“The US ruling power, and those putting pressure on the state to expand, will once again want to mobilise militarily I think.”
Jonathon Shafi is a member of the SWP.
State of Nature: You say that Obama is desperately trying to shore up US power. How is he doing that?
Jonathon Shafi: What we have to be clear about at the offset is that the position of US power is one that is weakening. The position of the Obama administration is one where they have to deal with what we have described as entanglements. The major one of these is Afghanistan. And in the ruling class in the US there are more splits beginning to develop and McChrystal is the most obvious example, but it’s not just limited to that individual. It’s a much broader problem that US strategy is facing.
So if the question is what is Obama going to do, then that is where I think you have to have a far wider analysis than just Afghanistan because what Obama is going to do is dependent on the pressures put on the US state, and that is why places like China, the Euro zone and Latin America are important. My opinion on what he is going to do is that he is going to arrange a plan in which he can save face in Afghanistan – he must not lose Afghanistan otherwise the long-term future in terms of expansion is in real jeopardy. That’s the first thing. The second thing I think he’ll do is I think is try to look into ways where US influence can be built up, particularly in the Muslim world. And I think that the way he is going to attempt to do this is in some way reflected in terms of rather than it being military power, he will try and use diplomatic power, try and work with other states to win a position. And the last point which goes through all this is that he is doing this is to shore up US power in the long term. The US ruling power, and those putting pressure on the state to expand, will once again want to mobilise militarily I think. The problem for them is now permanent military occupations are not working and they are really stuck in this Afghanistan swamp.
SoN: You were talking about getting into a stage of inter-imperial conflict again, with other empires like China emerging and having to expand. Do think this would differ from, say, the Cold War?
JS: One of the things which feels unique about this situation is that unlike the Cold War where you had a situation in which it was quite clear what was going on between the USSR and the US I think what we now have is a far more unstable situation, in which it is not clear what is going to happen. The function of the USSR and its relationship with the US in one sense had a stabilising role in the world state system. What I think you’ve now got in China is a very serious situation, where China by necessity needs to expand very much outside its national frontiers and has to look and see how it can do it. I also mentioned Africa in my talk because it is fundamental to understand that what you have in Africa is not just China in terms of its ownership of mines and of all the western ports, but culturally speaking the fact that they are giving free Chinese lessons is absolutely important in what we are talking about. And another thing is that what I found fascinating doing the research for this is that China now owns two Greek ports. That suggests to me that they are looking for ways at which when there is a weak point they can intervene and strengthen and bolster their own side.
SoN: Do you think that China is looking to expand economically and culturally rather than through military means?
JS: I would not think that a Chinese military expansion is very likely in the immediate or medium term. What I think is likely is China exerting far more aggressive influence by other means. They will aggressively try to export a cultural domination of Africa; they will aggressively try to influence world economic and political affairs. But in terms of military conflict, I don’t think the Chinese military is ready for any military conflict.
SoN: It’s interesting you were talking about Israel looking to China now, aware of the weakening of US power. What I want to know is could Israel’s alliance with China be as strong in the long-term as its alliance with the US in the absence of a powerful pro-Israel lobby like AIPAC. And if so, does this mean we, and by that I mean we on the Left, place too much emphasis on the power of the pro-Israel in the US?
JS: Just to separate a couple of issues. The reason for discussing Zionism in a context of looking for support from imperialism is to illustrate the idea that Zionism is not reliant on US imperialism all the time in any period. What it wants is support from the dominant imperialism. Now what I am saying is that the orbit of US imperialism, of US power, is still the strongest out of all the nation-states. But its influence and its orbit has shrunk and weakened to a degree. And in that situation Israel is looking around for other ways in which they can get support, and that’s the reason for their diplomatic mission to China, which brings on another question: What about the Israel lobby? My general opinion on this is that the Israeli lobby in the US is a fantastically powerful lobby group, but it’s a question of what comes first. I don’t think the Israeli lobby will decide the policy of the US state military-industrial complex. So I think that’s important. It’s not that way around. The question of the Israel lobby then expands a bit further, so if it’s not that controlling of the US state what exactly is going on here? So it comes back to the question of imperialism. I think what you could have is this: China will only support the Israeli state if it’s in China’s interest. If it is in China’s interest to support the Israelis then why not have an Israeli lobby in China?
Cihan Aksan is co-editor of State Of Nature. She left her native Turkey as a child after the 1980 military coup and lived and studied for many years in England. She has an MA in Continental Philosophy from the University of Warwick, and is now an independent writer. She is co-author of Weapon of the Strong: Conversations on US State Terrorism (London: Pluto, 2012).
Jon Bailes is co-editor and webmaster of State Of Nature. He is currently writing a PhD thesis on ideology theory at the Centre for European Studies, University College London, and has an MA in European Thought from the same department. He is co-author of Weapon of the Strong: Conversations on US State Terrorism (London: Pluto, 2012).