Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Picking the CIA's "brain

The Decline of the American Empire Remains a Movie for the CIA

by: Samir Amin

"It is customary for the ruling classes not to imagine the possible end of the system that assures the perpetuation of their domination," notes Samir Amin. (Art: Deidre deFranceaux / Obbino)

Economist Samir Amin deciphers the latest CIA report on the state of the world. He shows that intelligence agency experts still see a single view only: the American model's dominance. In this first part of two, Samir Amin describes the experts' capitalist blindness.

A reading of the CIA's latest report on "the world in 2025" supplies hardly any information that an ordinary observer of the global economy and politics would not have known. On the other hand, it allows us to better know the way the ruling class of the United States thinks and to identify the limits of that thinking.

I would summarize my conclusions from that reading by the following points:

  • Washington's forecasting ability surprises by its weakness; one has the feeling the CIA's successive reports are always "behind" events, never ahead of them.
  • This ruling class is ignorant of the role that "peoples" sometimes play in history; it gives the feeling that only the ruling classes' opinions and choices count, and that the people always "follow" those choices and adapt themselves to them without ever succeeding in causing their failure, let alone in imposing different alternatives.
  • None of the acknowledged "experts'" opinions imagines possible (still less "acceptable") any mode of economic management other than that which conventional economics acknowledges the supposedly "scientific" character of (the "neo-liberal," free trade, "globalized" capitalist economy), therefore there would be no credible (and consequently possible) alternative to "free market capitalism."
  • In addition, the impression one takes away from this reading is that the United States' establishment preserves some very solid prejudices, particularly with respect to the people of Africa and Latin America.

The CIA Did Not See the Economic Crisis Coming

The preceding report - the world in 2015 - had not imagined that financialization of oligopolistic capitalism would necessarily lead to a collapse like the one that occurred in 2008 and had been foreseen and described years before by critical analysts whom the experts of the United States establishment never read (including François Morin, John Bellamy Foster and myself).

In the same way, the military failure in Afghanistan had not been imagined and consequently it's only in this latest report that a partial relinquishment of Washington's strategy of military control of the planet is considered - evidently, following its failure!

So even today (from the 2025 vantage) the report unhesitatingly asserts that "a collapse of globalization" remains unthinkable. Our hypothesis, on the contrary, is that there's a strong probability of a "de-globalization" through the constitution of robust and disconnected regionalization (disconnected in the sense that the relations that these regions will maintain between themselves will be the object of negotiations that do not seriously undermine their relative autonomy).

In a general manner, the "hegemony" of the United States, the decline of which has been visible for several decades and yet was affirmed in the previous report as still "definitive" is now imagined as "worn," but nonetheless still robust.

Fatal Myopia

It is customary for the ruling classes not to imagine the possible end of the system that assures the perpetuation of their domination. "Revolutions," therefore, are always not only "catastrophes" for them, but also unforeseeable, unexpected, "irrational" accidents.

This fatal myopia prohibits them from emerging from the framework of a so-called "real-politik" (not very realistic, in fact!) the path of which is exclusively fashioned by the effects of calculations, alliances and conflicts that affect the ruling classes only.

So geopolitics and geostrategy are strictly confined within the horizon of possibilities that conform to those games. The rationales developed by the CIA's analysts concerning the different possible options for the United States' dominant class (and its subordinate European and Japanese allies) in response to those of their serious adversaries ("emerging" countries, with China in first place) and to the chaotic possible oscillations of others are certainly well-founded.

But the fact remains that the range of objectives and strategies implemented by the governments, the nations and the peoples at the periphery of the global system (whether in emerging or in marginalized countries) is seriously diminished by this fundamental "capitalist" prejudice.

The fundamental contradiction that confronts the ruling classes of the countries involved is ignored. That those classes are "pro-capitalist" in the largest sense of the term is not debatable, but obvious. Still, their capitalist plans may only be deployed to the extent that the strategies implemented successfully curb the imperialist centers that must be pushed back.

The End of the "Belle Époque"

The report significantly underestimates this contradiction in order to satisfy itself of what still appears correct today, that is, that the powers in place (in China, in India, in Brazil, Russia and elsewhere) do not (yet?) question the foundations of the international order. That's the case at present because in the preceding phase of globalization's deployment of, the period I have described as the "belle èpoque" (1980-2008), emerging countries had effectively succeeded in "profiting" from their insertion into the ongoing globalization.

But this phase is now over and the ruling classes in the countries involved will have to discern that, and, from then on, implement strategies less and less "complementary" to those deployed by the oligopolies of the imperialist center, in effect, strategies that will conflict ever more with those of the center.

A decisive factor - ignored by the CIA's analysts - will probably accelerate this development: the difficulty of reconciling strong "capitalist" growth and acceptable responses to the social problems associated with that growth, a difficulty against which the governments in place at the periphery of the system are crashing.

The CIA experts do not distinguish between the ruling classes of the imperial center and those of the peripheries because they are all "pro-capitalist." However, in my opinion, this distinction is essential. The ruling classes of the imperialist triad - the faithful servants of the oligopolies - are not really threatened, at least in a visible future. Consequently, they will probably keep the initiative in the management of the crisis, by making a few marginal concessions to social demands if required.

However the ruling classes of the peripheries are in much less comfortable positions. The limits of what the capitalist route may produce in those places are such that the rulers' relation to the lower classes remains ambiguous.

Developments in the social balance of power, favorable in different degrees to the lower classes are possible in those places, and even probable. The convergence between the conflict opposing imperialism to the peoples and nations of the periphery on the one hand and that which opposes capitalism to the socialist perspective moreover is at the source of the uncomfortable position of the pro-capitalist ruling classes in power in the South.

Neo-Liberalism Blinds

Without comprehension of this major contradiction, experts from the United States establishment believe that the "state capitalism" option (in China and Russia) is not viable and must lead one day or another to a restoration of liberal capitalism. The other possibility that eludes them is that state capitalism [could] evolve "to the left" under the victorious pressure of the lower classes.

The scenarios imagined in the report are, in fact, very unrealistic. Washington's imagination does not go beyond the prejudice according to which the very success of emerging countries' strong growth will strengthen the middle classes which simultaneously aspire to liberal capitalism and "democracy," democracy defined, of course, by the formula obtaining in the West (multi-parties and "representative" "democracy's" electoral system), the only formula for democracy acknowledged by the Western establishment.

That the middle classes in question may not aspire to democracy because they know that the maintenance of their own privileges requires the repression of popular demands does not occur to our "experts." That, in consequence, democratization associated with social progress, rather than dissociated with it as is the case in the advocated model of "representative" "democracy," should have to take other paths is equally foreign to their mode of thought.

In a general way, capitalism's "experts" ignore the possibility of peoples' intervention in history. Instead, they overvalue the role of "exceptional individuals" (such as Lenin and Mao, to whose intervention the Russian and Chinese revolutions are attributed, as though there had been no objective situation that made those revolutions predictable, whatever the role of their leaders!)

What one may take away from this game of "scenarios" imagined within the framework of the limited thinking of capitalist experts is ultimately meager. Many interesting details (undoubtedly correctly apprehended), no convincing view of the whole, since the major contradictions that give meaning and thrust to struggles and conflicts are ignored.

For example, the long list of technological innovations likely to take off does not teach much. Except that - but we knew that already - emerging countries (China and India, in particular) are able to master control of them.

The real question that arises here, for those countries as for the triad's "affluent" countries, concerns the use of those technologies, the social interests into the service of which they will be implemented, the "problems" to the solution of which they may contribute, and, in counterpoint, the additional social "problems" that those uses will generate. None of these major questions is studied in the report.

Samir Amin is a Franco-Egyptian economist born in 1931 who specializes in the economics of development.

Translation: Truthout French Language Editor Leslie Thatcher.

All republished content that appears on Truthout has been obtained by permission or license.

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