My Political Journey Part 3: Intellectuals, Plus the Dawn of Pax Americana
America Triumphant, Globalism, Kosovo, Huntington's Clash of Civilizations, Patrick J. Buchanan, Manufacturing Consent, Baudrillard, and more
Previous entry - My Political Journey Part 2: The Implosion of Yugoslavia and Bush’s New World Order
In the preceding version of this series, I opened up with the question:
What’s it like when the most important political goal of your life has been achieved when you are young?
The answer, for me at least, was to take stock, to try and learn lessons, to not be a sore winner, and to celebrate.
The most important adjustment to be made during the denouement was accepting that after dominating the news cycle for four straight years, we were no longer the centre of attention. This suited me fine. The world’s eyes were being drawn elsewhere; to Somalia, where American soldiers had been killed by local tribesman, to Chechnya, where nationalists were attempting to carve out their own nation-state in the ruins of the USSR, but with the added difficulty of trying to detach a piece of real estate from the Russian Federation.
At the same time, ‘humanitarian intervention’ was at high tide in the wake of the Dayton Peace Accords that stopped the war in Bosnia-Hercegovina and ushered in not just a peace between the three warring factions, but also gave birth to the International War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague. “Evil-doers” would be brought before a global court to be tried for war crimes, and the definition of what constituted a war crime would be stretched to the point of absurdity, with all the added opt-outs for the world’s main powers. People like Christiane Amanpour, the first real TV ‘advocacy journalist’ was salivating at the prospect of using this new philosophy of power to implement ‘change’ elsewhere, more correctly, where it matched US foreign policy ambitions.
History will judge the USA in the 1990s as either the high-point of its power, or as a lost opportunity to engage in structural reform at home, or both. A “Peace Dividend” was promised, as military spending could be significantly curtailed due to the USSR’s collapse, but outside of some symbolic base closures not much was cut.
Yet the USA did turn inward despite its knockout presence in Bosnia by way of NATO. Many of you will be too young to recall this era, but it was dominated by cable news outlets debating the minutiae of US politics and its personalities, with an overall liberal slant, but nowhere near as significant one as there is today. GOP supporters focused on Clinton’s personal defects to the point of annoyance, with the crescendo being his dalliances with Monica Lewinsky (in retrospect, absolutely unimportant). The other side feared Newt Gingrich and his Chamber of Commerce-inspired cuts to government largesse (also unimportant in retrospect).
It was also a decade of bifurcation; the Reagan Era was over yet half of the USA still proceeded to live as it was still present. Much of this was reflected in selfishness and a culture of crass materialism, alongside shitty behaviour from males (see: Woodstock 1999). Talk radio flourished among these types, who could pin any ‘evil’, no matter how far-fetched, onto the Democrats.
But it also saw the rise of grunge as a youth culture, which was the rejection of old hierarchies in favour of pessimism and victimology. To them, every ill could be chalked up to “Christian Right Wing Conservatives”. Nerd Culture was also ascendant due to the mass adoption of the home computer, helping upend those same tried and tested hierarchies. It was finally ‘cool’ to be a loser. In this was contained the seeds of our present popular culture of irony.
Most importantly, the USA was dominant and unrivalled. The European Union was still struggling to find its feet post-Maastricht Treaty, planning its expansion eastward, while creating a system that mocks democracy while claiming to uphold it. Russia was in even worse shape, as state assets were being sold for kopecks on the ruble, only to be pilfered by their new owners, who amassed such great fortunes as to create an oligarchy that ruled in stead of the drunken joke, Boris Yeltsin. Russia was in a nosedive, politically, socially, culturally, economically, and existentially, that a rag-tag bunch of Caucasian hillbillies defeated it in a war within its own borders, forcing the once-mighty Red Army to sue for peace. It was impotent on the world stage, as the USA carved out a zone of interest in the former Yugoslavia (more on that later). China was a country that produced cheap shit for the mass market. No global rivals existed for the time being. The world was America’s to make its own.
And it was this lack of a global rival that allowed globalism to flourish, as the system put into place benefitted US corporations and security interests first and foremost.
Globalism was sold to us in two ways:
the need to be competitive on the world stage
the ability to procure consumer goods for much cheaper prices
Many were convinced. Some, like my father, weren’t. I recall a debate that he had with my mother’s cousin one night as NAFTA was about to be passed. My father, a prole, insisted that this would destroy industry in North America and lower living standards for the working class. My mother’s cousin insisted that we just needed to be competitive enough to survive, and if we survived, we would flourish.
It’s easy to tell who won that debate in retrospect.