China has undertaken a diplomatic blitz that has seen it broker a rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia, warm relations with France, and put forth a proposal to end the war in Ukraine. US media coverage of these developments has involved illusion-peddling about America’s potentially waning empire, and calls for the US to escalate what amounts to a new cold war with China.
In Foreign Policy (3/14/23), Michael McFaul and Abbas Milani say that China “now shares the burden of keeping the peace in the Middle East. This is not an easy assignment, as the United States has learned bitterly over the decades.”
The US has done the opposite of “keeping the peace in the Middle East.” Nor has it sought to, as the Iraqi case makes tragically clear. Since the US-led 2003 invasion, Brown University’s Costs of War Project notes,
between 280,771–315,190 have died from direct war related violence…. Several times as many Iraqi civilians may have died as an indirect result of the war, due to damage to the systems that provide food, healthcare and clean drinking water, and as a result, illness, infectious diseases and malnutrition that could otherwise have been avoided or treated. The war has compounded the ill effects of decades of harmful US policy actions towards Iraq since the 1960s, including economic sanctions in the 1990s that were devastating for Iraqis.
Despite more than $100 billion committed to aiding and reconstructing Iraq, many parts of the country still suffer from lack of access to clean drinking water and housing.
Power = ‘peace’
Walter Russell Mead of the Wall Street Journal (3/27/23) claimed that while “American power” results in “peace and prosperity,” “challengers like China, Russia and Iran undermine the stability of the American order.” “Peace” and “stability” must seem like odd ways of characterizing that order to, say, Libyans, who had their country flattened by a US-led intervention (Jacobin, 9/12/13), and endured years of a brutal war, and even slavery.
if Chinese President Xi Jinping wants to take on the role of restraining Iran and reassuring Saudi Arabia, good luck to him. The United States has been trying since 1979 to bend the arc of the Iranian revolution toward stability.
Washington supported Iraq’s invasion of Iran, to the point of helping Iraq use chemical weapons against the country. The US has also levied sanctions that have immiserated the country, undercutting Iranians’ access to food and medicine. Describing such aggression as attempts to engender “stability” inverts reality—to say nothing of Ignatius’ strange desire to “reassur[e]” Washington’s execution-happy longtime client in Riyadh.
In the case of the war that turned Yemen into the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, McFaul and Milani exculpate the US, writing that “the Biden administration, supported by other countries with a commitment to stopping this war, helped negotiate a truce.”
Like McFaul and Milani, Ignatius accuses China of “harvest[ing] the goodwill” after the US allegedly “laid the groundwork for a settlement of the horrific war in Yemen.” This omits the rather salient point that the United States is a major reason the war has gone on for as long as it has, with as high a price as it has had for Yemenis.
The Obama, Trump and Biden administrations prolonged and escalated the war. When Obama was president and Biden his VP, the US shared intelligence about Yemen in support of the Saudis’ attacks, refueled their jets as they conducted murderous bombing raids against Yemen, and was in the”command room” as the Saudis carried out such strikes. Trump sold the Saudi government billions of dollars worth of weapons, while Biden approved a $650 million weapons sale to Saudi Arabia (FAIR.org, 1/27/23); a few weeks later, the coalition that both countries belong to bombed a prison in Sa’adah, Yemen, killing at least 80 people and injuring more than 200 with a bomb made by the US armsmaker Raytheon. To erase this history and cast the US as peacemaker absolves the US empire of its key role in the war on Yemen.
‘Anything but peaceful’
Michael Schuman of the Atlantic (3/14/23) warns:
With its closer ties to Russia and Iran, as well as its long-standing support of North Korea, China is a major patron of the world’s three most destabilizing states. The Iran/Saudi deal aside, there have been few indications that Beijing intends to use its influence to rein in these countries’ most dangerous designs. Until it does, China’s new order will be anything but peaceful.
The claim that Russia, Iran and North Korea are “the world’s three most destabilizing states” is dubious. The “most destabilizing” act a state can carry out is a full-scale military invasion of another state. Let us examine the tally. The Islamic Republic has not carried out a full-fledged military invasion of any state, and neither has North Korea in the 70 years since its ceasefire with South Korea.
Post-Soviet Russia has launched such attacks, against Georgia, which it invaded for five days in 2008, and against Ukraine—first in 2014, when it invaded and annexed Crimea, and then in 2022, when it attacked the rest of the country.
Looking just at wars in this century, the United States carried out a 20-year occupation of Afghanistan, and its troops remain in Iraq 20 years after it invaded and overthrew that country’s government. US troops still occupy parts of Syria against the will of that country’s government. Washington has carried out bombing campaigns against Libya, as noted, as well as Somalia and Pakistan.
Given that it is also the “major patron” of Israel, which invaded Lebanon in the relevant period (on top of occupying and annexing Syrian and Palestinian land), and of Saudi Arabia, the main aggressor against Yemen, there’s a strong case to be made that Uncle Sam is the world’s “most destabilizing state.”
If China overtakes the US’s position atop the global order, it’s uncertain exactly what the world system will look like. What is clear, however, is that US hegemony has been “anything but peaceful.”
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