Twelve years later, that window is being slammed shut as from India, Australia, and the Philippines to South Korea and Japan, the US declares itself back in the hegemony business in Asia. Doubts that this was the new American path were dispelled by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's November 2011 manifesto in Foreign Policy magazine, none too subtly labeled "America's Pacific Century." (And she was talking about this century, not the last one!)
The American mantra is always the same: "American security," whose definition is: whatever happens on the planet. Whether in the oil-rich Persian Gulf where Washington "helps" allies Israel and Saudi Arabia because they feel threatened by Iran, or Asia where similar help is offered to a growing corps of countries that are said to feel threatened by China, it's always in the name of US security. In either case, in just about any case, that's what trumps all else.
As a result, if there is a 33-year Wall of Mistrust between the US and Iran, there is a new, growing Great Wall of Mistrust between the US and China. Recently, Wang Jisi, Dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University and a top Chinese strategic analyst, offered the Beijing leadership's perspective on that "Pacific Century" in an influential paper he coauthored.
China, he and his coauthor write, now expects to be treated as a first-class power. After all, it "successfully weathered... the 1997-98 global financial crisis," caused, in Beijing's eyes, by "deep deficiencies in the US economy and politics. China has surpassed Japan as the world's second largest economy and seems to be the number two in world politics, as well... Chinese leaders do not credit these successes to the United States or to the US-led world order."
The US, Wang adds, "is seen in China generally as a declining power over the long run… It is now a question of how many years, rather than how many decades, before China replaces the United States as the largest economy in the world… part of an emerging new structure." (Think: BRICS.)
In sum, as Wang and his coauthor portray it, influential Chinese see their country's development model providing "an alternative to Western democracy and experiences for other developing countries to learn from, while many developing countries that have introduced Western values and political systems are experiencing disorder and chaos."
Put it all in a nutshell and you have a Chinese vision of the world in which a fading US still yearns for global hegemony and remains powerful enough to block emerging powers—China and the other BRICS—from their twenty-first century destiny.
Dr. Zbig's Eurasian Wet Dream
Now, how does the US political elite see that same world? Virtually no one is better qualified to handle that subject than former national security adviser, BTC pipeline facilitator, and briefly Obama ghost adviser, Dr. Zbigniew ("Zbig") Brzezinski. And he doesn't hesitate to do so in his latest book, Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power.
If the Chinese have their strategic eyes on those other BRICS nations, Dr. Zbig remains stuck on the Old World, newly configured. He is now arguing that, for the US to maintain some form of global hegemony, it must bet on an "expanded West." That would mean strengthening the Europeans (especially in energy terms), while embracing Turkey, which he imagines as a template for new Arab democracies, and engaging Russia, politically and economically, in a "strategically sober and prudent fashion."
Turkey, by the way, is no such template because, despite the Arab Spring, for the foreseeable future, there are no new Arab democracies. Still, Zbig believes that Turkey can help Europe, and so the US, in far more practical ways to solve certain global energy problems by facilitating its "unimpeded access across the Caspian Sea to Central Asia's oil and gas."
Under the present circumstances, however, this, too, remains something of a fantasy. After all, Turkey can only become a key transit country in the great energy game on the Eurasian chessboard I've long labeled Pipelineistan if the Europeans get their act together. They would have to convince the energy-rich, autocratic "republic" of Turkmenistan to ignore its powerful Russian neighbor and sell them all the natural gas they need. And then there's that other energy matter that looks unlikely at the moment: Washington and Brussels would have to ditch counterproductive sanctions and embargos against Iran (and the war games that go with them) and start doing serious business with that country.
Dr. Zbig nonetheless proposes the notion of a two-speed Europe as the key to future American power on the planet. Think of it as an upbeat version of a scenario in which the present Eurozone semi-collapses. He would maintain the leading role of the inept bureaucratic fat cats in Brussels now running the EU, and support another "Europe" (mostly the southern "Club Med" countries) outside the euro, with nominally free movement of people and goods between the two. His bet—and in this he reflects a key strand of Washington thinking—is that a two-speed Europe, a Eurasian Big Mac, still joined at the hip to America, could be a globally critical player for the rest of the twenty-first century.
And then, of course, Dr. Zbig displays all his Cold Warrior colors, extolling an American future "stability in the Far East" inspired by "the role Britain played in the nineteenth century as a stabilizer and balancer of Europe." We're talking, in other words, about this century's number one gunboat diplomat. He graciously concedes that a "comprehensive American-Chinese global partnership" would still be possible, but only if Washington retains a significant geopolitical presence in what he still calls the "Far East"—"whether China approves or not."
The answer will be "not."
In a way, all of this is familiar stuff, as is much of actual Washington policy today. In his case, it's really a remix of his 1997 magnum opus The Grand Chessboard in which, he once again certifies that "the huge Trans-Eurasian continent is the central arena of world affairs." Only now reality has taught him that Eurasia can't be conquered and America's best shot is to try to bring Turkey and Russia into the fold.
Yet Brzezinski looks positively benign when you compare his ideas to Hillary Clinton's recent pronouncements, including her address to the tongue-twistingly named World Affairs Council 2012 NATO Conference. There, as the Obama administration regularly does, she highlighted "NATO's enduring relationship with Afghanistan" and praised negotiations between the US and Kabul over "a long-term strategic partnership between our two nations."
Translation; despite being outmaneuvered by a minority Pashtun insurgency for years, neither the Pentagon nor NATO have any intention of rebalancing out of their holdings in the Greater Middle East. Already negotiating with President Hamid Karzai's government in Kabul for staying rights through 2024, the US has every intention of holding onto three major strategic Afghan bases: Bagram, Shindand (near the Iranian border), and Kandahar (near the Pakistani border). Only the terminally naïve would believe the Pentagon capable of voluntarily abandoning such sterling outposts for the monitoring of Central Asia and strategic competitors Russia and China.
NATO, Clinton added ominously, will "expand its defense capabilities for the twenty-first century," including the missile defense system the alliance approved at its last meeting in Lisbon in 2010.
It will be fascinating to see what the possible election of socialist François Hollande as French president might mean. Interested in a deeper strategic partnership with the BRICS, he is committed to the end of the US dollar as the world's reserve currency. The question is: Would his victory throw a monkey wrench into NATO's works, after these years under the Great Liberator of Libya, that neo-Napoleonic image-maker Nicolas Sarkozy (for whom France was just mustard in Washington's steak tartar).
No matter what either Dr. Zbig or Hillary might think, most European countries, fed up with their black-hole adventures in Afghanistan and Libya, and with the way NATO now serves US global interests, support Hollande on this. But it will still be an uphill battle. The destruction and overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi's Libyan regime was the highpoint of the recent NATO agenda of regime change in MENA (the Middle East-Northern Africa). And NATO remains Washington's plan B for the future, if the usual network of think tanks, endowments, funds, foundations, NGOs, and even the U.N. fail to provoke what could be described as YouTube regime change.
In a nutshell: after going to war on three continents (in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and Libya), turning the Mediterranean into a virtual NATO lake, and patrolling the Arabian Sea non-stop, NATO will be, according to Hillary, riding on "a bet on America's leadership and strength, just as we did in the twentieth century, for this century and beyond." So 21 years after the end of the Soviet Union—NATO's original raison d'etre—this could be the way the world ends; not with a bang, but with NATO, in whimpering mode, still fulfilling the role of perpetual global Robocop.
We're back once again with Dr. Zbig and the idea of America as the "promoter and guarantor of unity" in the West, and as "balance and conciliator" in the East (for which it needs bases from the Persian Gulf to Japan, including those Afghan ones). And don't forget that the Pentagon has never given up the idea of attaining Full Spectrum Dominance.
For all that military strength, however, it's worth keeping in mind that this is distinctly a New World (and not in North America either). Against the guns and the gunboats, the missiles and the drones, there is economic power. Currency wars are now raging. BRICS members China and Russia have cordilleras of cash. South America is uniting fast. The Putinator has offered South Korea an oil pipeline. Iran is planning to sell all its oil and gas in a basket of currencies, none dollars. China is paying to expand its blue-water Navy and its anti-ship missile weaponry. One day, Tokyo may finally realize that, as long as it is occupied by Wall Street and the Pentagon, it will live in eternal recession. Even Australia may eventually refuse to be forced into a counterproductive trade war with China.
So this twenty-first century world of ours is shaping up right now largely as a confrontation between the US/NATO and the BRICS, warts and all on every side. The danger: that somewhere down the line it turns into a Full Spectrum Confrontation. Because make no mistake, unlike Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gaddafi, the BRICS will actually be able to shoot back.
Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times, a TomDispatch regular, and a political analyst for al-Jazeera and RT. His latest book is Obama Does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).
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