What is the Point of Being a Superpower?

If we won't knock heads together, what are we doing?

After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communism in the USSR, rightist triumphalism knew no bounds. We were told regularly that we lived in a monopolar world.

I found that rather strange. Monopolar became uni-polar which wasn't quite as bad, but all in all what it was supposed to mean was that the United States was the sole superpower and enjoyed a monopoly of weapons systems and influence.  There was a long gap between the US and any number of other powers, but being something of a pedant, I took gentle offense at the use of the term monopolar.  Not only is it a contradiction in terms, but it represented the dangerous thought that the world was dominated by the US.

Amidst all the rejoicing about the collapse of the Evil Empire and the rise of a new economic system known as globalization, something near and dear to my heart was lost: Social democracy Scandinavian-style vanished down the plug hole of history. Much as I admire America (and if I had my time round again, I could well have ended up in one of the 48 states), I have a phobia about something called "socialism."  Everything that goes against the grain of recent economic theory is described as socialism and the next step is therefore, by definition, Communism.

The Legitimacy of the State

It would be too long and tedious an exercise for me to explain what I believe the role of the state should be in everyday life.  My views are entirely my own and irrelevant to readers of Scragged.  Suffice it to say that I'm proud to have been an active ally in the great struggle of the 20th century - and so were many social democrats.

We now know, or at least think we know, that the combination of Reagan, Thatcher and Pope John Paul II was instrumental in winning the battle of ideas against Communism.  We also know from the briefly opened archives in Russia that the system which they called Communism did not work. The only problem was that our victory came at great economic cost: as a relative of mine would say, "We shot the cat."  By that he meant the stratospheric debt incurred by rearming and equipping all branches of the US armed forces.

Twenty years on, those forces are without doubt still the most powerful in the world.  I have seen so many articles in both reputable and sleazy journals that ask the question, on behalf of Americans: "Why do they hate America so much?"  Quite a few American acquaintances have asked me why people have turned on the US.

Some of the feelings are basically a human trait or two: envy and jealousy.  But the major problem was that the stool was kicked out from under the latte set and their minions, known to the Brits as "the chattering classes."  It left an ideological void because social democracy had been lost.

The crypto- and quasi-marxists had no real model to point to and say: "Behold the future."  This left the chattering classes with nothing constructive to say.

Hating America

I have no reason to want to write for the next 50 years explaining the phenomenon of the "hate Amerika first" lobby.[1]  The American Constitution and the rights attached thereto guarantee freedoms that some envy and others despise. The usual trick is to point to the right to bear arms every time we see shooting on our TV screens - and yet I know there are parts of US cities, towns, and outlying districts where people do not wear a shoulder holster as a mandatory accessory[2]; nor do they stock up food under the house or in a cellar and purchase rocket launchers and a lot of automatic weapons. I have a slight leaning to the view that guns don't kill, it's the people holding them that kill.

It could well be that tightening rules and regulations would reduce the tragic toll each year, but comparing death by vehicular accident and shooting is a no contest: as in Australia, the motor car is the most lethal weapon of all.

The short answer to why so many people hate America is that they have never been there; their views are colored by TV and film.  They also misunderstand American governance. Quite apart from anything else, everyone hates the big kid on the block.

In the English-speaking world and some parts of Europe where I can understand the language, the basic problem appears to be that the US never developed a party along the lines of those such as the Labour Party in Britain or the social/Christian Democratic parties in Germany and Scandinavia.  It is generally believed, albeit without much evidence, that the US political parties do not care for voters, they care only about power.

I am not qualified to make a judgment on whether that's the case, but the depiction of America as being hell-bent on world domination and the system based on capitalism "red of fang and claw," is the staple food of university studies in just about every subject.  A good friend of mine reckoned that at a local college, anti-US propaganda could be quite literally stitched into the course in needlework.

Appreciating America

My generation is somewhat different in that without the intervention of the US, World War II might well have turned out very differently.  One of my indulgences is to read alternative histories alongside real histories and it is surprising just how close some wars have been.  More people than the British Gen. Wellington would have reason to say (after certain battles) that: "It was a damned close run thing."

All manner of crimes against humanity are attributed to the US and sad to say, in many respects, America and Americans are their own worst enemies. However, every country that purports to be democratic faces the same problem these days.

The rights and freedoms that our forefathers fought for by revolution, separation and evolution are under threat from the noxious doctrines of fundamentalist Islam and others who would turn the clock back centuries.  The whole Western world faces the undeniable proposition that our freedoms are used against us from within.

Multiculturalism is the bane of Western society and it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the "melting pot" idea upon which America was founded has, in its turn been melted down and citizens are encouraged to be hyphenated Americans.  In general conversation, it does not pay to get me started on that topic.

There has been a great deal of crowing in the Arab world and among the left in westernized countries at the problems caused by 9/11 and what followed. I can't pretend to know whether George W. Bush was the biggest idiot in the world or whether he was sage and took advice which turned out to be flawed - such matters are totally beyond a non-resident.

How Would YOU Handle 9/11?

If I had a chance, I would ask the leaders of any Western country: "What would you have done after 9/11 if it had occurred in your country?"

Imagine for a moment, the consequences of an airliner or two flying into the Mother of Parliaments at Westminster and Buckingham Palace with the possibility of totally decapitating the British power structure. In France, the Arc de Triomphe; the Eiffel Tower; Centre Pompidou; the Louvre the French Parliament at the Palais Bourbon, Notre Dame Cathedral and the other many significant cultural and historical buildings that the German army refused to destroy in 1944.

What would be hit in Germany, largely re-built with American assistance?  Looking for icons/iconic buildings that either survived the bombing of the capital, there are still many tempting targets.  Firstly the Brandenburg Gate (sometimes known as the Brandenburg Tor); then the Reichstag/Bundestag and other historical buildings; including museums, and the commercial heart, the Kurfurstendamm.

Every government would have reacted with force but inevitably they would've looked for support from the US.  When I think of the sneering French academics, especially Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber and his fellows, and what was inflicted on us from their works, would they have spurned US assistance if their heartland had been attacked?  Somehow I think not.

My grasp of American history is somewhat limited and I can't and won't pretend to be an expert. I think it was President Theodore Roosevelt who coined the term: "walk softly and carry a big stick" and more recently, we had Ronald Reagan making the very sensible statement: "trust but verify."

US Power and the Cold War

US power has often been used in strange ways to non-American eyes. Under the threat of mutually assured destruction, the Hungarians cried out in vain for assistance when they revolted against the Soviets in 1956.  The US used its power to stymie British attempts to retake the Suez Canal a couple of years later.

Throughout what is known as the Cold War, fierce proxy battles took place in the Third World. The tacit agreement between the USSR and the US over the use of military force in the First World certainly did nothing to stop both sides engaging in espionage or propaganda campaigns and preparing for the war that never came.  I know because I was there.

One day, someone will write a history of the Cold War and set out quite clearly the number of times it nearly turned hot, very hot.  I agree with General Oleg Kalugin (KGB retired) who now lives in the US and is a frequent commentator on events in Russia. The Cold War was World War III.  He claims that the West won and in most respects that is correct but some days, you really have to wonder.

For many years reputable institutions such as the British Institute for International Studies produced erudite papers on the struggle in the Third World across the continents of Asia, Africa, Latin and South America and what the British cheerfully referred to as the subcontinent - India, Pakistan and adjoining states, now home of the arc of instability.  There have been some excellent books on why we lost World War III although it's never referred to in those terms. The basic problem was that the enemy could tell lies (and have them believed) better than we could tell the truth.

In America, the UK and other Western countries, agents of the Comintern and Soviet military intelligence recruited many intellectuals and other useful idiots including people in the press such as I.F Stone.  Universities were hotbeds of social ferment and the choices were stark - appeasement with the Axis powers, military action and for many Communism.

My bookshelf is studded or perhaps groaning under the weight of the work of people who have tried to expose just how Communism managed to get an iron grip on intellectuals, academics, politicians and many others who were prepared to believe that homo Soveiticus was new man and communism the way of the future.

The naive were played by experienced Soviet recruiters, like a virtuoso with a violin. I look at the case of Alger Hiss and there is still argument about whether he was a Soviet agent. Then there was the "baseball spy" a Belarus-born American citizen, later a resident of Sioux City, Indiana, recruited by the Soviet GRU and never discovered until Vladimir Putin mentioned him in December 2007 when he posthumously awarded George Koval (codename Delmar) the medal of Hero of the Russian Federation.[3]

The name George Koval doesn't appear in the indices of my books on the atom spies but he was at the heart of the Manhattan project. Thanks to him and others, Stalin got the bomb long before his scientists could have produced it, although that's not what Soviet history books will tell you. At present, they are going through another phase of rewriting history venerating Stalin who remains popular among the elderly, the peasantry and hard-line Communists.

Forgetting Communism's Victims

I was once foolish enough to enter a blog on the subject of the Holocaust and I merely posed the question why was it that Hitler killed 6 million Jews and there are memorials everywhere and the German people were subjected to a rigid de-nazification program - but where was the support for the victims of Communism?  Should there not be trials of murders and an analogous process to denazification?

Note that I did not at any stage condemn Israel or the Jews: in fact in many of my papers I have written that no race more than the Jewish has the right to say "never again" and make it stick. The slew of cheap shots accusing me of being an anti-Semite was enough for me: I retired feeling bruised and hurt.

Getting back to the critical period before World War II, while many people sneer at appeasement as a policy, in Britain and France in particular, World War I - the war to end all wars - had taken an horrific toll of lives and there were cases where families were wiped out. People did not want war and appeasement was respectable and that should never be forgotten.

American Isolationism

With America, things were slightly different. The US entered World War I later than the major powers of Europe and yet my reading of American history indicates that there was a very strong isolationist movement which set out to ensure that the US was not dragged into World War II.  I confess to disagree strongly with the views of Patrick Buchanan; in my view they do not stand serious scrutiny.

The godfather of the Kennedy clan Joseph Patrick Kennedy was another case entirely. I have read of his diplomatic correspondence to Washington when he was ambassador to the UK. I have read a great deal of material that suggests that he had considerable industrial and financial interest in the Third Reich and I was told by one American historian whom I respect that America's entry into World War II really came about because of Pearl Harbor; Hitler was a secondary concern.  I don't want to dwell on these arguments because there are more important things to consider in the middle of 2009.

American Involvement

For good or ill, Barack Obama was elected President of the United States last November and since assuming power in the White House, he has taken some decisions which have been reviled and cursed by some and praised by others. The brouhaha over Richard Nixon is as nothing when compared to the campaign to skewer the current President.

He has done the unthinkable: reaching out to Russia, Iran, the states of Latin and South America, including Cuba which for many years played a very important role in Soviet war fighting plans.  Most recently he made a quite remarkable speech in Cairo which was presumably intended for the consumption of the Arab world.

No one does TV satire as well as the British and I can just hear the senior mandarin telling Prime Minister Jim Hacker in the series "Yes, Prime Minister" whenever he made a decision that the civil service disagreed with, it was "courageous" - implicitly either foolhardy, stupid or both.  The speech in Cairo was courageous because explicitly and implicitly President Obama changed US policy on the Middle East by declaring that there must be a Palestinian homeland - a two state solution long rejected by the Israelis. To be polite, and not use the vernacular, this would have been an act described by Indira Ghandi, the assassinated Indian Prime Minister, as "the solids hitting the punkah."

My crystal ball lost power recently but I don't think that the President's words would have gained him too many new supporters.  More importantly, he appears to be rewriting history on the run by claiming that Muslims played an important part in the settlement of the US.  I wonder how many Americans have scratched their heads and wondered why they weren't taught that fact at school.

Then inevitably there is the cacophony of criticism about whether Barack Obama is (i) American-born and (ii) whether he is a Muslim. I am constantly deluged with protest material and have received some intriguing offers including a handgun of my choice and training free of charge and membership of the "Conservative underground."  I don't know a great deal about these people but they certainly don't appear to be very short of funds.  The so-called tea parties did not make much impact in the Australian press - hardly unexpected - but there appears to be centrifugal forces at work in the US and somehow I'm not surprised.

Clouds on the Horizon

As far as the trajectory of his presidency is concerned, Obama's approval ratings are still around 60% but he has problems around the world.  The Israeli government will be weighing up very carefully his words on the two-state solution and no doubt Benjamin Netanyahu will be taken a close interest in this week's "elections" in Iran.  Sooner or later, the Iranian nuclear question will rear its ugly head once more but the most pressing problem at present is naturally enough North Korea.

In the long and distinctly frigid relationship since the now abrogated armistice of 1953, this nation of some 24 million people has continually proven to be an irritant to the US. The so-called demilitarized zone (DMZ) is honeycombed with tunnels for attacks on the South.  The US military presence in South Korea is frequently the subject of demonstrations by students who should know better.

Perhaps a stint in one of the luxurious reform-by-labor camps, to which two US female journalists have recently been sentenced for 12 years hard labor, would open a few eyes, especially as BBC radio reported that a South Korean had been snatched from a joint project just inside the North Korean border and accused of being a spy.  It is not likely that he will get such generous treatment.

North Korea, as ever

North Korean diplomacy, if it can be dignified with such a title, has been to attempt to get the US to the negotiating table, with full recognition of the DPRK and its status as a nuclear power.  In my recent article "Mr. Kim's bombshell" I mentioned preparations for the possible launch of a long-range missile, a modified Taepodong-2 with a performance possibly tweaked to hit the Northwest seaboard of the US and Alaska.

In the few days since, the North Korean government has sentenced Laura Ling and Euna Lee, ironically reporters for a TV company run by former "Veep" Al Gore.  Their heinous crime was to have entered the country illegally and committed the "grave crime" of "hostility to the Korean people."

The gulags of North Korea masquerade as reform centres and indeed are known as places of reform through labor.  Does that have any synchronicity with "Arbeit macht Frei" I wonder?  Not possible, I suppose, but perhaps Mr Jeffrey Greenfield who writes for the Canadian Free Press is better equipped to offer an opinion.

Reporting on this matter has been somewhat peculiar because the two women in question were arrested three months ago and a lot has happened since.  President Obama is said to be deeply concerned about their fate and Secretary of State Clinton has also voiced strong feelings.

Not unsurprisingly, I read in the Huffington Post that President Obama was considering sending ex-VP Gore to help secure their release.  According to this liberal newspaper, Victor D. Cha, the Korea chair of the at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, apparently said that Mr. Gore would be the best person to attempt to secure their release.  Mr. Cha also added helpfully that the North Koreans "are very sensitive about their public face" and "having Gore there would help ease their concerns."

The Perils of Power

This is the peril of being a superpower.  A flea bite country with a few nuclear weapons and delivery systems is holding the US to ransom.  Over the years, North Korea has done much more than snatch a couple of journalists.  US and South Korean soldiers patrolling the DMZ have been captured or shot; maritime surveillance aircraft in international airspace have been attacked by the North Korean Air Force and if memory serves me right, at least one has been shot down with the total loss of crew.

I don't suppose Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton remember very much about 1968 apart from what the radicals told them occurred around the world in the way of student protests, but a lot happened that year of worldwide impact.  Czechoslovakia was invaded by the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact forces and in January of that year, and North Korea seized the USS Pueblo, delicately referred to in some sources as a naval technical research ship - read spy ship with signals intelligence capacity.  Naturally enough, the North Koreans claimed that the Pueblo had strayed into Korean waters but the United States refuted the claim stating that the vessel was in international waters at the time of being boarded.

The tragedy of this particular situation was that during the chase of the Pueblo by North Korean torpedo boats, a submarine chaser and aircraft, the US vessel was in constant contact with the US Seventh Fleet.  A reconstructed history of the event suggests that no one was brave enough to wake up President LB Johnson and by the time he woke, the ship was in the hands of the Koreans.

The crew suffered brutal treatment throughout, being beaten and prodded with bayonets.  The Pueblo's skipper was tortured and faced a mock firing squad to obtain a confession from him.

The usual diplomacy followed and the outcome under normal circumstances could be considered to be unworthy of the US.  The crew was released on December 23, 1968 and had to walk across the Bridge of No Return between the two Koreas.  The apology was subsequently retracted along with an admission that the Pueblo had been on a spying mission.  Unfortunately for the captain, Lloyd M. Bucher, the injuries he sustained during interrogation and imprisonment led to an early death from complications (in San Diego 2004).

In one of life's rich little parodies, the USS Pueblo remains on the U.S. Navy's active ship list but remains in the North Korean port adjacent to Pyongyang, as a tourist attraction.  In moving it from the port of Wonsan to the North Korean capital, it was towed through international waters in 1999.  Remarkably, no attempt was made to recapture the vessel.

The Weakness of Power

The whole point of the Pueblo saga and the unfortunate prisoners in North Korea is that it demonstrates quite clearly the weaknesses of a superpower in dealing with a ruthless and merciless enemy.  In the past few days it has been revealed that contact with the women has been through the Swedish Embassy, the logical consequence of not having direct diplomatic relations with Kim Jong Il's regime. One Gotham Chopra, son of the famous father, who writes regularly for the Huffington Post has called for strong action by President Obama and by that he means direct bilateral talks by a senior and experienced diplomat.[4]

Pardon me?  The US has to grovel to a tinpot tyrant whose country has a population of about 8% of that of the US; an economy that is risible and for many years depended on the drug trade and now makes money from exporting nuclear technology?

A mere two weeks ago, the Independent (UK) claimed that the world was scrambling to find a response to North Korea's nuclear posturing[5] and the US press was rubbing its collective hands rather like Uriah Heep.  Surely we know enough about North Korea now to assess their intentions.

A former colleague of mine considers that the two women in custody are a bargaining chip along with developing nuclear technology and testing missiles of increasing range.  The responses by President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton to the North Koreans are akin to being flogged with a lettuce leaf.  If you offer them an olive branch it is not rejected but stolen and used for display purposes.

In Latin America, South America, the Middle East, Iran, the "arc of instability" parts of Africa and Russia, the mettle of the US is being tested.  A dialogue with North Korea in any form is a dialogue with the deaf: they don't want to hear, just be seen as humbling a superpower.

I can't say that I know a great deal about Mr. Alan Caruba who writes for the Canadian Free Press but he is concerned about North Korea selling a small nuclear weapon to Islamofacists, who would then smuggle it into the US to destroy a city and its inhabitants.  Far be it from me to point out that just as much damage can be the result of using dirty bombs, but I do agree with him that scolding North Korea will get nowhere.  Nor will sanctions or any other diplomatic maneuvers.

Time for Action?

It's time for action: Mr. Caruba fancies nuking them and while I am not exactly convinced that would be the best action,  certainly stern measures are required.  That does not mean the usual lily-livered protests passed on by the limp-wristed denizens of Foggy Bottom or anyone to whom the task is subcontracted.

A good start would be to seize North Korean property around the world; round up some of their citizens, most of whom are spies, and throw them into Gitmo.  If that doesn't have the desired effect, shoot down their wonderful new long-range missile and from there, promise further escalation including destruction of missile and nuclear facilities.

I finish with a rather sour note.  In the good old days of the Cold War, the Russians would never stand for any such nonsense.

Two stories stand out: the first was after the US embassy in Tehran was seized in 1979 and Ayatollah Khomeini's "student protesters" having dealt with the great Satan were plotting to repeat their performance with the Soviet embassy.  Within a matter of hours, something like 350 painters and decorators came to renovate the embassy - but I don't think you can use AK-47s as paint brushes.  From gossip, I rather gather that the painters and decorators were Spetsnaz and the Iranian students most certainly got the message.

The second incident occurred in the Middle East and I won't specify the country.  A Soviet diplomat (who may or may not have been an intelligence officer) was snatched off the street by Islamic radicals who then started to make unspecified demands of the USSR.  The following day, a leading Islamic figure vanished from the streets and a few hours later, was deposited in front of his organization's headquarters.

His captors made a slight adjustment to his appearance.  His lips were sewn shut and when the stitches were taken out, the fundamentalists had to remove his penis.  No further aggressive action was taken by Islamic extremists in that country against representatives of the USSR.

Have We Forgotten What Teddy Understood?

The moral to the story is surely "walk softly and carry a big stick" and use it now and then.  Pussyfooting around and pretending to be civilized when dealing with barbarians and tyrants never produces the desired result.

If they harm one hair on the head of the two US citizens or the South Korean employee, there must surely be some creative work available for US government authorities to conduct on the persons of North Koreans rounded up in the US or plucked off the street from any country in the world.  The world is watching Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin is smirking: the world awaits your decision Mr. President!  As Hillary Clinton memorably put it in a campaign commercial: what's going to be the answer of the 3AM telephone call?


[1] I am fairly sure that the spelling of America with a K. came about during the days of the Weathermen and the SDS.  On some slogans, it was transmogrified into a swastika - yet another example of the land of the free allowing its children free rein to denigrate democracy.

[2] It never ceases to amaze me how commentators like to have their pictures in the press or on the Internet.  One gentleman whose name I will not mention is obviously wearing a shoulder holster.  I would imagine for him it would be mandatory but as we often used to joke; "the best underarm protection in the world is not Old Spice, but a Smith & Wesson 38 in a shoulder holster."

[3] "A spy's path: Iowa to A bomb to Kremlin honor." New York Times November 12, 2007 by William J. Broad and "An American regular guy was a Russian top spy" by the same author in the international Herald Tribune November 11, 2007.

[4] Huffington Post June 11, 2009:  "Laura Ling and Euna Lee A Foreign Policy Crisis."

[5] "World scrambles to find response to North Korea."  The Independent UK, May 28, 2009.

Christopher Marlowe is a retired intelligence operative from a major NATO nation.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Christopher Marlowe or other articles on Foreign Affairs.
Reader Comments
"How Would YOU Handle 9/11?"

Carpet bomb the middle east, women and children included. Be MORE vicious then them, and they'll stop. If you smack the playground bully but the sting just makes him mad, he'll smack you back. If you drop a blow that leaves him reeling, he won't touch you again.
June 13, 2009 8:54 AM
The point of being a superpower is to make the world safe for gas guzzlers. We went to Iraq to whip their ass and take their gas, I wish people wouldn't forget that.

If we took it all, we'd not need Saudi.
June 13, 2009 4:51 PM
Carpet-bombing might be a bit unbusinesslike - we still want to sell them iPods and music CDs. As I recall, the Russians only roughed up ONE of their guys and they chilled it. Didn't you say something about the Romans and decimation? Killed fewer people in the end?
June 15, 2009 1:04 PM
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