Sun, Jan 03, 2010 - Page 9 News List

On a decade of global crimes and progress

The US’ strategic defeat in Iraq, a discredited market model, China’s rise and Latin American freedom marked the last decade and will shape the future

By Seumas Milne  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

Eight years on, we’re still caught in the shadow of the twin towers. As a rule, terrorism in its proper sense isn’t just morally indefensible — it also doesn’t work. In contrast to mass national resistance campaigns or guerrilla movements, the record of socially disconnected terror groups, from the Russian anarchists onwards, has been one of unmitigated failure. But the wildly miscalculated response of the US government succeeded in turning the Sept. 11 atrocities into what may rank as the most successful terror attack in history.

It also triggered the first of four decisive changes that have ensured that the 21st century’s first decade has transformed the world — in some significant ways for the better. Osama bin Laden’s initial demand was the withdrawal of US troops from Saudi Arabia, which was carried out in short order. But it was former US president George W. Bush’s war on terror that paradoxically delivered the greatest blow to US authority and the world’s first truly global empire, in ways al-Qaeda could scarcely have dreamed of.

Not only did the lawless savagery of the US campaign of killings, torture, kidnappings and incarceration without trial spawn terrorists worldwide and comprehensively dispose of Western pretensions to be the guardians of human rights, but US-British invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, in the latter case on a flagrantly false pretext, starkly exposed the limits of US military power to impose its will on recalcitrant peoples prepared to fight back.

In Iraq, this had already amounted to a strategic defeat — at a cost of hundreds of thousands of lives — by the point the US surge bought some time by splitting the resistance movement. Both on a regional and global scale, the demonstration of US military overreach strengthened the hand of those prepared to defy the US and revealed 2003 as having been the high-water mark of US imperial pomp.

The election of US President Barack Obama on a platform of withdrawal from Iraq, and Russia’s crushing response to the attack on South Ossetia by the US client state of Georgia, confirmed that shift by signaling the end of unchecked US unilateralism. The unipolar moment had passed.

The US’ unexpected decline was further underlined by the economic meltdown of the past two years, the greatest crash since the 1930s and the second epochal development which has defined this decade. Incubated in the US and deepened by the vast cost of multiple wars, the crisis has played the greatest havoc with those economies that bought most enthusiastically into the catechism of deregulated markets and unchained corporate power.

A voracious model of capitalism forced down the throats of most of the world for the last 20 years as the only acceptable form of economic management, at a cost of ever-widening inequality and devastating environmental degradation, has now been discredited — and has been rescued from collapse only by the greatest global state intervention ever. In less than 10 years, the baleful global twins of neoconservatism and neoliberalism have been tried and tested to destruction.

Both failures have accelerated the rise of China, the third vital change of the past 10 years, which has not only taken hundreds of millions out of poverty as the economic gap with the US has halved (China has in fact overtaken the US in domestic capital generation), but also begun to create a new center of power in a multipolar world that should expand the freedom of manoeuvre for smaller states. Its blithe disregard for free market orthodoxy has only added to its success in riding out the west’s slump. So perhaps it’s no surprise that western politicians are increasingly anxious to blame China for their own failures, in everything from trade imbalances to the fiasco of the Copenhagen climate change negotiations.

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