After Empire – Book Review

By Jim Miles

(After Empire – The Birth of a Multipolar World. Dilip Hiro. Nation Books, Perseus, New York, 2010.)

Modern history and current events are aligned in this excellent text from Dilip Hiro. Beginning with a short, concise back ground history on the arraignment of empires before and after World War II, “After Empire” then focuses more closely on the New World Order following on two main events. The first was the self-inflicted collapse of the Soviet Union following on Gorbachev’s perestroika and glasnost, followed by Yeltsin’s inebriated attempts to throw the country wide open to the capitalist free market west and the Washington consensus of the IMF and World Bank. The second event, a decade later, was the attack on the World Trade Center and the subsequent series of attacks and manipulations around the world combined with the stealthy annexation of the powers of the constitution towards executive supremacy in the U.S. government.

But as Hiro says, the book “does not revolve around America,” nor is it “dialectical,” one party against another. While it may not “revolve” around “America” the very force of the arguments keeps the U.S. front and centre in all the global actions charted through the work. Hiro does succeed in describing developments “leading to an international order with multiple poles, cooperating and competing with one another, with no single pole being allowed to act as the hegemonic power…the age-old balance of power is back at work.”  

It is, after all, a book about ‘after empire,’ and the only true empire at the moment is the U.S. empire, one that stretches over all curves of the earth. In writing about it, Hiro covers a wide range of topics effectively. They range through warfare, economics, oil, democracy, capitalism, Islamism, soft power and hard power, media, investments, the business of war, liberty, decolonization, foreign aid, interventions clandestine or overt. All major countries, as necessitated by their many global interactions, are essential parts of the story. An excellent summary and history of the modern Soviet Union collapse followed by the Russian revival provides a strong base for events that occur later. China is of course central to any discussion on ’after empire’, as are Brazil and India, the so-called BRIC group. Other considerations are with the state of the European Union, economically powerful yet also fighting its own internal economic wars, while generally remaining within the U.S. sphere of foreign affairs influence.

Just as many historical events have dates and an action set to indicate the start of the overall course of the history, several items stand out for the U.S. empire’s apparently sudden change to a declining empire. First in time, would be the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the financial opportunism that directed most of the U.S.‘s actions towards its realignment. More obviously to outsiders would be the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and now on into Pakistan, and the manner in which the U.S. manipulated the UN and NATO in order to have its way. To those inside the U.S., informed by the protective corporate media, the financial collapse of major companies and many large financial institutions combined with rising unemployment, the collapse of the housing bubble, and an enormous debt crunch could not be hidden. 

Most of the singular events indicating the decline of empire are attributed to George Bush’s presidency. Bush is described as naïve, “bereft of intellectual curiosity…inarticulate, blinkered, and narcissistic,” all wonderful attributes for governing an empire. His policies originated from a group of “second rate, neoconservative intellectuals,” such as Douglas Feith, Paul Wolfowitz (who created the preventative war doctrine as well as the first strike nuclear doctrine), Donald Rumsfield, and Richard Perle.

The “freedom agenda” displayed the largest hypocrisy. Hiro outlines succinctly and accurately the U.S. denial of democracy in the January 2006 election of Hamas to power within the Palestinian territories. The war in Iraq which was essentially about oil and Israel, the news of torture and human rights violations from Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, the denial of international law, all contributed to the quick erosion of any moral force that the U.S. carried. 

From that start, the work then travels through the travails of other countries. Two chapters are spent discussing Russia’s renewal and revival in financial, political and energy sectors. The revival is credited to the hard lines of Vladimir Putin, operating under the constitution brought in by the U.S.’s favourite at the time, Yeltsin. Next up, Iran and Venezuela are well placed in context – and that is what this book does best, especially compared to other works on the declining empire, is to place things in context. China, India, and the European Union follow, each with concise well constructed chapters clearly highlighting the major relationships internally and externally. Democracy, soft power, the internet, al-Jazeera, and Bollywood are examined in relation to how things have and will change ‘after empire.’  

Future flash points are discussed, not with projections and conjectures about what will happen – the downfall of other works looking post empire who focus mainly on China-U.S. relations – but by highlighting the current tensions in politics (Russia-Iran-U.S relations), resources (oil and gas obviously the big ideas here), the political tension between China, Taiwan and the U.S., and the obvious currency and commercial entanglements of the U.S. and China.

Hiro’s epilogue, written in 2009, credits China with pulling the world from the brink of economic disaster, creating the growth necessary for the global economy – the image comes to mind that China is paddling while the U.S. is treading water – not even in the boat, but with its debt lifeline attached to Chinese interests. Obama is credited with arriving with a new outlook on the world, but we are now into Obama’s second semester with not a lot of new direction taking place regardless of the fine sounding rhetoric. It will be interesting to see how Hiro interprets Obama’s efforts in the context of all that has preceded and surrounded his term in office.

For a work that accounts for current events and modern history, this is an excellent resource.  The ideas, arguments, and factual notes are well placed within context of a global empire undergoing its transition from supremacy to a multipolar world. “After Empire” demonstrates that the multipolar world is back in play, however, as even more recent current events in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, and other Arab countries show, the empire will not give up its hold easily, and is fighting a coercive rearguard action against perceived threats to its control and power.

– Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor/columnist of opinion pieces and book reviews for The Palestine Chronicle. Miles’ work is also presented globally through other alternative websites and news publications.

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