Review of “The New American Imperialism: Bush’s War on Terror and Blood for Oil”, reviewed by Rolin Mainuddin

The New American Imperialism: Bush’s War on Terror and Blood for Oil by Vassilis K. Fouskas and Bülent Gökay, Westport, CT: Praeger Security International, 2005. (pp. 272)

Reviewed by Rolin Mainuddin (North Carolina Central University, Durham, North Carolina)

 Why do hegemons decline? Moreover, given the seeming inevitability of decline, how is a declining hegemon expected to behave? In an earlier account, Robert Gilpin (1981) identified three strategies for cost reduction during decline: preventive war, defensive perimeter expansion and commitment trimming. Asserting that the US will continue to provide global leadership, given its reserve of “soft power,” Joseph Nye (1990) launched a neoliberal institutional rejoinder against the structural realist postulate of decline in response to Paul Kennedy’s well-known 1987 great powers thesis. In The New American Imperialism: Bush’s War on Terror and Blood for Oil,Vassilis Fouskas and Bülent Gökay continue the declinist-revivalist debate from a European neo-Marxist perspective with the premise that the US is a declining hegemon. For them, the war on terror as well as NATO expansion and the Greater Middle East Initiative (GMEI) are illustrative of two of the cost reduction options noted by Gilpin.

            The authors trace post-war US neo-imperialism to Dean Acheson and Paul Nitze in the late 1940s and early 1950s, a hegemony premised on the strategic triad of an identifiable threat, the “hub-and-spoke” system of dependency, and the dollar as a global currency. In homogenizing the political culture of the periphery into a binary vision of the world, the US posited itself as the fountainhead of political liberalism. The Bretton Woods system in particular institutionalized US economic and financial hegemony. Facing a collective bargaining challenge from OPEC in 1973, the US would rejuvenate its position in a 1975 agreement with OPEC that ensured oil pricing in dollars. Thus, an “oil standard” replaced the gold standard in revamping the hegemony of the dollar.

            Securing a stable oil supply has become a bedrock of US foreign policy. With NATO expansion and the GMEI, the US extended its sphere of influence into former Soviet and Ottoman spaces. Along with a special place for Israel in its Middle East policy, this has resulted in the US sponsoring the Burgas-Skopje-Vlore Balkan oil pipeline in Europe and the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Turkish route for the Caspian SeaBasin. Instead of acquiring colonies, neo-imperialism entails the US expanding its military bases into southern Kosovo in Europe as well as in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan in Central Asia. With the opening of oil resources from landlocked Caspian SeaBasin (accounting for about 10 percent of the world’s oil reserves), Fouskas and Gökay see the opening in 2001 of the first front of the war on terror against the Taliban regime as a geopolitical move to secure oil transit routes through Afghanistan to the Indian Ocean. The 2003 second front against Iraq—a country, of course, with sizable oil reserves—was precipitated, the authors suggest, by a 2000 statement by Saddam Hussein about assessing resources in euros, instead of in dollars.

            While Fouskas and Gökay observe that a network analysis of prominent foreign policy players does not adequately capture the broader context or group interests, their neo-Marxist work falls short on class analysis. Whereas the authors relate information dominance and democratization to the US grand strategy of “primacy,” their post-Cold War analysis is limited to energy procurement. Yet, it was the US that facilitated China’s membership in WTO. Some attention to international trade, including the US-European rivalry, would have been helpful. Although the authors underscore that a common European currency and military are twin threats to US trans-Atlantic influence, they do not articulate their “decoupling” stance. Finally, weaknesses in social, economic, and currency areas are not integrated to illustrate the assumed, but contested, notion of US relative power decline. These gaps notwithstanding, Fouskas and Gökay have written a lucid, informative, and useful critique of post-war US foreign policy, particularly the war on terror in the post-Cold War era.

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