27 October 2015

US not a hegemonic power: Wallerstein

The Blog

Immanuel Wallerstein, leading sociologist and historian of the world-system who once labelled the US as the global "hegemon", believes the US has lost its crown.

Wallerstein's theory of the world-system posits that the world economy is divided between "core" and "periphery" countries, the former specializing in high-tech labor and the latter specializing more in resource extraction and manufacture of more basic products. This division of labor is seen by Wallerstein is the primary cause of continued poverty and powerlessness in the Global South. On top of this system, in Wallerstein's theory, the US was the "hegemon", as the British Empire was and the Netherlands was prior to them.

For Wallerstein to declare the US "not a hegemonic power", as he did in a recent commentary on October 15, is something that must be taken seriously. Something dramatic has happened to the United States and the reach of its political and military power.

We may compare the retreat of US power to the excesses it enjoyed in the past. As Wallerstein says, "it isn’t even the most powerful actor in this fragmented region". As US power plummets, the American regime is forced to work with regimes it had previously ignored or attacked with impunity.

Rather than being US-led, US policy towards Syria is increasingly pulled along by its weaker allies such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia, and no coherence exists in supposed US-led efforts in the region. To quote Wallerstein's own analysis of the unfolding strategic US defeat in Syria:
If we turn to Syria, “coherent” is the last adjective one can apply to U.S. policy. On the one hand, it has sought to form an international “coalition” of countries committed to defeating the still expanding Islamic State (IS, also Daesh or ISIL). The United States also is committed in theory to the destitution of Bashar al-Assad. What the United States does not wish to do is to commit troops to still another Middle Eastern civil war zone. Instead, the United States offers to fight IS with drones that will bomb IS units, without even having any troops on the ground that could guide the drones. The consequence, inevitably, is “collateral damage” that intensifies anti-American feelings in Syria.
If the single greatest proponent of a unified theory of world history describes the US as losing its leading political status in the world, we must begin to ask serious questions. Why has the US been defeated in Syria? Who did this, and now who will take America's place when the hawks are dead?

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