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Chris Hedges: The End of Empire

american_empire

Chris Hedges in TruthDig:

The American empire is coming to an end. The U.S. economy is being drained by wars in the Middle East and vast military expansion around the globe. It is burdened by growing deficits, along with the devastating effects of deindustrialization and global trade agreements. Our democracy has been captured and destroyed by corporations that steadily demand more tax cuts, more deregulation and impunity from prosecution for massive acts of financial fraud, all the while looting trillions from the U.S. treasury in the form of bailouts. The nation has lost the power and respect needed to induce allies in Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa to do its bidding. Add to this the mounting destruction caused by climate change and you have a recipe for an emerging dystopia. Overseeing this descent at the highest levels of the federal and state governments is a motley collection of imbeciles, con artists, thieves, opportunists and warmongering generals. And to be clear, I am speaking about Democrats, too.

The empire will limp along, steadily losing influence until the dollar is dropped as the world’s reserve currency, plunging the United States into a crippling depression and instantly forcing a massive contraction of its military machine.

Short of a sudden and widespread popular revolt, which does not seem likely, the death spiral appears unstoppable, meaning the United States as we know it will no longer exist within a decade or, at most, two. The global vacuum we leave behind will be filled by China, already establishing itself as an economic and military juggernaut, or perhaps there will be a multipolar world carved up among Russia, China, India, Brazil, Turkey, South Africa and a few other states. Or maybe the void will be filled, as the historian Alfred W. McCoy writes in his book “In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power,” by “a coalition of transnational corporations, multilateral military forces like NATO, and an international financial leadership self-selected at Davos and Bilderberg” that will “forge a supranational nexus to supersede any nation or empire.”

Under every measurement, from financial growth and infrastructure investment to advanced technology, including supercomputers, space weaponry and cyberwarfare, we are being rapidly overtaken by the Chinese. “In April 2015 the U.S. Department of Agriculture suggested that the American economy would grow by nearly 50 percent over the next 15 years, while China’s would triple and come close to surpassing America’s in 2030,” McCoy noted. China became the world’s second largest economy in 2010, the same year it became the world’s leading manufacturing nation, pushing aside a United States that had dominated the world’s manufacturing for a century. The Department of Defense issued a sober report titled “At Our Own Peril: DoD Risk Assessment in a Post-Primacy World.” It found that the U.S. military “no longer enjoys an unassailable position versus state competitors,” and “it no longer can … automatically generate consistent and sustained local military superiority at range.” McCoy predicts the collapse will come by 2030.

Empires in decay embrace an almost willful suicide. Blinded by their hubris and unable to face the reality of their diminishing power, they retreat into a fantasy world where hard and unpleasant facts no longer intrude. They replace diplomacy, multilateralism and politics with unilateral threats and the blunt instrument of war.

This collective self-delusion saw the United States make the greatest strategic blunder in its history, one that sounded the death knell of the empire—the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. The architects of the war in the George W. Bush White House, and the array of useful idiots in the press and academia who were cheerleaders for it, knew very little about the countries being invaded, were stunningly naive about the effects of industrial warfare and were blindsided by the ferocious blowback. They stated, and probably believed, that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, although they had no valid evidence to support this claim. They insisted that democracy would be implanted in Baghdad and spread across the Middle East. They assured the public that U.S. troops would be greeted by grateful Iraqis and Afghans as liberators. They promised that oil revenues would cover the cost of reconstruction. They insisted that the bold and quick military strike—“shock and awe”—would restore American hegemony in the region and dominance in the world. It did the opposite. As Zbigniew Brzezinski noted, this “unilateral war of choice against Iraq precipitated a widespread delegitimation of U.S. foreign policy.”

Historians of empire call these military fiascos, a feature of all late empires, examples of “micro-militarism.” The Athenians engaged in micro-militarism when during the Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.) they invaded Sicily, suffering the loss of 200 ships and thousands of soldiers and triggering revolts throughout the empire. Britain did so in 1956 when it attacked Egypt in a dispute over the nationalization of the Suez Canal and then quickly had to withdraw in humiliation, empowering a string of Arab nationalist leaders such as Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser and dooming British rule over the nation’s few remaining colonies. Neither of these empires recovered.

“While rising empires are often judicious, even rational in their application of armed force for conquest and control of overseas dominions, fading empires are inclined to ill-considered displays of power, dreaming of bold military masterstrokes that would somehow recoup lost prestige and power,” McCoy writes. “Often irrational even from an imperial point of view, these micromilitary operations can yield hemorrhaging expenditures or humiliating defeats that only accelerate the process already under way.”

Empires need more than force to dominate other nations. They need a mystique. This mystique—a mask for imperial plunder, repression and exploitation—seduces some native elites, who become willing to do the bidding of the imperial power or at least remain passive. And it provides a patina of civility and even nobility to justify to those at home the costs in blood and money needed to maintain empire. The parliamentary system of government that Britain replicated in appearance in the colonies, and the introduction of British sports such as polo, cricket and horse racing, along with elaborately uniformed viceroys and the pageantry of royalty, were buttressed by what the colonialists said was the invincibility of their navy and army. England was able to hold its empire together from 1815 to 1914 before being forced into a steady retreat. America’s high-blown rhetoric about democracy, liberty and equality, along with basketball, baseball and Hollywood, as well as our own deification of the military, entranced and cowed much of the globe in the wake of World War II. Behind the scenes, of course, the CIA used its bag of dirty tricks to orchestrate coups, fix elections and carry out assassinations, black propaganda campaigns, bribery, blackmail, intimidation and torture. But none of this works anymore.

The loss of the mystique is crippling. It makes it hard to find pliant surrogates to administer the empire, as we have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan. The photographs of physical abuse and sexual humiliation imposed on Arab prisoners at Abu Ghraib inflamed the Muslim world and fed al-Qaida and later Islamic State with new recruits. The assassination of Osama bin Laden and a host of other jihadist leaders, including the U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, openly mocked the concept of the rule of law. The hundreds of thousands of dead and millions of refugees fleeing our debacles in the Middle East, along with the near-constant threat from militarized aerial drones, exposed us as state terrorists. We have exercised in the Middle East the U.S. military’s penchant for widespread atrocities, indiscriminate violence, lies and blundering miscalculations, actions that led to our defeat in Vietnam.

The brutality abroad is matched by a growing brutality at home. Militarized police gun down mostly unarmed, poor people of color and fill a system of penitentiaries and jails that hold a staggering 25 percent of the world’s prisoners although Americans represent only 5 percent of global population. Many of our cities are in ruins. Our public transportation system is a shambles. Our educational system is in steep decline and being privatized. Opioid addiction, suicide, mass shootings, depression and morbid obesity plague a population that has fallen into profound despair. The deep disillusionment and anger that led to Donald Trump’s election—a reaction to the corporate coup d’état and the poverty afflicting at least half of the country—have destroyed the myth of a functioning democracy. Presidential tweets and rhetoric celebrate hate, racism and bigotry and taunt the weak and the vulnerable. The president in an address before the United Nations threatened to obliterate another nation in an act of genocide. We are worldwide objects of ridicule and hatred. The foreboding for the future is expressed in the rash of dystopian films, motion pictures that no longer perpetuate American virtue and exceptionalism or the myth of human progress.

“The demise of the United States as the preeminent global power could come far more quickly than anyone imagines,” McCoy writes. “Despite the aura of omnipotence empires often project, most are surprisingly fragile, lacking the inherent strength of even a modest nation-state. Indeed, a glance at their history should remind us that the greatest of them are susceptible to collapse from diverse causes, with fiscal pressures usually a prime factor. For the better part of two centuries, the security and prosperity of the homeland has been the main objective for most stable states, making foreign or imperial adventures an expendable option, usually allocated no more than 5 percent of the domestic budget. Without the financing that arises almost organically inside a sovereign nation, empires are famously predatory in their relentless hunt for plunder or profit—witness the Atlantic slave trade, Belgium’s rubber lust in the Congo, British India’s opium commerce, the Third Reich’s rape of Europe, or the Soviet exploitation of Eastern Europe.”

When revenues shrink or collapse, McCoy points out, “empires become brittle.”

“So delicate is their ecology of power that, when things start to go truly wrong, empires regularly unravel with unholy speed: just a year for Portugal, two years for the Soviet Union, eight years for France, eleven years for the Ottomans, seventeen for Great Britain, and, in all likelihood, just twenty-seven years for the United States, counting from the crucial year 2003 [when the U.S. invaded Iraq],” he writes.

Many of the estimated 69 empires that have existed throughout history lacked competent leadership in their decline, having ceded power to monstrosities such as the Roman emperors Caligula and Nero. In the United States, the reins of authority may be in the grasp of the first in a line of depraved demagogues.

“For the majority of Americans, the 2020s will likely be remembered as a demoralizing decade of rising prices, stagnant wages, and fading international competitiveness,” McCoy writes. The loss of the dollar as the global reserve currency will see the U.S. unable to pay for its huge deficits by selling Treasury bonds, which will be drastically devalued at that point. There will be a massive rise in the cost of imports. Unemployment will explode. Domestic clashes over what McCoy calls “insubstantial issues” will fuel a dangerous hypernationalism that could morph into an American fascism.

A discredited elite, suspicious and even paranoid in an age of decline, will see enemies everywhere. The array of instruments created for global dominance—wholesale surveillance, the evisceration of civil liberties, sophisticated torture techniques, militarized police, the massive prison system, the thousands of militarized drones and satellites—will be employed in the homeland. The empire will collapse and the nation will consume itself within our lifetimes if we do not wrest power from those who rule the corporate state.


20 Comments

  1. War economy State socialism
    It is an arguable point as to whether “the US economy is being drained by wars”. In fact, the US economy is deeply dependent on and intertwined with all-things-war, all things related to US wars: military industrial complex, actual open wars, covert wars (CIA, NSA, etc.), the “war on drugs”, the “security state”, war employment (armed and unarmed in all branches), war supplies (weaponry, parts thereof, and non-weaponry), etc, etc.

    It is profoundly a war economy, even in so-called “times of peace”. War – any war, … the threat of war – is good for significant sectors of the US economy. {War is ‘good for’ the Canadian economy, for that matter, in many similar ways, though not to the same degree.} The underlying funders of this all-things-war economy are the US tax payers.

    Arguably, the IRS is arguably as important institution of the US government as any other ~ the $$$ of the public that feeds the machine. Pure State socialism!

    Ps – Thankfully, “the nation has lost {or at least is hopefully losing} the power and {“so-called”} respect needed to induce allies in Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa to do its bidding.”

    Carry it on Chris.

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  2. ‘There will be a massive rise in the cost of imports. Unemployment will explode. Domestic clashes over what McCoy calls “insubstantial issues” will fuel a dangerous hypernationalism that could morph into an American fascism.’ – the prism of Vegas is instructive when it comes to illustrating the inability of Americans to make meaningful connections between violent ideologies (such as allowing individuals to arm themselves to the teeth with powerful weapons) and the way those ideologies inevitably play out in the real world.

    No matter how high the body count, either domestically but especially abroad, and no matter how often the same old patterns repeat themselves, it is easy enough for the president to sooth the public with trite homilies designed to promote American exceptionalism while masking the dreadful reality of what the US regards as not only permissible, but in some respects desireable when it comes to employing shocking violence as a means of expressing national identity.

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    • Lama Matteus says

      What know ones sees is America markets war as a form of economic boon of mowing the lawn with the poor, creating disaster capitalism in the name of Democracy, freedom, and profit. The article is mostly correct. Except it fails to recognize the growing economy of war at the same time everything said is based on the capitalism value sheet when the west goes so goes the shell game. Value based economics slides off the cliff taking all with it there will be no winners on a grand scale. Study the fall of Roman Empire it sets progress back a thousand years killing 9/10 of the population don’t kid yourself of any other outcome. Maybe some bubbles will remain for a time. Current capital structure won’t even be able to keep up with climate change. I put the odds of this at 90% with a lilttle wiggle room possibly on the
      Edges.

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  3. Red Allover says

    A Marxist like myself can only respond that Liberals are as prone to hysteria and despair as they are to Pollyanna-ish believing in reformers. Melodrama and doomsaying are no substitute for a scientific analysis. I see no awareness of the international working class, it’s history or its philosophy.
    Neither Mr. McCoy nor Mr. Hedges has a class perspective. The biggest labor movements in history are taking place now in countries such as India or Indonesia. They show no awareness of this.
    When Hedges talks about the “Chinese nation” overcoming “our nation” he sounds just like Steve Bannon. This whole decline of the West stuff was old in the 1920s. Oswald Spengler and his theories of Western decline justified fascist movements, not progressives. Haven’t McCoy or Hedges ever heard of him? As a worker, I have nothing in common with ruling class Americans but everything in common with my fellow workers in other lands. But this internationalist perspective is alien to the unthinking nationalism of American bourgeois journalists and academics.
    In sum, Hedges whole career is an example of how far off the beam into fascism that liberals can go when they are as ignorant of Marxism as he is.

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    • Norcal says

      Red Allover, there is much truth and insight in your comment. Thank you. I hadn’t considered the “class” bias in Alfred McCoy’s writing but upon reflection, it is clearly there, and may well represent the missing piece in his otherwise excellent reporting. Here in California where I live we had, this past weekend, a slow down by big rig trucking to point out their frustrations regarding acts like NAFTA. I vividly recall Ross Perot‘s prescient comments while debating Bill Clinton about the results of NAFTA and he was exactly right. I live adjacent to a major North/South thoroughfare, and the “quality” of both the trucks and the drivers has deteriorated greatly. I will refer to Spengler and concentrate on your thoughts. Many thanks.

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  4. Frank says

    Given the historical conjuncture in which we find ourselves it seems pertinent to enquire as to when and how does human consciousness undergo a qualitative change – a change so profound that the ancien regime can no longer maintain or reproduce itself. It seems that the culture of decadent capitalism/imperialism has entered the bone marrow of the west and has also to a large degree been partially assimilated into older non-western cultures, a process sometimes referred to as ‘soft power’. From the outside, this cultural/ideological structure looks invulnerable, but on the inside, the termites have been eating away at the foundations. Moreover, this process of decay is augmented by a ruling class which is increasingly corrupt, incompetent and arrogant. Then bang! just as everything seems unchangeable a terminal crisis or event changes the whole situation.

    This was encapsulated in W.B.Yeats famous poem, ‘Easter 1916’ with the Irish Rebellion against British rule.

    ”I write it out in a verse —
    MacDonagh and MacBride
    And Connolly and Pearse
    Now and in time to be,
    Wherever green is worn,
    Are changed, changed utterly:
    A terrible beauty is born …”

    For Trotsky the First World War was the game changer, he wrote:

    ”Only idealists imagine that the world is moved forward through the free initiative of human thought. In actual fact the thought of society or a class does not take a single step forward except when there is an extreme need to do so. Where it is at all possible, old familiar ideas are adapted to new facts. We speak frankly if we say that classes and peoples have hitherto not shown decisive initiative except when history has thrashed them with its heavy crop. Had things been different, would people have allowed the imperialist war (1914-1918) to happen? After all, the war drew nearer under the eyes of everyone, like two trains hurtling towards each other on the same track. But the peoples remained silent, watched, waited, and then went on living their familiar, everyday, conservative lives. The fearful upheavals of the imperialist war for certain changes to be introduced into consciousness and into social life. The working people of Russia, overthrew Romanov, and drove out the bourgeoisie, and took power. In Germany, they got rid of the Hohenzollern but stopped halfway … The war was needed for these changes to take place, the war with its tens of millions of dead and maimed … what a clear proof this is of how conservative and slow to move is human thought, how stubbornly it clings to the past, to everything that is known, familiar, ancestral – until the next blow of the scourge.” (Writings on Britain)

    This ‘terrible beauty’ is a recurring historical leitmotif. It arises when the system can no longer maintain itself indefinitely. Of course, the timing and rhythm of this process and its eventual explosion is unknown, but all the harbingers are in place as the process of dissolution grinds remorselessly on. What will this ‘terrible beauty’ look like? We shall have to wait and see, that is if we haven’t been completely destroyed by then.

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  5. Betrayed Planet. says

    All of the above before we even begin to wrest with the coming climate catastrophe, already showing it’s on its way. For such an intelligent species we are monumentally greedy,short sighted and stupid, so much so we bury our heads, keep borrowing and buying instead of facing reality, instead of fighting our governments on behalf of our fellow citizens in Iraq and countless other Middle Eastern countries. I am not too sure that the East will take over the mantle of prosperity either as our ability to produce food in large enough quantities becomes impossible owing to runaway global warming, another subject Hedges is familiar with. To underestimate the climate catastrophe is wilful ignorance in the face of mounting scientific evidence.
    Currently the psychotic West, on a kamikaze mission of epic proportions, headed by psychopathic corporations and totally corrupted politicians, will in all likelihood begin a World War to fend off the coming collapse, to no avail however as anyone who ever opened a history book would know.
    Things are looking rather grim on a whole heap of fronts as we fight over Brexit, over EU money, over mad fascist Trump, over declining public services and offshore accounts as the Western propaganda machine manipulates our very thoughts and emotions, our ability’s to fight for basic humanist policies worldwide. Instead we fight “terrorists” , Muslims, ethnic minorities and a whole host of suitably manufactured enemies.
    As George Carlin says, “It’s all bullshit man, all bullshit”.

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  6. Well written. And here’s my (usual) response to a spot on analysis:
    WHERE’S THE HOPE? What do we individual slaves ensnared in this dying empire do to in the face of the coming collapse (already underway, in fact)? Should we (try to) flee the country as other refugees are doing from the African and Arab regions? Do we head to the hills to set up sovereign tribes for survival? How are we to ‘wrest power from those who rule the corporate state’? With what, exactly? Don’t these power wielding beings already own our political process and employ militarized forces against any possible rebellion, all across the country?

    Here’s the other thing: the collapse cannot be confined to the edges of this nation but will roll across the entire globe. The future I sense coming is one where other nations invade and divide up what we think of as our country. They have investments here after all, so some of it is already theirs.

    Unfortunately I don’t expect these questions to be definitively answered any time soon. If they’re answered in hindsight… well, it’ll be too late then, won’t it.

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    • Lama Matteus says

      Yes life is short I read your post and a few others all having at least a understanding that life is short and quit hopeless. The capital train heading over the cliff. Without it there is no china empire or any other to prop up. Perhaps a thousand year distopia where 9/10 of humans die off like the fall of Rome on a more massive scale. The war economy is keeping it all going. Most people are living in there own bubble until fire, wind or flood takes everything they have away jobs, food, water, energy. Without the props humans are pretty fragile war famine disease wipes them out. The climate change will only excellerate the process. Peace be to you and everyone who thinks????

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  7. archie1954 says

    And truth be known, such a dystopian future is very well deserved! America’s ignorance and arrogance has created a hubris that cannot be denied. It is deadly!

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    • What if the PRIMARY factor in human outcomes is the underlying sense-belief of deservability?
      As a man thinketh in his heart, so he is – and does.
      But how many pause the mind of reaction to even notice what is beneath it?
      ‘Truth be known’ is the current undoing of false witness given priority over true, in the mind of the wish-belief it BE so.

      What is guilt but conviction and punishment?
      Self hate enacted is however, excruciatingly unbearable – no matter how ‘righteously’ one’s sense of self-conviction screams hot… or grips cold.

      The experience of running out of options, painted into a corner, with nowhere else to hide or ‘escape’ is where all one’s gifts come home to roost – and in the illusion of reality, we give to ‘get rid of’ and thereby mitigate our sense of conflicted dissonance by narrative identity that puts out the hated, discarded, and denied facets of self onto a world of Other – Outside and Away from a fractioned or fragmented sense of self seeking to regain wholeness in external terms – such as by possession, domination and control – for this is the underlying model or patterning of the manipulation of our own consciousness, by our own choices – whether those choices have any current sense of conscious awareness.

      The framing of definition in which we generally agree and accept as currency is the predicate of inevitable outcome in depletion, destruction and loss. It is a Prodigal Wasteland resulting from false – or no longer serving – foundations. There are limits to the ability to ‘prop up’ a false at expense of true – just as there are limits to the capacity to bear and persist in pain.

      The phrase ‘losing your mind’ is associated with loss of personal control within social rules and mores. On the way ‘down’, the attempt to regain it becomes ever more desperate and sacrificial as ‘short term’ straws to a downing man. Into this ‘Chicken Licken’, Foxy Loxy is invited and hosted AS IF a guide and support, but fear calls upon and EXTERNAL power to save it – and is thus ‘hacked, hijacked or phished into identity theft.

      This is the symptom that has to be owned – rather than ‘got rid of’ or given away to External agents, scapegoats or bogeymen – who can then be ‘justifiably’ attacked, destroyed, eradicated – AS IF the assignment of guilt onto Other who is then killed or invalidated has justified and validated power of ‘self’ apart and set over Other.

      Everyone deserves love’s awareness now – but love’s honesty must first recognize the pain of its own denials – as its own. Fear opened to and truly felt is transformed and transformational. THAT is what we are afraid of – more than all the bogeymen, or feared outcomes at their hand. But is it not the sickness that defends against healing?

      If change is inevitable and upon us, do we go ‘kicking and screaming’ or in cold lifeless submission to its unfoldment? – or awaken curiosity in awakened need-desire to know and align true?

      Trying to change the pattern from within the pattern persists the deceit and obfuscation of the pattern in different forms. But releasing investment in personal identity yields to a zero-point from which and as which a truly unified expression of being replaces the conflicted or ‘split off’ self.

      So amidst the triggers of reaction I pause to consider; “what if I am wrong about myself, my world and my fellow beings?”. Not as a fatalistic sense of guilt or failure – but simply as a willingness to receive anew, of a fresh perspective.

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  8. Steph says

    Hedges is right on (as usual)! We gotta Git outta this bad place. Life’s too short!
    We refuse to continue to be ‘good germans’. Let’s bring AgroEcology equipment
    to a peaceful progressive nearby island and request Refuge. Contact: sfreer7 gee male

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