by George Monbiot
The problem with American power is not that it's American. Most states with the resources and opportunities the US possesses would have done far worse. The problem is that one nation, effectively unchecked by any other, can, if it chooses, now determine how the rest of the world will live. Eventually, unless we stop it, it will use this power. So far, it has merely tested its new muscles.
The presidential elections next year might prevent an immediate entanglement with another nation, but there is little doubt about the scope of the US government's ambitions. Already, it has begun to execute a slow but comprehensive coup against the international order, destroying or undermining the institutions that might have sought to restrain it. On these pages two weeks ago, James Woolsey, an influential hawk and formerly the director of the CIA, argued for a war lasting for decades "to extend democracy" to the entire Arab and Muslim world.
Men who think like him - and there are plenty in Washington - are not monsters. They are simply responding to the opportunities that power presents, just as British politicians once responded to the vulnerability of non-European states and the weakness of their colonial competitors. America's threat to the peace and stability of the rest of the world is likely to persist, whether George Bush wins the next election or not. The critical question is how we stop it.
Military means, of course, are useless. An economic boycott, of the kind suggested by many of the opponents of the war with Iraq, can never be more than symbolic: US trade has penetrated the economies of almost all other nations to such an extent that to boycott its goods and services would be to boycott our own. Until recently, as Bush's government sought international approval for its illegal war, there appeared to be some opportunities for restraint by diplomatic means. But now it has discovered that the United Nations is unnecessary: most of its electors will approve its acts of aggression with or without a prior diplomatic mandate. Only one means of containing the US remains. It is deadly and, if correctly deployed, insuperable. It rests within the hands of the people of the United Kingdom.
Were it not for a monumental economic distortion, the US economy would, by now, have all but collapsed. It is not quite a West African basket case, but the size of the deficits and debts incurred by its profligacy would, by any conventional measure, suggest that it was in serious trouble. It survives only because conventional measures do not apply: the rest of the world has granted it an unnatural lease of life.