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    Middle East
     Aug 22, 2007
Page 1 of 3
Rising powers have the US in their sights
By Dilip Hiro

With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States stood tall - militarily invincible, economically unrivaled, diplomatically uncontestable. and the dominating force on information channels worldwide. The next century was to be the true "American century", with the rest of the world molding itself in the image of the sole superpower.

Yet with not even a decade of this century behind us, we are already witnessing the rise of a multipolar world in which new



powers are challenging different aspects of US supremacy - Russia and China in the forefront, with regional powers Venezuela and Iran forming the second rank. These emergent powers are primed to erode US hegemony, not confront it, singly or jointly.

How and why has the world evolved in this way so soon? The George W Bush administration's debacle in Iraq is certainly a major factor in this transformation, a classic example of an imperialist power, brimming with hubris, overextending itself. To the relief of many - in the US and elsewhere - the Iraq fiasco has demonstrated the striking limitations of power for the globe's highest-tech, most destructive military machine. In Iraq, Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to two US presidents, concedes in a recent op-ed, the US is "being wrestled to a draw by opponents who are not even an organized state adversary".

The invasion and subsequent disastrous occupation of Iraq and the mismanaged military campaign in Afghanistan have crippled the credibility of the United States. The scandals at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, along with the widely publicized murders of Iraqi civilians in Haditha, have badly tarnished America's moral self-image. In the latest opinion poll in Turkey, a secular state and member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, only 9% of Turks have a "favorable view" of the US (down from 52% just five years ago).

Yet there are other explanations - unrelated to Washington's glaring misadventures - for the current transformation in international affairs. These include, above all, the tightening market in oil and natural gas, which has enhanced the power of hydrocarbon-rich nations as never before; the rapid economic expansion of the mega-nations China and India; the transformation of China into the globe's leading manufacturing base; and the end of the Anglo-American duopoly in international television news.

Many channels, diverse perceptions
During the 1991 Gulf War, only the Cable News Network and the British Broadcasting Corp had correspondents in Baghdad. So the international TV audience, irrespective of its location, saw the conflict through their lenses. Twelve years later, when the Bush administration, backed by British prime minister Tony Blair, invaded Iraq, Al-Jazeera Arabic broke this duopoly. It relayed images - and facts - that contradicted the Pentagon's presentation. For the first time in history, the world witnessed two versions of an ongoing war in real time. So credible was the Al-Jazeera Arabic version that many television companies outside the Arabic-speaking world - in Europe, Asia and Latin America - showed its clips.

Though, in theory, the growth of cable television worldwide raised the prospect of ending the Anglo-American duopoly in 24-hour television news, not much had happened because of the exorbitant cost of gathering and editing TV news. It was only the arrival of Al-Jazeera English, funded by the hydrocarbon-rich emirate of Qatar - with its declared policy of offering a global perspective from an Arab and Muslim angle - that, last year, finally broke the long-established mold.

Soon France 24 came on the air, broadcasting in English and French from a French viewpoint, followed in mid-2007 by the English-language Press TV, which aimed to provide an Iranian perspective. Russia was next in line for 24-hour TV news in English for the global audience. Meanwhile, spurred by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Telesur, a pan-Latin American TV channel based in Caracas, began competing with CNN in Spanish for a mass audience.

As with Qatar, so with Russia and Venezuela, the funding for these TV news ventures has come from soaring national hydrocarbon incomes - a factor draining US hegemony not just in imagery but in reality.

Russia, an energy superpower
Under President Vladimir Putin, Russia has more than recovered from the economic chaos that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. After in effect renationalizing the energy industry through state-controlled corporations, he began deploying its economic clout to further Russia's foreign-policy interests.

In 2005, Russia overtook the United States to become the second-largest oil producer in the world. Its oil income now amounts to US$679 million a day. European countries dependent on imported Russian oil now include Hungary, Poland, Germany, and even Britain.

Russia is also the largest producer of natural gas on the planet, with three-fifths of its gas exports going to the 27-member European Union. Bulgaria, Estonia, Finland and Slovakia get 100% of their natural gas from Russia; Turkey 66%; Poland 58%; Germany 41%; and France 25%. Gazprom, the biggest natural-gas enterprise on Earth, has established stakes in 16 EU countries.

In 2006, the Kremlin's foreign reserves stood at US$315 billion, up from a paltry $12 billion in 1999. Little wonder that in July 2006, on the eve of the Group of Eight summit in St Petersburg, Putin rejected an energy charter proposed by the Western leaders.

Soaring foreign-exchange reserves, new ballistic missiles, and closer links with a prospering China - with which it conducted joint military exercises on China's Shandong Peninsula in August 2005 - enabled Putin to deal with his US counterpart, President Bush, as an equal, not mincing his words when appraising US policies.

"One country, the United States, has overstepped its national boundaries in every way," Putin told the 43rd Munich Trans-Atlantic Conference on Security Policy in February. "This is visible in the economic, political, cultural and educational policies it imposes on other nations ... This is very dangerous."

Condemning the concept of a "unipolar world", he added: "However one might embellish this term, at the end of the day it describes a scenario in which there is one center of authority, one 

Continued 1 2


'A bullet at the heart of democracy' (May 12, '07)

The nightmare Bush dreads most (Apr 17, '07)


1. US marches closer to war with Iran

2. When the Fed's big guns fail, call in China

3. It must be the end of secularism ...

4. South Asia's schizophrenic twins

5. Taliban, US in new round of peace talks 

6. India's blue water dreams may have to wait

7. Philippines teeters on brink of total war


(24 hours to 11:59 pm ET, Aug 20, 2007)

 
 



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