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The parallels between Washington and ancient Rome are increasingly apparent.
As with its predecessor, Washington presides over a global empire that is economic, political, and cultural in scope, secured by a military capability that far exceeds its rivals or any potential alliance of its rivals. As in the days when Rome held sway, and people from all over the known world coveted the prize of Roman citizenship, so millions today dream of attaining US citizenship, perceived as the sine qua non of validation and status.
The lure of the American Dream – one of the greatest myths ever perpetuated – has successfully sucked millions of immigrants to the United States from all over the world, helping to fuel its economic might.
The association that once existed between Rome and civilization finds its echo today in the association between America and democracy, considered the unimpeachable barometer of civilization in the 21st century; even though the enduring power of both was and is secured by the willingness and capacity to unleash war on an overwhelming scale.
The countless wars fought by Rome throughout its history is matched in relative terms by the US over the past century. In every region of the world US military might has been deployed in one shape or another, either covertly or overtly, with the aim of maintaining or advancing US geopolitical and economic advantage.
The front line in this struggle to cement the writ of Washington is currently the Middle East, where at time of writing a cruise missile strike against Syria appears imminent.
US Secretary of State John Kerry’s statement of intent, on behalf of the US government, in response to the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Assad government against its own people bore a striking similarity to Caesar’s pretext for mounting his invasion of Gaul in 59 BC. Just as first Iraq, then Libya, and now Syria have been depicted as constituting a threat to civilization, Gaul and the many tribes which made up this vast ancient European hinterland was held to constitute same by a Roman elite with a rapacious hunger for ever more wealth and resources to feed its insatiable appetite for power.
And just as now – vis-a-vis the US and its allies – Rome also had its willing satraps, states and tribes eager to participate in its carve up of the world’s resources, determined to position themselves on the right side of power.
Rome brooked no law, no impediment to the projection of imperial power other than those of its own making. Likewise, today, the US increasingly demonstrates a staggering and egregious disregard for international law in its own projection of imperial power. The UN is nothing more than a rubber stamp for decisions already taken in Washington; and when it refuses to be a rubber stamp, as with this imminent military intervention in Syria, it is bypassed without any compunction or pretence of justification other than that decided the president and his cabinet.
It is significant that the use of hard power to cement Washington’s writ around the world correlates with its relative economic decline and the emergence of China and Russia in defiance of Washington’s objective of the unipolar world that seemed assured upon the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The ‘End of History’ bunkum brought to us by Neocon hack, Francis Fukuyama, reflected the sense of triumphalism that intoxicated the US government and its institutions over the ideological defeat of Soviet communism. The belief that capitalism and liberal democracy would endure for all time as the apogee of civilization and development was prevalent. It was hubris taken to an extreme and came back to bite its disciples with the atrocity of 9/11.
Since then the projection of military might has poisoned US society from top to bottom. The acceptance and apotheosis of violence is embedded in American culture, as is the gross inequality and social and economic injustice which blights the lives of millions of its citizens. In a very real sense injustice at home acts as the foundation of the injustice Washington projects abroad under the smokescreen of liberal democracy.
Ultimately the Roman Empire fell, as all empires fall, but not without huge dislocation, violence, and mayhem. As the Roman philosopher and stoic, Seneca, warned his compatriots: ” A kingdom founded on injustice never lasts”.
Washington and its satraps would be wise to heed those words today.
John Wight is the author of a politically incorrect and irreverent Hollywood memoir – Dreams That Die – published by Zero Books. He’s also written five novels, which are available as Kindle eBooks. You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnWight1