Michael Klare: Delusional Thinking in Washington, The Desperate Plight of a Declining Superpower

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By Michael T. Klare, a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of The Race for What’s Left. A documentary movie version of his book Blood and Oil is available from the Media Education FoundationFollow him on Twitter at @mklare1. Originally published at TomDispatch

Take a look around the world and it’s hard not to conclude that the United States is a superpower in decline. Whether in Europe, Asia, or the Middle East, aspiring powers are flexing their muscles, ignoring Washington’s dictates, or actively combating them. Russia refuses to curtail its support for armed separatists in Ukraine; China refuses to abandon its base-building endeavors in the South China Sea; Saudi Arabia refuses to endorse the U.S.-brokered nuclear deal with Iran; the Islamic State movement (ISIS) refuses to capitulate in the face of U.S. airpower. What is a declining superpower supposed to do in the face of such defiance?

This is no small matter. For decades, being a superpower has been the defining characteristic of American identity. The embrace of global supremacy began after World War II when the United States assumed responsibility for resisting Soviet expansionism around the world; it persisted through the Cold War era and only grew after the implosion of the Soviet Union, when the U.S. assumed sole responsibility for combating a whole new array of international threats. As General Colin Powell famously exclaimed in the final days of the Soviet era, “We have to put a shingle outside our door saying, ‘Superpower Lives Here,’ no matter what the Soviets do, even if they evacuate from Eastern Europe.”

Imperial Overstretch Hits Washington

Strategically, in the Cold War years, Washington’s power brokers assumed that there would always be two superpowers perpetually battling for world dominance.  In the wake of the utterly unexpected Soviet collapse, American strategists began to envision a world of just one, of a “sole superpower” (aka Rome on the Potomac). In line with this new outlook, the administration of George H.W. Bush soon adopted a long-range plan intended to preserve that status indefinitely. Known as the Defense Planning Guidance for Fiscal Years 1994-99, it declared: “Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere, that poses a threat on the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union.”

H.W.’s son, then the governor of Texas, articulated a similar vision of a globally encompassing Pax Americana when campaigning for president in 1999. If elected, he told military cadets at the Citadel in Charleston, his top goal would be “to take advantage of a tremendous opportunity — given few nations in history — to extend the current peace into the far realm of the future. A chance to project America’s peaceful influence not just across the world, but across the years.”

For Bush, of course, “extending the peace” would turn out to mean invading Iraq and igniting a devastating regional conflagration that only continues to grow and spread to this day. Even after it began, he did not doubt — nor (despite the reputed wisdom offered by hindsight) does he today — that this was the price that had to be paid for the U.S. to retain its vaunted status as the world’s sole superpower.

The problem, as many mainstream observers now acknowledge, is that such a strategy aimed at perpetuating U.S. global supremacy at all costs was always destined to result in what Yale historian Paul Kennedy, in his classic book The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, unforgettably termed “imperial overstretch.” As he presciently wrote in that 1987 study, it would arise from a situation in which “the sum total of the United States’ global interests and obligations is… far larger than the country’s power to defend all of them simultaneously.”

Indeed, Washington finds itself in exactly that dilemma today. What’s curious, however, is just how quickly such overstretch engulfed a country that, barely a decade ago, was being hailed as the planet’s first “hyperpower,” a status even more exalted than superpower. But that was before George W.’s miscalculation in Iraq and other missteps left the U.S. to face a war-ravaged Middle East with an exhausted military and a depleted treasury. At the same time, major and regional powers like China, India, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey have been building up their economic and military capabilities and, recognizing the weakness that accompanies imperial overstretch, are beginning to challenge U.S. dominance in many areas of the globe. The Obama administration has been trying, in one fashion or another, to respond in all of those areas — among them Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and the South China Sea — but without, it turns out, the capacity to prevail in any of them.

Nonetheless, despite a range of setbacks, no one in Washington’s power elite — Senators Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders being the exceptions that prove the rule — seems to have the slightest urge to abandon the role of sole superpower or even to back off it in any significant way. President Obama, who is clearly all too aware of the country’s strategic limitations, has been typical in his unwillingness to retreat from such a supremacist vision. “The United States is and remains the one indispensable nation,” he told graduating cadets at West Point in May 2014. “That has been true for the century past and it will be true for the century to come.”

How, then, to reconcile the reality of superpower overreach and decline with an unbending commitment to global supremacy?

The first of two approaches to this conundrum in Washington might be thought of as a high-wire circus act.  It involves the constant juggling of America’s capabilities and commitments, with its limited resources (largely of a military nature) being rushed relatively fruitlessly from one place to another in response to unfolding crises, even as attempts are made to avoid yet more and deeper entanglements. This, in practice, has been the strategy pursued by the current administration.  Call it the Obama Doctrine.

After concluding, for instance, that China had taken advantage of U.S. entanglement in Iraq and Afghanistan to advance its own strategic interests in Southeast Asia, Obama and his top advisers decided to downgrade the U.S. presence in the Middle East and free up resources for a more robust one in the western Pacific.  Announcing this shift in 2011 — it would first be called a “pivot to Asia” and then a “rebalancing” there — the president made no secret of the juggling act involved.

“After a decade in which we fought two wars that cost us dearly, in blood and treasure, the United States is turning our attention to the vast potential of the Asia Pacific region,” he told members of the Australian Parliament that November.  “As we end today’s wars, I have directed my national security team to make our presence and mission in the Asia Pacific a top priority.  As a result, reductions in U.S. defense spending will not — I repeat, will not — come at the expense of the Asia Pacific.”

Then, of course, the new Islamic State launched its offensive in Iraq in June 2014 and the American-trained army there collapsed with the loss of four northern cities. Videoed beheadings of American hostages followed, along with a looming threat to the U.S.-backed regime in Baghdad. Once again, President Obama found himself pivoting — this time sending thousands of U.S. military advisers back to that country, putting American air power into its skies, and laying the groundwork for another major conflict there.

Meanwhile, Republican critics of the president, who claim he’s doing too little in a losing effort in Iraq (and Syria), have also taken him to task for not doing enough to implement the pivot to Asia. In reality, as his juggling act that satisfies no one continues in Iraq and the Pacific, he’s had a hard time finding the wherewithal to effectively confront Vladimir Putin in Ukraine, Bashar al-Assad in Syria, the Houthi rebels in Yemen, the various militias fighting for power in fragmenting Libya, and so on.

The Party of Utter Denialism

Clearly, in the face of multiplying threats, juggling has not proven to be a viable strategy.  Sooner or later, the “balls” will simply go flying and the whole system will threaten to fall apart. But however risky juggling may prove, it is not nearly as dangerous as the other strategic response to superpower decline in Washington: utter denial.

For those who adhere to this outlook, it’s not America’s global stature that’s eroding, but its will — that is, its willingness to talk and act tough. If Washington were simply to speak more loudly, so this argument goes, and brandish bigger sticks, all these challenges would simply melt away. Of course, such an approach can only work if you’re prepared to back up your threats with actual force, or “hard power,” as some like to call it.

Among the most vocal of those touting this line is Senator John McCain, the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a persistent critic of President Obama. “For five years, Americans have been told that ‘the tide of war is receding,’ that we can pull back from the world at little cost to our interests and values,” he typically wrote in March 2014 in a New York Times op-ed. “This has fed a perception that the United States is weak, and to people like Mr. Putin, weakness is provocative.” The only way to prevent aggressive behavior by Russia and other adversaries, he stated, is “to restore the credibility of the United States as a world leader.” This means, among other things, arming the Ukrainians and anti-Assad Syrians, bolstering the NATO presence in Eastern Europe, combating “the larger strategic challenge that Iran poses,” and playing a “more robust” role (think: more “boots” on more ground) in the war against ISIS.

Above all, of course, it means a willingness to employ military force. “When aggressive rulers or violent fanatics threaten our ideals, our interests, our allies, and us,” he declared last November, “what ultimately makes the difference… is the capability, credibility, and global reach of American hard power.”

A similar approach — in some cases even more bellicose — is being articulated by the bevy of Republican candidates now in the race for president, Rand Paul again excepted. At a recent “Freedom Summit” in the early primary state of South Carolina, the various contenders sought to out-hard-power each other. Florida Senator Marco Rubio was loudly cheered for promising to make the U.S. “the strongest military power in the world.” Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker received a standing ovation for pledging to further escalate the war on international terrorists: “I want a leader who is willing to take the fight to them before they take the fight to us.” 

In this overheated environment, the 2016 presidential campaign is certain to be dominated by calls for increased military spending, a tougher stance toward Moscow and Beijing, and an expanded military presence in the Middle East. Whatever her personal views, Hillary Clinton, the presumed Democratic candidate, will be forced to demonstrate her backbone by embracing similar positions. In other words, whoever enters the Oval Office in January 2017 will be expected to wield a far bigger stick on a significantly less stable planet. As a result, despite the last decade and a half of interventionary disasters, we’re likely to see an even more interventionist foreign policy with an even greater impulse to use military force.

However initially gratifying such a stance is likely to prove for John McCain and the growing body of war hawks in Congress, it will undoubtedly prove disastrous in practice. Anyone who believes that the clock can now be turned back to 2002, when U.S. strength was at its zenith and the Iraq invasion had not yet depleted American wealth and vigor, is undoubtedly suffering from delusional thinking. China is far more powerful than it was 13 years ago, Russia has largely recovered from its post-Cold War slump, Iran has replaced the U.S. as the dominant foreign actor in Iraq, and other powers have acquired significantly greater freedom of action in an unsettled world. Under these circumstances, aggressive muscle-flexing in Washington is likely to result only in calamity or humiliation.

Time to Stop Pretending

Back, then, to our original question: What is a declining superpower supposed to do in the face of this predicament?

Anywhere but in Washington, the obvious answer would for it to stop pretending to be what it’s not. The first step in any 12-step imperial-overstretch recovery program would involve accepting the fact that American power is limited and global rule an impossible fantasy. Accepted as well would have to be this obvious reality: like it or not, the U.S. shares the planet with a coterie of other major powers — none as strong as we are, but none so weak as to be intimidated by the threat of U.S. military intervention. Having absorbed a more realistic assessment of American power, Washington would then have to focus on how exactly to cohabit with such powers — Russia, China, and Iran among them — and manage its differences with them without igniting yet more disastrous regional firestorms. 

If strategic juggling and massive denial were not so embedded in the political life of this country’s “war capital,” this would not be an impossibly difficult strategy to pursue, as others have suggested. In 2010, for example, Christopher Layne of the George H.W. Bush School at Texas A&M argued in the American Conservative that the U.S. could no longer sustain its global superpower status and, “rather than having this adjustment forced upon it suddenly by a major crisis… should get ahead of the curve by shifting its position in a gradual, orderly fashion.” Layne and others have spelled out what this might entail: fewer military entanglements abroad, a diminishing urge to garrison the planet, reduced military spending, greater reliance on allies, more funds to use at home in rebuilding the crumbling infrastructure of a divided society, and a diminished military footprint in the Middle East.

But for any of this to happen, American policymakers would first have to abandon the pretense that the United States remains the sole global superpower — and that may be too bitter a pill for the present American psyche (and for the political aspirations of certain Republican candidates) to swallow. From such denialism, it’s already clear, will only come further ill-conceived military adventures abroad and, sooner or later, under far grimmer circumstances, an American reckoning with reality.

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59 comments

  1. voxhumana

    An interesting read. Would have been far better without the Democratic partisanship:

    “Whatever her personal views, Hillary Clinton, the presumed Democratic candidate, will be forced to demonstrate her backbone by embracing similar positions.”

    forced?

    “American policymakers would first have to abandon the pretense that the United States remains the sole global superpower — and that may be too bitter a pill for the present American psyche (and for the political aspirations of certain Republican candidates) to swallow.”

    oh, I see… only certain Republican candidates’ political aspirations are premised on war and global hegemony but poor Hillary “we came, we saw, he died” Clinton will be “forced” to go along if she wants to be elected.

    Klare makes many good points but suggesting that Hillary Clinton will be forced to be a war monger, forced to promote her well established neocon foreign policy bona fides, is absurd

    1. Katniss Everdeen

      My thoughts exactly.

      And just as bogus as the knee-jerk, neanderthal “republicans bad, democrats good” grunting is the characterization of gwb’s middle east policies as “missteps” and “miscalculations.”

      They knew exactly what they were doing and they knew how it would turn out. It made a few people tremendously wealthy, and justified the apparatus of population surveillance and control which is fast becoming necessary for maintaining the illusion that the us is anything more than a shadow of its former self.

      1. weinerdog43

        Seriously? Please show me exactly where ‘republicans bad; democrats good’ is located. The reason it looks bad if you are a republican partisan, is because most of the problem lies there. Yes, Obama has been a colossal disappointment, but he campaigned as a Liberal but has governed as a moderate/conservative republican. To this day, over 60% of republicans think the Iraq war was a good thing. While I’ll agree that the ‘power elite’ in Washington love them some war, to argue that democrats in the street think the same is grossly unfair.

        1. lylo

          I would object to the idea that he has governed as a Republican.
          I mean, prior to the more recent Republican presidents, it wasn’t that bad of a party: they didn’t like to spend money on anything, represented small towns and business owners. Which went pretty well with the Democrats prior to our more recent crop: they liked to spend on the people and represented the more urban populations. See? This is a decent argument worth having. And the one that the “people on the street” represent, both sides.

          Recent Republican presidents are neoconservatives–they love war and enriching the elite, preferring to represent big finance and corporations. Recent Democrat presidents are neoliberals–they love war and enriching the elite, preferring to represent big finance and corporations.
          Unsurprisingly, Obama is a neoliberal. (BTW: it’s all just code for fascist!)

          You’ve roped yourself hard into the very paradigm that the guy was lamenting, and in a way, proved his point. You seem to imply that average democrats are so much less tribal and more enlightened, yet the majority of democrats polled support our actions in Libya.
          You seem to think the problem is republicans, and it’s not: it’s fascism and blind party loyalty.

          1. NotTimothyGeithner

            What? The GOP hasn’t been bad? Lincoln died in 1865. That’s a long time ago.

            1. bh2

              US leaders who led the country to war against other nations have all been “progressives” and (apart from Teddy Roosevelt) all were democrats.

              1. NotTimothyGeithner

                41, Nixon, our Latin American adventures in the 1920’s, and McKinley beg to differ with your pop culture assessment. I personally despise Saint JFK and LBJ.

    2. Gerard Pierce

      It may not be what you want to hear, but why is it absurd? The Republicans will attack her, based on whatever they think will work. That’s what they do.

      Her “well-established neo-con foreign policy bona fides” pretty much predict that she will be pro-war even before a Republican attack.

      Believing she will do anything else would be absurd.

      1. Ignim Brites

        Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders are likely to pull a Gene McCarthy of 2016 for their respective parties. This will redefine what rationality is.

      2. voxhumana

        perhaps I expressed it poorly but that’s exactly what I’m saying: HRC will not be “forced” to be a war monger because she already is a war monger. If anything, she will be “forced” by Sanders to pretend she’s a genuine progressive and my expectation is that once Sanders is out of the way she will resort to her naturally bellicose, neocon self.

    3. flora

      Hillary aside, the “the pretense that the United States remains the sole global superpower ” seduces presidential contenders, GOP and Dem alike, into a dangerous intellectual laziness.

      1. Steven Greenberg

        Can you imagine a person winning the Presidency with the mantra “The US is not #1”? Bernie Sanders might try it, but I wonder if even he has the guts to stick to that. Perhaps if anybody can, Bernie Sanders can find a way to explain the truth. I am not hopeful, but it is worth a try.

  2. steviefinn

    Not to mention that the US appears to be rotting from within in terms of debt, corruption etc, within a world where resources that supported an ealier lifestyle are becoming ever scarcer. I seem to remember that the decline of Rome was similar in some details with this, but at least you guys don’t have millions of desperate Huns, Visigoths etc threatening your Northern border.

    I remember at a pretty rough school I once attended how the long ruling school yard bully ended up being abandoned by his cohorts & losing his power. As was his habit he picked on a much smaller new kid who just happened to be a southpaw who also just happened to know how to deliver a single very effective liver punch.

    1. Paul Tioxon

      Are you sure it was the liver, usually a shot to the kidneys causes extreme pain and leaves them pissing bloody for days. Now that is a real deterrent! Nothing shocks a guy more than blood coming out where he urinates.

      1. steviefinn

        Liver shot is on the other side of the ribs handy for southpaws – has the same effect, instant demolition, especially when you are an over confident big fat kid – there are probably video examples on youtube.

  3. Doug

    Klare’s assessment is correct that US super power delusions outstrip US resources (not to mention woefully ignorant yet arrogant office holders in both parties). However, he misses the mark in naming the counter parties with whom the US government must deal. Finding a path forward has far more to do with reclaiming hegemony over the likes of Halliburton, JPMorganChase, ExxonMobil, Blackstone, and so on than it does with diplomacy etc respecting Russia, China, Iran and any number of other so-called nations that, in turn — like the US — are mere partners/puppets serving the corporations — the real superpowers in a world of ‘free markets’.

    1. Carla

      Agreed. Wonder if you have read “National Security and Double Government” by Michael J. Glennon. Or for that matter, if Klare has.

    2. Linus Huber

      “are mere partners/puppets serving the corporations — the real superpowers in a world of ‘free markets’”

      The political system has been corrupted at the core. Governments’ purpose of serving their population has been replaced by those bureaucrats satisfying the wishes of the corporate elite. Any system (its rather unimportant whether you classify it “Communism, Socialism, Capitalism or any other ism) will corrupt itself over time as the responsible bureaucrats within the system are human and some actors within the system will find a way to undeservedly direct benefits in their own direction and, once established, that flow will be increased with ever greater success to the detriment of society at large. So we should probably adopt a policy to have routinely a popular uprising and revolution every once in a while before the system has been corrupted to a degree that the people’s individual freedom has been taken completely (e.g. rule of law simply in name, police state, NSA). Let’s not forget that the most horrendous crimes have mostly been committed by strongly centralized entities (e.g. governments) who attained the ability do indoctrinate and condition the population in order to adopt policies that maintain or expand their own power.

  4. MikeNY

    It would mean accepting that “American Exceptionalism” is and always has been a fiction. We are neither humble nor wise enough to do that.

    1. Jim Haygood

      ‘No one in Washington’s power elite seems to have the slightest urge to abandon the role of sole superpower or even to back off it in any significant way,’ writes Klare.

      Down the road, this means that the vast value-subtraction scheme of U.S. global supremacy will fold the same way the gold-backed dollar did in 1971: with an anticlimactic, out-of-the-blue weekend executive order announcing ‘we’re done with all that.’

      To paraphrase Emperor Hirohito’s surrender speech, ‘the global supremacy situation has developed not necessarily to America’s advantage, while the general trends of the world have all turned against her interests.’

      Why do bad things happen to good superpowers?

      1. Whine Country

        “good superpowers”…add that to George Carlin’s list of famous oxymorons. How about right next to “military intelligence”?

    2. TedWa

      As soon as Obomba said that I had to laugh. If you have to tell everyone you’re cool – as soon as you say it, you’re not. If you have to tell everyone that you’re the best at something, as soon as you say it, you’re not. It’s that moment of claiming in public what everyone knew in secret that makes it not true, and a good joke in the making. It’s taking serious respect in private and turning it into something else (pride maybe) that’s deserving of open ridicule.
      American exceptionalism is a joke and Obomba’s playing checkers. We’re no different than anyone else in this world.

  5. Nick

    In the post-globalized world we now find ourselves in, the US may not be the supreme actor it once was, rather it will lead the world’s democracies in a grand coalition – this is perhaps Obama’s greatest legacy. It’s particularly odd India is classified as an adversary, as they are not only the largest democracy on the planet, but a newly minted key US trade partner. Similarly, Saudi Arabia has finally grown up, after decades of reliance on the US for military protection; however they are still indisputable American allies.

    Things can change very quickly, Syria is on the brink of collapse and an Iran deal is within sight. China’s economy is fragile, while the US economy is stabilizing. Even given DC disorganization, this is much too pessimistic I’d say, the next few decades will see many unimagined positive developments for the US (forefront of renewable energy, breadbasket of the world, 3D printing revolution, resurgence of domestic space industry, energy independence, cutting edge drones and AI, to name but a few).

    1. Ignim Brites

      Leader of a grand coalition of the world’s democracies is the essence of the neo-con vision of the US “universal” and indispensable role. Obama pays lip service to this idea but his intention is to destroy it and he is succeeding. It’s all over now baby blue.

    2. OIFVet

      “it will lead the world’s democracies in a grand coalition – this is perhaps Obama’s greatest legacy.” Step away from the blue pill, Nick. What “democracies” are these where the governments go against popular will to impose austerity, where corruption in the form of campaign fundraising and lobbying is legalized, and where the government of lesser members of the “grand coalition” get their marching orders from Washington, often against the best interest of the nation and the will of its people? Obama helped to expose the meaningless of the term, to a greater extent than even Bush did, because he managed to bring Bush’s “Old Europe” to heel too – quite a legacy indeed. The less “freedom and democracy” there is the more and louder the US and its “allies” shout it from the mountaintops. It’s a sham.

      As for your second paragraph: wow! Some questions: For whom is “America’s economy” stabilizing? How does one survive in this stabilized economy of crappy McJobs? Have you asked the considerable FF lobby about whether it will permit a move to the “forefront of renewable energy”? How do you square the imagined lead in renewables with the very real strategy of energy independence based on fossils, particularly fracked fossils? “Will America be the “breadbasket of the world” after Monsanto grabs Ukraine’s chernozem or before? In either case, is it even possible to be the breadbasket given less water in California to water the Inland Empire? I can go on, the point is, your entire comment was a rah-rah USA!USA! cheer that relies on wishful thinking. And that’s pretty much America’s problem: cheerleading has replaced sober thinking. We have cheerleaders for politicians, cheerleader press, and cheerleader Nicks.

      It’s effing scary to the rest of us that the entire strategy seems to be wishful thinking firmly rooted in exceptionalism and delusions about what is freedom and democracy, with the latter having been reduced to a competition of who amongst corporate-sponsored candidates can offer more exceptionalism and promise to drop more bombs someplace we don’t like so that General Dynamics can either increase its stock dividends or do some stock buy backs.

  6. hatti552

    More left wing drivel (and you have no idea even what the concept of “American Exceptionalism” is, much less comment on the reality of its existence.

    This place has become a sewage dump of shop worn, Marxist cliches. It is like reading the Village Vioce in the 1970s.

    You are, as they say, no even wrong.

    1. sleepy

      @hatti552

      Since the drive for US global hegemony probably had more advocates among postwar dem internationalists–many of whom were New Deal holdovers–as it did among the traditionally isolationist repubs, I’m not sure if your neat little left/right dichotomy works.

      In any case, aside from labeling, do you care to give any reasons for your support of US global hegemony? Do you think it’s not working because Obama hasn’t tried hard enough (basically the repub position) and you favor doubling down a’la McCain?

  7. Jesper

    My take is that if there had been a long-term strategy for the US good that its government was following/implementing then it is almost impossible to detect and decipher for people outside of the power-centers in DC. And if there is no long-term strategy, be it to keep the US as the sole superpower or to improve the lives of ordinary Americans, then the explanation must be something different.

    Maybe another angle might help in describing the situation?

    Is the US government (and the power-brokers in DC) acting to keep the US strong or to keep themselves (personally) powerful?

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      The U.S. government needs a powerful figurehead/central authority to control the bureaucracy and to wrestle control, the Federalist papers made note of this even before the imperial presidency, but there hasn’t been a powerful democrat since LBJ. Obama, Clinton, and Carter were right wing leaders of nominally lefty parties, and the result was they spent much of their Administrations browbeating their own party to maintain control or push their legislation instead of cleaning the Pentagon or Wall Street. Obama’s ideas and personality don’t control members of Congress. It’s Wall Street money. If a popular Obama walked into a random state and ignored an incumbent Senator in favor of a challenger, the incumbent would never r have the money to overcome one soundbite which would be carried by the news as a free spectacle. The result is an open season for everyone else’s pet project because no one can stop them and two they might get lost or fired when the next strong center arrives.

      The U.S. government is responding to every mouth at the trough. Gore couldn’t have invaded Iraq not because he wouldn’t have but because he wouldn’t have the political support from his own party to shutdown other pet projects to prepare the MIC and population for it. Dubya didn’t fight his party back benchers until 2005. After he moved on SS, Dubya became irrelevant because he was no longer popular enough to be feared.

      It’s not just Goldman Sachs. It’s everyone who works in Nuland’s office. They don’t want to be part of a failed program or a public embarrassment. Because Obama is weak, he can’t move on obvious stains such as Nuland because she represents a supporter in DC. Without many of these clowns, he would be alone because he’s lost much of his popularity, did nothing for down ticket races, and threatened many members into submission.

      While a person is popular, they can walk in and tell the baron class how things will be or they won’t be barons. If they align themselves with the barons, they cease to be popular and rely on the barons who more autonomy and options than the 99% and have to acquiesce. Not every baron has the exact same goal. If they get too uppity, the king will act, but they can get away with a great deal if the king irritates the masses because his strength comes from above not below. It’s really that simple. If the Obots had made demands of Obama, every other article in print would be why can’t he have a third term. Republican Presidential candidates would be terrified of his successor instead of racing to sign up supporters.

      Ignoring the GOP and long term problems with Team Blue recruitment, much of the Obama mess goes tend his own standing goes back to his decision to be President on TV and rely on experts from the previous two administration’s who had just been rejected. Hillary in ’08 never discussed Bill’s record because it would hurt her with her more ignorant supporters who projected onto Hillary.

  8. DJG

    The symptoms have been in evidence for a long time, and it isn’t clear to me that we have reached the moment when collapse will happen or when even John McCain will recognize that something has gone wrong. McCain and Obama, being all tactics and no strategy, have yet to figure out that U.S. supply lines for the military and for our decadent corporations are way overstretched. Has either proposed closing a military base? Has either advised food purveyors to stop importing garlic (garlic!) from China?

    Not even the evidence of continuing U.S. defeats–in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya–elicits an appropriate response from the elites. So they venture into Ukraine, the next failure.

    Unlike Rome, though, I’d venture to say that the USA has chosen some particularly pernicious “allies,” such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and England (soon to be detached from Scotland). Each of these so-called allies is more than self-serving. The U.S. elites, though, rather than showing any skepticism, have been craven in dealing with the big four. Our relation to England seems to be to conduct their foreign policy and protect the illegality of the City of London in exchange for some nostalgia about Toad in a Hole.

  9. hemeantwell

    Klare, whose work over the years has been largely useful, is a lazy writer when it comes to the Cold War. To simplistically talk about it as “resisting Soviet expansionism around the world” ignores how US expansionism, aka imperialism, conditioned Soviet policy. As a professor of peace studies he must certainly be familiar with the substantial body of work by authors such as Williams, Alperovitz, Cohen and others who show that the US did nothing to allay Soviet security concerns and instead adopted an offensive posture that, to the Soviets, recommended ensuring friendly neighbors by whatever means necessary. What is disgusting about Klare now is that, by casually repeating formulaic ideological themes, he only adds to the ignorance regarding the current mess in the Ukraine, a mess that in my view basically reprises the late 1940s. Sure, he does talk about “sharing the planet with other powers,” but he seems unwilling to say what that means. In that sense this professor of peace falls behind murderers like Kissinger, who has been critical of NATO efforts to turn the Ukraine into a launchpad on Russia’s doorstep.

  10. sufferin'succotash

    HW Bush’s pronouncement that “the American Way of Life is non-negotiable” around the time of the Gulf War more or less let the cat out of the bag. Neocon delusions of grandeur aside, much of the US interventionism over the past several decades has been driven by the need to keep the Cheap Oil flowing in. That is, if one assumes that the AWL depends on cheap oil.

  11. John Merryman

    Given we seem on the edge of an enormous financial coronary, an inward focus might develop quite suddenly and these characters are going to be scrambling to try and stay on top of a horse that changed direction very quickly.

  12. Mario Medjeral

    Assume targeting FIFA in Switzerland is a sign of exceptional might and world power….?

    1. so

      Exactly. What about the bankers? Reading the comments in the Guardian about the USA saving the
      day is enough to make someone puke. Ahh the ongoing stench of hypocrisy.

    2. Steven Greenberg

      Targeting FIFA is an obvious ploy to distract us from not targeting Wall Street crooks. What a waste of resources on the Attorney General’s part.

      1. EoinW

        Or they are so desperate to get at Russia and so frustrated by their lack of results in Ukraine that they’ve opened a new front and are targeting the 2018 World Cup. Given the hysteria around the Sochi Olympics it should come as no surprise that these people can be so petty. Sort of like: “we’re going to really teach you a lesson now by taking away your soccer ball and convincing our friends not to play with you any more!”

        Can’t help but wonder if the new Cold war didn’t begin not because of Syria or Ukraine but was started because Moscow gave Snowden sanctuary and at least one person in Washington felt that a personal insult.

        1. NotTimothyGeithner

          The China pivot is real, but the China century is dependent on Russia. Russia has as many citizens as France and Germany which means it can’t be pushed around, but it can’t overwhelm partners the way China could overwhelm SE Asia. For a variety of reasons, many countries won’t move to China’s sphere on their own, but Russia is big enough to demand respect from China without threatening China. Smaller countries can access China through Moscow without risking being completely dwarfed.

          The goal of the neocons, arms dealers, peripheral U.S. allies is to prevent not a Moscow/Beijing axis but a Russian led confederacy partnership with China. The Russian deal might be better than the EU or US domination. It might be possible for a Southeast Europe, greater Baghdad, Tehran, Moscow bloc to form. India would be forced into it. The -stan countries would be forced into it. How soon before countries sick of listening to U.S. behavior see a non-military alliance emerge that does not involve old colonial masters?

          Moscow is still key because Russia can’t threaten it’s neighbors but it can still defend them. With Chinese aid, Russia and China can replace every service or deal offered by the U.S. The U.S. is big enough to threaten, immune to counter attacks, and dominates both the EU, multinationals, and international institutions.

  13. knowbuddhau

    Thanks to the others who take Klare to task for lazy rhetorical shortcuts that only serve to further bury the truth of our times. I agree that we’re in a period of imperial decline. But “missteps”?! “Miscalculations”?! The phrase you’re looking for, professor, is “war crimes.” Calling our wars of aggression by their true name is still a step too far, eh?

    One measure of our hubris is the inability of “serious” and “respectable” critics to openly proclaim that we’ve been serial war criminals since the days of the Indian Wars. Our continental empire was built by making treaties at gun point, without much intent to honor them, as a means to grab the land. (ISTM General Sherman made remarks to that effect, but I can’t find the quote.) Our global empire hasn’t been much different.

    I suppose Indian Removal and wiping out the buffalo, and the continuing efforts to undermine tribal sovereignty today, were, and are, likewise “missteps” and “miscalculations” we can somehow blame on Republicans exclusively.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      I think you may be thinking of Grant not Sherman, but both would be denounced by Team Blue as pinko commies. One of Grant’s SOTU’s included a call for universal, public education and not one dollar for sectarian schools. The charter movement would be appalled.

      Amazingly enough, Grant and Sherman are oozing intelligent sound bites which proves the modern Democrats don’t have a messaging problem as much as a message problem.

  14. OIFVet

    I suppose Indian Removal and wiping out the buffalo, and the continuing efforts to undermine tribal sovereignty today, were, and are, likewise “missteps” and “miscalculations” we can somehow blame on Republicans exclusively

    Of course not! Stalin! Golodomor! Outside enemies and justifications are the norm, it’s just that from time to time we have to engage in intramural squabbling just to perpetuate the myth that there is a qualitative difference between the two wings of the Corporate Party and thus we have a democracy with a real choice of parties and ideas.

  15. Steven

    (I can’t seem to manage a concise response to Naked Capitalism’s postings. What follows is just the last couple of paragraphs of what I hope will be a (mercifully) short posting on OpEdNews.)

    Klare needs to take that last step. It isn’t about ‘peak oil’ or ‘peak everything’ so much as ‘peak debt’ or ‘peak money’, i.e. a world awash in money and in mad pursuit of ever more of it. There are indeed physical limits. But with a little luck the world (of humans) may still have the resources to right-size itself to fit within them. However that won’t happen until the greed of the world’s plutocracy and the ambitions of their psychopathic servants in the political class are controlled.

    80 years ago the Nobel Prize winning chemist explained where oil DOES come into the picture:

    Though it was not understood a century ago, and though as yet the applications of the knowledge to the economics of life are not generally realised, life in its physical aspect is fundamentally a struggle for energy, …

    Soddy, Frederick M.A., F.R.S.. Wealth, Virtual Wealth and Debt (Kindle Locations 1089-1091). Distributed Proofreaders Canada.

    The ‘backing’ for the petrodollar now includes the monetized value of Chinese and third world labor and natural resources as well as OPEC oil. But controlling the outcome of life’s “struggle for energy” is still the crumbling cornerstone of both US foreign and domestic economic policies:
    • control the world’s access to energy and it has no choice but submitting to the hegemon’s will
    • the U.S. political system is now owned lock, stock and barrel by a financial / military industrial / fossil fuels complex (am I forgetting anybody?). The powers that be are trying to preserve the existing status quo by insuring that life remains a “struggle for energy”.

    The denizens of Wall Street and Washington can perhaps be forgiven for believing they were the “masters of the universe” at the conclusion of WWII. What they can NOT be forgiven is their belief – then or now – is that “the end of history” had arrived (unless they cause it).

  16. fresno dan

    I don’t know if I buy the premise that the US was ever as powerful as it proclaims itself to be. I remember when guys in black pajamas, with no navy or air force defeated the “most powerful nation on earth”

    Fifty years later, when the US is supposedly the “Sole superpower” on earth, a bunch of guys with no air force or navy defeated us in Afghanistan….

    I will concede we did no “lose” in Iraq….although I will NOT concede that we won either…
    and I will say we won unequivocally in Grenada.

    Am I seeing a pattern?

    1. sleepy

      At least in Vietnam, it was the policy that lost. As far as I recall, the military won every battle.

      I think the same can be said, more or less, about Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s difficult for the military to sustain and fulfill stupid policy.

      They all show the limits of military force in the pursuit of idiocy. Garbage in, garbage out.

      If the US wants to hang on to some sort of international influence, it needs to hone up on its diplomatic skills and downplay its sabre-rattling.

      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        The military won every battle based on our count. Cornwallis won every battle against continentals, but he was forced to flee because he couldn’t supply his army without splitting it and letting his baggage train and foraging parties come under fire. The whole we won every battle mantra is propaganda to avoid holding many of the generals and the MIC accountable for their lies and mistakes. When a platoon was massacred on patrol, it wasn’t a “battle.” I guess there was no honor in shooting guys in the back unlike say a drone strike. When the military was in a position to launch a massive aerial counter attack, then we won and temporarily planted a flag while the position grew weaker. But hey we won the battle. Did we have a great record without the air power which limited how the various enemies could move troops?

        Air power made battles impossible in many ways. The Tet Offensive was everywhere all at once which means there were no reserves or occupation forces ready. The goal was to spur uprisings and force the Americans to redeploy which is what happened, and the costs of defending urban areas skyrocketed as the Vietcong and North Vietnamese forced the U.S. and it’s puppets out of the country side. Oh sure, the enemy was forced to flee the cities they attacked, but they didn’t bring the forces needed to occupy or destroy the U.S. and South Vietnam forces. Did we win that battle? No, they were completely unprepared for a multi-city assault. It was beneath the notice of the Pentagon brass, so they cooked up an excuse to call it a win.

        1. sleepy

          So, we just need to beef up our military, retrain the troops, have smarter generals, and our empire can continue on into the indefinite future, policy be damned!

          The US public ultimately saw Vietnam as a complete policy failure preserving a corrupt local government, and the US withdrew. There was no Dien Bien Phu. Domestic opposition forced the US out.

          As soon-to-be-disciplined General Shinseki said to Congress prior to the invasion of Iraq, that the Iraqis would not welcome us with flowers and it would take 500,000 troops to occupy the nation for years for the policy to be successful.

  17. susan the other

    If the TPP is just an attempt to make the ASEAN countries militaristic enough to give us some breathing room, then that’s pretty interesting. They can come together under the TPP umbrella and form a quiet military coalition to relieve the world’s only superpower. Think of us as a senile superpower. John Foster Dulles wanted the ASEAN countries to all have the bomb. Why should we be the only bomb droppers? The only totally absurd country. The greater question has evolved finally. Why can’t we all function rationally? And with a dedication to the environment. I’ve been wondering how we were going to pay Russia for helping us thru this mess. Crimea was one payment. But Russia has given us much more than we have given her, so other payments might include some of our bases around the world. A great gift to an almost superpower. And an agreement that we will only bluster about China’s islands in the South China Sea but we won’t really do anything. Bluster is how you wind down from being a super killer because you got too old and fat.

  18. Paul Tioxon

    Klare shows the problem any US prez will have dealing with the world as it become relatively weaker. If anything, the US is stronger and wealthier than it ever was in absolute terms. The difference between 1950 and 2015 is that now, so many other nations have grown absolutely stronger, starting with the preeminent example of China. In 1950, it was the poorest place on the planet, poorer than Africa. It is history that every other industrialized nation in the world was bombed back to the stone age by the total war effort methods of WWII. We started rearming earlier than anyone else it and it will take decades for any one or group of nations to surpass us in military spending and technology.

    One small example is that the US Navy all by itself is larger than the next 13 largest navies of the world combined, most who are our NATO allies. The Chinese have no real air craft carrier and will not for over a decade or more. They have a 30 year old recycled Ukrainian carrier that is half the size of any we have and they are just beginning to practice on it now. At the same time, we have large scale drone fighters landing and taking off our carriers, which are about to replaced by an entirely new generation of carriers which use electro-magnetic launchers for the jets and are equipped with laser/directed energy weapons and rail guns which do not require explosives to fire. In other words, while we can not tell everyone in the world when and how high to jump, we are very far from falling apart at the seams with barbarians battering down the gates. We have such a tremendous head start in military spending, R&D and actually practice, that pretending we are a military weakling is just a Republican Party Talking Point Memo for the AmmoSexual crowds and lovers of Confederate History. It is one of the tried and true methods of electoral vote getting to denounce the current prez for weakness. And no one cries poor Pentagon better than the republicans!

    Since we can’t snap our fingers like we used to, we find that the government has resorted to the tried and true methods of non-hegemonic negotiations. The Tri-Lateral Commission was the admission that the opinions of Europe and Japan were to respected and taken into account in decision making. Further relative weakening saw the founding of other trans-national mechanisms of governance in the G7. Even Russia was invited in, for a while, to again, negotiate the no longer acceptable diktats from Washington DC. This time, the diktats come from DC and Brussels. The relative decline continued with Brazil, India, China etc etc, all getting stronger and all wanting to project that strength in the their best national interests as much as possible. And this won’t be the first time in history a hegemon was challenged. The Japanese had a plan for a world on their own terms which lead them to attack the US at Pearl Harbor to push us out of the Pacific. It was called the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. Copying the Monroe Doctrine and emulating the militarism of the Western Powers, before WWII, Imperial Japan set out to build an Asia for Asians with the Japanese First among equals.

    So many governments now want a seat at the table, we thought with our 7 grade civics class mentality that the United Nations was founded for that purpose, that too many diametrically opposed best national interests are being played off against one another with the US still trying to negotiate some geo-political consensus. This is chaotic, volatile and not something that will be forcibly decided, as the repeated failures of war as a failsafe policy tool of containment have shown over and again in Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq, Afghanistan. As much overwhelming military power that we have and repeated willingness to use it mercilessly against weaker nations, we still have people who stand up against the most brutal retaliation the US Military can unleash if so ordered. Only a fool or a crazy man would invite war with the US. But remember, The Chinese, in 1950, still the poorest nation on earth, barely a year after its victory, went to war against the mightiest military machine of WWII, that just 5 years earlier dropped 2 atomic bombs not far off the coast of China.

    Madeline Albright famously asked what is the point in having the most powerful military in the world if we don’t use it? This is the delusional thinking, at the height of power, not during its relative decline. That Sec of State wanted to know why we could not make foreign policy by force. The simple answer is, if you have to force a nation at the point of destruction every time you want something from them, you are not a powerful nation, just a heavily armed one. The reliance on war to get what we want as well as a profit making event and justification for the military industrial establishment is the kind of Imperial Overreach that will do any nation in. And then there are the foreign actors who want war for their own reasons. Such as Bin Laden. No one SHOULD want to invite a war with the US Government and its Military, but yet, they do. Meaning that they are not really afraid of us, that they think we will grow tired of blood and death before they do and that we want to live more and enjoy our wonderful American standard of living with back yard bar b q, SuperBowls and mass concert events, than to fight and die to bully the world.

    And the variety of sniping and denouncing of Klare from across the political spectrum on this post is just a small scale taste of what a relatively weak USA is experiencing from around the world as other nations flex their muscles, and negotiate how far they can push the US and its allies before a bright line is crossed triggering military responses. More and more nations are disagreeing more and more with US foreign policy goals and this produces much of the volatility. Some of the warfare that we are witnessing has more to do with climate change, such as the Syrian drought which forced over a million busted out farmers to move to refugee camps or towns only to find other migrating refugees from Palestine and Iraq. Some of it has to do with war a policy from the Project for A New American Century, which ended in failure so badly, they even closed down their web site. The policy makers who only see the projection of military power as the only real answer to foreign policy questions or problems will always denounce their opponents as weak. This is true back to the beginning of the NSA of 1947 and Truman in deciding to go to war in Korea, with Gen MacArthur breathing down his neck . Its true of LBJ who knew better but still went to war. It was true of Nixon who used back channels to sink the Viet Nam peace talks so he could get into power by any means. War is the tool that less than a handful of US elected politicians ever vote against, because they will lose power, be crucified, die and never make a political comeback. That is just history. Obama has something in common with Harry Truman: both fired powerful generals. And Petraeus, The DCIA, was tried and convicted of chased out of office. Hillary should look to this history of putting generals, admirals and Directors of Intelligence outfits in their subservient place. Now, that would be some real power. Maybe enough to get some recalcitrant foreign allies to fall into line, considering what she does with her own hatchet men. Beating the shit out the NSA would make Hillary look scarier to Putin than any invasion of Grenada ever did for Reagan.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      The U.S. navy may have a large number of combat ships, but they rely on local ports. The support navy was gutted in the 90’s. Aircraft carriers are targets, and our fanciest planes can’t even use the carriers. The modern navy much like the ships sunk at Pearl Harbor aren’t the be all and end all.

      The Internet rumor is the Russians electronic warfare scared the pride of the fleet, the Donald Cook, to high tail it out of the Black Sea.

      The new Silk Road essentially bypasses the navy’s reach.

      Graft and corruption rein even in U.S. military circles, and much of the spending is political not necessarily designed to counter a threat. The Chinese and the Russians have more incentive to make sure their weapons work given U.S. behavior. Our R&D advantage may not be as great as advertised, and there was the story about Kerry having to be told that Syrian air defense can retaliate. Perhaps the reason ISIS isn’t facing a greater air campaign is because they have acquired adequate air defense.

      1. Paul Tioxon

        You are missing the point about the US Navy in the context of geo-politically diminishing US Government. As much as we can not tell or even force nations to do what we want, the military power of the US will not be challenged for decades. As to fanciest jets, they are so fancy they have no one to fight. They were built to do battle with the Red Army’s fanciest MIGs which went out of business when my son got out of diapers. He’s almost 30. Our weapons are so advanced that we are forced to use old training jets, The A-10 Warthog in Iraq because the fanciest jets should probably be outsourced to FedEx to make global deliveries by 10AM anywhere in the world. They are too fast to target tanks or supply convoys. The old A-10 smashes tanks because it flies low and slow, compared to the new F-35.

        The waste implicit in the overbuilding of weaponry which is designed to fight a technology equal is what is not discussed as openly as could be. The military mumbo jumbo for this is asymetrical warfare. The mismatch between our nation’s might on a titanic scale vs guerrilla warfare that is supplied by the weapons we leave behind with the armies of allies we train to defend themselves. The USS Cole gets blasted by a little rubber dinghy, buildings blown up with a Toyota pick-up loaded with fertilizer!! Our fanciest jets will never be able to do battle with any of that. But neither will anyone else catch up anytime soon, due to expense as much the head start we have. As bad as that is the main point of the military will probably always be what it is supposed to be, a defense. We can’t go to war against IS or force Putin into subservience, but we will not be attacked by another NATION, just some non-governmental group that can never really conquer us. And we certainly do not need all of the military hardware we have to prevent that kind of war. Now that Putin has taken Crimea, it will green light China taking the tiny islands it wants and the big symbolic possession of Taiwan it needs to tell the world that it rules on its own terms and not on what America or NATO allows. It would be better to start that negotiation now, rather than have a military confrontation later.

        1. Otter

          A Russian guided missile cruiser challenged two US carriers in the eastern Mediterranean Sea about a year and a half ago. US accepted the face-saving chemical weapons protocol (and ignited Ukraine).

          It was reported a few years ago that a Chinese submarine lurked undetected under a US fleet exercising on the South China Sea, until it surprised every American body by popping up in the middle of the formation. I haven’t fact-checked that story, and I don’t know if an atomic torpedo or missile is enough to take out a carrier, but it seems like a promising solution for nations with lesser means and lesser ambitions.

          US has only ten or eleven carriers.

          Remeber too that the lowly Federal Republic of Yugoslavia shot down a vaunted stealth bomber, and sold the wreckage to China.

          Madeline Albright is infamous for too many things, but she is was never bright enough to realize that, if you need to use the most powerful military in the world, you have already squandered the advantage of having it.

  19. OpenThePodBayDoorsHAL

    “Didn’t you notice the obnoxious and powerful odor of mendacity in this room?”
    This article posits that rational actors are, or should be, determining and acting in America’s best long-term geo-strategic interests. They’re not. Instead we simply have Big Money interested only in extracting rents, whether they are Big Pharma, Big Finance, Big Military, Big Media, Big Spy, etc. There’s a veneer of “politics” and “representative democracy” over it all but it’s just kabuki. It’s the Dutch East India Company, updated, a Global Corporate State-Entity, but between then and now they convinced actual people in these countries that they somehow have a say in how things will go. Sometimes the Big Money interests temporarily align with those of actual people and they “trickle down” some crumbs to keep enough of them out of starvation. Extraction continues by spending future cash flows (through mountains of debt issuance). It’s the definition of “unsustainable” but they don’t care, because they know that Global War and Reset will only re-concentrate their money and power even further.

  20. purple

    China is not going to back down in SE Asia, a place it has held sway in for more than a millennia. If the US chooses confrontation it will end up in disaster for the US.

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