In this engrossing long read, Tom Stevenson – the author of the book, ‘Someone Else’s Empire: British Illusions and American Hegemony’ – argues that America is playing a double game wherein, prima facie, it is pretending that its power is on the wane. Underneath this façade says Mr Stevenson, America is more than ever asserting its muscle around the world. In this persuasively written piece, Mr Stevenson offers several pieces of evidence to buttress his argument. As India gradually moves into America’s ambit of influence, Indian policymakers might want to read this piece carefully.

Exhibit #1 is Ukraine. Mr Stevenson writes: “Contrary to unserious predictions before its outbreak, this was no “hybrid war” or “cyberwar”, but a traditional ground operation that proved far more difficult than the Russian leadership imagined. In the event, expectations of a dash for Kyiv causing the quick capitulation of the Ukrainian government were frustrated. The US strategy of building up Ukrainian armed forces as a specific counter to Russian armoured invasion proved effective in staving off the initial assault. The US, Britain, Poland and other allies supplied key weapons and detailed intelligence, including satellite targeting, while seeking to inflict some economic damage on Russia with sanctions. That US intelligence appeared to have had a source in the Kremlin with access to the war plans – the US told Ukraine that Russia would invade before it did, and then made that assessment public, and CIA director Bill Burns has said clearly that the war planning was conducted by Putin and a small number of advisers – also ran counter to the narrative of the empire’s demise.

That Ukraine, with heavy US support has, so far at least, held the line against Russia…”

Exhibit #2 is the Israel vs Hamas conflict: “In the Middle East, Israel’s brutal retributive attack on Gaza, the mirror of the orgiastic violence carried out by Hamas fighters on 7 October, only reinforces this picture. Over the past two months, the influence of US global power has been plain to see. Thanks to US protection, Israel has been free to carry out what in all likelihood amount to large-scale war crimes while largely disregarding any threat from regional states that might otherwise have sought to limit its attacks on Gaza. The US has supplied Israel (probably with some help from Britain’s military base at Akrotiri in Cyprus) throughout the campaign and has moved aircraft carrier groups and nuclear armed submarines to the region to make the point abundantly clear. Britain has followed in lockstep with its more modest capabilities. The US and its allies have effectively rendered action at the UN impossible. American imperial power is all too evident in the ruins of Gaza city.”

Exhibit #3 is the damage that the Chinese economy is suffering: “In its 2022 National Security Strategy, the Biden administration declared that the 2020s were to be a decisive decade. Past military adventures in the Middle East were criticised as extravagances and distractions in the era of competition with China. “We do not seek conflict or a new cold war,” the NSS said, but “we must proactively shape the international order in line with our interests and values”. In order to prevail in competition with China, the US had to enhance its industrial capacity by “investing in our people”. The present moment was said to represent “a consequential new period of American foreign policy that will demand more of the US in the Indo-Pacific than has been asked of us since the second world war.”

What should be made of the fact that it is Biden, not Trump, who has overseen a major escalation of tension with Russia and an escalation in the trade war with China? At the time, the one ostensibly distinct part of the Trump programme appeared to be the trade war. Trump was seen as standing for an insular protectionist turn, but the same basic policies have been continued under Biden through export controls on advanced microchips….

The US political system as a whole appears, at present, to be opting for China containment. President Biden said on the campaign trail that under him US strategy would be to “pressure, isolate and punish” China. Encouraged by the US, Japan, like Britain, is engaged in a major arms buildup. American politicians make showy visits to Taipei. The US has threatened China with nuclear weapons in the past on the basis that it does not have a comparable nuclear arsenal.”

So what’s going on? Why is America moving so aggressively to assert its financial & military muscle around the world? The answer Mr Stevenson says is rather straightforward: “…the contemporary US foreign policy establishment has shown some candour about its world-ordering ambitions. Much of the discussion takes place in public between a nexus of thinktank and academic institutions, such as the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), the Kennedy School at Harvard, the Wilson Center, the Brookings Institution and the Carnegie Foundation. Respectable pillars of the establishment…have talked of the US acting as “the world’s government”. By 2011, John Ikenberry – the central intellectual figure behind the idea that the US builds and upholds a “liberal international order” – was willing to entertain the idea of “imperial tendencies” in US actions deriving from its overwhelmingly powerful global position. Some discussion has begun about the kinds of imperial activity in which the US should engage. In 2014, Barry Posen, the director of the security studies programme at MIT, began to advocate for US “restraint” in the use of force in global affairs, if only for the ultimate goal of the empire’s reinvigoration. But whatever the merits of these contributions, hegemonists who seek American primacy and neo-cold warriors fixed on the likelihood of a confrontation with China have retained a plurality.”

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