The Guardian November 10, 2004

The insecurity of the American Empire

The former Chinese vice-Premier and Foreign Minister, Qian 
Qichen, writing in China Daily says that changes in the 
world's structure in the 20th century were mainly brought about 
by war. In this century, two world-wide wars, namely, World Wars 
I and II, and the Cold War, broke out. The world has not been 
clearly reconfigured since the end of the Cold War which 
signalled the collapse of a two-polar structure in the world.

For some time after the Cold War ended, the United States itself 
was not entirely sure of where its main threats came from — 
whether from the still destructive nuclear stockpile left over by 
the Soviet Union, or China's rapid development, or from somewhere 

For a certain period after the end of the Cold War, the United 
States focused its main energies on developing new kinds of 
weapons and building a missile defence shield to overpower its 
potential strategic rivals. In 1999, the world's sole superpower 
waged the Kosovo War to consolidate its dominance in Europe and 
advance its strategic influence towards Russia. In 2000, George W 
Bush claimed China was a strategic competitor of the United 
States in one of his presidential campaign speeches.

All the blustering was a clear signal of the US' uncertainty over 
who was its main foe.

The September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington in 
2001, however, greatly shocked the United States. Even in the 
Pearl Harbour incident of December 7, 1941, the US mainland was 
free from direct attacks from Japan although its Pacific Fleet 
suffered heavy losses.

The September 11 event shows that the biggest threat to the US 
homeland is neither big powers with sophisticated weapons, nor 
its alleged strategic adversaries, but irregularly-based 
terrorist organisations.


Facing such unprecedented challenges, the US Bush administration 
substantially adjusted its global strategy, aimed at not dealing 
with threats from strategic rivals, but from terrorism and the 
proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

In the wake of September 11, the "Bush Doctrine" came out, in 
which the United States created "axis of evil" and "pre-emptive" 
strategies. It linked counter— terrorism and the prevention of 
proliferation to the reformation of so-called "rogue states" and 
"failed states".

Under this doctrine, the United States launched two military 
actions in Afghanistan and Iraq within two years. It reviewed the 
structure of the US military forces, and drafted programs for 
redeployment of US forces overseas.

Under this doctrine, the United States has tightened its control 
of the Middle East, Central Asia, Southeast Asia and Northeast 
Asia, strengthened its response ability to this outstretched 
"unstable arc," and put forward its "Big Middle East" reform 

It all testifies that Washington's anti-terror campaign has 
already gone beyond the scope of self-defence.

These latest moves, when seen on the background of the Gulf War 
and the Kosovo War, have made it obvious that the United States 
has not changed its Cold War mentality and that the country is 
still accustomed to applying military means to deal with various 
threats, visible or invisible.

The philosophy of the "Bush Doctrine" is in essence force. It 
advocates the United States should rule over the whole world with 
overwhelming force, military force in particular.

Hardly strange, then, that Bush and his administration still 
insist on arguing that their decision to go to war in Iraq and US 
policy on the issue were right. 

But the world's situation in response to the war is in effect a 
negative answer. In Iraq, the United States did win a war in the 
military dimension, but it is far from winning peace for itself 
and the Arab country.

Pandora's Box

On the contrary, Washington has opened a Pandora's Box, 
intensifying various intermingled conflicts, such as ethnic and 
religious ones.

The US case in Iraq has caused the Muslim world and Arab 
countries to believe that the superpower already regards them as 
targets of its ambitious "democratic reformation" program. This 
perception has increasingly aggravated the long-brewing conflicts 
between the United States and the Muslim world. 

Now, Washington's predicament in Iraq has become daily news.

On June 28, the White House hurried to transfer Iraq's power to 
the country's interim government. But the handover was of more 
nominal than practical significance. Currently, 150,000 US troops 
are still deep in the Iraq quagmire, and the death toll steadily 

The Iraq War has made the United States even more unpopular in 
the international community than its war in Viet Nam. Bush did 
not even dare to meet the public on the streets when he visited 
Britain, the closest ally of the United States.

From US pre-war military preparations to post-war reconstruction 
of the country [Iraq], the rift between the United States and its 
traditional European allies has never been so wide.

It is now time to give up the illusion that Europeans and 
Americans are living in the same world, as some Europeans would 
like to believe.

The Iraq issue also became a heated topic during the US 
presidential election [campaign]. Over the past year, some 
American think-tanks and politicians have had soul-searching 
reflections on the issue and made their criticisms.

Many of them believe that the Bush administration did not 
objectively and clearly assess challenges and difficulties facing 
the United States when it applied the pre-emptive strategy. In so 
doing, the administration was only practising the same 
catastrophic strategy applied by former empires in history.


Both history and practice of "the myth of empires" have 
demonstrated that the pre-emptive strategy will bring the Bush 
administration an outcome that it is most unwilling to see, that 
is, the absolute insecurity of the "American Empire" and its 
demise because of expansion it cannot cope with.

The paradox of the US force theory is that the world's politics 
have already changed, and even for the world's most powerful 
country, it is impossible to realise its key goals merely through 
its own strength, just like that by the ancient Roman Empire.

[US] unilateralism has seriously underestimated the role a 
country's soft power and international systems can play, thus 
denting important means that Washington can apply to practise its 
new national security strategy.

The Iraq war was an optional war, not a necessary one, and the 
pre-emptive principle should be removed from the dictionary of 
the US national security. Even former US Secretary of State 
Madeleine Albright has said so.

The Iraq War has also destroyed the hard-won global anti-terror 
coalition. Mounting hostile sentiments among the Muslim world 
towards the United States following the war have already helped 
the al-Qaida terrorist network recruit more followers and suicide 
martyrs. Instead of reducing, the number of terrorist activities 
throughout the world is now on the increase. 

The US' call for help from the United Nations (UN) for Iraq's 
post-war reconstruction work once again shows that in the current 
world, unilateralism is not appropriate in solving international 

The Iraq War provides another negative example of international 
relations in the new century.

In an increasingly interdependent world, in which the benefits of 
every country have been closely intertwined, the damages a war 
can cause will be far more than the benefits it can bring. No 
superpower can possibly force the international community into 
accepting its own norms merely by displaying its military muscle.


The current US predicament in Iraq serves as another example that 
when a country's psychological superiority is inflated beyond its 
real capability, a lot of trouble can be caused.

But the troubles and disasters the United States has met do not 
stem from threats by others, but from its own cocksureness and 

The 21st century is not the "American Century". That does not 
mean that the United States does not want the dream. Rather, it 
is incapable of realising the goal.

In this century, all big powers should compete in a peaceful way, 
instead of by military means.

* * *
Xinhua News Agency

Back to index page