We live in a world fashioned by Washington, and as 2019 approaches the dire consequences remain woefully evident.
In 1948 US State Department mandarin George Kennan – the man credited with devising the policy of containment vis-à-vis the Soviet Union at the end of WWII, – laid bare the focus of US foreign policy in the postwar period:
“We have about 50 percent of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3 percent of its population…Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern or relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity. To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and daydreamings…We are going to have to deal in straight power concepts.”
The “pattern of relationships” advocated by Kennan is embodied in the panoply of international institutions that have governed our world and dominated the planet’s economic, geopolitical, and military architecture in the seven decades since.
The World Bank and the IMF came out of the Bretton Woods Conference in 1944, along with the establishment of the dollar as the world’s primary international reserve currency.
The Truman administration’s 1947 National Security Act gave birth to a US military-industrial complex that married the nation’s economy to what was destined to become and remain a vast security and intelligence apparatus.
NATO, an instrument of US imperial power, was established in 1949, the year after the Marshall Plan (European Recovery Program) was rolled out with the objective of creating markets and demand in Europe for US exports; Washington having emerged from the war as a global economic hegemon and creditor nation without peer. A similar plan was also rolled out to rebuild the Japanese economy on the same basis.
Pausing for a moment, it has to count as a remarkable feat of forward thinking on the part of US policymakers, embarking on a plan to not only affect the economic and industrial recovery of its two defeated enemies, Germany and Japan, immediately after the war, but turn them into regional economic powerhouses.
Subsidizing Europe’s postwar recovery was not only of immense economic importance to Washington, it was also of vital strategic importance in pushing back against Soviet influence in Europe. Immediately after the war, this influence was riding high on the back of the Red Army’s seminal role in liberating the continent from fascism, buttressed by resistance movements across occupied Europe in which Communist partisans had been most prominent.
A portion of Marshall aid money – in total some $12 billion (over $100 billion today) over four years between 1948 and 1952 – was diverted to fund various covert operations under the auspices of the CIA, designed to penetrate and subvert those governments and political parties that elicited a leaning towards socialist and communist ideas.
In their titanic work ‘The Untold History of the United States’, co-authors Peter Kuznick and Oliver Stone reveal that one of those operations involved “supporting a guerrilla army in Ukraine called Nightingale, which had been established by the Wehrmacht in the spring of 1941 with the help of Stephan Bandera, head of the Ukrainian National Organization’s more radical wing OUN-B. The following year, Mikola Lebed founded the organization’s terrorist arm, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army…made up of ultranationalist Ukrainians, including Nazi collaborators.”
Given the nefarious role of Washington and its allies in aiding and abetting the rebirth of ultra-nationalism in Ukraine in our time, Marx’s dictum – History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce – is hard to avoid.
Another institution that was established with US economic and strategic objectives in mind was the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1951, the forerunner of today’s European Union. Yes, that’s right; the original incarnation of the EU was a triumph not of European diplomacy but US diplomacy.
In his 2011 book ‘The Global Minotaur’, left-leaning economist Yanis Varoufakis writes:
“Students of European integration are taught that the European Union started life in the form of the ECSC. What they are less likely to come across is the well-kept secret that it was the United States that cajoled, pushed, threatened and sweet-talked the Europeans into putting it together…Indeed, it is indisputable that without the United States’ guiding hand the ECSC would not have materialized.”
He goes on:
“There was one politician who saw this clearly: General Charles de Gaulle, the future President of France…When the ECSC was formed, de Gaulle denounced it on the basis that it was creating a united Europe in the form of a restrictive cartel and, more importantly, that it was an American creation, under Washington’s influence.”
Washington’s influence over the European Union continues to this day. Most prominently the economic model that underpins this crisis-ridden economic and increasingly political bloc, neoliberalism, is one made in America.
From inception as the lodestar of Western economic thought in the mid 1970s, prior to its adoption as the economic base of the US and UK in the early 1980s, neoliberalism has functioned alongside Washington’s military might and overweening cultural values as part of an architecture of imperialism to which European elites have signed up as fully-fledged disciples, consciously or otherwise.
De Gaulle, as mentioned, was no slouch when it came to understanding that the major threat to European independence and security lay in Washington not Moscow. He championed a ‘Europe of Nations’ after WWII, not supranational institutions that were established with the primary purpose of servicing US economic and strategic interests. As he famously proclaimed: “From the Atlantic to the Urals it is Europe, all of Europe, that will decide the fate of the world.” De Gaulle’s great fear was a “Europe of the Americans,” which alas is what transpired with the establishment of neoliberalism as the economic foundation of European integration three decades or so later.
De Gaulle took a dim view of the UK in the postwar period, considering London a proxy of Washington. It was a view that gained common currency within French political circles after the debacle known to history as the Suez Crisis, when in 1956 the French and British entered into an ill-fated military pact with Israel to seize control of the Suez Canal from Egypt and effect the overthrow of the country’s Arab nationalist president Gamal Abdul Nasser.
President Eisenhower forced the British into a humiliating retreat, threatening a series of punitive measures to leave London in no doubt of its place in the so-called special relationship. The French had been eager to continue with the Suez operation and were disgusted at London’s craven climb down in the face of Eisenhower’s intervention.
In 1958, two years after the Suez debacle, De Gaulle entered the Elysee Palace as French president. Thereafter, the humiliation of Suez still raw, he embarked on an assertion of the country’s independence from Washington that contrasted with Britain’s slavish and unedifying subservience. The French leader withdrew France from NATO’s integrated command and twice blocked Britain’s entry into the European Economic Community (EEC) – the previous incarnation of today’s EU – on the basis that London would be a US Trojan horse if admitted.
There is, given this history, delicious irony in the fact that the country responsible for injecting the poison of neoliberalism into the EU – the UK under its fanatical leader Margaret Thatcher – is currently embroiled in a messy divorce from the bloc.
The EU in its current form is a latter-day prison house of nations locked inside a neoliberal straitjacket and single currency. Not only can’t it survive on this basis, but it also does not deserve to. Ultimately, either Europe’s political establishment decouples from Washington and its works – the Trump administration notwithstanding – or its peoples will decouple from them and theirs.
As things stand, the latter proposition is far more likely.
By John Wight