Afghanistan’s Loya Jirga, which opened a day later than scheduled, as the US manipulated events to ensure the election of its favoured candidate as the country’s president (see Crescent, June 16-30), ended with similar farcical scenes on June 19. After several days’ politicking, Karzai presented the Loya Jirga with the names of three vice-presidents, the country’s chief justice and 14 cabinet ministers for their ‘approval’. He announced the names, asked for a quick show of hands, and then continued speaking "almost without a pause", according to observers. The West’s purpose (some sort of political process and hence legitimacy for their candidate) was achieved, although it had seemed threatened two days earlier, when more than half the delegates had walked out in frustration because every significant decision was being made by others behind the scenes. Ludicrously, US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad tried to pose as the Loya Jirga’s champion against Karzai’s autocratic tendencies by insisting that the names had to be presented to it, but few delegates were in a mood to be deceived so easily. Only the fact that the country is effectively under armed occupation, and that there is at present no political alternative, enabled the process to reach any sort of conclusion. America’s agenda for Afghanistan was pushed to a new stage, with future stages to be negotiated in due course.
A few days after receiving Khalilzad’s report of success in Afghanistan, US president Bush was laying the latest stone of America’s policy for the Middle East, in the form of a speech in Washington on June 24 to outline the US’s approach to a peace settlement in the next three years. Bush told the Palestinians that they would have to replace Yasser Arafat with a leadership more acceptable to Washington (and Tel Aviv). The alternative was demonstrated in the West Bank as Bush spoke: Israeli tanks occupying Palestinian towns, and helicopter-gunships firing missiles into refugee-camps to ‘take out’ Palestinian leaders who were reluctant to cooperate. Whether the Palestinians will submit remains to be seen, but America and Israel have demonstrated their willingness to be ruthless if they are resisted.
A couple of days later, Bush was in Kananaskis, Canada, meeting leaders of the other G8 countries to plan the future manipulation of the world economy, international politics, and so on. Such are the burdens of empire. On June 27 (after Crescent goes to press), leaders of some of the empire’s African vassal states will present themselves to pay tribute and receive whatever beneficence their masters see fit to put their way. Earlier in June the leaders of the same countries had met to discuss poverty and hunger in their countries, at a conference convened by one of the empire’s major departments, the UN. The imperial powers did not even send senior representatives. Now the G8 leaders will grant the African leaders approval of a programme, New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), that has supposedly been drafted by the African leaders themselves, but in fact by officials of the empire’s economic institutions, the World Bank and the IMF. This plan is acceptable to the West because it puts all the blame for Africa’s debt problems, and most of the responsibility for solving them, on the Africans themselves; there is no mention of the legacies of colonialism or the damage inflicted by the post-colonial economic order. The African leaders will be grateful, accepting their chastisement and taking a few crumbs home with them.
In these three separate episodes, we see the political, military and economic power of the West’s new empire in action. Bush’s presidency was always expected to result in a shift from the multilateral approach to administering the world, favoured by Bill Clinton, to a more unilateralist one. The implications of this have become clearer in the post-September 11 situation. Where once there was a pretence of international community and of working through institutions such as the UN, now America’s dominance is brazen. Its role in the world can be seen in phases. First it established dominance over the western hemisphere in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; then it expanded its hegemony over most of the non-communist world during the Cold War. What we are now seeing is the emerging shape of the third, global phase of America’s reich. But many peoples subjected to foreign domination in the past can take comfort from the lessons of history: few empires last long, and most contain within their own expansion the seeds of their decline.