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Is US Hegemony a Paper Tiger?

© AP Photo / Kin CheungPaper tigers are displayed at a stall for villain hitting in Hong Kong, Thursday, March 6, 2014. Villain hitting is a folk sorcery popular in the Guangdong area of China including Hong Kong. Its purpose is to curse one's enemies using magic. Villain hitting is often considered a humble career, and the ceremony is often performed by older women. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Paper tigers are displayed at a stall for villain hitting in Hong Kong, Thursday, March 6, 2014. Villain hitting is a folk sorcery popular in the Guangdong area of China including Hong Kong. Its purpose is to curse one's enemies using magic. Villain hitting is often considered a humble career, and the ceremony is often performed by older women. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung) - Sputnik International, 1920, 05.06.2024
Economist Radhika Desai questions notions of an all-encompassing Western dominance, pointing out that there has always been objection to imperial rule.
The global image of NATO – and the United States, by extension – has taken a beating as Moscow appears on the cusp of victory in its conflict with Ukraine. The West’s most sophisticated weaponry, as well as a barrage of propaganda alleging a struggle of democracy versus “authoritarianism,” have failed to turn the tide as Russian troops gain ground near the city of Kharkov.
What’s more, a series of increasingly severe US sanctions have failed to hasten the predicted downfall of Russia’s economy. The country has, on the contrary, become more resilient in the face of the aggression, growing at a faster rate than the G7 nations imposing the restrictions – a fact frequently noted by President Vladimir Putin on the campaign trail earlier this year.
The dramatic turn of events has led observers to claim the era of US dominance is definitively over as President Joe Biden watches the failure of his administration’s signature foreign policy prerogative.
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However, Dr. Desai says US hegemony has not fallen, but that it never truly existed. The author made the claim Tuesday on Sputnik’s The Critical Hour program as hosts Wilmer Leon and Garland Nixon discussed China’s refusal to attend de facto Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s upcoming “peace conference” in Switzerland.
“One of the things that Garland and I say on this show repeatedly, particularly about Presidents Xi and President Putin, is people need to listen to what these leaders are saying,” insisted Leon, reading from China’s 12-point peace plan for the conflict in the Donbass. “When you listen to what they're saying, such as, 'the legitimate security interests and concerns of all countries must be taken seriously and addressed properly,' that makes nothing but sense.”
The document, released in early 2023, also rejected “unilateral sanctions and maximum pressure,” urged dialogue, and criticized NATO expansion.
“It's one thing to say that the West should listen to Presidents Xi and Putin, but I would suggest to you that the West has long lost the ability to do so,” responded Desai. “They have for the last I don't know how many decades essentially taken an extremely undiplomatic, non-negotiating route. It's ‘my way or the highway.’”
“So if you basically take the position that you do not wish to convert your economy into an open playground for our corporations, and if you don't do so, then we will consider you an autocrat, a dictator, a violator of our rules-based international order. Basically, you have no negotiating position. Negotiation involves give and take. The West has long given up on give and take. It is always 'take, take, take,' and no give.”
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Countries that have attempted to operate their economies outside of the control of the Western-led global economic order, such as Bashar al-Assad’s Syria and Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya, have repeatedly become targets of US regime change operations.
Gaddafi, a charismatic and ambitious leader, famously proposed a unified gold-backed currency to replace the use of the US dollar and French CFA franc in trade between African nations. Observers suggest the plan helped spur the successful effort to topple him in 2011, but dollar hegemony has still declined since the Libyan revolutionary’s overthrow as nations throughout the world increasingly seek trade denominated in their own domestic currencies.
A report issued by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs around the same time as its Ukraine peace plan, entitled “US Hegemony and Its Perils,” sharply criticized the role of the United States in the world after World War II.
“The United States has acted more boldly to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, pursue, maintain and abuse hegemony, advance subversion and infiltration, and willfully wage wars, bringing harm to the international community,” read the document.
“The United States has developed a hegemonic playbook to stage ‘color revolutions,’ instigate regional disputes, and even directly launch wars under the guise of promoting democracy, freedom and human rights,” alleged the report. “Clinging to the Cold War mentality, the United States has ramped up bloc politics and stoked conflict and confrontation. It has overstretched the concept of national security, abused export controls and forced unilateral sanctions upon others.”
Protesters wearing masks featuring (L-R) Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, US President Barack Obama, Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi take part in an anti-war demonstration calling on  governments to stop bombing Libya in front of the Base Naval de Rota, on March 26, 2011, in Rota near Cadiz. - Sputnik International, 1920, 15.02.2023
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The document identifies the end of the Second World War – after which most of the Western world lay in ruins – as the point at which the United States established global hegemony. But Desai claimed that US hegemony, as it’s typically characterized, has been vastly oversold.
“That hegemony has already ended, and it didn't end, as some might think, recently,” said the economist. “My argument has always been in various books that I have argued, including my book Geopolitical Economy, it's never existed. What you've seen since the end of the Second World War, and even earlier in the 20th century, is a series of attempts on the part of the United States to impose its weight on the rest of the world.”
“But none of these attempts have ever succeeded,” she claimed. “We portray the Bretton Woods system as a US-created entity. When we do that, we forget that the United States actually wanted a far more free market world than what it got in 1945. By free market, I mean a world open to US corporations. It failed to get this… And the United States military has actually not won a single war.”
“As a Kenyan official put it: every time China visits we get a hospital; every time Britain visits we get a lecture,” reads a famous tweet that has since been immortalized in meme form. Military might has played an important role in upholding the Western-led economic order. But various detractors, from 20th century Russia to 21st century China, have consistently won support for an alternate vision based on good will, solidarity, and global cooperation.
“Countries need to respect each other and treat each other as equals,” urged the Chinese foreign ministry’s 2023 report. “Big countries should behave in a manner befitting their status and take the lead in pursuing a new model of state-to-state relations featuring dialogue and partnership, not confrontation or alliance. China opposes all forms of hegemonism and power politics, and rejects interference in other countries' internal affairs.”
“The United States must conduct serious soul-searching. It must critically examine what it has done, let go of its arrogance and prejudice, and quit its hegemonic, domineering and bullying practices.”
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