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The US Empire is in Decline

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I was shocked to find myself in almost perfect agreement today with a recent column by the neoconservative pundit Charles Krauthammer.

Usually Krauthammer has me groaning, but yesterday his column nailed it.

He was writing about what he correctly observes as the end of “American hegemony” in the global political sphere.

As Krauthammer lays this “grim” picture out, six years of President Obama’s weak-kneed foreign policy, “compounded by” his “proposed massive cuts in defense spending, down (sic) to pre-Pearl Harbor levels,” have allowed a revanchist Russia and a newly aggressive China to make “an open challenge to the post-Cold War, US-dominated world that Obama inherited and then weakened beyond imagining.”

Krauthammer cites as his main evidence of this “major alternation in the global balance of power” the deal just struck between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping, who, during a visit to Shanghai last week by the Russian leader, inked an agreement for Russia to tell some $400 billion worth of its natural gas to China over the next 30 years. The deal would include the building of a $70-billion pipeline from Russian gas fields in Siberia to China’s industrial heartland, and would “deflate” a threat made by the US and Europe during the current Ukrainian crisis to end Europe’s reliance on Russian gas.

Krauthammer also pointed to President Xi’s call for a new Asian region security system that would link China, Russia and (gasp) Iran — an arrangement which, if implemented, he warns could “mark the end of a quarter-century of unipolarity and … herald a return to a form of bipolarity — two global coalitions: one free, one not — though with communism dead, not as structurally rigid or ideologically dangerous as Cold War bipolarity. Not a fight to the finish, but a struggle nonetheless — for dominion and domination.”

Setting aside Krauthammer’s breathless horror at this new “bi-polar” global political environment, and his ideologically-blinded description of the US/NATO “side” as “free” as opposed to the Russia/China “side’s” being “not free” (and adding a note that actually, a $400 billion deal over 30 years is really not that big a thing, working out to just some $13 billion a year), there is much here that does accurately portray what is happening.

Missing from Krauthammer’s analysis, of course, is the history behind this development.

US global domination, which could be said to have begun with the collapse in the early 1990s of the former Soviet Union, was destined to be a short-lived affair. By 1990, the Soviet Union had been bankrupted by President Reagan’s massive military spending campaign, and the USSR’s political and economic implosion did leave the US, by default, as the world’s last and only “superpower,” but left unremarked was that this country’s massive military spending had also effectively hollowed out the US economy, too. And instead of turning inward at the end of the Cold War, and investing in a revitalization of America’s crumbling physical, social and educational infrastructure, which might have rectified things, the problem was made worse by two more decades of continuous war economy, driven by the very neoconservative ideology that Krauthammer still espouses.

Wars were launched: first the Persian Gulf War against Iraq in 1990-1 (which continued until the 2003 invasion of Iraq with the maintenance of “no-fly zones” over parts of Iraq), then the Bosnian and Kosovo wars in the mid and late ‘90s, followed by the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan and the 2003 invasion of Iraq.  And when that was not enough, a fake “War on Terror” was launched to convince the gullible American public of the need of continued massive military spending.

Instead of shrinking the bloated US military, successive presidents — George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and finally Barack Obama — all kept increasing military spending to the point that this country under President Obama has been spending as much on its military as the rest of the world combined.  And to make things worse, the US has been losing its wars. that is not the kind of thing designed to instill fear in potential adversaries.

At the same time that the US empire was bankrupting itself through extravagant military spending, it has been relentlessly pushing its weight around everywhere in the world, subverting or trying to subvert democratically elected governments in places like Nicaragua, Panama, Grenada, Haiti and Venezuela, and even seeking to undermine governments in states like Russia, Ukraine and Iran.

Something had to give, and as Krauthammer correctly notes, something finally has given.

America’s bluff is being called.

Fed up with the clumsy bullying of American foreign and economic policy, angered by the imperial over-reach of America’s National Security Agency, and emboldened by the weakness of both the American dollar and America’s bloated, bureaucratic and over-stretched military (as evidenced by its inability to defeat minimally armed and trained patriotic forces in Afghanistan and Iraq), Russia and China, and perhaps Iran too, are realizing that they “don’t have to take it anymore.”

While Krauthammer didn’t mention it, even NATO, that Cold War relic that the US had been using as a fig leaf since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1990 to cover its aggressive policy of encirclement and gradual subversion of Russia, is now showing signs of collapse.  The European public and their elected officials are angry at Edward Snowden’s revelations about massive NSA spying on it’s purported “allies,” and the latest effort to enlist Europe in a program of economic sanctions against Russia over its annexation of Crimea have fallen flat, with France refusing to stop selling advanced military equipment to Russia and with Germany balking at any serious economic sanctions against one of its largest trading partners.

Increasingly, Russia, China, Brazil and other large developing economies are separating themselves from the dollar-based global financial system, undermining the last mainstay of US hegemony — the dollar as the world’s reserve currency.

Krauthammer correctly sees the US in “retreat” and “decline” as a global power.

Where he goes wrong is in seeing this as “Obama’s choice.”

Obama really had no choice. The decline of America as global hegemon has been the result of choices made by Washington leaders dating back really to the 1960s and the disastrous war against the people of Vietnam, or perhaps even earlier, to the US-orchestrated Korean War.

History is replete with empires that crumbled under their own hubris and ambition, and the United States is no different.

The only real disagreement I have with Krauthammer is in seeing this decline of US empire as a tragedy. Looking at the incredible death, destruction and grotesque waste of resources that can be directly attributed to the US and its imperialist program since the end of the Second World War, I can only see its demise as a positive thing.

Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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