09 March 2013

Independence: Yours If You Want It

Brendan O'Neill has an article at Spiked where he comments on the legacy of the late president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez. O'Neill argues the key to understanding how Chavez had been able to defy, irritate and mock the United States without apparent consequences for himself, is to understand just how much the power of the United States has declined, particularly in the moral sense. He argues ideological notions which once spurred imperial America into decisive action against its chosen opponents seem to have lost their persuasiveness and now fail to do so.
"The decisive factor in the Chavez story was not his own political vision, but the creeping incapacitation of American power and influence in global affairs, including in Latin America. Chavez and his influential cheerleaders were energised by, indeed were parasitical upon, the glaring inability of Washington to pursue or even outline its interests on the twenty-first-century world stage."
It is an assessment that is impossible to disagree with. Rather than someone who could keep Washington at bay due to his own strength and the potency of his ideas, Chavez was first and foremost a figure who merely moved to enjoy the space he had been offered by the decay of American power. It is what O'Neill styles being "parasitical" upon American impotence.

I would point out, however, the importance of understanding that Chavez nonetheless was a cut above most other state leaders. If it is the case it was the decline of American power, which had opened up room for Chavez to act in the independent manner he did, it is also the case this space had been opened up for everyone else as well. Yet very few chose to take advantage of it. This is more an indictment of Chavez's peers in charge of other states, than it is praise of the president of Venezuela, but it still leaves Chavez looking as one of the better leaders in a very sorry-looking bunch.

A pertinent comparison would be with one Milorad Dodik, the popular political leader of the Bosnian Serbs. As a politician who used to be a part of the American, and the general Western, agenda for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Dodik will not be mistaken for a man with an excessive strength of convictions or for an avid believer in an energizing ideology. He is simply a US man who had observed the moral weakness of his sponsors up close and realized he could go off the reservation without consequences.

I do not believe Dodik is quite as big a blob on the American radar as Chavez was, but nonetheless we have numerous indices to show the US State Department and the EU foreign policy establishment are extremely irritated by him and find his attacks against the legitimacy of their role in Bosnia maddening. It is also the case the infuriating Dodik should technically speaking be extremely easy to get rid off. All the Americans would need to do is have the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina exercise its "Bonn powers" and strip Dodik from his office and ban him from political life. Yet consumed by self-doubt, and with their faith they can produce outcomes they desire eroding they do nothing.

Yet Dodik, like Chavez is nonetheless a rare exception. For example over in Belgrade, Serbia sits a government probably more in thrall to imperial America than at any other time in history. If it was exceedingly easy for Dodik to break his fealty to foreign players without cost to his fortunes, it should have been a trivial matter for the people in charge of Serbia, a sovereign nation of some consequence, to do likewise. Yet equipped with a mindset that is plagued by self-doubt, fear, anxiety, apathy, defeatism and ultimately a lack of vision these former opponents of American policies, do not feel themselves nearly strong enough to turn away from their (nearly equally troubled) masters.*

Thus a country where polls regularly indicate the people overwhelmingly see the United States as a hostile power, is nonetheless led by politicians who accept the constituencies they need to please first and foremost are Washington and Brussels. Which means they against their once-stated beliefs labor to undermine their nation's sovereignty, integrity and dignity.

The unfortunate state of affairs is that those who have reason to stand up to Washington and grab the freedom that is within their arm's reach are for the most part just as lethargic and aimless as the American Empire itself. Therefore "parasites" or not, the truth is that statesmen in the mold of Chavez (or Dodik) are a rare ray of hope that the weakness of the Empire will be taken advantage of.

* The mayor party in the governing coalition are an offshoot of the Serbian Radical Party, while the premier is a former spokesperson of Slobodan Milošević.

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