The End of American Hegemony?

Omar Waraich has a recent article in DAWN on the declining US influence in Pakistan. According to Waraich, there has been a “sharp decline” in US influence in Pakistan since 2011 because “the region is no longer important to the US.” The Obama administration is merely hoping for the least bad outcome in Afghanistan, no longer considering it a priority. While terrorism is still a threat, “Af-Pak” is no longer the central front, having been unceremoniously displaced by the rise of the Islamic State in the Middle East.

Not only has US influence receded in Pakistan, it has also receded globally. Waraich believes “the US’s two-decade-long unipolar moment has now likely come to an end.”

The end of American hegemony has been a fashionable topic as of late. Fareed Zakaria wrote an awful book on the subject in 2009. Just yesterday the Boston Globe published an article by Stephen Kinzer on the US as a “fading superpower.” And here is Noam Chomsky from a few years ago issuing some important qualifications on the same topic. It seems to be a popular topic of discussion across the political spectrum.

I don’t really want to consider the merits (or otherwise) of this discussion. It is in any case too broad to be dealt with here. I merely want to note something which is curiously missing from much of this discussion.

US hegemony is not limited to political influence and military interventions, though these are important facets of it. Much of it consists of economic exploitation in the form of unequal market exchange, illicit financial flows, debt dependency, accumulation by dispossession, etc. This is the quotidian reality of imperialism which is sustained through military force and political influence.

Pakistan, for example, has assiduously followed the prescribed economic policies of the Bretton Woods Institutions (IMF and World Bank) since its founding in 1947. This makes the already unequal relationship Pakistan has with developed countries a very part of Pakistan’s political economy. As David Chandler has shown, imperialism functions crucially through external influence and regulation becoming a part of the domestic policy-making process.

Much is made of the billions of dollars US has dispersed in aid money to Pakistan. Here is the actual relationship between US aid and Pakistan:

Programmable aid from the United States to Pakistan — gross aid disbursements excluding technical cooperation (where no money flows to Pakistan), food and humanitarian assistance (not designed for long-term development purposes), debt relief (write-offs on bad commercial loans that would not have been repaid anyway), and interest and principal repayments on past aid — was negative for almost 25 years between 1975 and 2000. This means that more money was being paid from the Pakistan budget to the United States Treasury than vice-versa.

These are some of the ways US influence actually functions and maintains a system of economic exploitation (imperialism in Marxist parlance). Any discussion on the decline of US influence is surely incomplete without accounting for it.