Monday, December 06, 2010

Foretelling America's Passing

If the United States falls off its perch, no one will be able to claim it came as a surprise.   The warnings have come from all corners and they've been loud and clear.  Bacevich, Zinn, Chalmers Johnson, and so many others have put a spotlight on their America and shown it on the path to the end of the Republic.

Their warnings are reinforced by Tom Friedman's latest opinion piece in the New York Times, in which he observes how the WikiLeaks docu-dump reveals how America's global influence has waned thanks to its addiction to Middle Eastern oil and Chinese credit.

Geopolitics is all about leverage. We cannot make ourselves safer abroad unless we change our behavior at home. But our politics never connects the two.

Think how different our conversations with Saudi Arabia would be if we were in the process of converting to electric cars powered by nuclear, wind, domestic natural gas and solar power? We could tell them that if we detect one more dollar of Saudi money going to the Taliban then they can protect themselves from Iran.

Think how different our conversations with China would be if we had had a different savings rate the past 30 years and China was not holding $900 billion in U.S. Treasury securities — but was still dependent on the U.S. economy and technology. We would not be begging them to revalue their currency, and maybe our request that China prevent North Korea from shipping ballistic missile parts to Iran via Beijing airport (also in the cables) wouldn’t be rebuffed so brusquely.

And in today's Asia Times Online, A.W. McCoy writes that America's decline could actually come in the form of a surprise collapse.

If Washington is dreaming of 2040 or 2050 as the end of the American Century, a more realistic assessment of domestic and global trends suggests that in 2025, just 15 years from now, it could all be over except for the shouting.

Despite the aura of omnipotence most empires project, a look at their history should remind us that they are fragile organisms. So delicate is their ecology of power that, when things start to go truly bad, empires regularly unravel with unholy speed: just a year for Portugal, two years for the Soviet Union, eight years for France, 11 years for the Ottomans, 17 years for Great Britain, and, in all likelihood, 22 years for the United States, counting from the crucial year 2003.

Future historians are likely to identify the George W Bush administration's rash invasion of Iraq in that year as the start of America's downfall.

...Under current projections, the United States will find itself in second place behind China (already the world's second largest economy) in economic output around 2026, and behind India by 2050. Similarly, Chinese innovation is on a trajectory toward world leadership in applied science and military technology sometime between 2020 and 2030, just as America's current supply of brilliant scientists and engineers retires, without adequate replacement by an ill-educated younger generation.

By 2020, according to current plans, the Pentagon will throw a military Hail Mary pass for a dying empire. It will launch a lethal triple canopy of advanced aerospace robotics that represents Washington's last best hope of retaining global power despite its waning economic influence.

McCoy's piece is a thoughtful examination of what lies ahead for the United States and the rest of the world, notably China and India in what was to have been the "new American century." 

And, on this theme, I'll leave you with Bill Maher's appearance on yesterday's Fareed Zakaria GPS.  It's well worth watching:


Daniel Mick said...

"America loves the truth but hates fact."

The Mound of Sound said...

Yes, it's sad isn't it? I tend to be very critical of our American cousins but I think that's because I regret the passing of a much greater country and a much greater people, the pre-Reagan Americans. Reagan ushered in America's Age of Ruin when wealth became equated with virtue and ever increasing affluence taken to measure democracy.

Since WWII, every president - Democrat or Republican - before Reagan reduced the federal debt as a percentage of GDP. That includes Johnson and Nixon during the Vietnam War. Reagan and the two Bushes erased that (interrupted by Bill Clinton who likewise reduced the debt to GDP ratio). Unfortunately Obama wasn't given a choice. His hands were tied by the profligacy of the Bush spending and tax cuts and the abandonment of prudent fiscal regulation by Congress.

Reagan betrayed the American people by deluding them into believing that America's best days were yet to come while doing everything to ensure that promise would never be realized.

Real_PHV_Mentarch said...

It is hoped that centuries hence, the "rise and fall of the American pseudo-empire" will constitute a lesson - into how an economic empire thinks itself as a military empire, crushing itself through hemorrhagic draining of revenues to pay for its hundreds of bases throughout the world, with too many of these in *allied/friendly* countries, seeking to influence the world instead of working with the world.

The Cold War was the best thing, in some ways, to happen for the USA - but they overshot the mark (way overestimating the Soviet Union) and thereafter remaining prisoners of the cancerous and glutonnous military-industrial complex.

Look at the waste in lives and money for both the Afghanistan and Iraq war ... not counting the mounting Pakistan and Yemen ones, and possibly even the Iran one.

Then, look at the insane erosion of what the USA used to verily champion in the past, but now can only (laughably) pretend to champion still nowadays: habeas corpus, due process, privacy rights, human rights, civil rights, Geneva Conventions, Anti-Torture Conventions, et al.

It's almost like the Star Trek "Mirror Universe", except this is reality.

Today, the USA is wallowing in deluded self-righteousness, hypocrisy at all levels (Constitution, rights, law, due process, etc.), all the while becoming as parochial and adamantly intractable with regards to religion as too many Muslim countries are, in addition to the never-stopping, ever-increasing anti-intellectual/scientific reactionnary politics and societal mood.

All the while being fleeced by corporations, banking/finance institutions and health care/pharmaceutical conglomerates - and always voting to actually further such fleecing.

We in Canada have to brace ourselves when the USA levee inevotably breaks and when all Hell will break loose south of the border.

Economically and (I even dare say) militarily.

If only because China won't be bankrolling such waste of money, nor supporting such crushing debt, much any longer ...

The Mound of Sound said...

@M - you have returned with a powerful expression of discontent that I expect is less schadenfreude and more pure frustration and worry fueling anger. You and I both see the same world and, I expect, visualize similar outcomes unless our very civilization reforms fairly abruptly.

Some, such as James Lovelock himself, have flirted with resignation. JL recently lamented that we have passed the point of no return while counseling us not to feel too guilty about it because most of the damage occurred before we understood it.

My lovely partner went back to Uni and is just finishing her degree in environmental sustainability. We know a number of science and legal (my fault) types in the enviro-field. I tend to steer clear as often as possible because, alone over glasses of wine, everyone it seems throws in the towel. They're positive cheerleaders urging climate change remedies in public but it's a mere facade.

The ancient Greeks taught us that Nemesis always follows hot on the heels of Hubris. Somehow people like Reagan blinded us to that time-honoured reality.

I'm no science type but I do have wonderful, vivid memories of transiting late adolescence in the second-half of the 60s. What a wonderful, exciting world it was then - even with Vietnam raging. Perhaps that was the zenith of modern civilization.