The US still Wants to be the Sole Superpower; but it Can’t (Engelhardt)

Tom Engelhardt writes at

In an increasingly phantasmagorical world, here’s my present fantasy of choice: someone from General Keith Alexander’s outfit, the National Security Agency, tracks down H.G. Wells’s time machine in the attic of an old house in London.  Britain’s subservient Government Communications Headquarters, its version of the NSA, is paid off and the contraption is flown to Fort Meade, Maryland, where it’s put back in working order.  Alexander then revs it up and heads not into the future like Wells to see how our world ends, but into the past to offer a warning to Americans about what’s to come.

He arrives in Washington on October 23, 1962, in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis, a day after President Kennedy has addressed the American people on national television to tell them that this planet might not be theirs — or anyone else’s — for long.  (“We will not prematurely or unnecessarily risk the costs of worldwide nuclear war in which even the fruits of victory would be ashes in our mouth, but neither will we shrink from the risk at any time it must be faced.”)  Greeted with amazement by the Washington elite, Alexander, too, goes on television and informs the same public that, in 2013, the major enemy of the United States will no longer be the Soviet Union, but an outfit called al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and that the headquarters of our country’s preeminent foe will be found somewhere in the rural backlands of… Yemen.

Yes, Yemen, a place most Americans, then and now, would be challenged to find on a world map.  I guarantee you one thing: had such an announcement actually been made that day, most Americans would undoubtedly have dropped to their knees and thanked God for His blessings on the American nation.  Though even then a nonbeliever, I would undoubtedly have been among them.  After all, the 18-year-old Tom Engelhardt, on hearing Kennedy’s address, genuinely feared that he and the few pathetic dreams of a future he had been able to conjure up were toast.

Had Alexander added that, in the face of AQAP and similar minor jihadist enemies scattered in the backlands of parts of the planet, the U.S. had built up its military, intelligence, and surveillance powers beyond anything ever conceived of in the Cold War or possibly in the history of the planet, Americans of that time would undoubtedly have considered him delusional and committed him to an asylum.

Such, however, is our world more than two decades after Eastern Europe was liberated, the Berlin Wall came down, the Cold War definitively ended, and the Soviet Union disappeared.

Why Orwell Was Wrong

Now, let me mention another fantasy connected to the two-superpower Cold War era: George Orwell’s 1948 vision of the world of 1984 (or thereabouts, since the inhabitants of his novel of that title were unsure just what year they were living in).  When the revelations of NSA contractor Edward Snowden began to hit the news and we suddenly found ourselves knee-deep in stories about Prism, XKeyscore, and other Big Brother-ish programs that make up the massive global surveillance network the National Security Agency has been building, I had a brilliant idea — reread 1984.

At a moment when Americans were growing uncomfortably aware of the way their government was staring at them and storing what they had previously imagined as their private data, consider my soaring sense of my own originality a delusion of my later life.  It lasted only until I read an essay by NSA expert James Bamford in which he mentioned that, “[w]ithin days of Snowden’s documents appearing in the Guardian and the Washington Post…, bookstores reported a sudden spike in the sales of George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel 1984. On, the book made the ‘Movers & Shakers’ list and skyrocketed 6,021 percent in a single day.”

Nonetheless, amid a jostling crowd of worried Americans, I did keep reading that novel and found it at least as touching, disturbing, and riveting as I had when I first came across it sometime before Kennedy went on TV in 1962.  Even today, it’s hard not to marvel at the vision of a man living at the beginning of the television age who sensed how a whole society could be viewed, tracked, controlled, and surveiled.

But for all his foresight, Orwell had no more power to peer into the future than the rest of us.  So it’s no fault of his that, almost three decades after his year of choice, more than six decades after his death, the shape of our world has played havoc with his vision.  Like so many others in his time and after, he couldn’t imagine the disappearance of the Soviet Union or at least of Soviet-like totalitarian states.  More than anything else, he couldn’t imagine one fact of our world that, in 1948, wasn’t in the human playbook.

In 1984, Orwell imagined a future from what he knew of the Soviet and American (as well as Nazi, Japanese, and British) imperial systems.  In imagining three equally powerful, equally baleful superpowers — Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia — balanced for an eternity in an unwinnable global struggle, he conjured up a logical extension of what had been developing on this planet for hundreds of years.  His future was a version of the world humanity had lived with since the first European power mounted cannons on a wooden ship and set sail, like so many Mongols of the sea, to assault and conquer foreign realms, coastlines first.

From that moment on, the imperial powers of this planet — super, great, prospectively great, and near great — came in contending or warring pairs, if not triplets or quadruplets.  Portugal, Spain, and Holland; England, France, and Imperial Russia; the United States, Germany, Japan, and Italy (as well as Great Britain and France), and after World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union.  Five centuries in which one thing had never occurred, the thing that even George Orwell, with his prodigious political imagination, couldn’t conceive of, the thing that makes 1984 a dated work and his future a past that never was: a one-superpower world.  To give birth to such a creature on such a planet — as indeed occurred in 1991 — was to be at the end of history, at least as it had long been known.

The Decade of the Stunned Superpower

Only in Hollywood fantasies about evil super-enemies was “world domination” by a single power imaginable.  No wonder that, more than two decades into our one-superpower present, we still find it hard to take in this new reality and what it means.

At least two aspects of such a world seem, however, to be coming into focus.  The evidence of the last decades suggests that the ability of even the greatest of imperial powers to shape global events may always have been somewhat exaggerated.  The reason: power itself may never have been as centrally located in imperial or national entities as was once imagined.  Certainly, with all rivals removed, the frustration of Washington at its inability to control events in the Greater Middle East and elsewhere could hardly be more evident.  Still, Washington has proven incapable of grasping the idea that there might be forms of power, and so of resistance to American desires, not embodied in competitive states.

Evidence also seems to indicate that the leaders of a superpower, when not countered by another major power, when lacking an arms race to run or territory and influence to contest, may be particularly susceptible to the growth of delusional thinking, and in particular to fantasies of omnipotence.

Though Great Britain far outstripped any competitor or potential enemy at the height of its imperial glory, as did the United States at the height of the Cold War (the Soviet Union was always a junior superpower), there were at least rivals around to keep the leading power “honest” in its thinking.  From December 1991, when the Soviet Union declared itself no more, there were none and, despite the dubious assumption by many in Washington that a rising China will someday be a major competitor, there remain none.  Even if economic power has become more “multipolar,” no actual state contests the American role on the planet in a serious way.

Just as still water is a breeding ground for mosquitos, so single-superpowerdom seems to be a breeding ground for delusion.  This is a phenomenon about which we have to be cautious, since we know little enough about it and are, of course, in its midst.  But so far, there seem to have been three stages to the development of whatever delusional process is underway.

Stage one stretched from December 1991 through September 10, 2001.  Think of it as the decade of the stunned superpower.  After all, the collapse of the Soviet Union went unpredicted in Washington and when it happened, the George H. W. Bush administration seemed almost incapable of taking it in.  In the years that followed, there was the equivalent of a stunned silence in the corridors of power.

After a brief flurry of debate about a post-Cold War “peace dividend,” that subject dropped into the void, while, for example, U.S. nuclear forces, lacking their major enemy of the previous several decades, remained more or less in place, strategically disoriented but ready for action.  In those years, Washington launched modest and halting discussions of the dangers of “rogue states” (think “Axis of Evil” in the post-9/11 era), but the U.S. military had a hard time finding a suitable enemy other than its former ally in the Persian Gulf, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.  Its ventures into the world of war in Somalia and the former Yugoslavia were modest and not exactly greeted with rounds of patriotic fervor at home.  Even the brief glow of popularity the elder Bush gained from his 1990-1991 war against Saddam evaporated so quickly that, by the time he geared up for his reelection campaign barely a year later, it was gone.

In the shadows, however, a government-to-be was forming under the guise of a think tank.  It was filled with figures like future Vice President Dick Cheney, future Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, future Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, future U.N. Ambassador John Bolten, and future ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, all of whom firmly believed that the United States, with its staggering military advantage and lack of enemies, now had an unparalleled opportunity to control and reorganize the planet.  In January 2001, they came to power under the presidency of George W. Bush, anxious for the opportunity to turn the U.S. into the kind of global dominator that would put the British and even Roman empires to shame.

Pax Americana Dreams

Stage two in the march into single-superpower delusion began on September 11, 2001, only five hours after hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 smashed into the Pentagon.  It was then that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, already convinced that al-Qaeda was behind the attacks, nonetheless began dreaming about completing the First Gulf War by taking out Saddam Hussein.  Of Iraq, he instructed an aide to “go massive… Sweep it all up. Things related and not.”

And go massive he and his colleagues did, beginning the process that led to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, itself considered only a precursor to transforming the Greater Middle East into an American protectorate.  From the fertile soil of 9/11 — itself something of a phantasmagoric event in which Osama bin Laden and his relatively feeble organization spent a piddling $400,000-$500,000 to create the look of an apocalyptic moment — sprang full-blown a sense of American global omnipotence.

It had taken a decade to mature.  Now, within days of the toppling of those towers in lower Manhattan, the Bush administration was already talking about launching a “war on terror,” soon to become the “Global War on Terror” (no exaggeration intended).  The CIA would label it no less grandiosly a “Worldwide Attack Matrix.”  And none of them were kidding.  Finding “terror” groups of various sorts in up to 80 countries, they were planning, in the phrase of the moment, to “drain the swamp” — everywhere.

In the early Bush years, dreams of domination bred like rabbits in the hothouse of single-superpower Washington.  Such grandiose thinking quickly invaded administration and Pentagon planning documents as the Bush administration prepared to prevent potentially oppositional powers or blocs of powers from arising in the foreseeable future.  No one, as its top officials and their neocon supporters saw it, could stand in the way of their planetary Pax Americana.

Nor, as they invaded Afghanistan, did they have any doubt that they would soon take down Iraq.  It was all going to be so easy.  Such an invasion, as one supporter wrote in the Washington Post, would be a “cakewalk.”  By the time American troops entered Iraq, the Pentagon already had plans on the drawing board to build a series of permanent bases — they preferred to call them “enduring camps” — and garrison that assumedly grateful country at the center of the planet’s oil lands for generations to come.

Nobody in Washington was thinking about the possibility that an American invasion might create chaos in Iraq and surrounding lands, sparking a set of Sunni-Shiite religious wars across the region.  They assumed that Iran and Syria would be forced to bend their national knees to American power or that we would simply impose submission on them.  (As a neoconservative quip of the moment had it, “Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran.”)  And that, of course would only be the beginning.  Soon enough, no one would challenge American power. Nowhere. Never.

Such soaring dreams of — quite literally — world domination met no significant opposition in mainstream Washington.  After all, how could they fail?  Who on Earth could possibly oppose them or the U.S. military?  The answer seemed too obvious to need to be stated — not until, at least, their all-conquering armies bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan and the greatest power on the planet faced the possibility of defeat at the hands of… well, whom?

The Dark Matter of Global Power

Until things went sour in Iraq, theirs would be a vision of the Goliath tale in which David (or various ragtag Sunni, Shiite, and Pashtun versions of the same) didn’t even have a walk-on role.  All other Goliaths were gone and the thought that a set of minor Davids might pose problems for the planet’s giant was beyond imagining, despite what the previous century’s history of decolonization and resistance might have taught them.  Above all, the idea that, at this juncture in history, power might not be located overwhelmingly and decisively in the most obvious place — in, that is, “the finest fighting force that the world has ever known,” as American presidents of this era came to call it — seemed illogical in the extreme.

Who in the Washington of that moment could have imagined that other kinds of power might, like so much dark matter in the universe, be mysteriously distributed elsewhere on the planet?  Such was their sense of American omnipotence, such was the level of delusional thinking inside the Washington bubble.

Despite two treasury-draining disasters in Afghanistan and Iraq that should have been sobering when it came to the hidden sources of global power, especially the power to resist American wishes, such thinking showed only minimal signs of diminishing even as the Bush administration pulled back from the Iraq War, and a few years later, after a set of misbegotten “surges,” the Obama administration decided to do the same in Afghanistan.

Instead, Washington entered stage three of delusional life in a single-superpower world.  Its main symptom: the belief in the possibility of controlling the planet not just through staggering military might but also through informational and surveillance omniscience and omnipotence.  In these years, the urge to declare a global war on communications, create a force capable of launching wars in cyberspace, and storm the e-beaches of the Internet and the global information system proved overwhelming.  The idea was to make it impossible for anyone to write, say, or do anything to which Washington might not be privy.

For most Americans, the Edward Snowden revelations would pull back the curtain on the way the National Security Agency, in particular, has been building a global network for surveillance of a kind never before imagined, not even by the totalitarian regimes of the previous century.  From domestic phone calls to international emails, from the bugging of U.N. headquarters and the European Union to 80 embassies around the world, from enemies to frenemies to allies, the system by 2013 was already remarkably all-encompassing.  It had, in fact, the same aura of grandiosity about it, of overblown self-regard, that went with the launching of the Global War on Terror — the feeling that if Washington did it or built it, they would come.

I’m 69 years old and, in technological terms, I’ve barely emerged from the twentieth century.  In a conversation with NSA Director Keith Alexander, known somewhat derisively in the trade as “Alexander the Geek,” I have no doubt that I’d be lost.  In truth, I can barely grasp the difference between what the NSA’s Prism and XKeyscore programs do.  So call me technologically senseless, but I can still recognize a deeper senselessness when I see it.  And I can see that Washington is building something conceptually quite monstrous that will change our country for the worse, and the world as well, and is — perhaps worst of all — essentially nonsensical.

So let me offer those in Washington a guarantee: I have no idea what the equivalents of the Afghan and Iraq wars will be in the surveillance world, but continue to build such a global system, ignoring the anger of allies and enemies alike, and “they” indeed will come.  Such delusional grandiosity, such dreams of omnipotence and omniscience cannot help but generate resistance and blowback in a perfectly real world that, whatever Washington thinks, maintains a grasp on perfectly real power, even without another imperial state on any horizon.


Today, almost 12 years after 9/11, the U.S. position in the world seems even more singular.  Militarily speaking, the Global War on Terror continues, however namelessly, in the Obama era in places as distant as Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.  The U.S. military remains heavily deployed in the Greater Middle East, though it has pulled out of Iraq and is drawing down in Afghanistan.  In recent years, U.S. power has, in an exceedingly public manner, been “pivoting” to Asia, where the building of new bases, as well as the deployment of new troops and weaponry, to “contain” that imagined future superpower China has been proceeding apace.

At the same time, the U.S. military has been ever-so-quietly pivoting to Africa where, as TomDispatch’s Nick Turse reports, its presence is spreading continent-wide.  American military bases still dot the planet in remarkable profusion, numbering perhaps 1,000 at a moment when no other nation on Earth has more than a handful outside its territory.

The reach of Washington’s surveillance and intelligence networks is unique in the history of the planet.  The ability of its drone air fleet to assassinate enemies almost anywhere is unparalleled.  Europe and Japan remain so deeply integrated into the American global system as to be essentially a part of its power-projection capabilities.

This should be the dream formula for a world dominator and yet no one can look at Planet Earth today and not see that the single superpower, while capable of creating instability and chaos, is limited indeed in its ability to control developments.  Its president can’t even form a “coalition of the willing” to launch a limited series of missile attacks on the military facilities of the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.  From Latin America to the Greater Middle East, the American system is visibly weakening, while at home, inequality and poverty are on the rise, infrastructure crumbles, and national politics is in a state of permanent “gridlock.”

Such a world should be fantastical enough for the wildest sort of dystopian fiction, for perhaps a novel titled 2014.  What, after all, are we to make of a planet with a single superpower that lacks genuine enemies of any significance and that, to all appearances, has nonetheless been fighting a permanent global war with… well, itself — and appears to be losing?

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 (recently published in a Kindle edition), runs the Nation Institute’s 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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13 Responses

  1. Isn’t the US just creating the condition of global anarchy, that further progresses the realist and neocon ideology so dominate in US foreign policy.

    Personally even though the US foreign policy seems so illogical and clearly always unsuccessful, or at least on the surface unsuccessful. I do believe worryingly its very successful. As Orwell would probably agree, it’s very hard to predict the final outcome of what seems to be a complicated game of checkers.

    Syria is only one step away from the end goal Iran. If the US can overthrow the Iranian regime they basically dominate the vast political space of the Middle East and North Africa. Controlling that region they have the ability to control the oil supply, Caspian oil and gain greater influence over the caucasus and Central Asia.

    On the other hand, the US has influence over every Southeast and East Asian nation, other than China, Cambodia, Laos and North Korea. All of Southeast and East Asian nations are militarising at a rapid rate and the US has surrounded China by land and sea.

    Russia’s oil reserves are in decline, were Chinese oil demands are growing and both countries are becoming increasingly vulnerable to political opposition.

    The overthrow of Syria and Iran would result in both Russia and China being completely surrounded and their oil demands easily controlled.

    For this reason I think in the long term you either get the zero-sum outcome of the Russian-Chinese axis against the US, or you get the none zero-sum game of Russia and China submitting to US imperialism.

    Being that China, Russia and the US seem to still follow the nuclear deterrence theory, I think in the long term its a none-zero sum game. As no nation would risk direct war.

    • Iran is not the entirety of Central Asia. China is making oil deals with everybody, and building pipelines everywhere. Attacks on those pipelines would still be a real act of war, which the US is too cowardly to attempt.

      But more importantly, we’re forgetting that China is foregoing a US-style military by CHOICE. We can put all the military aid in Africa that we please, but the Chinese are already building sweatshops and ports and mines there that put real revenue into the pockets of the local tyrants. Dig it, the Chinese will get a better return on their bribe than we will on ours. This model will be replicated everywhere – because it is exactly how Britain and America became world powers! The weaponry came later. As a power on the Eurasian land mass, China does not need to build a powerful navy as badly as Britain and America did; to interdict Britain’s trade with naval blockades was to threaten its existence, but to interdict China’s new Silk Road means sending airstrikes far deeper into Asia, to face another Ho Chi Minh Trail nightmare of infinite paths in the wilderness. And it’s politically very different than a naval blockade, especially if the road goes into Russia.

      Finally, everyone including Mr. Englehardt seems to be forgetting that China, like Saudi Arabia and Japan, prop up the US dollar by massive purchases of Treasury debt and US real estate. The moment war breaks out, everything comes to a halt on the high seas, in the global markets, and in the shelves of your local Wal-Mart. Both the US and China would face total financial freezeups. Now if Wall Street really runs our government, wouldn’t Washington ask it for approval before starting a war with the country that keeps the whole US outsourcing/wage demolition model going? We can’t militarize our whole economy overnight the way we could in 1941.

      In fact, we have recreated Mutually Assured Destruction with China, but it no longer consists of nuclear weapons. The danger is that, for this reason, one side or the other will not be successfully deterred from an idiotic act.

    • “Isn’t the US just creating the condition of global anarchy, that further progresses the realist and neocon ideology so dominate in US foreign policy.”

      To conflate “realist” foreign policy with “neocon” ideology demonstrates either an inability to distinguish between the two or a total misunderstanding of what the terms mean. Many realists oppose intervention in Syria because there is no important US interest that would be served by intervening, and intervention might make things worse should Islamists win out.

      Neocons, on the other hand, find themselves on the same side as liberal humanitarian interventionists in this case. Neocons see a chance to further their so-called “democratic” agenda as compatible with the “humanitarian” goals of the liberal interventionists. Strange bedfellows indeed.

      • Seems a pretty fair conflation to me.

        I know, pedantic definitionalists would love to lay a net of split hairs between carefully delineated and manufactured categories. But looking at the big picture, neither “realists” nor neocons nor Wahabbists nor any other Big-ists have any defense against the observation that NONE of them know how to manage and direct the enormous blessing of a planet that we humans fell into, a whole long while ago. ALL of them are simply about very parochial and tribal and egocentric “advantages” and “benefits” and “interests.” Cf. all the wars since Sun Tzu, especially the industrialized wars of the last 200 years or so.

        To put it another way, all the rulers, and the little and big men and women behind them pulling strings and propping up and engineering hegemony and “change” and “growth,” have managed mostly to do, in pursuit of short-term apparent gain, is put all of the rest of us on a perpetual knife edge of wholesale destruction. And they keep adding weights to the backs of those of us with our feet perched anxiously on the blade’s edge. On the US side, ALL the potentates, of whatever uniform or stripe, are all about hegemony, of all dimensions.

        Argue all you want about how “realists” and “neocons” have this or that niggling little difference on certain “macropolicies.” There were plenty of “realists” urging on all the grandiose plans and illusions of the “neocons,” and they all go to the same clubs and speak the same language, one that sure looks and sounds like Orkish. “Realism” seems like “economics” to me: a bankrupt set of notions, unable to actually predict or offer guidance or pathways to positive-sum outcomes, but full of grand concepts and complex vocabularies that for some reason always almost exclusively support the triumph of the privileged and the personalities that are calibrated to acquire. Power. and. wealth.

        But hey, what do people like me know, right? All we got is pretensions to Morality, like some folks are playing on now as the mandate to blast Syrian terrain because Chemical Weapons are a universal no-no except when the “national interest” that everybody knows what it is says “do it,” and some 3 x 5 cards… hardly a white paper or dogma document between us.

        • “Seems a pretty fair conflation to me.”

          Ironically, my original post above remains the best response to your reply. I can add nothing that I haven’t already written about the inability to distinguish between “Realists” and “Neocons.”

    • Forget the oil now for good, it’s about gas these days. Read more about the planed new gaspipe routes. One was planed exactly on the same place, where the heaviest clashes happen.

      To me it seems, that there is still a war between the US and Russia/China. It’s just called humanitarian bombing and happens to take place in destabilized coutries ranging from Jugoslavia to the Middle East. Not the lightweight spying game, but real war with real casualties. You add the media coverage, which depicts selected footage from the conflict to get the masses on your side and the picture is complete. Come on, it’s still war in all it’s horror, despite it’s indirect between the superpowers.

      There is a war going on over natural sources. So dead simple, as some are scared to say it loud. Another side of the story is that words like US and Russia are just labels. So are the politicians. Just the last layer of people who which is visible and known to the public. There are more layers behind them you never heard of. Fact, you simply never know the whole thing.

  2. Brilliant; that’s as good a summary as I’ve ever read.
    Oddly, it leaves me somewhat optimistic for the first time in months (if not years).
    TomDispatch is one of the top 5 blogs(?) anywhere.
    Kudos to you Juan for posting this gem…

  3. Tom Englehart errs when he says that the US uses drones to kill enemies.
    Mostly we don’t know who we are killing with them.

  4. Two points:

    1) The superpower mentality and myth, both during the Cold War and afterward, have been a propagated and magnified ideologic distortion and delusion created by policymakers and powerbrokers in conjunction with communications media, with the passive participation of the ‘conscious dreaming’ U.S. and Russian publics, and likely everyone else as well. It’s all been sheer storytelling with ‘special effects’ on a planetary scale, ultimately on behalf of what is more or less accurately called the military-industrial complex (Press 1 for sales; press 2 for replacement parts; press 3 for information systems). It’s been what could be conceived of as a Power Bubble still yet to pop.

    2) The U.S. is still acting now on the world stage as it has since World War II, with no significantly different behavior between when it supposedly was a co-superpower and now when it’s supposedly a single superpower. Also and anyway, the U.S. continues to act and believe as if that titular bipolar world still exists, shadowboxing with Russia and China (EurEastAsia) as it still does. The myth dies hard, if ever.

    2a) Under the so-called bipolar superpowers U.S. and Russia: Korean War, Iranian coup, Guatemala and more than several other Latin American coups including supporting fascist regimes, Indonesian coup (plus Timor and such), African coups, Vietnam War, Reagan’s Central American more-or-less proxy wars, Carter’s, Reagan’s, and Bush’s proxy war against Russian Afghanistan. Continual active support for Israel’s serial invasions of Lebanon, the West Bank, and Gaza. Iran (coming soon?). Generally a free hand for the CIA. Expansion of Special Forces. Etc. Et al.

    2b) Under the so-called unipolar U.S. sole superpower: The first Gulf War, the ten-year siege of Iraq with airpower, Afghanistan invasion and occupation, Iraq invasion and occupation, continued coups and attempts in Latin America. Aiding and abetting Georgia’s wars on the southern Russian border. Continual active support for Israel’s serial invasions of Lebanon, the West Bank, and Gaza. Yemen. Libya. Syria. Iran (coming soon?). Frigging drones. Generally a free hand for the CIA. Expansion of Special Forces. Etc. Et al.

    So, what if people, you know, grass roots, expanded on a common dream of peace, cooperated on a neighborhood scale, locally and the global neighborhood, with so much more in common than what could separate us. How long would it take to replace the superpower and violence delusion with a peaceful cooperative one? Find out?

  5. There is a curious factor that has gone on without comment. There is, in the world of nations, a sort of magic ring. This ring is able to provide absolute security from the machinations of the Goliath. Those who posses one are secure, without one you are not. Thus, all nations covet the magic ring; however the quest for the ring is exceedingly dangerous. If the Goliath notices your efforts, you are destroyed.

    I am, of course, talking about nuclear weapons. With them you will not be attacked by the US, your protection is near absolute. The effort to acquire then is fraught with danger; consider Iran, Iraq, and Syria.

    While nuclear weapons protect you from outside risks they do not protect against internal divisions. Thus, nuclear weapons did not prevent the fall of the USSR. They did not save Apartheid South Africa nor save segregationist America. Both were forced to reform. Nuclear Israel is at war with itself, i.e. the top half vs. the bottom half of its society. It is on the path to destruction. Social problems are immune to the nuclear threat.

    Nuclear weapons also protect those nations that lose the struggle with the Goliath. Traditionally the victor would salt the farmlands of the vanquished as the Romans did with Carthage to insure that they could never rise again. Russia, though defeated, will not be salted. Russia could easily rise again. China is rising and the US has no military means to prevent it. Nuclear weapons cause a permanent stalemate on the unrestricted use of military power. Even a country whose economy runs on ox carts such as North Korea can stalemate US power.

    The unipolar world is a curious place!

  6. Part of the uselessness of unipolarity may be, well, with multipolarity allies often are also productive economic partners. Without a Cold War, Europe is actually free to trade with whomever it wants, if only its leaders would stop reflexively obeying Washington’s orders. But the greatest achievements of the US-Europe alliance were economic in nature; the Marshall Plan and the demilitarization of relationships between France, Germany and the UK. The US tolerated European social democracy because it feared Communist sympathies among the workers; the result was unimagined prosperity and equality in the latter 20th century.

    Ditto Japan. Ditto whatever people benefitted from USAID projects and the Peace Corps. “Sacrifices” we made for our putative allies by maintaining wartime taxation rates on our oligarchs, who had the most to lose to Communism.

    Now there’s no Cold War and the US’s primary economic relationships are utterly cynical and non-ideological: China and the Arab monarchies that bail us out with loans. Without a need to make life better for the poor worldwide to stave off radicalism, the unipolar US revealed its true nature: utter plutocracy, our conglomerates in a new war with foreign conglomerates to pillage the planet and put the booty in places where it does nobody any good at all. What good is a military built to attack nation-states when you have corporations replacing nation-states as the real powers?

    • Shootin’ wars produce wealth transfer. Getting ready for shootin’ wars transfers a lot more wealth. Setting up a Global Network with the idea of, well, just what is the idea again behind the Network-Centric Interoperable Battlespace with all its Panopticonial explosive deadly clumsy idiotic parts, again, is infinitely expensive — “all the wealth you have.” Kerry, we might recall, went to Sweden to negotiate with the Pope, or somebody, about how to divvy up the “hidden riches” of the Arctic and Antarctic, which are becoming visible thanks to all that heat that our common culture generates. link to The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement and its Atlantic equivalent are plowing ahead, which will put paid to national limits on corporate rapine — not a “race to the bottom,” but us being DRIVEN to the bottom by kleptocrats with whips. link to

      And soon this site may feature a post that may be headlined, based on the Beltway Ba__tards doing the only stuff they know how to do and what’s being reported about the ‘negotiations,’ advance the Imperium by blowing things up with little nods to “legalisticationalism,” just like in 1914, PROUDLY we hail that “IT”S WAR!” having no eefffeeeng idea what that all means…

  7. As Mr. Engelhardt points out, running into reality at the wrong speed hurts.

    Power corrupts but absolute power (e.g. sole superpower) corrupts absolutely.

    The delusion Mr. Engelhardt mention is a form of corruption that will increase.

    All bets are off as to where that will end up exactly, but it will not be pretty, academic, or democratic.

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