America Forever?

Obama’s victory was predetermined by the choice of his opponent. And it seems that this choice was no accident. Romney is a standard caricature Republican with a distilled ultra-Republican image and matching public demagogy. He is probably the only candidate who was unable to beat Obama, because he could not pinch a single inch from the classic Democrat electorate, a significant proportion of whom are disillusioned with Obama. And that does not seem to be an accident, either. The crisis is only just beginning and Obama is necessary to absorb the social protests by its unavoidable victims.

Harlan Ullman, a shrewd American analyst, once noted that there used to be two parties in America – one had a conscience but no brains, and the other always had brains but no conscience. Now, Ullman notes, we have two completely identical parties with no brains and no conscience, and he questions the meaning of their existence. One would think that this sentiment contradicts the obvious picture: we see a very rigid, somewhat ideological demarcation; we see absolute opposites in terms of psychological profiles and life histories, almost as if they belong to different species. That is how it was with the McCain-Obama pairing and it is exactly the same now. In actual fact, the whole thing has been carefully built up through television images, a massive show of images. The same goes for the parties standing behind those images.

There is no doubt that America is a country with a strategy and continuity. It is a country with a profoundly consolidated elite which by no means negates the existence of a variety of interest groups and a variety of strategies. But these strategies have absolutely nothing to do with public policy, with the so-called elections. All the talk about the unpredictability and chance result of these allegedly momentous elections, which depend on the success of television debates, the well-timed release of damaging information, the behaviour of the candidates’ wives, children and dogs, the trajectory of hurricane Sandy and other nonsense unrelated to policy content, proves first and foremost that the elections themselves are immaterial. It is unthinkable that the strategy of a global hegemon depends on the chance outcome of a television show. The legal political system in the USA is a front which conveniently masks the real consensus of, and real conflicts within, America’s elite.

The current global crisis together with its systemic economic part has a no less systemic geopolitical side – it is a crisis in world governance which began with the crash of the bipolar system that provided the world with unprecedented stability and manageability. And first and foremost, we are referring specifically to the manageability of America’s “free” part of the world, for which the Soviet counterbalance was an ideally organised, disciplined and mobilised competitive factor. I will reiterate that this system was like two mutually strained structures leaning against one another. When the first structure came crashing down, the second was extraordinarily overjoyed. Goodness knows why, because everything that has happened with the world and America since is a product of this inappropriate joy.

Bush’s pointless expansionism, the financial madness which turned a super-efficient economic model that won the Cold War into an incurable financial bubble, and the growing social catastrophe have lead to the collapse of the “American dream” where it has become obvious that future generations are going to have to pay for the debts of the present. It all points to the fact that there is no alternative to the previous world governing system. The world is descending into chaos and so far the only answer from the current hegemon actually responsible for world order is the concept of “controlled chaos”. But the power to control it is getting less and less. So the collapse of the United States could be a completely logical end to the crisis in world governance which began with the collapse of the Soviet Union.

This does not mean that there are no strategy conflicts and struggles within the system. But these conflicts are by no means confined to inter-party dealings. They have nothing to do with electoral games at all. The totality, telegenicity and thrill of American democracy is inversely proportional to its influence on real-life politics.

But, broadly speaking, an alternative in, and of, itself is known. It is the struggle to hold on to global control over the world which is forcing the increasingly unbearable burden of this control to be carried. Or a gradual and appropriate withdrawal into isolationism (at least within the scope of the Monroe Doctrine), a gradual withdrawal from the obligations associated with global control. It is clear that no American government is going to be bold enough to let go of this control in the near future. Otherwise it would simply be unable to regenerate itself, at the very least it would be unable to issue dollars at the current level and cover its own enormous debts. It would mean not only the bankruptcy of America, but the bankruptcy of the entire world system currently in operation. The probability of a new American isolationism is high, however. We are already seeing clear moves in this direction. First and foremost, I am referring to the financial prerequisites.

Let us start with the much talked about “shale gas revolution”. So as not to repeat myself: inevitable developments in the extraction of shale gas initially in America and then throughout the world will turn oil and gas from limited and scarce resources into unlimited and accessible ones. In other words, the need for the “geopolitics of oil” will lessen. It is clear that as long as there is a share premium and the general benefits of global financial domination, it will be difficult to give them up, to put it mildly. But if required, the opportunity is already there. From now on, both the “shale gas revolution” and “new robotics” are dramatically reducing labour cost factors, creating the obvious prerequisites for a new American industrialisation. America has clear advantages for this: in both shale and new production technologies it is a world leader. It is already happening, in fact, and the “new industrialisation” doctrine in America is very nearly official. Which is to say that America has a unique chance – if with all the previous shifts in technological innovations there was always a change in leader, in the alpha male, then America has a chance to continue as leader. However, the price of this is giving up global dominance, voluntarily agreeing to deglobalisation. The triumph of the isolationist trend, in other words.

For America’s foreign policy it would mean that America would very gradually be able to turn from a universal bogeyman into an opponent increasingly capable of entering into agreements. Obama’s America has already switched from a policy of establishing world order – Pax Americana – to “controlled chaos”. However, there is less and less power and less and less control over the chaos. How is it possible to hold on to at least some level of control over the situation? Only by reducing the “amount of chaos” to a manageable level. But in all other cases – negotiate. It is only possible to negotiate with an adversary, however, since there is generally nothing to negotiate with an ally about. There are reasons to believe that America will seek to negotiate with its adversaries on its own asymmetrical terms, of course, as early as Obama’s next term. To put a halt to the “chaos”. So if America is not going to descend into complete degeneracy and is not going to try to shift the weight that it is already finding unmanageable, an era of frozen conflicts awaits us. We say this with faith in America and in its pragmatism, common sense and adequate, albeit non-public, political system.

• This article was first published at  Odanko and translated by Oriental Review with abridgments.

Mikhail Leontiev is a Russian journalist and TV presenter. He is a laureate of the “Golden Pen of Russia” award and the TEFI award. Read other articles by Mikhail.