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The end of the indispensable empire

The challenge facing the US is to operate in a world where there is not one single power, but multiple poles of power and influence with multiple systems of government; where no single culture dominates or requires submission. If you were Russia, or China, or Iran, would you believe that the American administration has any interest whatsoever in international law? Would you trust the US? Or would you be looking over your shoulder wondering if you were next?

Illustration by Rachael Bolton

“O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle – be Thou near them! With them – in spirit – we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst…” – From “The War Prayer” by Mark Twain.

Twain wrote those words as a comment on the Philippine-American War of 1899-1902.  At that time the dominant empire bringing ‘civilisation’ to the globe was Britain; the US was still the new kid on the block, but it was learning fast.

Twenty years later the tide had turned, the stalemate of the ‘Great War’ had been broken with the arrival of US troops on European soil…and the imperial reign of the US had begun.  Most people didn’t realise that the ‘changing of the guard’ had occurred until another twenty years had passed – the end of WW2 – at which point the US was the only ‘civilised’ nation not in ruins, and held most of the gold. The allies were hugely in debt to the US, and the defeated powers were dependent upon American aid to rebuild their economies.  Bretton Woods, and the establishment of the gold-backed dollar as global reserve currency, cemented America’s place as the new world hegemon – challenged only by the nation that had borne the brunt of Nazi aggression on the Eastern Front, with in excess of 25 million deaths – The Soviet Union.

Empires come and go, but nobody rings a bell when it ‘starts’…or when it’s ‘over’.  The only thing you can say for sure is that the outgoing hegemon will resist the process…the monetary system will probably collapse…and lots of innocent people will get killed…as I’m sure any 3rd century Roman citizen would confirm.  Fast forward 1700 hundred years, through the European dark ages and the rise & fall of Portugal, Spain, Holland, France, and Britain, through the rise of the United States & the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989…and you’d think we might all just have learned something…apparently not.

In the 1990s the people most enamoured with indispensable empire – the neo-conservatives – were ready to declare ‘the end of history’.  What has happened since is anything but that:

Since 1989, and having promised Gorbachev that NATO would not move one inch to the East, the US has:

  1. Surrounded Russia with military bases.
  2. Supported Wahhabi terrorists against Russia in Chechnya.
  3. Conducted a 16 year war in Afghanistan.
  4. Invaded Iraq on a false pretext and against UN resolutions.
  5. Sent Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and Senate Armed Services Ranking Republican John McCain, both neo-conservatives, to cheerlead for regime change in Ukraine.
  6. Authorized the CIA to supply covert arms and support to the Libyan opposition, followed by overt airpower to tip the balance of power.
  7. Financed a proxy war in Syria, using Wahhabi jihadists in an attempt to bring down a regime that provides the home to Russia’s only Mediterranean naval base.
  8. Has consistently sanctioned a country that has no history of terrorism against the west, Iran…whilst supplying arms to the country that spawned the majority of the al-Qaeda operatives responsible for 9/11, Saudi Arabia.
  9. Has just elected a President who ran on a promise of dialogue with Russia and no more foreign intervention…who subsequently bombed Syria on the basis of fabricated evidence, is looking for an excuse to break the nuclear deal with Iran, and as I write this sentence on Tuesday evening has just responded to a question on North Korea with this comment “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen”.
  10. Has a Congress that can’t agree on a tax policy, a health policy, a debt ceiling, a budget or even what time to break for lunch…but somehow summons the conviction…on the basis of zero evidence…and despite opposition from its European allies…to punish Russia for ‘alleged’ election interference by a margin of 419-3 in the House and 98-2 in the Senate.

Let me ask you a question at this point: If you were Russia, or China, or Iran, would you believe that the American administration has any interest whatsoever in international law? Would you trust the US? Or would you be looking over your shoulder wondering if you were next?

So…we are now at another key moment in history. But this time it is different in one key respect:

This time, there is no single power to challenge the military might of the US; there is no foreign navy that can land on its shores, no air force that can level its cities – all its wars are fought elsewhere, and for the past ten years increasingly through the use of proxies.  The only threat to the military might of the United States is a nuclear attack – a nuclear attack that would undoubtedly result in the total destruction of any nation suicidal enough to launch one.  So, why is the US so committed to foreign intervention?

Because its economy depends upon war…and the threat of war. Because it suits the vested interests of what Eisenhower called the ‘Military-Industrial Complex’. Because conflict is the only way you can continue to justify military spending of over $600 billion a year; more than the next 7 highest spending countries combined: China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, France, UK and Germany.  More than the entire GDP of countries such as Sweden, Poland and Belgium.  About the same as the GDP of America’s seventh largest state by GDP – Ohio.

If you look underneath the hypocritical and pseudo-moralistic garbage about ‘spreading democracy’ and ‘upholding human rights’…if you look beyond the demonization narrative trotted out for each consecutive ‘Hitler’…if you make the effort to check some of the ‘facts’ put forward to substantiate each programme of economic sanctions…or God forbid if you use your own brain to analyse the drivel that passes for ‘analysis’ in the western media…then one thing will start to jump out at you:

There is no threat to the territorial integrity of the United States of America

The threat to the US – to its neo-conservative & neo-liberal elites – not to its people – does not come from the need to defend…it comes from the need to dominate. Other nations, and other peoples, want to do things their own way, and that is bad for business if you’re an empire. It also provides an excuse to intervene.

That a nation born from a desire to be free from a foreign tyrant should be so utterly callous when it comes to respecting this desire in others, might seem at first glance, to be unfeasibly ironic…until you remember that any system of values tests the people who promote it most of all:

If you don’t value telling the ‘truth’, then your own lies will not keep you up at night.  But if you preach ‘liberty’ and ‘self-determination’ and then go round the world removing the regimes you don’t like, don’t expect people to believe you when you tell them it’s in the name of ‘democracy’.

If you proclaim ‘free market capitalism’ and then fleece your taxpayers to bail out parasitic banks, don’t expect people to feel like they’re part of ‘the American dream’.  America is tearing itself apart with its own contradictions. Its elites are in denial every time one of them steps up to a podium. The message that successive US administrations have sent to the world, and to their own citizens, is this: We believe in our own power.

That message has been getting through to the rest of the world for decades. Here’s some data that may surprise you:

In 2013 Gallup polled 67,806 people in 65 countries with the following question:

“Which country do you think is the greatest threat in the world today?”

In first place, 24% volunteered that the US was the greatest threat; in second place was Pakistan with 8%, followed by China with 6%, then there was a four-way tie between Afghanistan, Iran, Israel and North Korea with 5%, a three-way tie at 4% between India, Iraq and Japan, number 11 was Syria on 3%, number 12 was Russia on 2%, followed by a seven-way tie on 1% between Australia, Germany, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, South Korea, and UK.  You will be pleased to hear that nobody stays up at night worrying about New Zealand, Switzerland, Iceland or any of the Scandinavian countries. Personally I have no idea how France escaped this list whilst Australia made it, but let’s not go there…

And here’s some more data:

Just a few days ago on August 1st 2017, Pew released the results of a poll conducted in 30 countries, in which they asked respondents this question:

“Do you think that the United States’ power and influence is a major threat, a minor threat, or not a threat to (survey country)?”

The same question was repeated with the insertion of China as the threat instead of the United States, and then again with Russia as the threat.

The ‘major threat’ category was selected by 35% for the US, 31% for China, and 31% for Russia.

This may not seem like a major blow to US prestige, except when you consider that the 30 countries polled included the UK, and all of it’s other major allies, but did not include Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria or Afghanistan.

And finally, as an aside of sorts…but not really…when asked the same question with the insertion of the condition of the global economy, the countries with the lowest scores for major threat were Sweden on 20%, Netherlands on 21%, and Germany on 22%. The country with the highest score was Greece with 88%. What does this prove? It proves something that we would all do well to remember, particularly the hegemon: it all depends on your point of view.

The challenge facing the US is to operate in a world where there is not one single power, but where there are multiple poles of power and influence, multiple systems of government; where no single culture dominates or requires submission. That’s clearly what emerging nations want. It’s also clearly what Russia and China want. And it’s just as clearly what the neo-conservatives & the liberal interventionists in Washington don’t want.  Why do I lump them together? Because when it comes to foreign policy there is not a cigarette paper between people like John McCain and Hillary Clinton – they want Empire, which means submission…or war.  There will be no submission from Russia or China, so we need another choice.

In my view, this is the choice:

Indispensable Empire or Multi-Polar World?

A multi-polar world, if it is to be embraced and nurtured, requires dialogue. The choice facing America’s elites is stark: War or Dialogue?  Personally I have little faith in the people running the US.  Thus, I believe that the choice facing ‘we the people’ is even starker:

Make yourselves heard, or leave your fate in the hands of sociopaths.

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