Monday, October 20, 2008
The foundations of the American Imperium which now lies in ruined heaps all over the globe (although its commandants and commandoes don't realize it yet) go back almost to the nation's beginning. Starting with the unlikely imperialist Thomas Jefferson's Louisiana Purchase, for its first 110 years the Empire was strictly a continental affair. Lewis and Clarke were the shock troops who presaged the annexation of Texas, the desert southwest, and the Northwest Territory, completed under the presidency of James K. Polk just before the middle of the Nineteenth Century. The internal dispute over slavery in the newly-acquired territories slowed the drive toward empire for a few decades, but it resumed, this time on a global scale, with the Spanish-American War. Our imperial ambition reached its apogee and absolute limit in the years following World War II, when the country's permanent war footing, demanded by the weapons industries born during the Great War and granted them by the U.S. government, reached into every corner of the world.
But now the Empire has come to grief, not because of its recent military setbacks in Vietnam and Iraq and Afghanistan, but because of the collapse of the sources of American wealth.
Jon Schwarz points out that this has happened to other empires before, and quotes a 2002 article by William Greider which explains that British power was fundamentally eclipsed in 1914, but the United States provided the financial nurture to keep it upright, as a kind of dummy leader in world affairs, until after World War II. Washington decisively pulled the plug in 1956, when Britain (along with France and Israel) invaded Egypt to capture the nationalized Suez Canal. It was the last gasp of British colonialism, and Washington disapproved. By withholding an IMF loan to London, the United States crashed the pound, forced Britain to withdraw from war and its prime minister to resign in disgrace. The Brits were finally relieved of their delusions.
And now we have been relieved of ours, by a new report from the stodgy, conservative, and ultra-establishment Council on Foreign Relations whose authors cite the same historical parallels as Greider did six years ago. The CFR report, "Sovereign Wealth and Sovereign Power," says in part:
The lesson of Suez for the United States today is clear: political might is often linked to financial might, and a debtor’s capacity to project military power hinges on the support of its creditors...[I]n some ways the United States’ current financial position is more precarious than Britain’s position in the 1950s...The United States’ main sources of financing are not allies. Without financing from China, Russia, and the Gulf states, the dollar would fall sharply, U.S. interest rates would rise, and the U.S. government would find it far more difficult to sustain its global role at an acceptable domestic cost.
Schwarz drily concludes that "...if the news has reached even them that the building is on fire, we can be certain the entire structure is about to collapse." I encourage reading his concise analysis in its entirety.
The way to our survival as a nation, and a return to national coherence and viability is now clear, even if President-elect Obama has not yet fully comprehended it. We will divest ourselves of this Empire and the war machine which demanded it, for they have sucked the life's blood out of this country. We will limit and strictly regulate the activities of banks and do away with the exotic forms of finance manipulation which have sprung up in the last 30 years. We will evolve quickly, impelled by some urgency, into a society less dependent on petroleum for its energy, relying instead on electricity produced by clean generation such as is provided by wind and solar technology. We absolutely must return to the making of things of permanent value, which won't be easy because the startup capital for large-scale enterprise is no longer available. Finally, there is no avoiding a return to the economic primacy of the agriculture of an earlier era, stripped of its petroleum "inputs," as the mainstay of American wealth.
All these things are dictated by circumstances, and by the unchanging laws of cause and effect, rather than by any deliberate policies our leaders might promulgate, since they have no control over the dimensions of the corner we have painted ourselves into. The American Empire is history, and with it the parallel universe of Republican economic and social fantasy, from Reagan to Bush II.
Good riddance to both, and now let's get ready for the hard transition ahead.