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April 2024 (Volume 75, Number 11)

Monthly Review Volume 75, Number 11 (April 2024)

On December 14, 2023, the Wall Street Journal published an interview with premier U.S. imperial grand strategist Richard Haass titled “A World in Disarray?” From 1989 to 1993, Haass was special assistant to President George H. W. Bush and senior director for Near East and South Asian Affairs on the staff of the National Security Council. While in these positions, he played a central role in developing the strategy for the U.S.-led 1990 Gulf War against Iraq. From 2001 to 2003, he served as director of policy planning for the Department of State under President George W. Bush. In this capacity, he was the principal adviser to Secretary of State Colin Powell, helping to coordinate regime change during the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. For two decades, from 2003 to 2023, Haass was president of the Council on Foreign Relations (commonly known as “the imperial brain trust”). Today, he is a senior counselor for the investment bank Centerview Partners, advising on geopolitical matters. Recently, he headed up a group of top U.S. foreign policy figures, all drawn from the Council on Foreign Relations, engaged in “secret talks” with Russia on the Ukraine War (Richard Haass interview, “A World in Disarray?: A Longtime Diplomat Says It’s Worse than That,” Wall Street Journal, December 14, 2023; Josh Lederman, “Former U.S. Officials Have Held Secret Talks with Prominent Russians,” NBC News, July 6, 2023; Laurence H. Shoup and William Minter, The Imperial Brain Trust [New York: Monthly Review Press, 1977]).

In its December 2023 interview, the Wall Street Journal asked Haass about his 2017 book, A World in Disarray. In his judgment, were things better or worse, six years later? He answered that today it is “Disarray on Stilts. When the [2017] book came out, I was criticized for being too negative. In retrospect, I wasn’t negative enough.” Not only has the “new world order” pronounced by Washington after the 1990 Gulf War and the demise of the Soviet Union turned into a “new world disorder” as “the relative position” of the United States has “deteriorated,” this disorder is now turning into a state of chaos. This is partly due to the rise of other powers, but also derives from the neglect of “the U.S. defense manufacturing base,” which means that the United States is no longer capable of fighting major proxy wars effectively. For Haass, “the rise of China, which is not a status quo power, represents a shift in the balance” on the world stage, while “a truly disaffected Russia” now has the ability to act, “as we’re seeing in the Ukraine and elsewhere.” This represents a transformation in power relations, taking various forms and “moving around the world.” Ukraine, Haass declared, will not be able to regain its lost territory, and it should concentrate on maintaining its mere existence, taking advantage of the fact that it is now “integrated one way or another into the EU and NATO.” The strategy at present, we are told, is to await the anticipated weakening of the Kremlin following Putin’s eventual departure. The United States/NATO could then presumably exercise leverage against Moscow as a “pariah” state, thereby bringing about all-out regime change (Haass, “A World in Disarray?”; Richard Haass, A World in Disarray [London: Penguin, 2017], 11).

Israel’s full-scale assault on Gaza, Haass explained to the Wall Street Journal, is a major foreign policy disaster for the United States, but one in which Washington simply has no choice but to back “Netanyahu and his colleagues” at all costs, supporting Israel’s “one-state nonsolution” with its no-holds-barred war on Hamas and the continued movement of settlers into the West Bank. “They [the Israeli forces] are causing an awful lot of civilian casualties and deaths in the process,” Haass acknowledged, while indicating that this “is a separate conversation,” one with which he has no intention of engaging. After Hamas is “degraded”—it cannot, he said, be destroyed—Gaza will have to be ruled by Israel directly with continued U.S. backing. There is no viable regime change strategy, no real endgame, only the sheer exercise of force, viewed as necessary to maintain Israel as a “democratic Jewish state.” On the Chinese front, the United States, Haass insisted, must declare that it is willing, ready, able, and committed to go to war with China over Taiwan (Haass, “A World in Disarray?”; Richard Haass, “What Friends Owe Friends,” Foreign Affairs, October 15, 2023).

A historical perspective on Haass’s views can be obtained by going back to 2000, when he delivered an important speech titled “Imperial America,” presented at the Atlanta Conference in Puerto Rico on November 11, 2000, shortly before he joined the George W. Bush administration. Here, he envisioned a strategy modeled after British hegemony in the nineteenth century. Ten years after George H. W. Bush first spoke of a “new world order” and nine years after the demise of the Soviet Union, Washington’s hopes of creating a unipolar world under U.S. “primacy,” Haass warned, were rapidly receding in the face of a much stronger China and the re-emergence of Russia as a great power. However, a resurgence of U.S. “imperial power” was still possible, he argued, through the continued enlargement of NATO further to the east toward Russia (with the objective of eventually bringing Ukraine into NATO); a renewed U.S. commitment to so-called humanitarian military interventions across the globe; the bolstering of U.S. hegemony over “free trade” institutions; and the global expansion of U.S. missile defense systems (part of the Pentagon’s overall nuclear counterforce strategy). In The Reluctant Sheriff, published a few years before his “Imperial America” speech, he had argued that U.S. military interventions should be based on unilateral decisions by the United States, as the world’s “sheriff,” but backed up each time by a “posse” that submitted to its orders, forming a “coalition of the willing,” thus giving a sense of support by the international community. Haass ended his “Imperial America” speech with a reference to “Imperialism Begins at Home,” calling for national unity as the basis of U.S. empire (Richard Haass, “Imperial America,” Atlanta Conference, Puerto Rico, November 11, 2000, Brookings Institution; Richard Haass, The Reluctant Sheriff [New York: Council on Foreign Relations, 1997]), 93; John Bellamy Foster, Naked Imperialism [New York: Monthly Review Press, 2006], 97–106, 115–16).

Yet, only a decade and a half after Haass first proposed his “Imperial America” strategy, he was forced to recognize that the U.S. unipolar world that he had dreamed of was no longer possible. This could be traced primarily to the abandonment of any sense of national unity on the domestic front (that is, adherence to the “Imperialism Begins at Home” principle). This was particularly evident during the 2016 election campaign of Donald Trump, with the rise of what Haass referred to as “class” conflict foreign to the “common American identity,” leading to a tendency to “continued paralysis and dysfunction at best and widespread political violence and dissolution at worst” and extending to all parts of the body politic. Ironically, it was the class struggle endemic to capitalism, in Haass’s own account, that finally put an end to his (and Washington’s) grand design for an “Imperial America.” The fallback strategy today, he informs us, is a defense of the hegemonic “rules-based international order” made in Washington. “Medium powers in Europe and Asia, as well as Canada,” we are told, cannot hold the world together since they “would simply lack the military capacity and the domestic political will to get very far.” The “rules-based international order” thus can only be fashioned and kept in place by the United States of America, viewed as the indispensable imperial power (Richard Haass interviewed by Thomas B. Edsall, “Trump Has Ushered in the Age of ‘Great Misalignment,'” New York Times, January 10, 2024; Richard Haass, The World: A Brief Introduction [London: Penguin, 2020], 302–3; Haass, A World in Disarray, 8–15).


On February 27, 2024, Jacobin republished a 2012 article titled “Paul Sweezy Was One of the 20th Century’s Great Economic Thinkers” by John E. King, author with Michael Howard of the multivolume academic tome, A History of Marxian Economics. Most of the article was a commendable exposition of Sweezy’s ideas. However, King’s article ended with two major fallacies. He contended that Sweezy at the end of his life “gave up his almost lifelong opposition to reformism and ended his life…as a left social democrat.” King’s claim here had us, as Sweezy himself liked to say, rubbing our eyes in disbelief! At no time did he abandon the notion that a revolutionary transcendence of capitalism was necessary. In fact, as a result of planetary ecological crisis he came to emphasize this even more strongly.

King goes on to refer to Sweezy’s failure “to give serious consideration to the possibility that a new competitive, neoliberal stage of capitalism had begun in the 1970s, undermining monopoly power and casting doubt on the law of the rising surplus.” Not only is this incorrect with respect to Sweezy’s recognition of a neoliberal phase, but all existing evidence (see the influential article “Monopoly and Competition in Twenty-First Century Capitalism,” by John Bellamy Foster, Robert W. McChesney, and R. Jamil Jonna, in the April 2011 issue of Monthly Review) demonstrates that monopoly power has been accelerating in the neoliberal age, with a more rapid concentration of economic surplus or gross profits at the very top of the corporate world. In fact, it is the widespread recognition of this today that has been drawing so much recent attention to Paul Baran and Sweezy’s late twentieth-century critique of monopoly capital.


We have only recently received notice that John S. Saul, longtime MR and Monthly Review Press author, died on September 23, 2023, at age 85. Saul, a Canadian political economist and professor at York University in Toronto, was for over half a century one of the world’s leading analysts and activists in support of revolutionary struggles in southern Africa, particularly in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, and Angola. He was one of the founders of the Toronto Committee for the Liberation of Portugal’s African Colonies, which in 1974 changed its name to the Toronto Committee for the Liberation of Southern Africa, famous for its magazine, Southern African Report. He published some twenty-five books, a number of these with Monthly Review Press, including Essays on the Political Economy of Africa (with Giovanni Arrighi, 1973), State and Revolution in East Africa (1979), The Crisis in South Africa (with Stephen Gelb, 1981), A Difficult Road: The Transition to Socialism in Mozambique (1985), and The Next Liberation Struggle (2005). A key article in Monthly Review capturing his indomitable spirit was “Cry for the Beloved Country: The Post-Apartheid Denouement” (January 2001). Saul’s autobiography, Revolutionary Traveller: Freeze-Frames from a Life (Winnipeg, Manitoba: Arbeiter Ring, 2009), provides a remarkable story of “critical solidarity” with Africa during his lifetime as a scholar-activist. MR editor John Bellamy Foster, who worked with Saul in Toronto, remembers him as a very warm, creative, critical, energizing, and supportive person, the epitome of a Gramscian organic intellectual, who in his every thought and action embodied “pessimism of the intellect but optimism of the will” (see Chris Webb, “John Saul and the Meaning of Solidarity,” Canadian Dimension, February 4, 2024).


Merle Ratner, who attained fame as an antiwar activist in the 1960s and who was a lifetime supporter of the Vietnamese people and friend of Monthly Review, died on February 5, 2024, aged 67. In her early teens, she gained widespread notoriety for hanging antiwar slogans on the Statue of Liberty. After 1975, she worked for the normalization of relations between the United States and Vietnam. Ratner was cofounder of the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign in the New York area. Among her many actions in support of the Vietnamese people, she helped coordinate the Workshop on Marxist Theory and Practice in the World Today, jointly held with the Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics and Political Administration, in Hanoi in 2009. On that occasion, attendees consisted of a number of international friends and representatives of MR, including Samir Amin, Bill Fletcher, John Bellamy Foster, Jayati Ghosh, Marta Harnecker, Michael Lebowitz, John Mage, Biju Mathew, Ngo Thanh Nhan (Ratner’s husband), and Ratner herself. In 2016, Ratner was presented with the Vietnam Friendship Medal. She also received the insignia “For the Development of Vietnamese Women” in 2010, and the insignia “For Vietnam Agent Orange Victims” in 2013. Her death represents the loss of a towering figure in the struggle for world peace.

2024, Volume 75, Number 11 (April 2024)
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