Saturday, May 12, 2007

A World in Flux

If you think it's becoming much harder to find stability in the world today, you're right.

For better - and for worse - the nation's of the world are in a state of turbulent transition. China, India and the Middle East come to mind but the west isn't spared either.

The undisputed leader of the western world, some would say of the world itself, the United States of America teeters precipitously on the brink of decline. This engine that drove the prosperity of the west for more than half a century is beginning to break down and weaken just as it needs even more strength to hold its position against emerging economies.

The looming decline of the American empire is examined carefully in American Theocracy, The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century, Ken Phillips, Viking, 2005.

Phillips is a fierce critic of the Reagan/Bush syndrome that is undermining his country. He's also a former Republican strategist. He's not running any Democratic agenda in this book.

Phillips analyzes how the United States is pursuing policies that closely mirror the practices that led to the demise of the previous empires, Dutch, Spanish and British, by turns. Here are some excerpts from the preface of American Theocracy:

...Reckless dependency on shrinking oil supplies, a milieu of radicalized (and much too influential) religion, and a reliance on borrowed money - debt, in its ballooning size and multiple domestic and international deficits - now constitute the three major perils to the United States of the twenty-first century.

[War and terror] both derive much of their current impetus from the incendiary backdrop of oil politics and religious fundamentalism, in Islam as well as the West. Despite pretensions to motivations such as liberty and freedom, petroleum and its geopolitics have dominated Anglo-American activity in the Middle East for a full century. On this, history could not be more clear.

The excesses of fundamentalism, in turn, are American and Israeli, as well as the all-too-obvious depredations of radical Islam. The rapture, end times, and Armageddon hucksters in the United States rank with any Shiite ayatollahs, and the last two presidential elections mark the transformation of the GOP into the first religious party in U.S. history.

The financialization of the United States economy over the last three decades - in the 1990s the finance, real estate and insurance sector overtook and then strongly passed manufacturing as a share of the U.S. gross domestic product - is an ill omen in its own right. ...Excessive debt in twenty fist century United States is on its way to becoming the global Fifth Horseman, riding close behind war, pestilence, famine and fire.

...A leading world power such as the United States, with almost three hundred million people and huge international responsibilities, goes about as far in a theocratic direction as it can when it satisfies the unfortunate criteria on display in Washington circa 2005: an elected leader who believes himself in some way to speak for God, a ruling party that represents religious true believers and seeks to mobilize the churches, the conviction of many voters in that Republican party that government should be guided by religion, and on top of it all, White House implementation of domestic and international political agendas that seems to be driven by religious motivations and biblical worldviews.

Over three decades of Bush presidencies, vice presidencies and CIA directorships, the Republican party has slowly become the vehicle of all three interests - a fusion of petroleum-defined national security; a crusading, simplistic Christianity; and a reckless credit-feeding financial complex.

Because the United States is beginning to run out of its own oil sources, a military solution to an energy crisis is hardly lunacy. Neither Caesar nor Napoleon would have flinched, and the temptation, at least, is understandable. What Caesar and Napoleon did not face, but less able American presidents do, is that bungled overseas military embroilment, unfortunate in its own right, could boomerang economically. The United States, some $4-trillion in hock internationally, has become the world's leading debtor, increasingly nagged by worry that some nations will sell dollars in their reserves and switch their holdings to rival currencies. Washington prints bonds and dollar-green IOUs, which European and Asian bankers accumulate until for some reason they lose patience. This is the debt Achilles' heel, which stands alongside the oil Achilles' heel.

Unfortunately, as much or more dynamite hides in the responsiveness of the new GOP coalition to Christian evangelicals, fundamentalists, and Pentecostals, who muster some 40 per cent of the party electorate. Many, many millions believe that the Armageddon described in the Bible is coming soon. Chaos in the explosive Middle East, far from being a threat, actually heralds the awaited second coming of Jesus Christ. Oil-price spikes, murderous hurricanes, deadly tsunamis, and melting polar ice caps lend further credence.

The potential interaction between the end-times electorate, inept pursuit of Persian Gulf oil, Washington's multiple deceptions, and the credit and financial crisis that could follow a substantial liquidation by foreign holders of U.S. bonds is the stuff of nightmares. To watch U.S. voting patterns enable such policies - the GOP coalition is unlikely to turn back - is depressing... .

...These developments have warped the Republican party and its electoral coalition, muted Democratic voices, and become a gathering threat to America's future. No leading world power in modern memory has become a captive, even a partial captive, of the sort of biblical inerrancy - backwater, not mainstream - that dismisses modern knowledge and science.

...Conservative true believers will scoff: the United States is sui generis, they say, a unique and chosen nation. What did or did not happen to Rome, Imperial Spain, the Dutch Republic and Britain is irrelevant. The catch here, alas, is that these nations also thought they were unique and that God was on their side. The revelation that He was apparently not added a further debilitating note to the later stages of each national decline.

...The concentration of wealth that developed in the United States in the long bull market of 1982-2000 was also a characteristic of the zeniths of the previous leading world economic powers as their elites pursued surfeit in Mediterranean villas or in the country-house splendor of Edwardian England.

...wealth and debt have often overextended together in the modern trajectories of leading world economic powers. In a nation's early years, debt is a vital and creative collaborator in economic expansion; in late stages, it becomes what Mr. Hyde was to Dr. Jekyll: an increasingly dominant mood and facial distortion.

..three of the preeminent weaknesses displayed in these past declines have been religious excess, an outdated or declining energy and industrial base, and financialization and debt (from foreign and military overstretch). ....The extent to which politics in the United States - and especially the governing Republican coalition - deserves much of the blame for this fatal convergence is not only the book's subject matter but its raison d'etre.

American Theocracy is a compelling read. It offers skilfully researched analyses of what may lie ahead for the US - and the rest of us - in the very near future. If nothing else it will greatly help you understand how the world has gotten where it is today and the perils that confront us.


Oldschool said...

This guys book is plain nuts . . . where is the American Empire???
It doesn't exist!!!
American theocracy??? The Constitution says the state shall sponsor no religion . . . unlike all European countries that had state sponsored churches eg: Germany-Lutheran, Britian-Church of England. The constitution does not say free from religion . . . but freedom of.
It is another lefty whine, by an ill-informed fan of Jimmy Carter.
The US is freest country on the planet, the country everyone loves to hate, but most want to live in . . . the only thing that could bring the US down is the likes of Pelosi and the looney lefties . . . now that's another issue!!!

The Mound of Sound said...

Oldschool, you should at least read the book before claiming it's "plain nuts." Phillips is a highly respected Republican, not "an ill-informed fan of Jimmy Carter." Your critique is pretty facile.