Unsustainable: The American Empire Project and the Health of the Planet (Engelhardt)

Tom Engelhardt writes at Tomdispatch.com

It stretched from the Caspian to the Baltic Sea, from the middle of Europe to the Kurile Islands in the Pacific, from Siberia to Central Asia.  Its nuclear arsenal held 45,000 warheads, and its military had five million troops under arms.  There had been nothing like it in Eurasia since the Mongols conquered China, took parts of Central Asia and the Iranian plateau, and rode into the Middle East, looting Baghdad.  Yet when the Soviet Union collapsed in December 1991, by far the poorer, weaker imperial power disappeared.

And then there was one.  There had never been such a moment: a single nation astride the globe without a competitor in sight.  There wasn’t even a name for such a state (or state of mind).  “Superpower” had already been used when there were two of them.  “Hyperpower” was tried briefly but didn’t stick.  “Sole superpower” stood in for a while but didn’t satisfy.  “Great Power,” once the zenith of appellations, was by then a lesser phrase, left over from the centuries when various European nations and Japan were expanding their empires.  Some started speaking about a “unipolar” world in which all roads led… well, to Washington.

To this day, we’ve never quite taken in that moment when Soviet imperial rot unexpectedly — above all, to Washington — became imperial crash-and-burn.  Left standing, the Cold War’s victor seemed, then, like an empire of everything under the sun.  It was as if humanity had always been traveling toward this spot.  It seemed like the end of the line.

The Last Empire?

After the rise and fall of the Assyrians and the Romans, the Persians, the Chinese, the Mongols, the Spanish, the Portuguese, the Dutch, the French, the English, the Germans, and the Japanese, some process seemed over.  The United States was dominant in a previously unimaginable way — except in Hollywood films where villains cackled about their evil plans to dominate the world.

As a start, the U.S. was an empire of global capital.  With the fall of Soviet-style communism (and the transformation of a communist regime in China into a crew of authoritarian “capitalist roaders”), there was no other model for how to do anything, economically speaking.  There was Washington’s way — and that of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank (both controlled by Washington) — or there was the highway, and the Soviet Union had already made it all too clear where that led: to obsolescence and ruin.

In addition, the U.S. had unprecedented military power.  By the time the Soviet Union began to totter, America’s leaders had for nearly a decade been consciously using “the arms race” to spend its opponent into an early grave.  And here was the curious thing after centuries of arms races: when there was no one left to race, the U.S. continued an arms race of one.

In the years that followed, it would outpace all other countries or combinations of countries in military spending by staggering amounts.  It housed the world’s most powerful weapons makers, was technologically light years ahead of any other state, and was continuing to develop future weaponry for 2020, 2040, 2060, even as it established a near monopoly on the global arms trade (and so, control over who would be well-armed and who wouldn’t).

It had an empire of bases abroad, more than 1,000 of them spanning the globe, also an unprecedented phenomenon.  And it was culturally dominant, again in a way that made comparisons with other moments ludicrous.  Like American weapons makers producing things that went boom in the night for an international audience, Hollywood’s action and fantasy films took the world by storm.  From those movies to the golden arches, the swoosh, and the personal computer, there was no other culture that could come close to claiming such a global cachet.

The key non-U.S. economic powerhouses of the moment — Europe and Japan — maintained militaries dependent on Washington, had U.S. bases littering their territories, and continued to nestle under Washington’s “nuclear umbrella.”  No wonder that, in the U.S., the post-Soviet moment was soon proclaimed “the end of history,” and the victory of “liberal democracy” or “freedom” was celebrated as if there really were no tomorrow, except more of what today had to offer.

No wonder that, in the new century, neocons and supporting pundits would begin to claim that the British and Roman empires had been second-raters by comparison.  No wonder that key figures in and around the George W. Bush administration dreamed of establishing a Pax Americana in the Greater Middle East and possibly over the globe itself (as well as a Pax Republicana at home).  They imagined that they might actually prevent another competitor or bloc of competitors from arising to challenge American power. Ever.

No wonder they had remarkably few hesitations about launching their incomparably powerful military on wars of choice in the Greater Middle East.  What could possibly go wrong?  What could stand in the way of the greatest power history had ever seen?

Assessing the Imperial Moment, Twenty-First-Century-Style

Almost a quarter of a century after the Soviet Union disappeared, what’s remarkable is how much — and how little — has changed.

On the how-much front: Washington’s dreams of military glory ran aground with remarkable speed in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Then, in 2007, the transcendent empire of capital came close to imploding as well, as a unipolar financial disaster spread across the planet.  It led people to begin to wonder whether the globe’s greatest power might not, in fact, be too big to fail, and we were suddenly — so everyone said — plunged into a “multipolar world.”

Meanwhile, the Greater Middle East descended into protest, rebellion, civil war, and chaos without a Pax Americana in sight, as a Washington-controlled Cold War system in the region shuddered without (yet) collapsing.  The ability of Washington to impose its will on the planet looked ever more like the wildest of fantasies, while every sign, including the hemorrhaging of national treasure into losing trillion-dollar wars, reflected not ascendancy but possible decline.

And yet, in the how-little category: the Europeans and Japanese remained nestled under that American “umbrella,” their territories still filled with U.S. bases.  In the Euro Zone, governments continued to cut back on their investments in both NATO and their own militaries.  Russia remained a country with a sizeable nuclear arsenal and a reduced but still large military.  Yet it showed no signs of “superpower” pretensions.  Other regional powers challenged unipolarity economically — Turkey and Brazil, to name two — but not militarily, and none showed an urge either singly or in blocs to compete in an imperial sense with the U.S.

Washington’s enemies in the world remained remarkably modest-sized (though blown to enormous proportions in the American media echo-chamber).  They included a couple of rickety regional powers (Iran and North Korea), a minority insurgency or two, and relatively small groups of Islamist “terrorists.”  Otherwise, as one gauge of power on the planet, no more than a handful of other countries had even a handful of military bases outside their territory.

Under the circumstances, nothing could have been stranger than this: in its moment of total ascendancy, the Earth’s sole superpower with a military of staggering destructive potential and technological sophistication couldn’t win a war against minimally armed guerillas.  Even more strikingly, despite having no serious opponents anywhere, it seemed not on the rise but on the decline, its infrastructure rotting out, its populace economically depressed, its wealth ever more unequally divided, its Congress seemingly beyond repair, while the great sucking sound that could be heard was money and power heading toward the national security state.  Sooner or later, all empires fall, but this moment was proving curious indeed.

And then, of course, there was China.  On the planet that humanity has inhabited these last several thousand years, can there be any question that China would have been the obvious pick to challenge, sooner or later, the dominion of the reigning great power of the moment?  Estimates are that it will surpass the U.S. as the globe’s number one economy by perhaps 2030.

Right now, the Obama administration seems to be working on just that assumption.  With its well-publicized “pivot” (or “rebalancing”) to Asia, it has been moving to “contain” what it fears might be the next great power.  However, while the Chinese are indeed expanding their military and challenging their neighbors in the waters of the Pacific, there is no sign that the country’s leadership is ready to embark on anything like a global challenge to the U.S., nor that it could do so in any conceivable future.  Its domestic problems, from pollution to unrest, remain staggering enough that it’s hard to imagine a China not absorbed with domestic issues through 2030 and beyond.

And Then There Was One (Planet)

Militarily, culturally, and even to some extent economically, the U.S. remains surprisingly alone on planet Earth in imperial terms, even if little has worked out as planned in Washington.  The story of the years since the Soviet Union fell may prove to be a tale of how American domination and decline went hand-in-hand, with the decline part of the equation being strikingly self-generated.

And yet here’s a genuine, even confounding, possibility: that moment of “unipolarity” in the 1990s may really have been the end point of history as human beings had known it for millennia — the history, that is, of the rise and fall of empires.  Could the United States actually be the last empire?  Is it possible that there will be no successor because something has profoundly changed in the realm of empire building?  One thing is increasingly clear: whatever the state of imperial America, something significantly more crucial to the fate of humanity (and of empires) is in decline.  I’m talking, of course, about the planet itself.

The present capitalist model (the only one available) for a rising power, whether China, India, or Brazil, is also a model for planetary decline, possibly of a precipitous nature.  The very definition of success — more middle-class consumers, more car owners, more shoppers, which means more energy used, more fossil fuels burned, more greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere — is also, as it never would have been before, the definition of failure.  The greater the “success,” the more intense the droughts, the stronger the storms, the more extreme the weather, the higher the rise in sea levels, the hotter the temperatures, the greater the chaos in low-lying or tropical lands, the more profound the failure.  The question is: Will this put an end to the previous patterns of history, including the until-now-predictable rise of the next great power, the next empire?  On a devolving planet, is it even possible to imagine the next stage in imperial gigantism?

Every factor that would normally lead toward “greatness” now also leads toward global decline.  This process — which couldn’t be more unfair to countries having their industrial and consumer revolutions late — gives a new meaning to the phrase “disaster capitalism.”

Take the Chinese, whose leaders, on leaving the Maoist model behind, did the most natural thing in the world at the time: they patterned their future economy on the United States — on, that is, success as it was then defined.  Despite both traditional and revolutionary communal traditions, for instance, they decided that to be a power in the world, you needed to make the car (which meant the individual driver) a pillar of any future state-capitalist China.  If it worked for the U.S., it would work for them, and in the short run, it worked like a dream, a capitalist miracle — and China rose.

It was, however, also a formula for massive pollution, environmental degradation, and the pouring of ever more fossil fuels into the atmosphere in record amounts.  And it’s not just China.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about that country’s ravenous energy use, including its possible future “carbon bombs,” or the potential for American decline to be halted by new extreme methods of producing energy (fracking, tar-sands extraction, deep-water drilling).  Such methods, however much they hurt local environments, might indeed turn the U.S. into a “new Saudi Arabia.”  Yet that, in turn, would only contribute further to the degradation of the planet, to decline on an ever-larger scale.

What if, in the twenty-first century, going up means declining?  What if the unipolar moment turns out to be a planetary moment in which previously distinct imperial events — the rise and fall of empires — fuse into a single disastrous system?

What if the story of our times is this: And then there was one planet, and it was going down.

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book, co-authored with Nick Turse, is Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook or Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch book, Nick Turse’s The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Proxy Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare.

Copyright 2013 Tom Engelhardt

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Mirrored from Tomdispatch.com

15 Responses

  1. Yes, and this world empire’s cost is a 17 billion-dollar national debt and a dependency on OPEC oil production that both choke the American economy.

    Germany and Japan had no defense obligations after WWII and the international banking community had no problem about financing their industrial resurgence. The Rothschild Bank funded the Japanese steel industry after WWII and later also bankrolled Czech steel production following the the fall of the communism. Germany was rebuilt under the Marshall Plan. After the fall of communism the former East Germany also began enjoying prosperity in its union with its western counterpart. The standard of living in most Western European countries has surpassed that of America. Japan and Germany have taken the lead in having the most sophisticated auto production methods, employing a large percentage of its energy sources from solar power – while the U.S. focuses its scientific efforts on national defense.

    Saudi Arabia’s oil revenues were largely funded in America as part of a 10 trillion-dollar investment into real estate, Fortune 500 companies, including the largest railroads, banking, and waste transport companies, and other ventures. America is economically dependent on this Saudi investment. While everyone talks about the political influence of the Israel Lobby, there have been few books or journal articles on the vast influence Saudi Arabia has on the U.S. economy. Saudi Arabia has an estimated 160-billion in proven oil reserves and supplies 28% of American imports of crude oil.

    Red China is fast becoming the world’s most powerful nation economically. It has financed 26% of the U.S. national debt and holds 2 trillion dollars in U.S. funds. Its GNP rivals that of the U.S. Japan finances 21% of the U.S. national debt and has some of the largest world monetary bank reserves.

    Our U.S. empire mentality gave us wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Korea, and various other regions after WWII that drained trillions of dollars via defense and intelligence spending from our economy to retain our position as the “Arsenal of Democracy”. We gave billions and billions of foreign aid to ensure other nations would vote the way we wanted them to at the U.N.

    America will bankrupt itself to control the world.

    • “Germany and Japan had no defense obligations after WWII…”

      “Germany was rebuilt under the Marshall Plan.”

      “America will bankrupt itself to control the world.”

      “Our U.S. empire mentality gave us wars in…Korea…”

      What is more important in understanding the resurgence of Germany, Japan, and Western Europe after World War II, and other issues noted in the comment above, is what is left unstated in the above four cited quotes. The reason Germany and Japan had no defense obligations after the war and could focus on development of their economies is because the United States assumed the the defense obligations for both countries. It was the United States who provided both conventional defense, as well as the nuclear umbrella, that enabled both to succeed without the additional defense costs.

      The Marshall Plan was a $13 billion effort over a four-year period (1948-1952) that not only assisted the rebuilding of Germany, but all of Western Europe. Western European countries had the knowledge and technological ability to rebuild their own economies. They just needed the capital to spark the recovery after the ravages of the war. The Marshall Plan provided that spark, and Western European recovery succeeded. Marshall Plan funding was offered to Eastern European countries under Soviet control as well, and the Czechs were inclined to take it. The Soviet Union, however, intervened and denied them the opportunity.

      In the above two examples, the national interests of the United States and its allies in NATO and Japan coincided in the face of the Soviet threat. Regarding our “US empire mentality giving us a war in Korea,” I would remind you that it was North Korea that invaded South Korea and started the Korean War in June 1950. That, after Kim Il Sung had first obtained Stalin’s approval to launch the war against South Korea. In fact, Secretary of State Dean Acheson omitted South Korea from the US’s Asian defense responsibilities in statement in early 1950. US “empire mentality” had nothing to do with it.

      While the United States has embarked on some dubious adventures (Vietnam, Iraq, and others), it is a vast overstatement, not to mention a misreading (or perhaps lack of understanding) of history to claim that “America will bankrupt itself to control the world.”

      • In your universe, Eisenhower never gave that farewell speech. Everything he warned of happened a dozen times over.

        Either our military-industrial complex was always absolutely necessary in its magnitude, and you’re blaming something else for our national debt (as the right-wingers do – blacks, equality, ecology, everything modern), or the war machine is out of control and, as the protestor girl told Nixon in Oliver Stone’s movie, “You can’t stop it, can you?” Even if there is no USSR to justify it.

    • $17 BILlion, or $17 TRILlion national debt? A big number, that if we are to actually give people useful work to do and thus actually get out of recession needs to probably be bigger (in some sectors, not the MIC which is already grossly, morbidly, toxically, terminally obese). Another number is the US annual aggregate expenditure on Empire, which by what looks to me to be the more complete estimates that try to capture all the hidden and obscure crap, is maybe $3 trillion a year. And we have maybe another $7 or $8 trillion, in round and rough numbers, of “war debt” for the sort-of-declared-at-least-named-and-acknowledged if actually undeclared warisarackets to make like Sisyphus and keep rolling up that long eternal hill…

      • Yes, 17 trillion.

        The old Sen. Everett Dirksen line “…a billion here, a billion there..” (and soon you are talking about a lot of money), is, of course, obsolete.

        The 160 billion I referred to in Saudi oil reserves was in barrels – having a current value which could pay almost off the U.S. national debt.

  2. I have been pounding and pounding on this same theme, in comments on various sites.

    The American Empire as we know it now was never really intended to become such a thing … it happened over a ten-year period after WWII, the 3 principal figures were FDR, who I believe would have loved to live to enforce his idealisms, George C. Marshall, the Army chief of staff who won the war with training programs and who became Truman’s Secretary of State, and Eisenhower who didn’t have power until 1953. Truman and Marshall made the fateful decisions, to put an end to liberal/conservative political competition in the intelligence agencies (which Roosevelt and early Truman had tolerated) with the formation of the CIA in 1949; and the decision to allow the “black warfare’ teams within the CIA to exist and prosper, despite their own official rhetoric denying such intentions/capabilities. Eisenhower had some urgings towards reform, yet soon approved “black” operations in Iran and Guatemala, and the CIA-bred poisons which would crop up in death squads in Central America in the 1980’s and death squads plus torture prisons in Iraq in the 2000’s, were in place by the end of Eisenhower’s administration.

    I’ve read the published volumes of Marshall’s letters from his early life to 1945, he was a very complex and wholly admirable character, a true citizen soldier who literally conquered the world with a very specific bureaucratic, American vision of a professional army existing as an educational institution to train citizen-soldiers to win pre-1945 conventional military battles. I will eventually read the latter volumes, yet I can already guess the story of intelligence agency (including “black” capabilities) consolidation: with the US facing apparently severe challenges from a global communist challenger in China, Berlin and Greece, there was no alternative, and we had to have the black capabilities survive — thus eventually acting as a “solvent” or a “cancer” on our official rhetoric — because the Soviets had those capabilities too.

    As Englelhardt so ably points out, it is completely unsustainable, and we the intelligent people of the world need to build our capabilities to be more able to discuss the possibilities of various transitions to more intelligent, serving-the -average-person types of political/economic structures.

    • Too bad the “intelligent people of the world” do not have a prayer of overcoming the vast and growing capabilities and clout and momentum and tools and toys and wealth of the “intelligence people of the world.” And their buddies in CorpWorld.Gov and FinWorld.Gov.

      Old enough to remember the closing line of “Laugh-in,” speaking of “American Empire?” link to youtube.com

      “Say goodnight, Dick!”

    • I could not have said it better myself.

      George Marshall was brutally honest, effective, and intelligent military and political strategist, and a statesman who would have made an excellent president if Eisenhower had not made it before him.

      Remember that Eisenhower was in awe of many of the accomplishments of Nazi Germany as he rode through the German lands after the conquest of Nazism. The Federal Interstate Highway Act he signed into law was inspired by his admiration of the Autobahn. Nazi spymaster Reinhard Gehlen was never prosecuted and negotiated his way into becoming the West German intelligence chief, with his opinions often were relayed almost verbatim to Eisenhower.

      L. Fletcher Prouty has said that the CIA went far beyond its charter as a central repository for intelligence garnered by other agencies of government for organized transmission to the President or National Security Council, to becoming known for “black operations” that were often not approved by the appropriate authorities. His book, “The Secret Team” was one of the seminal texts on the organization of the U.S. intelligence community.

      The National Security Agency never had any Congressional authorization. Today it is the largest intelligence-gathering entity in the free world.

      America essentially adopted the then-advanced intelligence capabilities of the Nazi German and Soviet intelligence networks to compete in the Cold War. The CIA can also be credited with organizing and supplying major intelligence agencies throughout the free world. CIA counter-intelligence chief James Angleton helped to organize the Mossad and the U.S. gave it equipment. Iran’s SAVAK was organized and trained by Norman Schwarzkopf, Ted Shackley supervised the creation of Operation Condor intelligence network in South America.

      It is debatable on whether the U.S. intelligence community did more harm than good following WWII, but it is clear that there were many mistakes and, also, poor government oversight that led to a blowback against America in such regions as Iran and Afghanistan.

      • “America essentially adopted the then-advanced intelligence capabilities of the Nazi German and Soviet intelligence networks to compete in the Cold War.”

        Actually, America did not pattern its intelligence capability after either Nazi Germany’s or the Soviet Union’s intelligence networks after World War II. The precurser to the Central Intelligence Agency, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) took its cue from British intelligence. Subsequently, with the establishment of the CIA, American intelligence continued patterning itself after British intelligence.

    • As I’ve learned more about how FDR and the Democrats viewed the causes of WW2, I’ve come to believe he intended his new international organizations to provide a comprehensive solution to make war too unprofitable for advanced nations to pursue. The 1929 crash caused a trade war that the Great Powers could counteract by turning their empires into currency blocs, but this left Germany and Japan with no markets despite their citizens’ intelligence, work ethic and willingness to modernize. Their sense of betrayal reversed these values into a vengeful fascism, and some fantastically advanced weaponry.

      Thus FDR needed several things to prevent a repeat:
      1. Keynesian economics
      2. an enduring global free-trade system
      3. a currency system that accommodated 1 and 2
      4. the end of the colonial empires
      5. a reinforcement of international laws of occupation, as we well know at this site, to prevent the profitability of expansionism

      Much of this was achieved, but every new solution has its own problems. Since he masterminded this order without detailing the particulars, once he was gone, and Stalin was uncooperative, no one felt compelled to complete his dream – which included universal health insurance and college education for Americans. Much as Lincoln’s death put Reconstruction into dubious hands which could not distinguish between punishment and reform, leaving a bitter, brutal flaw in seeming success.

      I think it supremely ironic that if there are any places that could be called New Deal states in the postwar era, they are Germany and Japan, which the US restricted from having an independent military policy.

  3. But, but! Empire is not like it once was; there are worries!

    If you were a Londoner during the height of the British Empire you had little worry for your personal safety. Terrible things could be happening out in the Empire but they had little impact on you. The British Army could be committing atrocities “out there” but you went about your business with scant thoughts about the affairs of Empire. Empire was sweet, even if you were not rich.

    Now, things are different. What the American Empire does “out there” seems to be leaking “back here”. People espousing crazy beliefs that we can’s understand (don’t want to understand) are committing terrible terrorist acts “back here”. In the back of our mind we know that there is a connection between “out there” and “back here” but we don’t want to think about it.

    Of course, that is not the worst of it. Modern technology has seen to that. Today terrorists use ordinary bombs and plane crashes as in 9/11 to attack the reigning empire.
    That will likely change soon. Next up will be weapons of mass destruction. Poison gas, bio-weapons, and of course nuclear devices are the worries of the future. America had the luxury of building its empire when such weapons were not widely available. At the end of empire we may not be so lucky.

    To the question; will there be a next empire? No, widely available weapons of mass destruction will make anyone who tries sorely regret the attempt.

    • Actually, London was so violent in the Victorian era that gentlemen all went out armed to the teeth – yet another example of what our current right-wingers seem to be nostalgic for. The workers had their expectations beaten down until they just lived with it… but such people cannot shake an economy out of terminal decline.

      I’m now reading the 1935 book “The Mysterious Death of Liberal England 1910-1914″, which contends that the society was collapsing even then, that a national nervous breakdown was underway in which the suppressed desires of various factions were erupting in bizarre violence. The author details a shocking Tory seditious conspiracy with Ulster Protestants to foment armed rebellion, the widely destructive terror campaign that gained women the vote, and a wave of wildcat strikes that grew into a mass movement without any clear program of action. Another phenomenon he notes is a wave of UFO sightings, all proclaimed in the media as German spy zeppelins. It was as if people had become so restless after 80 years of Victorianism that they needed someone to fight, and the Germans finally obliged them before they resorted to civil war.

  4. America’s unsustainability goes far beyond military overreach. Technology itself is driving much of our inability to sustain what we think our comfy norm should be. Breakfast cereal and potato chips used to be the technological yardsticks of successful capitalism: air could be sold for a profit. We now do that with steel, and with information–no air at all. When an essential replacment component of a vehicle or appliance costs $130 to the customer, and $430 installed, and has a manufacturing cost of $7.34, a transportation and logistics cost of $27.65, and a significant failure rate at the nominal 30% lifespan of the device, you have a society that has shifted its operating costs to the fourth and sixth owners–those least able to pay the maintenance costs. The largely hidden effect of this is to accelerate the rot of essential devices of technological life. Patient waiting for economic recovery ignores the fact that the rot rate is faster than recovery because maintenance costs cascade with component failure. America’s overall societal dynamic is toward increasing infrastructure rot. The answer to this is not more “jobs” (which will insure accelerating inner rot) but a different design criteria. That America has absolutely no interest in. You could bring America’s entire global military outreach home tomorrow and assign its focus and effort at rebuilding America, and the dynamic toward societal decay would not be altered.

  5. There is so much one can say after reading this wonderful article. If I had to choose between an American empire and a Russian or a Chinese or any other empire, I would certainly opt for an American empire, but empires are by nature destructive not only of others but of themselves. Reading about the Colossus that the United States has become, one can’t help but think of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ozymandias”

    I met a traveller from an antique land
    Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
    Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
    Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
    And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
    Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
    Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
    The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
    And on the pedestal these words appear:
    `My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
    Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
    Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
    Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
    The lone and level sands stretch far away.

    When one is at the height of power, it is difficult to imagine that there have been many empires in the past, but none has survived. Now, as the result of our frightening means of destruction, the question is not whether the latest empire will survive, but whether humanity can survive. As Dr. Martin Luther King said: “Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.”

    General Omar Bradley rightly observed, “The world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living.”

    In his Nobel Prize Speech, Mohammad ElBaradei said the world faces ‘threats without borders’ – weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, organised crime, war, poverty, disease and environmental degradation – that can only be tackled through multilateral co-operation.

    The Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu, some 2,500 year ago, expressed the dangers of wishing to dominate the world. The words read as fresh today as when they were written:

    “Those who would take over the earth
    And shape it to their will
    Never, I notice, succeed.
    The earth is like a vessel so sacred
    That at the mere approach of the profane
    It is marred
    And when they reach out their fingers it is gone.
    For a time in the world some force themselves ahead
    And some are left behind,
    For a time in the world some make a great noise
    And some are held silent,
    For a time in the world some are puffed fat
    And some are kept hungry,
    For a time in the world some push aboard
    And some are tipped out:
    At no time in the world will a man who is sane
    Over-reach himself,
    Over-spend himself,
    Over-rate himself.”

  6. Even though our attempt at global hegemony has been a horrible mistake, the American people now feel entitled to the false sense of security it once enabled. Thus as we lose our grip on the world, they will be easy suckers for demagogues who tell them that any unrest, people’s revolution, or unfavorable election result anywhere on earth would have been prevented if we had just cut some more welfare money and spent it on stealth bombers.

    After Wall Street was forced into a more normal relationship with Latin America, and the Pentagon is forced into a more normal relationship with the Arab world, what region will humiliate us and stir up the demagogues next? I read an alarming article on the right-wing Abe govt. in Japan, which in a classic neocon move violated traditional conservative economics by crashing the value of the yen to get the economy going again – but appears to have planned all this to gain the popularity to push thru changes to make constitutional amendments easier. According to the article, while we all pay attention to their goal of finishing off the no-war clause, the real goal of Abe’s party is to expunge the guarantees of personal liberty written in by the postwar Occupation as alien intrusions in the sacred social order.

    This is super bad news. Asians actually study history, unlike us, and at the first sign of a renewal of the racist cult of Japanese fascism, they will all begin to unite against Japan. America will be caught completely flat-footed, partly because we ourselves turned against Japan’s adherence to the no-war clause in our desperation to have Japan’s wealth added to our military might, and partly because moves to destroy women’s rights, perhaps gay rights, and labor unions will appeal to our own demagogues.

    I am half-Japanese, but I do not want the US to support a renewal of Japanese fascism in any way, shape or form. The human tragedy of a nuclear war in Asia, perhaps caused by Japanese overconfidence that they had US backing, would dwarf the sufferings of their last war.

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