control and influence. The yawning, every growing gap between that self-regarding conception and the forces remaking the international system produces a classic case of cognitive dissonance. There is a powerful temptation to lodge oneself in an artificial mental universe – a world of make-believe. It is irresistible for the weak of character, the intellectually rigid, and those at once unpracticed in sophisticated diplomacy and challenged by it. Mature statesmen are anything but the United States’ forte in this not so brave new world.]

These denunciations of Russia for a claimed pattern of widespread attacks on and abuses of civilians underscore the striking contrast to the tacit acceptance of Israeli’s genocidal behavior. The only commonality is a calculated, consistent distortion of the truth. Propaganda, in short. Russia’s conduct of the war seeks to minimize civilian casualties; it does not target civilians. Nor, unlike Israeli, does it advertise as its objective the ethnic cleansing by any means swaths of Ukrainian territories as Israeli leaders do re. Gaza. These appraisals are confirmed by all objective observers and analysts.   Furthermore, the Russian invasion was a preemptive action intended to forestall an American-sponsored plan to launch a military assault aimed at regaining control of the Donbass and Crimea.

4) Most political elites and the populaces of the non-West also see in the West’s reaction to Ukraine further evidence of the race-based predilection to divide the world’s peoples into two categories: the superior West and lesser nations. Instantaneously, the Ukrainians were designated as democratic good guys with affinities for their European brethren in juxtaposition to the Russian Asiatic barbarians. So, two peoples who for centuries shared culture, history and genes were arbitrarily severed one from the other. It is the impulse to draw clear boundaries between ‘we’ and ‘them’ that drove this fictitious rendering of reality. Russia was vilified – as a country, as a society, as a civilization. Hysteria prompted a draconian campaign to ban Russian artists, Russian books, Russian travelers. The impulse to erect a sharp boundary between the West and Russia lead to bizarre attempts at denying Russians any claim to the cultural artifacts of the West. Olaf Schulz expressed outrage at Putin’s audacity in quoting Immanuel Kant without permission from German authorities. The Russian “had no right” to do so – according to the Chancellor. That implicit claim to moral superiority is made by the head of a country that killed 15 million Russians 80 years ago.

Imagine Putin scolding Schulz for his effrontery in quoting Tolstoy without permission from the Kremlin: “Happy coalitions are all alike; every unhappy coalition has its own peculiar features.”   

Ukraine, in sharp contrast, was beatified. The influential presence of neo-Nazi militias was photo-shopped, as was the suppression of the Russian language spoken by the 20-25% of the population that identifies as Russian and the persecution of the Russian Orthodox Church. The same for the banning of opposition political parties, comprehensive censorship, the indefinite postponement of Presidential elections, arbitrary arrest and the killing in prison on unspecified charges of an American journalist (Gonzalo Lira). Just as the Russians were designated honorary Wogs, the sordid Ukrainian government was laundered to emerge as one of ‘us.’ Ukraine arbitrarily was welcomed into the “garden club” – the induction fee being 500,000 dead and wounded, the ruin of the country’s infrastructure and its now inevitable truncation.

Pronouncing Ukraine an honorary citizen of the ‘garden’ matches the lauding of Israel as not just a democracy – but as a fraternal Western society sharing values, philosophies, identities and ethical norms. This strained genealogy against the backdrop of 1,500 years when the West in its various guises despised, persecuted, abused and killed Jews – the ultimate ‘other.’ This great irony emerges from the complex psychology of guilt, perverse repentance and mirrored projection. (attached is an earlier essay on this subject). At the same time, it exposes Western societies’ fixation with, and need for a worldview that dichotomizes the superior/good West and the lesser breeds you never are or could be our equals. Even if the placement is sometimes arbitrary in accordance with geo-political expediency.

[Western elites, with unintended irony, have pronounced the Israelis inhabitants of the ‘Garden’ while relegating Russians to the ‘jungle.’ Yet, a large fraction of the Jews who emigrated to Israel from Russia were in fact non-Jews by religion or ethnicity. They qualified by virtue of marriage or subterfuge. Official Israeli statistics number 1,544,000 Russian Jews, only 900,000 of whom are halakhically Jewish (i.e. born of a Jewish mother or undergoing formal conversion). Most immigrants from the former Soviet Union or the Russian Republic are atheists. 40,000 belong to the Russian Orthodox Church. Blessed are the reinvented. So, in the warped mentality of the West, a full-blooded Russian in Tel Aviv is one of ‘us,’ while a Jew in Moscow holding a government post is one of ‘them.’ This is one small item evincing the transparent truth that the West cares little about the welfare of flesh-and-blood Jews – or Ukrainians; it is dread/distaste of the ‘other’ that drives them. The exceptions are self-defined Zionists such as Tong Blinken. He made that clear upon his arrival in Israel five days after the events of Oct. 7 in announcing: “I come before you as a Jew.”]

5) The West’s scandalous behavior as accomplices to Israeli’s massive crimes against humanity in Palestine is a phenomenon carrying profound implications for its societies’ philosophical foundations, for how they relate to the peoples and states of the non-Western world, and – ultimately – for the viability of their polities. The unexpected revelations of gross disregard for humanitarian values, highlighted by sustained complicity in genocide as defined by the United Nations Convention On Genocide to which they all are signatories, is of historic consequence. Attempts at its normalization by the political class and a compliant media, cannot alter that reality. Although practiced in forgetting their unsavory, if not sinful, actions (Algeria – France, Vietnam – France & U.S., Iraq – U.S., Ireland/Kenya/India – Britain, Namibia – Germany, Congo – Belgium, Sumatra – Dutch, Guantanamo/Abu Ghraib – U.S., Libya – Italy, Angola – Portugal. Western nations will be unable to erase the scathing impressions engraved on hearts & minds in the non-West. Nor will a morally awakened youth cooperate in the predictable project to rationalize the unjustifiable.

The inability – or unwillingness – to see the Palestine abuses for what they are, or its delible residue of distain for Western hypocrisy, is the conclusive evidence that those countries which constitute the collective West have thrown away any claim to being the appropriate overseers and monitors of a legitimate world order. History will view Gaza as where they abandoned their moral integrity to die.

As for the United States, tightly swathed in a mantle of self-righteous superiority, exceptionalism and indispensability, the reckoning will occur at home as well as abroad. What we see now in the fierce suppression of constitutionally guaranteed free speech; in imposing what amounts to martial law on university campuses; in the relishing of the abuse meted out to dissenters; in the enthusiastic collaboration of university authorities – administrators, regents/trustees – who outdo each other in the extremity of the unadjudicated penalties that they arbitrary inflict; in the invitation to the erstwhile/wannabe army commandos among the riot squads and state troopers to indulge their brutal impulses (slamming women – student or professor -to the ground, pinioning and handcuffing them); in the conformism of a political class reduced to braying participants in an inquisitional witch hunt – is a society broken loose from its moorings. It is one where peaceable, non-obstructive protest against your country’s active complicity in genocide is forbidden, and punished as criminal.

All of this passion, this repression, for a heinous cause that lacks any mitigating claim of expediency. No Western nation has a stake – in security or economic terms – that is endangered by the Palestinians. Quite the opposite, they are paying a heavy price in standing and influence elsewhere in the Middle East and across the non-Western world for their malign conduct.

The same squalid resort to autocratic methods marks the European scene equally. In Berlin, riot police break into a meeting hall to disband forcibly a peaceful group assembled to discuss how to bring an end to the Gaza tragedy. Foreign participants are banned from ever again setting foot on German soil, a coterie that includes former Greek Treasury Minister Yanis Varoufakis. That summary action is in violation of both ‘quaint’ EU laws and German statutes. In France, the leader of the main opposition party, France Insoumise, is hauled in by the police and grilled for hours for suspected abetting of terrorism because of public statements that place the Hamas outbreak in context.

(Not to be upstaged by their Gallic confreres, the St. Louis riot police seized Jill Stein, Presidential candidate of the Green Party, shackled her, and throw her into an isolation cell for 6 hours – denying her the obligatory phone call or access to a lawyer. Her crime? Speaking to student demonstrators at George Washington University). In Britain, Rishi Sunak holds an emergency press conference outside No 10 Downing Street announcing that the country faces a national emergency because a maverick independent, a vocal critic of his government’s complicity in the Gaza atrocities, won a Parliamentary by-election a day earlier. Across the liberal West supposed free speech principles exclude criticism of their governments’ unqualified backing for the Israeli rampage.

That spectacle is viewed with alarm, disgust and mourning beyond the boundaries of the ‘garden.’

6) Perhaps, the greatest fear is that government elites in North America and Europe will propel themselves farther down the path of reckless belligerence and immoral action abroad – matched by more repression at home. For to acknowledge betrayal, in the most heinous manner, of their vaunted Western values is to admit fatal flaws in their individual and collective selves. They are not brave enough, or honorable enough, to tolerate that.

In their senseless association with the crimes of Gaza, Western elites have left the world of rational thought and logical behavior; they have entered the realm of collective psychopathology. That unsettling truth is dawning among the more sober, discerning leaders outside the West. So protecting oneself from the ensuing intemperate actions of the United States and its allies entails protecting the Western elies from their own self-destructive impulses.

7) Western governments’ mode of address to the ‘others’ is another indicator of their implicit sense of superiority. It characteristically, and increasingly, is rude, abrupt and peremptory. The tone is less discourse than it is dictation. Hence, Vladimir Putin is called a tyrant, a new Hitler, a killer, a baby-slayer, a would-be conqueror of all Europe who dreams of washing his boots in the Irish Sea. Xi Jiping is a dictator who rules a Communist totalitarian regime. The Iranian leaders are mad Mullahs bent on destroying Israel and attacking America’s friends in the region. Name-calling is the standard mode in reference to any other leader who opposes us: Bashir Assad in Syria, Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, Evo Morales in Bolivia, Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus, Imran Khan in Pakistan etc.

Over the past decade or so, a West that feels its supremacy threatened existentially by China and/or Russia has adopted an approach toward them that mixes audacious demands with menace – thereby, eschewing any form of dialogue with equals. Equals that have their own legitimate interests and concerns.  We pursue a diplomacy-free foreign policy. Outright lying and calculated deception from head-of-state to head-of-state is taken as an acceptable norm. Joe Biden, along with his underlings, repeatedly pledge to Beijing that the United States remains committed to the One China principle while it does everything within its power to promote Taiwan’s independence. Those steps include massive arms sales, the deploying of military personnel on offshore isles, provocative naval and aircraft intrusions.

In the economic sphere, Washington’s all-out campaign to stifle the Chinese economy by means fair or foul does not inhibit the U.S. from sending high-level envoys to Beijing demanding that China decease providing any military related technology or arms to Russia, that it cease selling dollars for gold on the currency markets, that China cut back its manufacturing capacity since its exports levels wreak havoc among American competitors.  That conforms to a pattern. Last year, between public declarations that China was America’s enemy No. 1, and that war was likely before the end of the decade, Blinken took himself off to Beijing to press the leadership to reduce its heavy oil imports which, in the tight market due to the energy embargo on Russia, were causing a spike in prices leading to high inflation in the U.S. and Europe. You owe us that! Owe for what – don’t ask, won’t tell.

The attitude toward Russia is even more self-righteous – and condescending. A couple of astonishing incidents make the point. First, let us recall that the 2015 Minsk Accords agreed by Russia in good faith are now an admitted sham by the Western powers (France & Britain as official underwriters, the U.S. as behind the scenes puppet master). There was never an intention to implement its provisions – by them or by the Kiev government. That has been boldly stated by former French President Francois Hollande and then German Chancellor Angela Merkel – both of whom congratulate themselves on their prescience and cleverness. They are proud of deceiving the Russians in order to buy time for arming the Kiev regime and preparing it to take back the Donbass and Crimea by force. Yet, against this sordid background, the Western powers repeatedly sought to temp Moscow with similar subterfuges as the Ukraine crisis thickened in the winter of 2021-22.  They did so in disregard for their shorn credibility, along with obliviousness to the objective fact that they lacked the leverage to impose on a supposedly inferior Russia nostrums serving their own interests.

An episode involving Emmanuel Macron exposes the Western leaders’ underlying, warped mindset.  In the fateful winter of 2021-22, the ever self-important French President managed to lure Putin into a series of voluble exchanges wherein he set out to tutor the Russian President in what he saw as a grand scheme to avert a war over Ukraine by enveloping Russia in Europe’s civilizational compact – as embodied In the EU and NATO. Not membership, of course, just some elaborately vague formulation inspired by Macron’s fertile mind. He even presumed to give the Russian leader his reading of the historic choices that Russia faced in the past and, once again, at this critical moment.

Either follow the example of Peter the Great and tie the Russian realm to the progressive West or remain a backward and insular country on its margins. Today’s variation took the form of a postulated choice between letting go of the Ukraine obsession in realization that Russia’s welfare lay in association with the benign West (in some form or other), or to suffer isolation, stagnation in obstinate refusal to accept that the idea of a restored, grand Russia is gone forever. Be with the winners or suffer the fate of the Old Believers. When Putin cut through the fog of Gallic abstractions, forcing Macron down from the lofty heights of theoretical modelling to the concrete and the immediate, the practical implications became starkly clear.

Russia should acquiesce in Ukraine’s full autonomy – including NATO membership, it should find closure on the shelf-soiled Minsk Accords, it should cease attempts to act as spoiler of the West’s foreign policy plans, it should reopen the Russian economy to Western financial institutions and investment in the country’s mineral resources. In return, Russia would get a place at the European table (albeit well below the salt) with the prosperity certain to flow from the prosed reforms. Yield to the West’s “mission civilizatrice.’

At that point, Putin told Macron to shove it. He subsequently refused all communications from the aspiring master builder of a reborn Europe. Macron never has forgiven Putin for this summary dismissal of his exquisitely crafted mental construct. Hence, the envisaged dispatch of the French Foreign Legion to Odessa, “Russia must not be allowed to win in Ukraine,” Putin menaces European civilization, etc. etc.

A second revealing episode in the Ukraine drama involves the White House. There was a telephone exchange between Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin, initiated by the former, as tensions heightened in January 2022. The actual purpose was to establish a record of White House efforts to prevent a military conflict =- one that the U.S. had provoked and thought it would win whether Russia backed down or went to war. Biden held out the carrot in a form of a pledge that the U.S. would not deploy missiles in Ukraine (as it had in Poland and Romania) whatever the country’s status.

He intimated that agreement on this point just might make the White House open to wider discussions on the security issues worrying Moscow. Apparently, there was quiet celebration in the Kremlin that war might be avoided. Within days, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met Tony Blinken at a pre-scheduled meeting in Istanbul. When a guardedly optimistic Lavrov made reference to Biden’s promising proposal, Blinken demurred – stating that it was not a correct rendering of the official American position. He countered with a suggestion that Washington might consider discussions on certain undefined limitations on the missiles’ use.

What do these episodes tell us about Western – in particular American – attitudes toward the global ‘South?’  The first thing to say is that we properly should substitute the terms ‘non-Western’ or “the other.’  For what stands out are features of presentation and discourse common to dealings between powerful states and weaker, vulnerable states. That is to say, the most sharply etched dividing line separates those belonging to and self-identifying with Western countries and everyone else. You are with us or you are against us – and WE decide what the key criteria for your placement are. So, the presumption of superior authority, the judgmental tone, the disregard for the viewpoint of the other party, the casual editing of history, the tenuous connection between word and deed – those traits are all too familiar to political elites in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America. Traditional diplomacy as customary among sovereign states is a relic of the past.

A few recent examples highlight the latter point. Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan is thrown out of office at Washington’s instigation, and imprisoned, because he was deemed “aggressively neutral” on the Ukraine conflict. President Maduro of Venezuela – long vilified by the United States, which made multiple attempts to topple him – suddenly becomes the object of pleadings from Washington when the sanctions imposed on Russia shuts off the United States’ principal supply of the heavy crude oil suitable to American refineries. Venezuela’s oil fits the bill perfectly; indeed, it was the main supplier to those refineries before the U.S. embargoed it when seeking to strangle the Maduro regime economically. So, a high-level delegation arrives in Caracas to offer a deal. Resume sending us your oil and we’ll ease the pressure on you. If you behave, we might even release a portion of your gold reserves which we and the British sequestered in violation of international law. Let bygones be bygones? Recognize our legitimacy? Well, not quite – but you can trust us.

Then there is the instructive Egyptian episode in the wake of October 7. The Biden people make the fateful decision that Washington should back the Israeli plan to cleanse Gaza of Palestinians by expelling them into the Sinai desert. Blinken hurries to Cairo with a proposition for President Sisi which the U.S. will make it hard for him to refuse. Accept the million + refugees and we’ll write off billions of the mountain of debt Egypt owes American banks, the Treasury, the IMF. Concern about a clear violation of international law – an action defined precisely as ‘genocide in the United Nations Convention on Genocide of 1948? Don’t worry. America will use its clout to block any attempt to hold Egypt accountable. Troubled by the prospect of the encampments becoming breeding grounds for terrorists in a locale where the government already has been fighting home-grown jihadis for years? You can count on us to deploy our vast array of counter-terrorism resources to keep them in check. Just look at Iraq, at Syria, at Afghanistan, at Yemen, at Somalia, at Libya, at Mali. Fear that an irate mob will storm the palace and lynch you? Well, you showed that you can handle that the way that you mowed down the Muslim Brotherhood supporters of the Mohamed Morsi government in 2013.

8) Let us look briefly at the economic dimension of the ‘North-South’ relationship. The network of international institutions established under American after WW II had the interlocking purposes of preventing recurrence of the disastrous interwar errors, to ensure predictability and stability, and to facilitate the movement of manufactures, natural resources and finance. The goal was laudable and it succeeded to a considerable extent. However, the system’s modalities and the workings of multilateral organizations had an ancillary objective: to favor the long-term interests of the developed countries – the United States first and foremost. That last concern has become increasingly prominent with the promotion of neoliberal ideology and the growing awareness of the US and it partners of their vulnerabilities in exposure to the emergence of peer rivals.

The picture today makes unmistakably clear that reality. The IMF, long an extension of the U.S. Treasury and Federal Reserve Bank dedicated to making the world safe for American finance, now is locked into a rigid neo-liberal orthodoxy. It thereby has been politically instrumentalized on a comprehensive scale. The terms of conditionality it sets for borrowers stress unrestricted access to local commercial and financial markets, eliminating capital controls, austerity to suppress wages and to end subsidies on essential consumer products, the supplanting of local agriculture with commodities from Western producers, and commitment to minimal government interference in the market place except to uphold property rights. What this amounts to is comprehensive strategy to entangle developing economies in the global system controlled by the West.

That means denying those overly dependent countries the option of a strategy that focuses on preserving a greater measure of autonomy in order to build up national assets and to foster national growth. It is noteworthy the United States, Germany and Japan industrialized by following the latter model which included a measure of protectionism. China’s dramatic historic development, too, has been driven by a strategy whose key elements all are antithetical to the IMF dogma.

The World Bank has been companion to the IMF is prioritizing the West’s interests. The balance it sought to strike earlier on between satisfying its patrons and assisting the national development of poorer countries now is tilted sharply toward the former. To a certain extent, that orientation dovetails with the increasing politicization of activities by both institutions. However, the deeply entrenched doctrinal bias – plus the identification with the economic interests who benefit from it – can lead to a subordination of the political factor.

Tunisia is the outstanding case in point. Heralded as the one country to put down democratic roots in the wake of the Arab spring, it faced considerable challenges in constructing resilient institutions and dealing with an economy shaken by the revolutionary disturbances. One might have thought that Western governments would make every effort to ensure the country’s stability and well-being. They did not. After an initial flurry of assistance, they abandoned Tunisia to the IMF/World Bank dogmatists and their allies in Western governments. A draconian austerity regime was imposed that significantly lowered standards of living without spurring growth; it had the inevitably effect of draining support from the new regime and its main political formations. The outcome? Democracy has been superseded by autocracy, the economy is in the doldrums, and MENA has lost its star performer. Meanwhile, the State Department continues to dispatch its envoys charged with tutoring countries in the region in democracy promotion.

9) These trends disadvantageous to the non-West are being accentuated by the United States’ shift toward protectionism. Its dedication to an open global economy has been seriously compromised by a reversion to policies intended to buffer its new-found economy vulnerability against economic forces originating (mainly) outside the West’s ambit. That strategy entails heavy subsidies to critical sectors (e.g. semi-conductors) accompanied by tariffs, quotas and sanctions. Many of these actions constitute violations of treaty obligations and international law. To avoid punitive consequences, Washington has set out to neutralize the World Trade Organization by sabotaging its key Dispute Resolution Mechanism.

10) Habitual unilateralism, accompanied by the retreat from international treaties, as manifest in the economic realm conforms to a growing pattern in American foreign relations overall. Over the past 20 years, it systematically has unraveled the network of arms control agreements designed to minimize the risks of armed conflict: the nuclear test ban treaty, the INT – Intermediate Nuclear Weapons treaty governing deployment of nuclear capable weapons in Europe, and the historic Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action governing Iran’s nuclear program. These moves have a certain situational logic. Every legal system, every regime that delimits behavior by agreed rules and regulations, is conservative in effect in the sense that it restricts the means and methods by which established authority can be challenged. It buttresses the status quo, thereby. Those who find the status quo congenial seek to reinforce and extend laws and rules. That was the United Sattes’ philosophy until relatively recently – for the evident reason that those regimes served American interests.

What now has changed is that institutionalized restrictive norms no longer are seen as unequivocally beneficial to the United States. America’s influence in world affairs is diminished; its grip on things is weakening. Rather than adapt to these emerging realities by scaling back its ambition to remain the global supremo – a position seemingly ensured by the collapse of the Soviet Union, it has recommitted itself to that audacious goal. Any hope of success depends on liberating itself from all manner of constraint. Washington’s mobilization of its Western partners in this inevitably quixotic enterprise (re. Russia, China, Iran; in Palestine) draws an ever-starker line of demarcation between the collective West and the ‘others.’


Michael Brenner is professor of international affairs at the University of Pittsburgh; a senior fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations, SAIS-Johns Hopkins (Washington, D.C.), contributor to research and consulting projects on Euro-American security and economic issues. Publishes and teaches in the fields of US foreign policy, Euro-American relations, and the European Union. mbren@pitt.eduMore

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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 6 May 2024.

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