After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US was unrivaled as a superpower. During the 1990s and, until about 2012, the US was relatively unconstrained in its use of military power in an attempt to get its way. However, often the use of military power was counterproductive. More importantly, the US frequently violated international law through its military interventions and unilateral sanctions, thus weakening support for the idea of a rules-based order.
One of the worst US war crimes since the fall of the Soviet Union was the unprovoked US-led attack on Iraq in 2003. This war crime led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocents as well as to the devastation of Iraq. Unfortunately, the US media did not call for any type of punishment for its leaders who committed these crimes. In addition, the US has not paid any substantial reparations nor tried any of its leaders for their war crimes. As a result of its criminal actions, US standing around the world suffered as other nations took note of US crimes and hypocrisy.
Instead of learning lessons from its failures in the Middle East and elsewhere, the goal of the US still seems to be the maintenance of its hegemonic position through its military might. Although communism is no longer a force that qualifies as the enemy, the US now views Russia and China, two autocratic nations, as threats to its long-term hegemony.
Unsurprisingly, the Biden administration has now reframed the situation today as a battle between democratic and autocratic camps. This reframing is reminiscent of the first Cold War period when the US framed the conflict as a battle between the US-led free world nations and the Communist nations. This earlier framing downplayed the importance of the non-aligned nations.
The number of non-aligned nations now is 120 with a population total of about 4.44 billion (a majority of the world’s population). Undoubtedly the US doesn’t represent the interests of all democracies today any more than it represented the interests of all the non-Communist nations during the Cold War. However, this nice sounding framing attempts to provide some cover for problematic US actions designed to maintain its hegemony.
Many US media pundits parrot this democracy versus autocracy narrative. There is no recognition that some democracies, particularly those following the neo-liberal economic approach, have many residents lacking security and stability in their lives. Moreover, these pundits seem to be unaware that some autocracies also provide secure and stable lives for most of their residents. For example, despite almost no civil/political rights, Iraqis had a relatively high standard of living with good health care, women had good education and jobs, and there were good relations between Sunni and Shia Muslims before the US destroyed their country. In addition, some of these pundits seem to think that democracies have a corner on moral behavior. They must have forgotten about the US genocide of American Indians, about slavery, about Jim Crow laws, etc.
Unfortunately, many of these US pundits are also in denial about US foreign policy and how the US hasn’t always walked its talk about democracy. If a democracy had a government that didn’t suit US corporate interests, the US often worked to oust the democratically-elected government. For example, the US played a major role in overthrowing the Iranian democracy in 1953, the democracy in Guatemala in 1954, and Chile’s democracy in 1973. William Blum wrote a powerful book, “Killing Hope: US Military and C.I.A. Interventions Since WWII”, that detailed in 56 chapters US involvements in overthrowing governments around the world up through 2003. In 2014, the US strongly backed the overthrow of the democratically-elected Ukrainian president, a coup that has played a role in the Russian attack on Ukraine today.
It is incredible that US political leaders, even today, are still caught up in the nightmare of rival camps. Unfortunately, many other leaders around the world also seem unable to fully grasp the need for nations to come together to deal with the existential problems of climate change and the threat of nuclear war. These leaders don’t seem to realize that there are no winners of a nuclear war nor winners on a planet ravaged by climate change.
President Biden talks about how future generations will write theses on what succeeded, democracy or autocracy. I believe he is wrong and that future generations will curse the leaders who wasted precious time and tremendous resources on outdated ideas of competition instead of cooperating to find ways of dealing with climate change and preventing a nuclear catastrophe. These leaders are stealing the future from some current and all coming generations.
Ron Forthofer is retired Professor of Biostatistics at the University of Texas School of Public Health, Houston, Texas; former Green Party candidate for Congress and for Governor of Colorado