America, the Unreliable Superpower: Can Biden Shore Up Its Record?

Yves here. John Feffer describes how regularly and casually the US has whipsawed it allies and bystanders. As a waning superpower, it’s not clear the US can afford to be so erratic. And we don’t mean Trump. For instance, after 9/11, Iran was so helpful to the US that Stratfor was regularly gushing about “The Coming US-Iran Alliance.” Iran was blindsided when Bush made his “axis of evil” speech which fingered Iran as one of America’s new top nemeses.

By John Feffer, the author of  the dystopian novel Splinterlands and the director of Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies. Frostlands, a Dispatch Books original, is volume two of his Splinterlands series and the final novel, Songlands, will be published in June. He has also written The Pandemic Pivot. Originally published at TomDispatch

The nightmare is over. The vanquished beast has crawled back to Mar-a-Lago to lick his wounds. The heroes are hard at work repairing the damage. As America returns to the international stage, the world heaves a collective sigh of relief.

That, at least, is the story the incoming Biden administration is telling. “America is back, multilateralism is back, diplomacy is back,” as Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the administration’s nominee for U.N. ambassador, put it shortly after the election. According to this narrative of redemption, the globe’s Atlas shrugged off its burden during the four years of Donald Trump’s tenure but is now ready to reassume its global leadership responsibilities.

Don’t believe it, though. Much of the rest of the world seems visibly queasy at the prospect of sitting on America’s shoulders, since who’s to say that Atlas won’t shrug again?

And perhaps Atlas wasn’t such a responsible fellow in the first place.

Over the last several decades, the United States has displayed all the hallmarks of a country suffering from a serious personality disorder characterized by mood swings of gargantuan proportions. From the compromised multilateralism of the Bill Clinton years, the United States pivoted to the aggressive armed unilateralism of George W. Bush. Then, after boomeranging back to the centrist (if still over-armed) internationalism of Barack Obama, it took the wildest of detours into MAGA-land with Donald Trump. In the latest case of foreign-policy whiplash, Joe Biden is now preparing to return the country to a “new and improved” version of Obama’s global liberalism (with a dash of anti-Chinese fervor thrown in).

Americans are by now remarkably familiar with such side effects of twenty-first-century democracy. We’ve skimmed the fine print on the label more than once and become reasonably inured to the adverse consequences of our civic religion.

Much of the world, however, is not accustomed to such volatility. The Kim family has ruled North Korea from day one, while Paul Biya has run Cameroon since 1982. Over the last 30 years, China has settled into its predictable version of market Leninism. Putatively democratic countries like Russia and Turkey have had the same leadership for two decades, while a genuinely democratic country like Germany has had the same chancellor for 15 years. The rest of Western Europe has seen numerous changes in those who hold the reins of power, but oscillations in governance have generally stayed within a relatively narrow political spectrum. European Union policies have similarly remained on a remarkably even keel, despite disruptions like Brexit.

These days, however, democrats and dictators alike are unsure, from one day to the next, whether the United States will be Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde.

On the surface, the international community has generally provided a warm welcome to the incoming administration, if only out of profound relief at seeing the backside of Donald Trump. True, it took Vladimir Putin a while to get around to acknowledging Joe Biden’s victory, while Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil grumbled about the departure of his American BFF, as did Hungary’s Viktor Orbán and a number of other right-wing populists.

But Biden was a clear international favorite in the recent presidential election. According to an Ipsos poll of people in 24 countries, Biden had an edge of 48% to 17% over Trump, with only the Russians as outliers. And postelection, the favorability of the United States has only risen (except perhaps in Russia and China).

Beneath the surface, however, the world is hesitant, like an oft-jilted lover. Country after country has been burned too many times to throw itself back into such a relationship without reservations, if not a full-blown prenuptial agreement. As NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg put it with characteristic understatement, “There is a need to rebuild trust between Europe and the United States.” Indeed, just about every member of the U.N. General Assembly would undoubtedly have agreed.

Such an erosion of trust defines what it means to be an unreliable superpower. Even as the Biden administration works to “build back better,” allies and adversaries alike are busy hedging their bets, concerned that the United States is simply too unpredictable a place to park political capital. And where it remains all-too-predictable — as in its preposterous levels of military spending or its obdurate sense of exceptionalism — Washington no longer looks to many like a reliable global actor from the perspective of peace or prosperity.

The Biden administration seems remarkably tone-deaf when it comes to the hesitancy of the international community to repeat past mistakes. “We can make America, once again, the leading force for good in the world,” Biden insisted in his Inaugural Address. “We will lead not merely by the example of our power but by the power of our example.”

With its talk of regaining global leadership, the Biden administration seems as committed to the notion that the United States is still “the indispensable power” as it was when former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright uttered that phrase in 1998. “If we have to use force, it is because we are America,” Albright told Matt Lauer back then on The Today Show. “We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future, and we see the danger here to all of us.”

Particularly in the wake of the travesties of the Trump era, the global stature of this indispensable land has shrunk immeasurably. In their responses to crises like Covid-19 and a warming planet, other countries now stand taller and see further into the future. More ominously, the danger they do see increasingly has the stars and stripes plastered all over it.

Reversing the Reverses

Donald Trump didn’t even have to wait for a new administration to reverse his policies. He was perfectly capable of reversing them himself — multiple times.

No wonder NATO head Stoltenberg has been preoccupied with the issue of trust. As a candidate, Trump swore NATO was “obsolete,” only to change his mind within months of taking office. Yet, a year later, he was talking about pulling the United States out of the alliance completely. By 2020, on the other hand, he was suggesting incorporating Middle Eastern countries into it.

And Trump wasn’t just fickle when it came to NATO. In 2017, he threatened North Korea with the “fire and fury” of nuclear destruction only to sit down with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un two years later. He went back and forth about Chinese leader Xi Jinping, too, claiming in 2018 that “Xi and I will always be friends,” only to call him an “enemy” a year later. He then reversed himself with his early 2020 avowal that “we love each other,” before turning hostile yet again in the COVID-19 era. What Trump diehards argued was crafty bargaining looked a whole lot more like beginner’s incoherence.

Joe Biden has already taken a more consistent approach to reversing Trump’s policies than The Donald did to his own policies. In his first executive orders, the new president brought the United States back into the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Paris climate accords. He reversed Trump’s policies on immigration, cancelled the Muslim travel ban, and ended funding for the largely unbuilt wall on the border with Mexico. He quickly hit rewind on those environmental deregulations of the Trump administration and the previous president’s approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.

In addition, the Biden team soon hopes to reenter the Iran nuclear deal, revive arms control negotiations with Russia, and at least mitigate the impact of the trade sanctions against China.

That’s all to the good. But who’s to say that the next occupant of the Oval Office won’t reverse Biden’s reversal of Trump’s reversal of Obama’s initiatives?

In addition, once the sugar rush of Biden’s executive orders fades, an immediate threat lurks: Congress. The Democratic Party controls both houses — but just barely. The lack of a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate is likely to be a significant obstacle to any lasting transformation of key aspects of foreign policy in a more peaceful and cooperative direction, even if the Biden administration were committed to such a goal.

Republicans are already hoping to delay the U.S. reentry into the Iran nuclear deal, complicate Washington’s involvement in global efforts to address the climate crisis, and keep the pressure on both China and Russia. Trying to ratify a treaty to ban all nuclear tests or make the United States a member of the International Criminal Court, which would require a two-thirds vote in the Senate, will prove even longer shots.

What Americans interpret as an insider game of partisanship, the rest of the world sees as a hamstrung country incapable of acting decisively on international problems. And such a deadlock might turn into something even worse. Trump’s MAGA crew are, after all, alive and well in Congress and throughout the red states. Should things go badly economically or pandemically for the Biden White House, they could regain control of one or both chambers in the midterm elections of 2022.

Even more troubling is the extremist wildcard. The events of January 6th shocked the world into realizing that America’s lunatic fringe is no longer content just to lurk on the margins of politics as Internet trolls and barstool conspiracy theorists. It’s one thing to take into account the logjams produced by Republican Party obstructionism. It’s quite another to worry that the United States will tip into a second civil war.

Smart money avoids such risks.

How the United States is Reliably Unreliable

Even when this country is predictable, it’s still an unreliable global partner.

Take the issue of Covid-19. The Biden administration has made a splash by instantly rejoining the WHO and resuming its financial obligations to it. In the last stimulus package, Congress anticipated this trend by including $4 billion in funding for GAVI, a global vaccine alliance, with Democrats acknowledging that “we are not truly safe until the whole world is safe from the coronavirus.”

But when the rubber hits the road — and the needles hit the arms — the United States has promptly fallen back on its usual exceptionalism. In the chaos of the immediate post-Trumpian moment, the Biden administration has been pushing to vaccinate as many Americans as possible without significant regard for anyone else. Along with other rich countries, Washington has exercised purchase options that could more or less corner the market on vaccines, securing enough doses, in the end, to inoculate Americans nearly five times over.

The global effort to vaccinate lower-income countries, also known by the acronym COVAX, is several billion dollars short of what it needs even to begin seriously implementing its plan. And keep in mind that the plan itself is woefully insufficient, since it aims to vaccinate only 20% of the inhabitants of participating nations by the end of 2021.

Not every country is practicing vaccine nationalism though. Even as it rushes to inoculate its 1.3 billion citizens, India is helping out its neighbors, providing two million doses free of charge to Bangladesh, aiding Nepal and Myanmar, and even sending its vaccines to Brazil and Morocco. Both China and Russia are also engaging in vaccine diplomacy, reaching out to the Global South with their lower-cost versions of Covid-19 drugs.

Putting America first extends to other aspects of geopolitics as well. The United States can, for instance, be counted upon to remain the world’s top arms exporter in the Biden years. In 2020, it signed agreements for more than $175 billion in sales of military hardware to other countries, far above what runner-up Russia manages to push out. Of course, such exports, in turn, fuel armed conflicts overseas, while inflating military budgets all over the world.

America is also number one when it comes to overseas military bases, with hundreds of facilities around the world, which militarize communities and serve as launching pads for U.S. operations. In comparison, Russia, France, and the United Kingdom together maintain a total of 30 such bases. And add in one more thing: aside from Australia, a few island nations, and tiny Gulf states, the United States has the highest per-capita carbon footprint on the planet. In its rush to use the planet’s resources, our country is making it more likely that the planet will soon be uninhabitable for much of humanity.

With a reliably unreliable friend like that, who needs enemies?

The World Hedges Its Bets

Russia was one of the few places on Earth, from its government to its citizenry, that showed little excitement for recent political developments in Washington.

“From Russia’s perspective, the political situation in the United States has not fundamentally changed as a result of the election,” said Dmitry Suslov of the National Research University Higher School of Economics in Moscow. “The intense political polarization that we have witnessed over the past four years is not going away anywhere, so obviously Biden will not have a broad mandate to govern.” Because of this political deadlock, Suslov added, Russia would avoid any direct conflict with the United States and instead improve relations with China and other powers like India.

Russia is a little late to the game. China was hedging its bets long before the November election. Its trillion-dollar-plus Belt and Road Initiative of infrastructure development in Eurasia (and northeastern Africa), launched in 2013 to refocus key global financial and economic relations on Beijing, was also meant to be an enormous insurance policy against any downturn in economic relations with the United States. Beijing’s creation of separate global financial institutions — like the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank established in 2015 — and trade pacts like the recent Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership of 15 Asia-Pacific nations (but not the United States) were also efforts meant to shield China from American missteps and inaction that could drag down the global economy.

U.S. allies, too, have been taking precautions. Europe has been slowly building up an independent military capacity just in case Washington does eventually decide that NATO is obsolete. What the Europeans have come to call “strategic autonomy” represents not just a next step for European integration but protection against the increasing unreliability of Washington. The European Defense Fund, set up in 2017, received a healthy chunk of capital in its latest budget — about eight billion Euro — and that’s just a down payment on what France would like to see and Germany is grudgingly coming around to envisioning: the folding up of the U.S. security umbrella.

South Korea, one of this country’s most trusted security partners, has been working on developing its own strategic autonomy for some time. Despite the budgetary pressures of a Covid-19-related economic downturn, strenuous efforts to improve ties with North Korea, and a generally friendlier relationship with China, the South Korean government pushed through a 5.4% increase in military spending for 2021. Seoul is similarly concerned about the possibility that Washington will, sooner or later, reduce its Pacific presence.

The United States continues to maintain by far the most powerful and heavily funded military on the planet. Its economy is either the world’s largest or just behind China’s, depending on what yardstick you care to use. Like former basketball star Michael Jordan contemplating one last NBA championship, the U.S. foreign policy establishment is reluctant to give up on the adrenaline rush of being top dog on Planet Earth. But a pattern of erratic behavior can gradually undermine the trust necessary to maintain the extensive military alliances and trade relationships that sustain superpower status. The United States might just be too tired, too divided, or too crazy to stay number one much longer.

A History of Volatility

When Joe Biden says that this country “will lead not merely by the example of our power but by the power of our example,” it’s not entirely clear what example he means.

Does he mean American economic innovation — iPhones and electric cars — or the astonishing economic inequality of a country with the most billionaires on Earth in which one in eight citizens go hungry? Does he mean the country that puts itself forward as a seasoned mediator of conflicts or the one that spends more on its military than the next 10 nations combined? Does he mean the land with a Statue of Liberty that welcomes the “homeless” and the “tempest-tost,” or the one that has routinely divided families through mass deportations?

The shift in tone from the Trump administration to the new Biden era is certainly extreme, leading many allies to hope that the November election provided the necessary dose of electroshock therapy to restore the United States to sanity. Plenty of Americans — and overseas friends of America — would like to believe that the Trump years were a bizarre deviation from the norm. But there’s also a sneaking suspicion that extremism is becoming the new normal here and that events like the January 6th insurrection will only further fry what remains of the country’s synapses.

That insurrection may have destroyed Donald Trump’s chances of reelection in 2024, while possibly undermining the ambitions of his diehard champions in Congress like Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz as well. It might even drive a fatal wedge through the Republican Party, whether or not Trump actually creates a third party as he’s threatened to do.

But volatility has long been a fixture of American politics, from fist fights on the floor of Congress in the nineteenth century to the Barry Goldwaters and Newt Gingriches of the twentieth century. In our time, the resistance of the Tea Party, white nationalist militias, and QAnon to the United States becoming a truly multicultural country has kept American extremism alive. This paranoid style may have reached only an intermediate peak with the presidency of Donald Trump.

If such forces once again gain power or even mobilize enough strength to derail the modest ambitions of the Biden administration, the U.S. “example” will be one the world will want to avoid at any cost. Political instability will be the next compelling reason, after the Covid-19 pandemic fades, to quarantine this country. As for America’s unreliability as a global partner, it could prove to be an early sign of inevitable superpower decline into dissension, decay, and madness.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. drumlin woodchuckles

    Or, America could shrink its ” influence footprint” gracefully to middle-power size. But to even consider that possibility to exist, non-leader non-elites would have to hear leadership elites lay it out first. Maybe if a few non-elites say it, some eavesdropping elites might take it up, who knows?

    ” I am not an American Greatness Exceptionalist. I am an American Okayness Ordinarian. Okay is pretty good and pretty good is good enough. Let America lead America and let the world lead the world.
    Time to lay this burden down.”

    1. Synoia

      Or, America could shrink its ” influence footprint” gracefully to middle-power size.

      Hmmm, I believe the Influence Footprint is connected to many large DC Egos and Wallets.

      On second thoughts I should correct that: Wallets and Egos.

  2. Joe

    As we can already see, the “new” and “reset” foreign policy is a total failure. Last Friday Borell, the High Representative of EU for Foreign Policy, went Moscow to complain about the treatment of Navalny. He was curtly told to “mind his own business”.

  3. fajensen

    America is looking like that dysfunctional family down the road, the one with the feral kids and crazy adults always yelling at each other 24/7, always starting something with the neighbours, always ranting at “The Government” on every public occasion … while the dog shit, old tires, car wrecks, old furniture, dead electronics, scrap metals, an abundance of toxic junk and debris piling up in their yard. Never to be discarded because it has some imagined value to the crazy head of the family!

    If America wants to rebuild the worlds trust, It should simply start by cleaning up its own back yard first! Show that it knows what it is doing, before telling anyone how to run things?!

    This will keep America out of everyones hair for the the next 30 years or so and maybe the crazies that are advising Presidents and Think Tanks will be quietly retired by then and America becomes a normal country?

    Of course, back in the “Real World(tm)”, all that will be deemed necessary is to Deploy Better Propaganda. And everyone will smile and be polite, while nobody will be committing to any of whatever it is the USA think it is selling!

    1. Fireship

      Just to continue the analogy: the father is super rich, having inherited the proceeds of a monstrous crime, he beats most of his kids but spoils his favorite son rotten, and his poor relatives live in the basement and do all the menial housework in exchange for the contents of the kitchen trash can.

  4. PlutoniumKun

    I don’t doubt that Biden will at least be capable of maintaining a more consistent foreign policy than Trump, and probably most of his predecessors too as he is unlikely to dither like Obama or be a complete moron like Bush, but I suspect the problems go much deeper.

    A huge problem – and I would guess every country in the world is fully aware of this – is that even a very strong and decisive and pragmatic president is not really in control. There are simply too many agencies following their own agendas on foreign policy, often with a built in institutional incentive to stoke up regional conflicts, and all of them seem impervious to central control, whether by the President or Congress, or even for that matter other Deep State institutions. And these agencies have proven all too easy for other countries to manipulate and control, as we’ve seen in the Middle East and the Ukraine, and no doubt other regions too. I’ve long suspected that one reason that Bernie Sanders pretty much stopped talking about foreign policy is that he realised that even if he became president, there would be little he could do to make deep change.

    American is still the biggest beast on the world stage, and will continue to be so for many years to come, but the reality is that the Trump years were not an aberration, just a more extreme example of a process that has been building up since the end of the Cold War, when at least there was a certain level of coherence in policy, even if that led to millions of dead in stupid wars around the world.

    When you look at what countries are doing, not what they are saying, its clear that most mid sized powers (especially in Asia) are now gearing up for a more uncertain multipolar world. They are building up their militaries, reducing their dependancies on any one supplier of weaponry, and are seeking to play off other larger players – they are no longer content to stay under the ‘umbrella’ of any one country (not just the US, many countries on their borders see China and Russia as just as big a threat to their futures). In particular, a whole range of countries seem to be looking again at nuclear deterrents, and not just the obvious examples.

    1. Carolinian

      seem impervious to central control

      Foreign policy is the one area where the US executive does have control. Biden just appointed a bevy of swamp creatures to be his foreign policy team so it’s all on him. Of course you could argue that he doesn’t have control because his billionaire contributors and the MIC are pulling his strings and you’d be right. But that still doesn’t provide an excuse.

      Character is destiny–“not in our stars but in ourselves”–and when it comes to presidents this country is in deep doo doo. Given our rigged politics it’s hard to see a way out.

  5. none

    Biden is making sure that the Dems will lose big in 2022 and 2024. The next president will be Trump 2.0. So any apparent stability Biden manages to create in the next 2 years will be demolished immediately afterwards.

  6. David

    What has to be recognised is that the national security policy system in the US is immense, complex, bitterly divided, highly personalised and almost entirely inward-looking. Typically, a major decision would involve a dozen different actors, each with an agenda. Perhaps as many outside actors could also have an influence. The process of achieving any kind of consensus is so agonising, and the room for major actors to disregard or oppose what has been decided is so enormous, that the system exhausts itself simply try to teach an enforceable policy conclusion. There is little if any space left to think about how the rest of the world might react. The State Department is not necessarily the most important foreign policy player, and tends to be seen just as that lobby which represents the rest of the world, no more influential than anybody else, much less influential than some, even when the State Department speaks with one voice, which it doesn’t always do. Simply, the intricacies of the system mean that you can never take. US agreement to anything for granted.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      It makes me wonder how many US actions around the world are actually part of a conscious strategy, or simply institutional muscle memory at work. An example would be the regular undermining and overthrowing of even vaguely progressive governments in Central and South America. Is this really a ‘policy’, or is it simply that this is how the apparatus is set up and nobody has had the will and internal power to dismantle it and tell them to go do something more useful?

      1. flora

        Unsaid is the influence of many US billionaires – the big donors to political parties and campaigns, and ‘dark money’ – possible foreign, (thanks, Citizens United), on US foreign policy. These political campaign funding sources have increased dramatically over the last 30 years. In the 1980’s for example the neo cons were considered ‘the crazies’, but now they’re running the State Department.

      2. DJG, Reality Czar

        Plutonium Kun and David: David’s summation is of an empire in collapse. So many bureaucratic fiefdoms exist, each wanting funding, each with its own agenda that often contradicts what is best for the populace. This has little to do with U.S. federalism or with checks-and-balances. It is the state being “managed” to maximize bureaucratic power and in-fighting, as well as the privatization of the public fisc. Witness the U.S. Army, which is no longer allowed to cook its own food. The Capitol riot then becomes a “shock” because it shows that the tiger is papier-mâché. All of those insignias on epaulettes, no one capable of crowd control.

        Another case in point is the U.S. policy toward Iran, if policy is what describes U.S. failures there since the late 1940s and early 1950s. As Yves Smith writes up top: ‘For instance, after 9/11, Iran was so helpful to the US that Stratfor was regularly gushing about “The Coming US-Iran Alliance.”’

        I read an article written by an Iranian who asked, How is it possible that the U.S.A. managed to turn the most pro-American country in the Middle East into an enemy?

        The declining empire is so sclerotic that it can’t even get reliable “intelligence.” Plutonium Kun is kind to use the term “muscle memory.” I’m not sure that what we see rises to muscle memory. Tropism and inertia, instead.

        1. km

          “Muscle memory” suggests a lack of intent and therefore something that could be excused.

          The recent US coups in Latin America were nothing if not entirely intentional.

        2. David

          I can only go by my own experience and that of people I know, but I think there are a couple of structural and cultural issues at play here. One is rivalry and competition, where you find that every organisation has its own objectives and its own policy, and disagrees with everybody else as a matter of policy . For example, many years ago, a colleague in the Pentagon remarked to me, about a controversial subject “under Clinton it was the Pentagon versus the NSC and the State Department. Now under Bush it’s the Pentagon and the NSC versus the State Department.” I forebore to ask why they just couldn’t for fsck’s sake get their act together like a grown-up government because I knew that was never going to happen. The other point is that the immense size of the bureaucracy and its operational units makes compliance difficult and disobedience easy. It’s not uncommon to find that officials have very little idea what has actually been agreed, and care less. I remember saying something to a Pentagon official about the laws of armed conflict, only to be told, rather suspiciously, “that’s a State Department issue, nothing to do with us.” In the end, the centre isn’t capable of imposing its will on the periphery, with is a bad state for any country to be in.

      1. Felix_47

        Back in the 1980s I was assigned to the Pentagon. It was said the war between the services for money and programs was much more intense than anything against Russia. Money and programs means jobs, a nice house and security for one’s career since these gigs will often last decades. If we had some sort of social safety net perhaps these battles would not be so dramatic. But with the total dearth of jobs for average Americans military projects are one way to stay in the middle class.

    2. Carolinian

      When Nixon was president he and Kissinger basically ignored the State Department and did their own thing. I’m sure anyone opposed to US foreign policy has a sense of futility these days but that’s still not an excuse to avoid even complaining about it. Some of us would contend that a left that has a go along get along attitude toward US imperialism is no left at all.

  7. chuck roast

    An add for Feffer’s book appears in the middle of the post. Clicking on the “Buy the Book” tab takes me to Amazon. Forgive me if I consider this very bad form.

  8. The Rev Kev

    The US suffers from the same thing that other empires like the Romans and the British suffered from – they were too successful. So how that plays out is that the US now will only obey a treaty that they agreed to if they are forced to by circumstances. Far too many time the US signs a treaty or agreement but at the first point that they can get away with it, they break it. That is why all those broken nuclear treaties the past twenty years, The Pentagon figured that surrounding Russia with missile bases, that they would have the drop on them and so could dispense with those treaties. Turns out those developed hypersonic weapons put paid to that idea.

    And then you have the fact that they US political establishment is composed of a whole lot of satropies which can be strong enough to break agreements themselves. As an example, Obama signed an agreement with Putin about Syria and a few days later the Pentagon had that treaty destroyed by attacking Syrian defenses against an ISIS force surrounding a Syrian city, hoping that it would fall. It was after that that the Russian in disgust labelled the US agreement-incapable. And look at Cuba. The only reason that that island is under constant attack is due to Cuban refugees and their descendants in Florida which is an important political State. Those people want Uncle Sugar to take over Cuba so that they can be installed as the new US-friendly regime in that country. So in essence, some US Foreign policy is decided by local issues rather than interests for the whole country. And Israel? I will let old Joe tell you about Israel here-

      1. The Rev Kev

        I bet that that clip was from the end of his “America” documentary series. A great series that. What Alistair Cooke said is just as true in 2021 as it was in 1973 – only more so. Only now some of those bills are coming due and as was said in Game of Thrones, “The Iron Bank will have its due.”

  9. Keith Newman

    One of the engines of the US empire was not directly mentioned above: the military/industrial/surveillance complex. It is immensely profitable for the elite and provides lucrative post-retirement jobs to retired generals (70% of them according to Larry Wilkerson) and many many jobs sprinkled around the country. Vast quantities of pro-military propaganda are churned out in the news media, movies, TV, etc. It is (undeservedly) highly respected and politically untouchable. There is zero chance this will change unless the US is roundly defeated in a war. But even then it may make little difference. The defeat in Vietnam did lead to the end of the draft but soldiers were easily recruited from volunteers and mercenaries.
    Re the Alistair Cooke video: predictions of US imperial decline have been around for decades – 50 years in Cooke’s case. I remember reading those predictions in the 1970s and being very skeptical. The brutal US attack on Vietnam was still ongoing yet it didn’t cause much economic disruption internally – political disruption, yes, but the US economy handled it pretty easily. So from the perspective of the elites there was no incentive to reduce the scope of the empire. The military/political rival was the USSR but it was not an economic rival. Europe/Japan were economic rivals to some extent but were under firm US control.
    Today the situation is different. While the US economy can still handle running the empire very easily (it only costs about 7% of GDP, including internal surveillance and control) there is a true economic/military rival: China/Russia. Where that leads we’ll find out as the years go by but it will no longer be a world dominated by the US. My current view is that the US will decline slowly but surely: onward and downward as it were.

  10. Susan the other

    We’ve got a big hangover to recover from. A trashed environment. The most exceptional neglect. Our foreign betrayals are necessary for democracy. The indispensable extortionist. The United States doesn’t have friends, it has interests. Banksters to the world. Decades of brutal neglect of its own citizens. The highest inequality in the world. Medical bankruptcy is just another industry. As is the sale of opioids. A country with a government that no one respects. Not even its own people. A country steeped in ignorance where even the word “citizen” is meaningless. Rugged individualist turned homeless bum. Everything for profit, nothing for the sake of a decent future. And our foreign policy? Based on what leverage? Our own society in ruins? There’s no reason to even listen to us.

  11. Synoia

    The US is consistent in it inconstancy.

    Every new administration wishes its the best directed muscle ever.

    It’s like a crime gang, that gets and new boss every few years, and has to demonstrate that the New Boss is nothing like the Old Boss, when in fact they are different only by a few degrees; a bit like there a new presidential jacket on the same old rotten carcass.

  12. Sound of the Suburbs

    We stepped onto an old path that still leads to the same place.
    1920s/2000s – neoclassical economics, high inequality, high banker pay, low regulation, low taxes for the wealthy, robber barons (CEOs), reckless bankers, globalisation phase
    1929/2008 – Wall Street crash
    1930s/2010s – Global recession, currency wars, trade wars, austerity, rising nationalism and extremism
    1940s – World war.
    We forgot we had been down that path before.

    Everything is progressing nicely and we are approaching the final destination.
    This is what it’s supposed to be like.
    Right wing populist leaders are what we should be expecting at this stage and it keeps on getting worse.

    A right wing leader (Trump) refusing to relinquish power.
    That does come next.

    Why is Western liberalism always such a disaster?
    They did try and learn from past mistakes to create a new liberalism (neoliberalism), but the Mont Pelerin Society went round in a circle and got back to pretty much where they started.
    They could still underpin it with the same economics, neoclassical economics, which was rehashed, but is still fundamentally the same.
    We set ourselves up for a repeat of the problems that happened last time.
    Check the US history of the 1920s, you are repeating old mistakes.

    Mariner Eccles, FED chair 1934 – 48, observed what the capital accumulation of neoclassical economics did to the US economy in the 1920s.
    “a giant suction pump had by 1929 to 1930 drawn into a few hands an increasing proportion of currently produced wealth. This served then as capital accumulations. But by taking purchasing power out of the hands of mass consumers, the savers denied themselves the kind of effective demand for their products which would justify reinvestment of the capital accumulation in new plants. In consequence as in a poker game where the chips were concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, the other fellows could stay in the game only by borrowing. When the credit ran out, the game stopped”

    A few people had all the money and everyone else got by on debt.
    That is what it’s like.
    Keynes added some redistribution to stop all the wealth concentrating at the top and this gave rise to a strong, healthy middle class in most developed nations.

    No one really knows what they are doing with neoclassical economics and it all descends into chaos.
    Economists do identify where real wealth creation in the economy occurs, but this is a most inconvenient truth as it reveals many at the top don’t actually create any wealth.
    This is the problem.
    Much of their money comes from wealth extraction rather than wealth creation, and they need to get everyone thoroughly confused so we don’t realise what they are really up to.
    They need to confuse making money with creating wealth, so all rich people look good.
    Neoclassical economics is the pseudo economics that performs this task.

    1. Sound of the Suburbs

      Neoclassical economics was the economics of the roaring 20s, the Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression.
      Sooner or later policymakers try and drive their economy into a Great Depression.

      The Thatcher Revolution was our roaring twenties, which led a financial crisis and would have caused a Great Depression if we hadn’t saved the banks.
      Bankers make the most money when they are driving your economy into a financial crisis.
      They will load your economy up with their debt products until you get a financial crisis.
      The bankers loaded the economy up with their debt products until we got a financial crisis in 2008.
      As we headed towards the financial crisis, the economy boomed due to the money creation of bank loans.
      The financial crisis appeared to come out of a clear blue sky as we used an economics that doesn’t consider debt, neoclassical economics.

      The Americans have done it twice.
      Bankers make the most money when they are driving your economy into a financial crisis.
      They will load your economy up with their debt products until you get a financial crisis.
      On a BBC documentary, comparing 1929 to 2008, it said the last time US bankers made as much money as they did before 2008 was in the 1920s.
      At 18 mins.
      The bankers loaded the US economy up with their debt products until they got financial crises in 1929 and 2008.
      As you head towards the financial crisis, the economy booms due to the money creation of bank loans.
      The financial crisis appears to come out of a clear blue sky when you use an economics that doesn’t consider debt, like neoclassical economics.

      What’s wrong with neoclassical economics?
      1) It makes you think you are creating wealth by inflating asset prices
      2) Bank credit flows into inflating asset prices, debt rises faster than GDP and you eventually get a financial crisis.
      3) No one notices the private debt building up in the economy (apart from the Chinese) as neoclassical economics doesn’t consider debt.
      4) It confuses making money with creating wealth so everyone thinks the bankers are doing a great job as they try and drive your economy into a Great Depression.

      We need some decent economics so policymakers will have some idea of what they are actually doing.

Comments are closed.