Why the End of History Never Happened?
By Darko Lazar
In 1989, when it became obvious that the collapse of the Soviet Union was imminent, Western elites gave themselves permission to think big. As politicians prepared to usher in a new era defined by a global liberal order, academics like Francis Fukuyama famously declared “The End of History”.
For Fukuyama, the end of the USSR meant that the last ideological challenger to liberalism had been eliminated. He imagined a world where Western thought would become universal, and Western-style democracies and free markets would spread unhindered.
“It matters very little what strange thoughts occur to people in Albania or Burkina Faso,” Fukuyama declared, “for we are interested in what one could in some sense call the common ideological heritage.”
Unfortunately for this school of thought, the last three decades have proved that people’s “strange thoughts” in many corners of the globe do indeed matter.
A Turning Point
Throughout history, empires have been defined by three key characteristics: brutality, bloodshed, and honor. Their expansion is always accompanied by an immense loss of life, which was traditionally justified by claiming cultural and political superiority. Fukuyama and those like him professed their superiority complex by thinly veiling them with the “values” of Western democracies: transparency, rationality, and of course, human rights.
But just like empires of old, the contemporary Western one takes history for granted. It fails to accept the fact that efforts to conquer nations will always produce backlashes, which inevitably lead to a reshuffling of the global order. History never ends – it’s a constant progression toward nations that each new generation wants their children to grow up in.
Empires have never bothered to understand this concept of resistance. And their elites have never been able to relate to the “strange thoughts” by ordinary people who would rather die fighting than live like subordinates.
As such, it is very difficult for an empire to acknowledge defeat or even recognize that its hegemony is in freefall. But for those who were born and raised in the constant shadow of American bombs, sanctions, and dictates, the failed US conquests in Afghanistan and the Middle East must be seen as watershed moments.
The Glory Days Are Gone
From a historical standpoint, American global hegemony was a brief occurrence. This epoch lasted just over 30 years. It was defined by constant wars that culminated in the so-called ‘War on Terror’. The key battlegrounds were Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, all of which have been lost by the US. Any narrative suggesting otherwise is mere Western propaganda and a product of imperial arrogance that is unable to come to terms with an existential crisis.
Here, it is important to note that the American withdrawal from Afghanistan is much more than that. It is a very public acknowledgment that the US strategy in Central Asia and the Middle East has failed. In layman’s terms, the Americans didn’t just lose Afghanistan; they are about to lose the Middle East as well.
A lot of this has to do with the rise of China, Russia, and Iran. But the demise of American hegemony is also being fueled by Washington’s refusal to acknowledge that the world has fundamentally changed.
Despite all the muscle-flexing and inflammatory statements, the US no longer has the world’s unmatched military might. In other words, the world is no longer unipolar, and the Americans are no longer setting the rules of the game.
It’s now an open secret that Washington’s so-called alliances across the Middle East have become obsolete. For an America in decline, they represent an enormous risk of being sucked into a regional war that they can neither control nor ever dream of winning. Meanwhile, for the Gulf monarchies and ‘Israel’, the Americans have become a liability – they are an unreliable and unpredictable guest that just can’t seem to move on from its glory days in the 1990s.
Rigged War Games
Washington’s ambivalence has been on full display for quite some time, manifesting through multiple blunders, including several incidents in the Gulf.
One of the more notable episodes unfolded in late October, when US naval forces attempted to hijack an Iranian oil tanker under the guise of enforcing Washington’s sanctions regime.
The attempt was skillfully foiled by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard. The incident, caught on video, shows IRG personnel using helicopters and speedboats to take control of the tanker as it’s being pursued by American Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers and a fast response cutter.
At one point, an IRG speedboat gets between the American destroyer and the tanker. The video shows a large-caliber machine gun pointed at the US ship’s combat posts, which could easily penetrate the destroyer’s three-millimeter armor. And just like that, the pursuit was over.
This is just one in a series of incidents in recent years, reminding the Americans that the shallow Gulf is an ideal environment for small, fast-attack craft, and a less-than-ideal environment for large, slow US warships. By all accounts, America’s multi-billion-dollar navy would be sitting ducks in this chaotic, shallow-water warfare.
These, however, are not exactly new revelations for policy makers in Washington. The Americans have been rehearsing war with Iran for decades, and the outcomes always involve catastrophic US losses.
In 2002, marine lieutenant-general Paul Van Riper quit his command after the US military rigged one of the biggest war games in its history to ensure the Americans beat their ‘Middle Eastern’ adversaries.
During the drills that cost nearly US$200 million to organize, Riper was the commander of a “low-tech, third-world army”. When the US fleet sailed into the Gulf, Riper instructed his small boats to move around in apparently aimless circles before launching a surprise attack which sank a substantial part of the US navy.
The war game had to be stopped and the American ships "refloated" so that the US forces stood a chance. That was in 2002. Since then, the US has only grown weaker, while Iran has become exceptionally stronger.
While some political currents in the West recognize the need to change course and for the US to start serious negotiations about its future role in the world, many are still sticking to radical ideological and military doctrines.
And although this divergence in views is accelerating the collapse of the unipolar order, it is also delaying desperately needed dialogue based on mutual respect, rather than the classic version of American diplomacy: “do as we say, or else”.
So, what is the US strategy for these unprecedented challenges? And are policymakers in Washington operating under the assumption that the US is still the world’s sole superpower?
The actions of the current Biden administration suggest that there is no actual strategy. The White House is simply molding its game plan based on individual situations as they arise.
Their rhetoric ignores the fact that the US has become both economically and militarily inferior on the global stage. But in their actions – those that very much resemble Biden’s predecessor – the current administration is pushed into abandoning old colonial structures. The US military presence in Afghanistan was an important one. Others will soon meet the same fate.