"The time is out of joint" (Hamlet)
The world born out of the ruins of 1939-45 was certainly not a haven of peace, but the dominating powers, and first of all the US and the USSR, managed to take advantage of the eruptions that happened, to stir up more trouble, calm this trouble down or let die its own death. Now, in spite of its hegemony, the US, the emblem of "real domination" capitalism, only rules upon chaos.
The great powers no longer master regional disturbances. Forty years ago, it was said that the USUSSR rivalry was adding fuel to the flames. Now we're told that the USSR acted as a positive factor because it channelled Third World convulsions: better have dictators supported and armed by Moscow than uncontrollable disorder. In fact, the demise of bureaucratic capitalism coincided with the social crisis in the West, without either of the two being the cause of the other. The conjunction of the improbable Russian transition to a viable market economy, and of the decay of a Fordism that nothing came to replace, made it most unlikely that the end of the Cold War could herald an era of prosperity, even a mercantile one, and of true parliamentary democracy, even under Uncle Sam's supervision.
In the Middle East, that the US wished to reshape, the cure has proved worse than the disease. "War on terror" is causing more terrorism. The Pentagon's problem is not how to defeat the Sunni, Shia, post-Baathist, nationalist, etc., guerrillas that are competing for Iraq, but how to get out of the country in the least bad possible conditions. This is public knowledge, but we'd like to stress two facts.
First, the US handling of Iraq after the invasion is a caricature of economic liberalism. The privatisation of public sectors, which is harmful to the poor and detrimental to the general running of society in relatively strong and stable European countries, proves catastrophic when it is forced in a couple of weeks upon a weak and previously State-organised economy. In such a country, the reign of free enterprise could only be negative for most Iraqis, and positive for Halliburton, Bechtel and a few other US corporate interests, as well as for a thin layer of local people with access to the invaders' support and money. Corruption at both ends, with the additional farce of a few hundred million dollars in cash that the US gave back to liberated Iraq and which evaporated somewhere between the airport
and some private coffers. Where market forces are the least able to structure an economy, their unchecked play does not hold a country together: it contributes to its disintegration.
Secondly, the attack on Baghdad followed the one on Kabul, the unacknowledged failure of which the invasion of Iraq was supposed to make up for. In 1970, America tried to win an inconclusive Vietnamese civil war by wrecking a fragile Cambodian society: thirty years later, the same escalation is at work, but with fewer checks on imperial overstretch. In Baghdad as in Kabul, from its underground bunkers and from the skies, the US rules over a torn apart country. Defeating the enemy is no historical reconstruction. Hyperpower is powerless if it does not convey a social project, and if it tries to compensate for the lack of social perspective by an ever more sophisticated weaponry. In the same region, in spite of its world hegemony, the US is incapable of preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power.
Mutatis mutandis, this is also Tsahal's lot: its invasion of Lebanon in 2006 fitted within the US strategy of using big guns to wipe out what is mistakenly perceived as mere gun-wielding gangs. Military superiority is never enough to change a political situation, and denying social realities finally diminishes this superiority (out of 400 tanks used by Israel, Hezbollah destroyed 50).
Because of Russian weakness and European non-existence, the end of the Eastern bloc opened prospects for US penetration, but even there, Washington is at pains to find allies. How many East European soldiers are fighting alongside the US army in Iraq... ? From Prague's or Budapest's point of view, Washington hasn't much more to offer than Brussels. In the aftermath of 1945, democracy and the Marshall plan went together, the latter gave meaning to the former, and both reinforced West European conditions that permitted growth and some class reunion. That was the positive ground for the political and economic alliance sealed by NATO. There's no possible comparison between the flow of US capital into Europe after 1945, which was part of long-term plans, and current investment in search of quick returns, and likely to leave Bulgaria for Malaysia at a month's notice.
The larger it gets, from the Baltic to the Black Sea, the more the European Union asserts itself as a vast economic area devoid of political and military power. Brussels is as capable of compelling an EU member to privatise its postal service as ill-equipped to have a say in international matters, including what happens at its doorstep. When a bloody conflict took place in the heart of Europe at the time the EU was freed from the (imaginary or real) Russian threat and theoretically had the means to intervene, it found itself with its hands tied. The League of Nations was much derided, and rightly so, for its utter inadequacy in the face of German rearmament, the war in Spain or the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, but Brussels' results are equally disastrous as Geneva's before 1939. World War II followed the illusory post-1918 trend to unity and peace. The present state of Europe is also one of apparent unification yet real division: there is no joint foreign policy in the Middle East, or regarding the US and Russia. Europe waited for years before interfering in the civil war that tore Yugoslavia apart. In the exact location where the 1914-18 conflagration started, a so-called united Europe proved unable to stop a local conflict. NATO's attack against Serbia showed the political debility of an EU pushed into war by the US, but also the US incapacity of acting positively in Europe: America is able to contribute to European disunity, and unable to promote perspectives for that continent.
Military defeats usually indicate political and social weakness, but a stalemate on the battlefield can also be beneficial if it helps a country to move on. France in 1958 and Portugal in 1974 reacted to the loss of their colonial empires by modernising. The US now won't learn from the Middle East quagmire, and military failure increases the difficulty for capitalism to change.
Nowhere does the speeded-up unification of commodity and capital flows come with power structures and territorial forms necessary to give some substance to such a unification. Europe jumps from 18 to 27 members, draws together 450 million people and dreams of crossing the Bosporus, without remedying its permanent incompleteness, and the rejection of its constitutional treaty by two founding countries in 2005 was more than a symbol. It took centuries of trade, political centralisation,
culture and war to build up European nations. Economic processes aren't sufficient. Left to itself, instead of bringing about sound government, the economy rather helps the resurgence of the archaisms it was supposed to do away with.
In the Middle East, the failure of national structuring is one of the reasons why religion has come back to the fore. Hezbollah is as much opposed to a Lebanese State that's incapable of integrating the Shiites, as it is opposed to Israel. And the rise of Hamas also derives from the stagnation of the national Palestinian movement. Labelling this group or that Sunni or Shia does not help to understand what's happening in Gaza, Afghanistan or Somalia: economic pressure breaks exchange links and gives back an organising (and political) role to extended families, clans and fiefdoms, to what were called "tribal" ties in 1900 and "pre-capitalist" ties in 1960. 21st century "ethnic" factors are often close to 19th century "nationalities", except they lack the coherence necessary to build a nation.
Slovakia, Montenegro, Moldavia, Transnistria, East Timor...: globalisation gives birth to Statelets as unviable as those created by decolonisation, preyed upon by profit-and-run international investors, and forcibly "protected" by powerful neighbours.
Strong winds of autonomy also blow within States that benefit from a long national history and could be regarded as stable, like Italy, Spain, Belgium, or even Britain. Those centrifugal trends run contrary to the now dominant idea of a march towards economy-induced unification. Germany is the only country that has recently achieved real national unity. Former multi-national entities born out of 1918 as clients of France and bulwarks against Germany (Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia) have split up. The coming of mini-states, and the effort to create separate structures within existing States, mean that there aren't enough profit opportunities in the present world, and therefore not enough possibilities to sell one's labour. To attract investments and jobs, each fragment of territory, each set of people must call attention to itself, highlight its specific assets, set itself apart, and portray its neighbour (and rival) as less profitable than itself. The Flemish worker is no longer the Walloon's compatriot, but his competitor: to present himself as more skilled and industrious, he has to turn Flanders into a distinct political entity liable to appeal to investments that are all the more precious as there won't be enough for everybody. (This social selfishness, this closing-in also signify a minimum of united front between labour and capital, which is bound to have some bearing on the class struggle.)