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And one sleeper

By Franz Schurmann
NCM Ethnic Media Nationwide

Friday, September 16, 2005

SAN FRANCISCO -- As he leaves the U.N. summit in New York amid his domestic troubles, President Bush might be mulling whether America is a declining empire. In fact, there are four other contenders for revival of empire waiting in the wings, and one sleeper.

Historians know that regardless of the political differences of empires, they hold one key factor in common. All of them wield direct power over big chunks of the world. Every time a new empire appears, some countries decide to cling to it and others resist it.

America became an empire in 1945 when it vanquished Germany and Japan, both of whom had sought empires. Germany still clings to America and so does Japan. But there are big differences between the two. Germany is now the center of the European Union (EU), which has 25 countries as members. The EU is also firmly tied to America through NATO.

In contrast to the EU, few countries, if any, have any inclination to join a Japan-led East Asian counterpart to the EU, let alone join a NATO under American command. The reason is that there are four new empires in the making that resist America. They are China in the East, Russia in the North, India in the South and Iran in the West. The sleeper is Turkey. All the new wannabes resist America in various ways and all are Asian.

Even Russia. After World War II, Stalin looked to non-white Asia instead of Europe. He told Japanese Foreign Minister Yosuko Matsuoka in 1941, "I too am an Asian." This was the first time a white ruler referred to himself as such. Stalin only declared war on Japan in the two days between the first and second atomic bombs.

In December 1949, when Mao Zedong took a lengthy train trip to Moscow to get help from Stalin to offset a furious America, he likely remembered Matsuoka's quote from Stalin.

China is now clearly an empire and the Pentagon fears it, as is revealed in its latest "China threat" report. But the other three are also in the game of empire.

When the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991, its last president Mikhail Gorbachev used the phrase "from Vladivostok to San Francisco," to indicate that the newly democratic Russia would be a part of the West and including America. Now, however, the current Russian president, Vladimir Putin, appears to have sided with China, as was evident in the recent China-Russia joint military maneuvers.

If the youngest empire is the Russian (14th century), the oldest is the Chinese (11th century B.C.). But India is as old as China. Contemporary India prides itself as the "largest democracy in the world." Recently, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pleaded with her Indian hosts not to build a pipeline that would carry natural gas from Iran into India through Pakistan. Instead, the democratically elected Indian government turned to China, which successfully brokered a truce between India and Pakistan. Washington was left out in the cold.

As an ancient empire, India prefers dealing with brothers who are also ancient empires. Now that Russia and China have resolved their quarrels India can easily deal smoothly with both.

Iran, or more correctly in ancient times, "Persia," created its empire in the 6th century B.C. Its language was a dialect of Sanskrit, the holy language of India. But the word Iran implied much more than Persia. In fact, it encompassed Central Asia and parts of western China. Persia looked toward the west but Iran looked east, especially to China and various Turkish kingdoms in China and Central Asia.

Now the only two countries outside modern Iran where Farsi is widely spoken are Afghanistan and Tajikistan. But the big wall that prevents Iran from expanding eastward is a different Islamic creed. Iran is overwhelmingly Shiite, but the other two are Sunni. Iran now has no way to expand except westwards toward Iraq. But if it pushes too hard it comes up against American armed forces.

Over the last 80 years Turkey had tried hard to switch from Islamic civilization to Western. During World War I, Turkey was an ally of Imperial Germany. But during World War II Hitler ignored Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the Turkish Republic and its first president, because he did not want to see Asians in his ranks. President Truman, however, was eager to enroll the Turks into NATO and then formally into Europe. A half-century later, Turkey is still waiting to get into Europe.

However, Turkey is the motherland of millions of Turks spread all over Russia from Eastern Siberia (Yakutia) to Poland and the Balkans in newly independent republics. Their dialects are about as far apart as Mandarin and Cantonese or German and Dutch.

The Turks are both Western and Eastern. During the Bosnian and Kosovo wars many ethnic Turks fled to Turkey hoping that membership in NATO came with automatic entry to Europe. But Europe wants no more of Muslims, especially Turks.

Turkey is losing patience with America and Europe. More and more, it feels like pursuing "a back to the future" scenario that will restore its self-esteem. For the last three centuries the Indian Mughal empire, the Iranian Safavid/Qajar empires and the Ottoman empire enjoyed peace and prosperity, until bloody wars erupted after the oil revolution. President Bush hopes that the peace and prosperity will soon come. But more likely the Middle East will go back to the future.

Schurmann is emeritus professor of history and sociology at U.C. Berkeley and author of numerous books.




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