In his 2004 book Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror, Michael Scheuer lambasted the utter arrogance—and consequential self-sabotage—that U.S. imperialism was showing in the wake of 9/11. He pointed out the foolishness of the narrative that the jihadists were waging war against the imperialist countries out of pure irrationality, explaining that groups like al-Qaeda are in fact rational actors; they wouldn’t be attacking us if we weren’t perpetually attacking the Islamic world through bombings, deadly sanctions, occupations, oil theft, and support for the genocidal settler state of Israel.
This is the same lack of self-reflection that colors the way Zionists view Hamas rocket attacks; the oppressors who stole Palestine’s land and forced the refugees into an open-air concentration camp are incredulous as to why Palestinians would fight back, concluding that the only motivations behind the rockets must be an irrational hatred for Israel’s “democratic” values. The War on Terror’s ridiculous narratives about the jihadists being beyond reason, motivated by nihilism, or desiring to conquer the world on behalf of Islam is a larger-scale version of this. The colonizers and arbiters of empire are incapable of seeing that their own actions are unjust, and that terrorism is the inevitable outcome of this injustice.
What’s most ironic is that as Scheuer describes, the imperialists have attributed to Islamic civilization the same social malady that the so-called “West” is in the throes of:
The one distractive theme that has emerged with a vengeance since the 11 September attacks, however, is dangerous to national security because it is wrong but plausible, and because it is so comforting to American elites still refusing to see that U.S. government actions in the Islamic world are causing Muslims to attack the United States. The argument’s gist is that bin Laden, his allies, and their goals have been spawned by a “failed civilization”—one so hostile to democratization, capitalism, and modernity, save for the tools of war—that they are driven by both the realization that Islamic society is dying and a maniacal desire to destroy other civilizations that are successful and causing the demise of Islam. These men, the argument goes, recognize this failure, blame it on the West, and are lashing out with indiscriminate violence to spark an Armageddon-like battle with Western civilization. This line of analysis takes a brilliant, calculating, and patient foe like bin Laden and reduces him to the status of a madman, bloodthirsty and irrational.
Twenty years after this perception of Islamic civilization became a central facet of the pro-imperialist orthodoxy, every facet of what the “West” thought about Islam has come to describe the “West” of today. It’s the U.S. and its imperial partners that are in a depression due to their elite-serving neoliberal policies, and that are consequently in a death spiral of public health crises, lack of preparedness for climatic disasters, and skyrocketing inequality. That see how China has managed to beat the pandemic, eliminate extreme poverty, and build growing geopolitical connections amid U.S. imperial decline, and jealously desire to destroy China’s rising socialist civilization. That use accusations of political interference by China, Russia, and Iran to blame the crises of the “West” on these scapegoats. That are engaging in military buildup, proxy wars, and provocations against these countries with the goal of provoking some sort of concluding civilizational confrontation.
The psychology behind this reaction—one that recently intensified when Biden partnered with the U.K. and Australia to develop a nuclear-powered submarine fleet—was apparent in the way the imperialist elites viewed the Islamic world in the wake of 9/11. The fact that these elites totally refused to engage in introspection, instead making up a motive to assign to the jihadists, foreshadowed the way they’re behaving amid their empire’s crumbling: lash out at the empire’s rival civilizations and blame their civilization’s failures on “foreign meddling,” rather than examining the contradictions of capital and empire that have produced these failures.
It’s revealing that the motive they accused Islam of having—desire to harm other civilizations as compensation for one’s own civilizational decline—has since turned out to be the motive the empire’s elites are driven by. Projection was clearly involved in the portrayals of Islam that Scheuer lambasted, given that U.S. imperialism had already undergone defeat in Vietnam, loss of neo-colonial control over Iran and Venezuela, and an internal decline in living standards from neoliberalism.
As is consistent among collapsing empires, the empire’s elites grow more blind to their system’s flaws as the collapse worsens. In contrast to the stage when an empire is rising, wherein its leaders make more rational and pragmatic decisions due to having the luxury of geopolitical security, an empire in decline tends to act reactively and with self-detrimental hubris. Its leaders embark on overly ambitious military adventures, convinced they can reverse the trend of geopolitical losses and restore the empire to its peak of strength. But they’re always wrong. The cycle of rise and decline can’t be cheated by blusterous words, compensatory aggression, or efforts to turn the empire’s machinations inwards; if anything, these things accelerate the decline by making the empire’s contradictions even more pronounced.
This is what’s happening as a consequence of the cold war belligerence and internal fortifications of capital which Washington is engaging in to try to cheat the impacts of imperial decline. Biden’s nuclear submarine project has weakened Washington’s ties with its imperial ally France, provoking French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian to say that “It's really a stab in the back. We had established a relationship of trust with Australia, this trust has been betrayed…I'm very angry today, and bitter... this is not something allies do to each other…This unilateral, sudden and unforeseeable decision very much recalls what Mr. Trump would do.” He was referring both to Australia’s leadership and to Biden, with Britain’s ultra-nationalist Boris Johnson government also being part of France’s ire by proxy.
In their desperation to tear down the Chinese bloc, the imperialists are losing their unity with each other. These kinds of fractures among the oppressor countries are appearing in other areas, like the brewingCarbon trade war between the U.S. and Europe. Stalin wrote that the main contradictions of imperialism are the exacerbations of class inequalities which imperialism brings, the conflict between the oppressed and oppressor nations, and the inter-imperialist rivalries which inevitably emerge. As the latter contradiction gets exacerbated by Biden’s reckless drive to escalate the new cold war, the others also continue to grow; the brewing class tensions over the pandemic eviction moratorium’s needless expiration, the growing anti-American class revolts in neo-colonies like Colombia, and other global class conflict intensifications bring the imperialists closer to their demise. To the scenario where, as Mao predicted, 9 out of 10 of the world’s population will rise up against imperialism.
When this scale-tipping revolt occurs—perhaps in the form of a new wave of socialist revolutions throughout the coming decades—it will be due to the self-detrimental actions the imperialists have taken. They’ve engineered their own demise by running roughshod with global military occupations and invasions, escalating a hybrid war against China regardless of the costs, and creating a vast and growing rise in global inequality. And they’ve rendered themselves blind to this reality, instead comforting themselves with a narrative about the “West” now needing to nobly lead the charge for defending “democracy” from the “authoritarian” Chinese bloc. This is the only direction imperialism’s self-justifying myths can go amid the “West’s” increasingly undeniable decline.
And its end outcome could look like that Armageddon-esque war which the imperialists claimed Islam wants. Israel’s recent provocations towards nuclear confrontation with Iran, born from Zionism’s own growing loss of perceived international credibility, is reflected by Washington’s even larger-scale provocations against its rival superpowers. As Edward Said wrote twenty years ago, “The basic paradigm of West versus the rest (the cold war opposition reformulated) remained untouched, and this is what has persisted, often insidiously and implicitly, in discussion since the terrible events of September 11.” Our current situation of unprecedentedly severe nuclear tensions is the outcome of the “West” continuing to stick by this mindset.
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