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A Fractured Empire, Within and Without: John Bellamy Foster Interviewed by BirGün Daily, July 25, 2020

A fractured empire, within and without

Originally published: Birgün (July 25, 2020)   | 

Birgün: U.S. hegemony is in decline. There are signs that the divide between the United States and its European allies is widening. Lately, there is a tension with Germany over the Nord Stream 2 Project. What does that mean about the future of the hegemonic order that the U.S. leads and late imperialism? Can we talk about a real crack in the ‘triad’? Is the U.S. losing its ‘big brother’ role in the ‘triad’?

JBF: Washington’s relations with its European allies sour periodically, since they are capitalist competitors and have divergent national interests. European nations especially resent U.S. interference in their affairs which goes along with U.S. hegemony. None of this though runs so deep at present as to constitute “a real crack” in the imperial triad of the United States, Europe, and Japan. In terms of U.S. opposition to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany, which is now almost completed, this should not be seen as arising simply from the Trump administration since Obama too opposed the pipeline. The proposed new round of sanctions to be imposed on corporations engaged in the construction of the pipeline are being promoted on a bipartisan basis in the U.S. Senate with both Democrats and Republicans in support.

Faced with an excess of natural gas production in the United States resulting from Washington’s promotion of fracking, U.S. energy producers are increasingly reliant on foreign markets. These markets though have rapidly evaporated in the context of the coronavirus pandemic which has reduced world energy demand. Moreover, as a result of the trade war initiated by the Trump administration, China put a prohibitive 25 percent tariff on U.S. liquid natural gas (LNG) imports, effectively shutting off the Chinese market. The U.S. natural gas industry is thus eager to expand its reach in Europe, where Russia has long been preeminent. Washington has sought to politicize the issue, marketing U.S. natural gas as “freedom gas.” Meanwhile, Germany is seeking to expand its natural gas imports to replace coal and nuclear. Nord Stream 2 would facilitate a doubling of Germany’s LNG imports from Russia, and at lower cost. Seeing all of this, the U.S. Senate, with the support of the Trump administration, is including additional sanctions on corporations involved in Nord Stream 2 construction in its new Defense bill. However, it is doubtful that these new sanctions will have any real effect given that the pipeline is so close to completion. A key goal of Washington is no doubt to placate the U.S. energy companies.

Things become clearer if we look at the question geopolitically. Ukraine and the countries of the Three Seas Initiative including the Baltic States and Eastern European countries, are afraid that existing Russian pipelines through their territories will be bypassed affecting their energy supply and eliminating lucrative transit fees that they currently receive from Russia. In 2018 Russia’s Gazprom moved 87 billion cubic meters of gas through the Ukraine from which Ukraine obtained around $3 billion in transit fees. Ukraine wanted to renew this contract, which was expiring late in 2019, but Russia, with Nord Stream 2 in the offing (in addition to its TurkStream pipeline into Turkey), offered the Ukraine only a one-year contract, expecting to bypass Ukraine (this was later finalized as a five-year contract). Ukraine then turned to Washington to slow down and, if possible, stop the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Washington is closely aligned with Ukraine and Poland in this dispute. Ukraine’s neofascist government has a powerful lobby in Washington. There is also the concern in Washington that Moscow would be able to acquire leverage over Germany and the EU as a result of their dependency on Russian natural gas (and oil). Already Germany receives 40 percent of its natural gas supply from Russia, while the EU as a whole depends on Russia for about a quarter of its supply. All of this, though, is fairly standard geopolitical maneuvering and New Cold War politics.

Birgün: The U.S. has decided to exit from World Health Organization as well as UNESCO. Is this a self-isolation? What kind of an ideology lies behind these decisions?

JBF: It makes no real sense to speak of “isolation” in relation to a nation that has troops in around a hundred countries and military bases in nearly as many and which seeks to rule over a world capitalist empire. The United States has a history of not signing international treaties and withdrawing from international organizations that it not able to dominate. This has simply taken more virulent forms with the Trump administration with its withdrawal from the U.N. Climate Agreement, UNESCO, and the World Health Organization. In the case of UNESCO, the United States left the organization together with Israel in opposition to resolutions directed against Israel’s continued occupation of Palestine and its growing oppression of the Palestinian people. In relation to the World Health Organization the U.S. is withdrawing as a result of its claim that WHO aided China in allegedly covering up the origins of COVID-19 and disguising its own actions, based on trumped-up charges from the Taiwanese government supported by Washington which have now been proven to be completely false. This is part of the Trump administration’s attempt to weaken China, seen now as the main threat to U.S. hegemony over the world economy. Thus, Washington’s withdrawal from UNESCO and its declaration that it is beginning its formal withdrawal from WHO were both byproducts of U.S. imperial strategy.

Birgün: As federal law enforcement is attacking the protestors in Portland, the Trump administration moved to send more units to Chicago, Detroit, and other cities. Trump declared himself as “law and order” president right before the November elections. According the U.S. media his poll numbers are “sinking”. In the last month’s interview, you mentioned “the enormous power of the presidency, including the ability to start a war to get people to gather around the flag.” With the economy shrinking after the pandemic, is the “homeland” the only option to open a war front today? Can these moves help him to consolidate the support of his electorate? Can we see Trump’s moves as a mere investment for the presidential election?

JBF: Trump declared that he would “dominate” the George Floyd protestors with force, but his constitutional authority in the use of military force domestically in situations of peaceful protest is limited. Aside from his use of the National Guard in Washington D.C. to clear a peaceful crowd with teargas so he could walk to a church for a photo op—an action strongly criticized by the military—he has had his hands tied in calling on the regular military to suppress peaceful domestic protestors. However, in Portland, Oregon in the last couple of weeks he brought in unidentified paramilitary forces that have operated like a secret police. They turned out to be units of Homeland Security, including a border patrol tactical unit. Homeland Security’s  designated role is to fight domestic terrorism and to secure the nation’s borders, but its paramilitary units are now being used by Trump as his own private military to occupy a U.S. city without the cooperation of the state and local authorities. The federal forces immediately shot a peaceful demonstrator in the head with a rubber bullet and abducted protestors using unmarked cars. Protestors had hoods place over their heads and were interrogated by secret police, methods designed to strike terror in those abducted. A few days ago, Trump’s forces shot a Portland State University history professor in the head with impact munitions while she was standing peacefully among a thousand or more protestors. The federal paramilitary units also teargassed the mayor of the city. Journalists are being targeted. A Mint Press reporter was shot in the face with pepper balls while he was sitting off by himself. According to U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (Oregon), “The violent tactics deployed by Donald Trump and his paramilitary forces against peaceful protestors are those of a fascist regime.”

Meanwhile, Trump has declared that he would dominate protestors in other mostly Democratic-controlled states and has now reportedly sent massed federal law enforcement forces into Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, and a tactical paramilitary team to Seattle, as well as committing federal forces to other cities in an effort to quell peaceful protests (which had already largely subsided) and to curb freedom of assembly. So far, however, this has not resulted in the severity of repression being encountered in Portland, which was clearly designated as a dry run for a national effort at repression of popular forces by the Trump administration.

Your question about whether Trump was using the “homeland” as his war-option for regaining the presidency is thus a very shrewd one. This was certainly his intention, but it may already have backfired, due mainly to the continuing resistance of the people in Portland, who keep coming out in larger numbers in defiance of the federal occupation. Polls in key electoral battleground states—particularly Republican-dominated states, such as Arizona and North Carolina, that show signs of shifting to the Democrats,—indicate that a clear majority of the electorate are strongly opposed to Trump’s violent unleashing of federal secret police and paramilitary in Portland. Imperialist wars of a sufficient magnitude often result in people rallying around the flag. But a virulent attack on U.S. citizens and communities engaged in peaceful assembly is another matter and is having the opposite effect of losing Trump support among independents. For these and other reasons Trump is now behind Biden by double digits in the polls. The one area where Trump leads is the economy, due to his previous tax cuts and the subsequent stimulus payments made to the public during the COVID-19 pandemic—even though in both cases the vast majority of funds went to the wealthy. In almost every other area, including his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, Trump’s policies are proving unpopular with a majority of the electorate. There is still the possibility that a military intervention, say against Iran or Venezuela, could be undertaken in order to draw patriotic support for Trump’s reelection. Two things seem certain at this point: (1) The Trump administration will continue to extend its heavy handed neofascist tactics in the next three months, seeking to expand its political base by these means, and (2) the White House and the Republican Party will try to engineer another set of stimulus payments/tax cuts in early September with Trump’s name all over it. The corruption and bribery in U.S. politics now have few limits.

Read original untranslated interview here

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