"What comes next is anybody’s guess" were the closing words of this column in December 2007. That had been a turbulent year, marked by a series of setbacks for the Empire on all fronts. Aside from the ongoing quagmire in Iraq and Afghanistan, even in the Balkans the region handpicked for the demonstration of hegemony things were not proceeding according to plan.
Ironically, during 2008 the situation became reversed. While the Empire managed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in the Balkans, its grip slipped away everywhere else. If the purpose of creating an "independent" Kosovo was to reinforce US hegemony, then it was a Pyrrhic victory, set against the rise of China, a resurgent Russia, a rebellious Latin America, and an economic crisis that shook the very foundations of the West. The sight of two shoes hurled at Emperor Bush by an Iraqi journalist during a press conference in Baghdad was just the finishing touch.
A "Victory" in Kosovo
As of January, it looked as if cracks were beginning to show in the plan to declare an "Independent State of Kosovo." Criticism of Washington and Brussels’ Kosovo policy grew more pronounced. Even Newsweek, a stalwart bastion of interventionism in the Balkans, offered a cautionary comment:
"With so much at stake, the West must ask itself whether a free (sic) Kosovo is worth further humiliating a volatile, Russia-backed Belgrade in the heart of the Balkans. This is one small, poor Eastern state that the EU may eventually want more than it wants the EU."
There was no doubt that the Empire intended to create a puppet state in Kosovo; Bush the Lesser had publicly promised that during his visit to Albania in June ’07. But as of January 2008, all the regular avenues for this seemed closed. Due to Russian opposition, the UN could not agree to violate or rewrite Resolution 1244, and Belgrade’s stubborn defense made it unlikely Serbia would voluntarily accept dismemberment either. One last card remained in play, however.
Serbian President Boris Tadic, noted for his overt sycophancy towards Washington and Brussels, arranged for early presidential elections in January. The Imperial commentariat at the time openly admitted that a reelected Tadic would be have an easier time "selling" the loss of Kosovo to the Serbs.
Tadic almost lost. After the first round of voting, he was trailing the "ultra-nationalist hardliner" Tomislav Nikolic of the Radical Party, and it looked as if the Empire’s last gambit might fail. Two weeks later, however, a steady media diet of fear and empty promises of EUtopia tipped the scales just far enough.
That was the cue the Empire was waiting for. On February 17, the Albanian provisional government of Kosovo declared independence. The first country to recognize it wasn’t the United States, but its puppet satrapy of Afghanistan. Within days, however, the "Independent State of Kosovo" was recognized by the US and most NATO members. Those who built an Empire by invoking the specter of Munich 1938 had actually made a Munich of their own.
For its part, Serbia looked like it might resist; general elections were called for early May, and popular sentiment indicated that Tadic and his pro-Imperial bloc would lose. Between the open endorsement by powers that had just carved out a piece of Serbian territory and a bogus pact with the EU clearly intended as an electoral stunt, promises of "better life" and "European integrations" never sounded more hollow. The Serbs’ choice was not easy, but it was simple enough, and for a moment again! it looked as if Empire’s favorites had foundered. Any which way one did the math, the pro-Empire "reformers" could not get a majority.
Several ambassadorial interventions and tycoon junkets later, Tadic had his majority and his government by embracing the party once led by Slobodan Milosevic. Alternately demonized for a decade as die-hard communists and nationalists (while in reality being neither), the Socialists had apparently made a secret pact with the Democrats ahead of the election, lulling their Radical and Populist allies into a false sense of security. With their defection to the Imperial camp, the Serbian opposition crumbled. The Radicals even split into two parties, with the faction led by Nikolic making overtures to the Tadic bloc (!). All this translated into near-absolute power for Tadic and his party, not seen since the days of Zoran Djindic. True to predictions, Serbia became a lot more "compliant" to the desires of Brussels and Washington. Here and there, it has made waves over the issue of Kosovo, but it hasn’t actually done anything to retake the occupied province. With Belgrade finally pacified, the Empire could bask in the glory of victory.
Or could it?
The Guns of August
The Beijing Olympics, which opened on August 8, were more than an international athletic competition. From the grandiose opening ceremony to the lavish closing call, the games were also a demonstration of China’s power and desire to be an influential and respected force in the world. However, China’s limelight was inadvertently stolen by Russia.
Believing the world sufficiently distracted by the Olympics spectacle, Washington’s client and president of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili launched a strike on South Ossetia, a region that never accepted Georgian rule in the aftermath of Soviet dissolution. Brought to power in a "popular revolution" copied from a similar coup in Serbia, Saakashvili cribbed another page from the Empire’s Balkans playbook, seeking to duplicate Croatia’s 1995 blitzkrieg against its Serbian territories.
Moscow’s response was swift. Within days the Georgian military had ceased to exist, Russian troops were lounging around in the birthplace of Stalin, and the panicked Saakashvili chewed his tie and screamed for help. The Empire had none to give. All it could do was talk tough, as the Georgian military trained and equipped by the US and Israel was dismantled by the victorious Russians. By the end of the month, Russia had recognized both Ossetia and Abkhazia, another region that rejected Georgian rule.
Saakashvili is still the president of Georgia, but probably not for long. The Empire dislikes quislings who try to overplay their hand, and is unforgiving of embarrassing failures.
Events in Georgia were but one of the challenges to US hegemony that 2008 brought. The pro-Imperial regime in Ukraine plunged into a crisis. In Latin America, Venezuela and Bolivia expelled US Ambassadors, while Brazil and Argentina signed a deal to stop using US dollars in bilateral trade. And as the anniversary of September 11 now merely an echo buried in the rubble of subsequent Imperial adventures rolled around, the economic chickens finally came home to roost.
Collapse and "Change"
Much has been said about the origins and meaning of the current economic crisis. Much of it has been false or downright nonsensical. Elementary logic dictated that an enormous credit bubble fueled by inflationary policies of the US government would eventually burst. Now all the outlandish financial con games and Ponzi schemes are rebounding on their "investors" with a vengeance, and the suicides of failed bankers and investors have already begun. It’s beginning to look a lot like the 1930s.
Little wonder, then, that in 2008 Americans turned to a Messianic figure in the person of Barack Hussein Obama. The man who came out of nowhere to make a brilliant career in the Democratic Party in just a few short years first beat Hillary Clinton in the primaries, then Republican frontrunner John McCain at the polls in November.
Obama’s carefully crafted message promises "hope" and "change." But would it be a meaningful change, restoring liberty at home and dismantling the costly and crumbling Empire abroad? Hardly. All of Obama’s cabinet secretaries and advisors are old Washington hands, from VP Joseph Biden to Hillary Clinton taking over Foggy Bottom. By the looks and sounds of it, Barack Obama’s inauguration in January will actually be the Clinton Restoration, at home and abroad.
Over the past eight years, Bush the Lesser and his cohorts ran America and tried to run the world with a conviction that their willpower alone could shape reality. The consequences of their hubris are just beginning to be felt. Yet the "liberal" imperialists remain convinced that the world actually desires American hegemony, and all they have to do is change the flavor.
Events of the past year have shown that the American Empire is ultimately a failed proposition, and perhaps even that the very concept of global hegemony is an idea whose time has passed. However, there has always been a delay between reality and the awareness thereof. At the end of 2008, the world finds itself in just such a moment of transition, unsure what the future may hold, and how to deal with it. More of the same with expectations of a different result would fit Einstein’s famous definition of insanity. Right now, however, it seems that’s precisely what we’re going to get.