Tom Englelhardt: Our Empire in Decline

Yves here. Tom Engelhardt gives an overview of America’s seemingly nonsensical foreign policies starting with its response to 9/11. As we and others on the site have pointed out regularly, the only beneficiaries of nation-breaking masquerading as empire-building were arms merchants.

However, Engelhardt is clearly at a loss as to what this campaign was about. The almost-immediate focus on Iraq looked to have been about its oil. Iraq at the time had the second largest proven reserves in the world, and there wasn’t a lot of development happening under Saddam. However, the majors weren’t keen about stealing Iraqi oil openly, so the US didn’t get to expropriate it and development continued to languish.

Recall also that Iran was very helpful to the US immediately after 9/11, to the degree that Stratfor was regularly writing up “the coming US/Iran alliance”. Iran was blindsided when Bush included Iran in his axis of evil.

The worst was that the post 9/11 move to more aggression pretty much all the time appears to be the result of the Project for the New American Century, which was at peak influence around then. It is remarkable that bad ideology can have so much inertial power. From Militarist Monitor:

The Project for the New American Century (PNAC) was established in 1997 by a number of leading neoconservative writers and pundits to advocate aggressive U.S. foreign policies and “rally support for American global leadership.” One of the group’s founding documents claimed, “a Reaganite policy of military strength and moral clarity may not be fashionable today. But it is necessary if the United States is to build on the successes of this past century and to ensure our security and our greatness in the next.”

PNAC, which phased out most operations by 2006, was perhaps best known for its ability to attract divergent political factions behind its foreign policy agenda, which the group repeatedly demonstrated with its numerous sign-on letters and public statements. PNAC forged an influential coalition of rightist political actors in support of its calls for an aggressive “war on terror” aimed largely at the Middle East, including the invasion of Iraq. Although some observers have exaggerated its impact—two scholars, for instance, argued in the Sociological Quarterly that PNAC almost single-handedly “developed, sold, enacted, and justified a war with Iraq”—the group was arguably the most effective proponent of neoconservative ideas during the period between the beginning of President Bill Clinton’s second term and President George W. Bush’s 2003 decision to invade Iraq.

The Project for the New American Century, a letterhead group closely associated with the American Enterprise Institute, served as the cornerstone of a neoconservative-led campaign to promote the 2003 invasion of Iraq, helping unite key figures from various ideological factions behind the cause. By 2006, as the United States became increasingly bogged down in a bloody counterinsurgency war in Iraq, the group phased out most operations. Many of its various directors and supporters, however, remain active today, particularly in the effort to push for war against Iran.

PNAC’s 1997 “Statement of Principles” set forth an ambitious agenda for foreign and military policy that William Kristol and Robert Kagan, PNAC’s founders, described as “neo-Reaganite.” Signatories of this charter document included many leading figures from the Christian Right and other conservative political factions. The statement argued, “We seem to have forgotten the essential elements of the Reagan administration’s success: a military that is strong and ready to meet both present and future challenges; a foreign policy that boldly and purposefully promotes American principles abroad; and national leadership that accepts the U.S. global responsibilities.”

By Tom Engelhardt. Originally published at TomDispatch

It was all so long ago, in a world seemingly without challengers. Do you even remember when we Americans lived on a planet with a recumbent Russia, a barely rising China, and no obvious foes except what later came to be known as an “axis of evil,” three countries then incapable of endangering this one? Oh, and, as it turned out, a rich young Saudi former ally, Osama bin Laden, and 19 hijackers, mostly of them also Saudis, from a tiny group called al-Qaeda that briefly possessed an “air force” of four commercial jets. No wonder this country was then touted as the greatest force, the superest superpower ever, sporting a military that left all others in the dust.

And then, of course, came the launching of the Global War on Terror, which soon would be normalized as the plain-old, uncapitalized “war on terror.” Yes, that very war — even if nobody’s called it that for years — began on September 11, 2001. At a Pentagon partially in ruins, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, already aware that the destruction around him was probably Osama bin Laden’s responsibility, ordered his aides to begin planning for a retaliatory strike against… Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Rumsfeld’s exact words (an aide wrote them down) were: “Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not.”

Things related and not. Sit with that phrase for a moment. In their own strange way, those four words, uttered in the initial hours after the destruction of New York’s World Trade Center and part of the Pentagon, still seem to capture the twenty-first-century American experience.

Within days of 9/11, Rumsfeld, who served four presidents before recently stepping off this world at 88, and the president he then worked for, George W. Bush, would officially launch that Global War on Terror. They would ambitiously target supposed terror networks in no less than 60 countries. (Yep, that was Rumsfeld’s number!) They would invade Afghanistan and, less than a year and a half later, do the same on a far grander scale in Iraq to take down its autocratic ruler, Saddam Hussein, who had once been a hand-shaking buddy of the secretary of defense.

Despite rumors passed around at the time by supporters of such an invasion, Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11; nor, despite Bush administration claims, was his regime then developing or in possession of weapons of mass destruction; nor, if we didn’t act, would an Iraqi mushroom cloud have one day risen over New York or some other American city. And mind you, both of those invasions and so much more would be done in the name of “liberating” peoples and spreading American-style democracy across the Greater Middle East. Or, put another way, in response to that devastating attack by those 19 hijackers armed with knives, the U.S. was preparing to invade and dominate the oil-rich Middle East until the end of time. In 2021, almost two decades later, doesn’t that seem like another lifetime to you?

By the way, you’ll note that there’s one word missing in action in all of the above. Believe me, if what I just described had related to Soviet plans during the Cold War, you can bet your bottom dollar that word would have been all over Washington. I’m thinking, of course, of “empire” or, in its adjectival form, “imperial.” Had the Soviet Union planned similar acts to “liberate” peoples by “spreading communism,” it would have been seen in Washington as the most imperial project ever. In the early years of this century, however, with the Soviet Union long gone and America’s leaders imagining that they might reign supreme globally until the end of time, those two words were banished to history.

It was obvious that, despite the unprecedented 800 or so military bases this country possessed around the world, imperial powers were distinctly a thing of the past.

“Empires Have Gone There and Not Done It”

Now, keep that thought in abeyance for a moment, while I take you on a quick tour of the long-forgotten Global War on Terror. Almost two decades later, it does seem to be drawing to some kind of lingering close. Yes, there are still those 650 American troops guarding our embassy in the Afghan capital, Kabul, and there is still that “over-the-horizon capacity” the president cites for U.S. aircraft to strike Taliban forces, even if American troops only recently abandoned their last air base in Afghanistan; and yes, there are still about 2,500 American troops stationed in Iraq (and hundreds more at bases across the border in Syria), regularly being attacked by Iraqi militia groups.

Similarly, despite the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Somalia as the Trump years ended, over-the-horizon airstrikes against the terror group al-Shabaab, halted when Joe Biden entered the Oval Office, have just been started again, assumedly from bases in Kenya or Djibouti; and yes, the horrendous war in Yemen continues with the U.S. still supporting the Saudis, even if by offering “defensive,” not “offensive” aid; and yes, American special operators are also stationed in staggering numbers of countries around the globe; and yes, prisoners are still being held in Guantanamo, that offshore Bermuda Triangle of injustice created by the Bush administration so long ago. Admittedly, officials in the new Biden Justice Department are at least debating, however indecisively, whether those detainees might have any due process rights under the Constitution (yes, that’s the U.S. Constitution!) and their numbers are at a historic low since 2002 of 39.

Still, let’s face it, this isn’t the set of conflicts that, once upon a time, involved invasions, massive air strikes, occupations, the killing of staggering numbers of civilians, widespread drone attacks, the disruption of whole countries, the uprooting and displacement of more than 37 million people, the deployment at one point of 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan alone, and the spending of untold trillions of American taxpayer dollars, all in the name of fighting terror and spreading democracy. And think of it as mission (un)accomplished in the truest sense imaginable.

In fact, that idea of spreading of democracy didn’t really outlast the Bush years. Ever since, there’s been remarkably little discussion in official Washington about what this country was really doing as it warred across significant parts of the planet. Yes, those two decades of conflict, those “forever wars,” as they came to be called first by critics and then by anyone in sight, are at least winding, or perhaps spiraling, down — and yet, here’s the strange thing: Wouldn’t you think that, as they ended in visible failure, the Pentagon’s stock might also be falling? Oddly enough, though, in the wake of all those years of losing wars, it’s still rising. The Pentagon budget only heads ever more for the stratosphere as foreign policy “pivots” from the Greater Middle East to Asia (and Russia and the Arctic and, well, anywhere but those places where terror groups still roam).

In other words, when it comes to the U.S. military as it tries to leave its forever wars in someone else’s ditch, failure is the new success story. Perhaps not so surprisingly, then, the losing generals who fought those wars, while eternally promising that “corners” were being turned and “progress” made, have almost all either continued to rise in the ranks or gotten golden parachutes into other parts of the military-industrial complex. That should shock Americans, but really never seems to. Yes, striking percentages of us support leaving Afghanistan and the Afghans in a ditch somewhere and moving on, but it’s still generally a big “thank you for your service” to our military commanders and the Pentagon.

Looking back, however, isn’t the real question — not that anyone’s asking — this: What was America’s mission during all those years? In reality, I don’t think it’s possible to answer that or explain any of it without using the forbidden noun and adjective I mentioned earlier. And, to my surprise, after all these years when it never crossed the lips of an American president, Joe Biden, the guy who’s been insisting that “America is back” on this failing planet of ours, actually used that very word!

In a recent news conference, irritated to find himself endlessly discussing his decision to pull U.S. forces out of Afghanistan, he fielded this question from a reporter: “Given the amount of money that has been spent and the number of lives that have been lost, in your view, with making this decision, were the last 20 years worth it?”

His response: “I argued, from the beginning [in the Obama years], as you may recall — it came to light after the administration was over… No nation has ever unified Afghanistan, no nation. Empires have gone there and not done it.”

So, there! Yes, it was vague and could simply have been a reference to the fate in Afghanistan, that famed “graveyard of empires,” of the British empire in the nineteenth century and the Soviet one in the twentieth century. But I can’t help thinking that a president, however minimally, however indirectly, however much without even meaning to, finally acknowledged that this country, too, was on an imperial mission there and globally as well, a mission not of spreading democracy or of liberation but of domination. Otherwise, how the hell do you explain those 800 military bases on every continent but Antarctica? Is that really spreading democracy? Is that really liberating humanity? It’s not a subject discussed in this country, but believe me, if it were any other place, the words “empire” and “imperial” would be on all too many lips in Washington and the urge to dominate in such a fashion would have been roundly denounced in our nation’s capital.

A Failing Empire with a Flailing Military?

Here’s a question for you: If the U.S. is “back,” as our president has been claiming, what exactly is it back as? What could it be, now that it’s proven itself incapable of dominating the planet in the fashion its political leaders once dreamed of? Could this country, which in these years dumped trillions of taxpayer dollars into its forever wars, now perhaps be reclassified as a failing empire with a flailing military?

Of course, such a possibility isn’t generally acknowledged here. If, for instance, Kabul falls to the Taliban months from now and U.S. diplomats need to be rescued from the roof of our embassy there, as happened in Saigon in 1975 — something the president has vehemently denied is even possible — count on one thing: a bunch of Republicans and right-wing pundits will instantly be down his throat for leaving “too fast.” (Of course, some of them already are, including, as it happens, the very president who launched the 2001 invasion, only to almost instantly refocus his attention on invading Iraq.)

Even domestically, when you think about where our money truly goes, inequality of every sort is only growing more profound, with America’s billionaires ever wealthier and more numerous, while the Pentagon and those weapons-making corporations float ever higher on taxpayer dollars, and the bills elsewhere go unpaid. In that sense, perhaps it’s time to start thinking about the United States as a failing imperial system at home as well as abroad. Sadly, whether globally or domestically, all of this seems hard for Americans to take in or truly describe (hence, perhaps, the madness of Donald Trump’s America). After all, if you can’t even use the words “imperial” and “empire,” then how are you going to understand what’s happening to you?

Still, forget any fantasies about us spreading democracy abroad. We’re now in a country that’s visibly threatening to lose democracy at home. Forget Afghanistan. From the January 6th assault on the Capitol to the latest (anti-)voting laws in Texas and elsewhere, there’s a flailing, failing system right here in the U.S. of A. And unlike Afghanistan, it’s not one that a president can withdraw from.

Yes, globally, the Biden administration has seemed remarkably eager to enter a new Cold War with China and “pivot” to Asia, as the Pentagon continues to build up its forces, from naval to nuclear, as if this country were indeed still the reigning imperial power on the planet. But it’s not.

The real question may be this: Three decades after the Soviet empire headed for the exit, is it possible that the far more powerful American one is ever so chaotically heading in the same direction? And if so, what does that mean for the rest of us?

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  1. PlutoniumKun

    Historically, empires don’t just rise and then fall in a smooth inverted V-curve – they often wax and wane and sometimes the decline takes many centuries. Usually when they do fall, its with dramatic speed as decades or centuries of maladministration catches up.

    The US of course has been empire building since the mid 19th Century at least, it was just better at disguising this fact. It still amuses me that somehow the US presence in the Philippines in 1941 is somehow seen as ‘natural’, while everyone else in the Pacific is described as colonisers or invaders or imperialists. Even leftist writers often overlook this.

    But you don’t have to look too far back into history to see that the US has been here before. In the late 19th Century it was not uncommon for people to wonder if Brazil or Argentina could dominate the Americas. For a period in the mid 20th Century the Soviet Union looked like it could challenge the US economically as well as militarily. And remember when everyone thought that the Japanese were just going to buy the US outright without a shot fired? The US still has a huge reserve of wealth and natural resources and a huge military edge (there is a reason why in bad times capital flies direct to NY), so its not doomed yet.

    Historians will no doubt spend a lot of time trying to work out what on earth went wrong in the ’00’s with the US and why it so catastrophically miscalculated its response to 9/11. Central to that is why foreign policy was being made by people who, it seemed, had never read a history book. Or for that matter, a map.

    1. Tinky

      The US still has a huge reserve of wealth and natural resources and a huge military edge (there is a reason why in bad times capital flies direct to NY), so its not doomed yet.

      The latter is patently untrue. Russia now has significantly superior (hypersonic) missile systems, and defensive capabilities. The U.S. military is now playing “catch-up”, and likely will be for many years to come.

      Andrei Martyanov has been laying this out in his books and articles for quite some time now.

      1. MonkeyBusiness

        Forget the latest and greatest hypersonic missile systems. What the Iranian received from the Russians (probably a couple of generations behind) is already enough to deter Uncle Sam from entering the Strait of Hormuz.

        1. Turing Test

          US Navy ships traverse the Strait regularly. You have a strange conception of “deterence”.

      2. drumlin woodchuckles

        The natural resources are mostly gone. All the best coal, oil, ores, rock, stone, soil, water, etc. is gone. Some of it went to enriching the rich, some of it went into public infrastructure now in decline and decay, and some of it went into growing an industrial ecosystem which was all shut down and sent overseas by the International Free Trade Conspiracy. Thereby throwing away all the resources used to grow it and build it to begin with. All for nothing. All for global warming.

      3. Turing Test

        Putin claims to have hypersonic missiles, its just that no one has actually seen them except in video, so a very healthy dose of skepticism is warranted.

        1. witters

          Well, skepticism up until…

          Personally, I can’t see Putin lying here. Doesn’t seem to be his sort of thing when it comes to such matters. Now if he were US President…

          1. Turing Test

            My take is exactly the opposite: claiming capabilities it doesn’t actually have is exactly what a weaker power would do in an attempt to enhance its prestige on the cheap. Also, if Russia actually did have this technology why not demonstrate it to foreign observers instead of making unsubstantiated claims that are likely to be evaluated, very justifiably in light of the lack of evidence, as highly dubious? Back in the old days the USSR would at least roll out new hardware in front of foreign observers at the May Day parade so they could verify, at a minimum, that it wasn’t vapourware.

            I personally think Putin’s main audience was his own people rather than foreign powers, whom he must have realized were unlikely to impressed by expansive claims uncorroborated by actual demonstrations.

            1. The Rev Kev

              ‘Also, if Russia actually did have this technology why not demonstrate it to foreign observers’

              By golly, you’re right. How about waiting until there is a joint session of the Senate, House, President & Supreme Court judges at the Capitol Building and having Putin slam it with one of those hypersonic weapons. If it works, it would do international peace a great service and at this stage, many Americans would not even mind.

    2. NotTimothyGeithner

      As to the historians, I figure it’s just Ozymandias. FP types see the Smithsonian museums and start to think they are the emperors seen in movies. Instead of understanding what anything means, they just decide that all should look upon “their works” and tremble. Anyone who shows insufficient fealty needs to be punished.

      A key difference is the US industrial capacity wasn’t hollowed out in those earlier examples. The modern US is more like 19th century Brazil than the US. We just have a large existing military footprint holdover from the Cold War and dispersed from the War on Terror.

    3. Pate

      “Central to that is why foreign policy was being made by people who, it seemed, had never read a history book. Or for that matter, a map.”

      Or who were dual-loyalists serving the interests of America’s 51st state (which helps explain evangelical support mentioned earlier in the read). Pearl’s (and Wolfowitz’s) “rearranging the map of the Middle East” – they were cartologists indeed! (I know … this means I am a … but no, I am not.)

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        At least some of the Evangelicals have their own agenda. Their agenda is to create a War of Armageddon in the Middle East bringing on the End Of Days and the Return of Christ to Rule for a Thousand Years from His Throne Of Blood. They have sought to transform Likudistan into their little witless dupe for advancing the Rapturanian Armageddonite Agenda.

          1. drumlin woodchuckles

            What they wish for is to be Raptured Up so they can look down upon us and laugh as we suffer our Just Tribulations for not having converted to Rapturanian Armageddonistianity when they gave us the chance.

            The only way they would be disappointed is if they discover themselves to be not Raptured Up either. But they would pivot quickly and get to work Tribulationizing the rest of us.

    4. Louis Fyne

      have to disagree….the US has zero military edge (in totality) versus a 1st world adversary (see RU, PRC) in personnel, weapons systems, and most importantly, likely battle theatre (Black Sea, South China Sea)

      Pray,, hope for sheer luck, that no president/West Wing staff is drunk on propanganda enough to believe that any war with RU or PRC will be a like 1991 Iraq and/or “theboys will be home by Christmas”.

      The US, conventionally, will get whipped and good chance chance that the Pentagon will push for the use of tactical nukes to avert conventional defeat or a negotiated defeat

    5. MonkeyBusiness

      A huge military edge? Then why couldn’t the US beat people who fight wearing sandals? The US had a “huge military edge” in Vietnam as well.

      Natural resources mean nothing if there’s no skilled labor or factory/equipment to process them. It’s akin to printing money and expecting semiconductor chips to show up pronto.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        The Vietnamese also had an edge of their own. They had support and strategic depth rear areas in/from the USSR and China. We dared not attack the USSR and China directly.

        Just as in more recent times, we dared not attack Pakistan directly, even though Pakistan became the primary strategic depth rear area and supplier and trainer and etc. for the Taliban.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          No, Vietnam had been at war against Chinese occupiers and threw them out.

          The role of China in what we call the War in Vietnam is exaggerated. For instance, when McNamara decades later had a very tense dinner with the leader of what was then North Vietnam, someone finally got the nerve to ask, “Why did you fight us?” McNamara started to talk about Chinese influence and the domino theory.

          His counterparts nearly jumped across the table in rage. “How could you go to war based on such a fundamental misunderstanding?”

    6. upstater

      The empire building began in the immediate aftermath of the Revolutionary War. In 1779, Washington dispatched troops to punish and ethnically cleanse upstate NY of Iroquois tribes, driving them on to small reservations. Land was given to soldiers of the revolutionary army. In short order, the Ohio Valley and lower Great Lakes were similarly cleansed. The Louisiana “purchase” doubled the size of the USB wash, rinse, repeat for the next century. Soon after the US tried to take Canada, but got whopped by the British. None of this history is taught in high school; we were told the British attacked us! And we “won” even though DC was burned and borders didn’t change. The natives willingly “sold” their lands.

      I think Europeans that may have traveled here, but not having grown up here, cannot appreciate the level of rot whether it is infrastructure, industry, education, health or social relations. But there is no shortage of lumpen elements and elites that are convinced USA remains #1.

    7. drumlin woodchuckles

      Those historians who have personal and intellectual integrity will read sources like Rigorous Intuition 2.0 blog . Those who have no integrity, won’t consider the information presented at blogs like that.

      Those who have integrity will try figuring out who in government arranged the anthrax attacks to terrorise and extort the Senate into supporting the Patriot Act. Those who have no integrity will dismiss such studies as “conspiracy theory”.

      1. Procopius

        ??? The most recent posting at Rigorous intuition (v 2.0) is September 7, 2012. The one before that is November 8, 2011. The most recent archive listed is 2006.

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          I referrence Rigorous Intuition because I consider the articles there to be classic, not obsolete.
          He keeps the blog suspended-animation alive so people can read it. He gave up active blogging years ago because he felt nothing would get any better about anything and it was too late to make anything better anyway. His last couple of blog posts were about that very subject before he just gave up.

          At least he didn’t become a nutcase astrologer like Matt Savinar the LATOC guy.

  2. Sound of the Suburbs

    Where do things normally go wrong?
    “The Fate Of Empires and Search For Survival” Sir John Glubb
    The pivot point where the decline begins.
    “But, beneath the surface, greed for money is gradually replacing duty and public service. Indeed the change might be summarised as being from service to selfishness.”

    That sounds like the ideology we call “neoliberalism”.
    It’s the same mistake we always make.
    Money is the only thing that matters; we are on the downhill slope.
    The end is nigh.

    It is always in the interests of those with money to get us to think that real wealth lies in money, and we are dependent on them for their money.
    When they have succeeded, it’s the beginning of the end.

    Why is this so bad?
    Let’s have a look.

    The old switcheroo became essential.
    The classical economists identified the constructive “earned” income and the parasitic “unearned” income.
    Most of the people at the top lived off the parasitic “unearned” income and they now had a big problem.
    This problem was solved with neoclassical economics, which hides this distinction.

    Any serious attempt to study the capitalist system always reveals the same inconvenient truth.
    Many at the top don’t create any wealth.
    That’s the problem.
    Confusing making money and creating wealth is the solution.
    Some pseudo economics was developed to perform this task, neoclassical economics.

    Rentier activity in the economy has been hidden by confusing making money with creating wealth.
    Rentiers make money, they don’t create wealth.

    Everyone had expected economic liberalism to unleash capitalist dynamism.
    Instead there was a stampede towards the easy money of “unearned” income.
    In 1984, for the first time in American history, “unearned” income exceeded “earned” income.
    The rentiers have never had it so good.

    Confuse making money and creating wealth and you get into real trouble with banking.
    Banks create money, not wealth.
    You haven’t got a clue what’s really going on.

    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.
    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.
    1929 and 2008 stick out like sore thumbs.
    At 18 mins.

  3. Sound of the Suburbs

    The US bows out with the Washington Consensus.
    They had no idea what they were actually doing.

    Thirty years ago.
    The West was triumphant, and western liberalism had won the day, it was the end of history.
    The Berlin Wall had fallen and a uni-polar world was born.
    The US reigned supreme.
    China was insignificant and Russia was moving towards the West with Gorbachev.

    How could we possibly mess this up?
    Everything was going our way.

    The Americans came up with the Washington Consensus.
    Thirty years later we discover China was the main beneficiary; it went from almost nothing to become a global superpower.

    Where did they go wrong?
    Neoliberals have never been very good at learning from their mistakes.
    Let’s have a look.

    Maximising profit is all about reducing costs.
    China had coal fired power stations to provide cheap energy.
    China had lax regulations reducing environmental and health and safety costs.
    China had low taxes and a minimal welfare state.
    China had a low cost of living so employers could pay low wages.
    China had all the advantages in an open globalised world.
    Western companies couldn’t wait to off-shore to low cost China, where they could make higher profits.

    Western businesses tried cutting costs here, but could never get down to Chinese levels and they needed to off-shore to maximise profit.
    They gave away decades of Western design and development knowledge in technology transfer agreements.

    China was a new, fast growing economy compared to the mature, slow growing economies of the West.
    Investors would be able to achieve better returns in the new, fast growing Chinese economy and this is where the money headed.
    US investors love China and know it’s the best place to make real money.
    George Soros, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos …..

    Everything was stacked in China’s favour.

    1. lance ringquist

      i beg to differ, bill clinton knew what the results would be, he could care less, ho sold us out.

      bill clinton was clearly warned, he ignored civil society, and handed communist china over 200 years of american wealth: As for those who speculated that China would change and move onto a different path upon its WTO accession, … that was their wishful thinking.

      bill clinton knew ahead of time that the chinese communist party would rape the american middle class, and he did it anyways: its own analysis suggests that, after China enters the WTO, the U.S. trade deficit with China will expand, not contract. The contradiction between the Administration’s claims and its own economic analysis makes it impossible to take seriously its economic argument for giving China permanent trade concessions.

      clintons own advisors warned him a economic disaster would be the direct result of his free trade policies, he ignored them, and sold us out to the chinese communist party, and we reached that disaster by 2008.

      The High Cost of the China-WTO DealAdministration’s own analysis suggests spiraling deficits, job losses
      Report By Robert E. Scott February 1, 2000
      Issue Brief #137
      The High Cost of the China-WTO Deal
      Administration’s own analysis suggests spiraling deficits, job losses
      by Robert E. Scott

      “another democratic insider says the truth, bill clinton knew what the results of his free trade policies would do, and he did it anyways,
      Democrats have long known that trade theory and trade reality are two different things, and that our trading system needs reform.

      Trump’s presidency is at least in part the product of exasperated workers who’ve been left behind by globalization. If that fundamental unfairness isn’t addressed, he won’t be the last president elected on a platform of blowing up the system.”

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        We should go further and admit that Clinton pursued free trade beCAUSE of those effects. Those were the effects he WANTED for this country, and he pursued free trade on PURPOSE in ORDER to GET those effects. The only question is . . . what were his motives? Merely the after office money? Also to get revenge on the Unionised Working Class for having voted for Nixon in 1972? Other reasons?

      2. witters

        “bill clinton knew ahead of time that the chinese communist party would rape the american middle class” – um, would you like to have another go? And try to get the causation right.

    2. Keith McClary

      But, we don’t need all that because we are a Post-Industrial Knowledge Economy. (Haven’t heard that one lately for some reason.)

  4. Synoia

    The comments above highlight the past.

    What should the policies be for the future, especially those which reverse climate change?

    Local artisanal manufacture? Every City region self sufficient?

    A system without Growth.

    Everything points to a reversal to the Late 19th or early 20th Century, and a dismantling of the huge corporations and massive centralized Government.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      Yes. Local and regionalocal artisanal and artisandustrial production of things built to last for decades or more. Savage “planned obsolescence taxes” against things made to last for less than 50 years, including computers and smart phones and etc. Savage fossil carbon taxes combined with an equally shared per resident fossil feetax dividend payment. Unforgiving unrelenting protectionism to stop our trading enemies from carbon dumping their high-fossil production into our economy and our country.

      More than “no growth”. Planned shrinkage. Hopefully directed against the Upper Class and the OverClass. Any rich person who doesn’t like it would be free to sell all their assets to natural persons or businesses physically residing within the borders of the US. They could then take their money and leave the country. They would be shot dead on sight if attempting to return. Foreign investment would be forbidden. The foreigner would be invited to forbid American investment in retaliation.

      The US must seal itself off from an incurably fossilholic world before it can hope to defossilize itself.

      1. eg

        This would likely require a civil war within the US to achieve — an eco-war between those determined to have a future against the native US fossilholic elements determined to cling to their past.

      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        More so than any reason, the cause of the 2003 invasion is here. The continued use of prepositioned forces, sanctions, and bombing campaigns gave the Bush White House am easy target, and the were completely aware of 41’s 91% approval rating in 1991 especially knowing the election was stolen in 2000. Stealing the kind of race that might be affected by rain is entirely different than making up 5 points. A target like Iran would require all kinds of build up and risk images of sinking us naval ships. Basically it was easy.

        1. tiebie66

          I must be the only one that thinks Saddam Hussein’s support for Palestinian suicide bombers was the reason for invading Iraq. The oil vs. weapons of mass destruction controversy was simply meant to divert attention from that fact.

          Getting the US to take him out and pay for it with its own blood and treasure surely was a brilliant accomplishment?

          03/04/2002 … Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has raised the amount offered to relatives of suicide bombers from $10,000 per family to $25,000, .

  5. KD

    As crazy as it might seem, there was a bi-partisan consensus of elites in favor of “democratic peace theory” which is the claim that liberal democracies don’t go to war with other liberal democracies. In addition, there was an idea that material prosperity would compel adoption of liberal democracy, and that adopting liberal democracy would result in material prosperity. There was a bipartisan consensus for “Engagement with China”, e.g. helping China become an economic godzilla at the expense of domestic workers and strategic supply chains, because China would become a liberal democracy and we would be at peace. The same great idea was applied in the Middle East, if you impose liberal democracy at gun point, countries would become liberal democracy and inevitably realize material prosperity and there would be peace. You also see it in the 90’s with Haiti, which was going to become a liberal democracy and get rich. This school of thought runs from Madeline Albright to George W. Bush and his neocons.

    This movement in IR and the US National Security Establishment has been in full force since the early 90’s. Remember the NATO expansion discussions with Putin where the US assured Russia that it could not be threatened by NATO expansion because its neighbors were “liberal democracies”? This was said with a straight face, and the US State Department actually thought that they were being persuasive.

    In full confession, I subscribe to a version of the Democratic Peace Theory, which is that liberal democracies with American military bases do not go to war with liberal democracies that also have American military bases. However, I believe this version better expresses the relationship between the motor and the wheels, and had the US foreign policy understood the difference between the motor and the wheels, not only would the US have avoided pissing away its relative power over the last 40 years, and creating the most dangerous strategic competitor in its history, but it would have also avoided alienating the Russians and driving them into the arms of the US’s greatest strategic competitor, as well as all the stupid, wasteful ME wars.

    Rather than engage in criminal acts in the name of environmentalism, I would recommend learning Mandarin, because the handwriting is on the wall as to who is going to be in charge when the clown show is over, and maybe you could lend a hand in the planning department.

    If you start cataloging all the rot from the top down in the so-called “West”, and all the entrenched institutional forces for collective suicide, its pretty clear that you can expect the Goths (or maybe the Han) at the city gates. Collapsing birth rates? Check. Systematic de-moralization and de-legitimation of American institutions and culture? Check. Declining life expectancy? Check. Declining wages and accelerating cost of living? Check. De-Industrialization and transfer of strategic supply chains to geopolitical rivals? Check. Escalating drug and alcohol abuse? Check. Wasting huge chunks of GDP on useless and obsolete weapons systems? Check. Tolerating “mostly peaceful” rioters, arsonists and vandals? Check. Gutting meritocratic institutions and standardized testing and replacing with Cultural Revolution-style identity? Check. (One of Deng’s early reforms post-CR was to re-institute college entrance examinations and make university education merit-based.) Devastating environmental changes? Check. As stupid as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution was, no politboro can match the stupid of the Woke Neoliberal Capitalist Class.

  6. russell1200

    My take on Iraq:
    1. They put out a hit on daddy-Bush. Not sure it is true, but it was believed true
    2. The first Iraq War (Desert Shield) was free because of Gulf State economic support
    3. Saddam, worried about the Iranians, kept pretending he still had a viable nuke program

    Not at all dissimilar to the thinking that Hitler used when invading the Soviet Union. Looked like it would be cheap and easy, pay for itself through economic exploitations, and would take care of a variety of thorny problems. Bush/US Elites-Hitler/Nazi Elite were very ignorant of the actual challenges. In both cases there is a plausible “better endgame” even with the difficulties if the actors hadn’t been incompetent in anything other than a general ability to beat people up on the field of battle.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      The claimed hit came in 1993. Seymour Hersch reported on it and pinned the blame on it being a Kuwaiti hoax. The CIA later publicly agreed.

      Clinton launched the retaliatory air strikes, but remember, he was hit in the ’92 campaign for being a draft dodger. He’s always eager to prove, and he already was a lousy president. 41 was obsessed with the wimp moniker he had too.

    2. drumlin woodchuckles

      Bush/US Elites and Hitler/Nazi Elites were often though not always the same people. They shared a deep bench with a deep zone of overlap.

      ” Trading with the Enemy” and so forth.

      Here is a blogpost offering a little glimpse into the depth of American BizNazi and European HitlerNazi overlap and co-operation.

  7. Louis Fyne

    to ascribe a “motive” is pointless…there is no grand machinations coming out of DC. Policies are like that of a stumbling drunk trying to find their way in a dimly lit street. Blame:

    * hubris and idiocy of the bipartisan ruling classes;

    * “bombing brown people” = no domestic political consequence from the left or right; eg, George McGovern was a bomber pilot. even silver-spooned JFK almost died in combat (and lost a brother).

    * a technocratic ruling class with little/no military experience = no empathy for the plight of war’s civilians or soldiers in the field;

    * the “DC Left” is just as pro-war, sometimes even more eager to start bombing, as the Pentagon.

    Ironically 20 years of war and 5 years of wokeism is doing what Jane Fonda never could do—-making traditional military families realize that “war is a racket” and decreasing the numbers of their next generation of kids from volunteering for the military.

  8. LowellHighlander

    I continue to be amazed at the benefits of studying high school Latin, especially Cicero and Caesar: a student of these can learn to identify an empire in a heartbeat.

    For instance, when a U.S. President can utter one little word – “sanctions” – and thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of innocents in another country will be deprived of life-saving medicines, that’s a good sign of empire. Or when a President can start an unjustified war through spreading a Big Lie (WMDs), that’s a good sign of empire. Or when another President can “drone” wedding parties with Hellfire missiles and no one in power utters the words “war crime”, that’s a good sign of empire. Or when a woman who most likely sanctioned and condoned torture can become head of an intelligence agency, with explicit approval by Congress, that’s a good sign of empire.

    Our empire, though, is a bit more sophisticated: every 4 years, most Americans convince themselves that the only choice for the next sitting emperor is between corporate tweedle-dee and corporate tweedle-dum. A vote for a candidate from outside such “choice” is dismissed, by those in the media, as “not pragmatic”. At least the English were up-front about their empire (except that the English ruling class sold it as a “British” empire when, in reality, the Celtic fringes were mostly just recruitment areas for cannon fodder). We have mostly deluded ourselves into thinking that this is a democracy at the Federal level.

    I hope I live long enough to see the day when the dollar is no longer the world’s reserve currency. When that happens, then the empire might finally collapse.

    1. eg

      Great insight here except at the very last — it’s the empire’s military capacity that backstops the currency, not the other way ‘round.

      1. Noone from Nowheresville

        yeah, but… it’s the currency that creates the military hardware and we’ve mostly outsourced that now. we’re also outsourcing the actual people in the military with contractors, Mercenaries and someday T-1000s. In such a scenario, perhaps currency-wise, the US simply gets outbid, out-hacked, or has something worth “fighting for” which is worth more than those zeros and ones the US creates on a keyboard.

  9. anon y'mouse

    to an empire, control over a finite and valuable resource must be as good as development, theft or use.

    it’s a “if we can’t have it, no one will” strategy.

  10. The Rev Kev

    Empires rise and fall throughout history but when they fall, it is usually due to internal reasons rather than external threats. The American empire will be no different and like all empires, they will be judged by history for the legacies that they leave behind after they fall. After the collapse of the USSR, the US remained the sole super power which meant that for the first time ever, we had a kind of unipolar word. And the Washington establishment seized their chance.

    They wanted the US to also be the dominant power in the 21st century as well and the key was what powers our civilization – oil. Iraq had huge oil potential but after that would come Iran. Then with American control of the oil fields of the middle east, they would have a grip on the world’s economies going forward. Countries like Saudi Arabia & Russia with their oil would not count as they could be undercut by the American-controlled oil fields. This was actually depicted in the 2018 film “Vice”- (5:29 mins)

    But then after the invasion of Iraq, the Iraqi resistance arose to fight back. When it became obvious after the first years fighting that Iraq could not be fully controlled, Washington/Wall Street turned to fracking oil in the US itself. There would be no invasion of Iran. But by then the US was bogged down in both Iraq and Afghanistan which allowed Russia to reform itself and China to finish laying down the foundations of a strong state. And what we are seeing now with China, Russia and Iran is a frantic doubling down and trying to defer this new multipolar world but it won’t work.

    It is far too late for that. But as we know, even if they were serious about challenging these countries, financialization has undercut the strength of US military forces such as with the F-35. And you want to know what the worst thing is? It is the blowback. Everything employed against those invaded countries has made its way back to the US such as militarized police, mass surveillance, etc. Better strap up. it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

  11. Susan the other

    The Cloud of War. General Hyten – yesterday’s links: In a war-game battle for Taiwan the “red” team killed us strategically. They demolished our ability to communicate and to aggregate for hyper fire-power. Besides, when we aggregate we are sitting dinosaurs. And that dinosaur thingy… we need to stop using all our old equipment and go with a new ether warfare using a coded cloud and space missiles. (nutshell version)… So Hyten was preaching to the choir as he was speaking to the “industry group” of the National Defense Industrial Association. This looks like global policing to me since the “evil doers” are everywhere. Just get out the ouija board and ask Jonathan Winters. Hyten was lousy at playing down the obvious: American Imperialism – as he bumbled around at the podium (CSPAN) trying to look like an underdog. Gotta have military communications asap using hack proof combat cloud, blablablah (like they don’t already have it and probably used it on Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin just to make sure it works). If anybody’s got a secure quantum entanglement code network it’s the US Military. Those poor little puppies.

  12. scott s.

    Article seems to gloss over the Obama years, responsibility to protect, rules-based international order, and all that.

  13. R.k. Barkhi

    “a rich young Saudi former ally, Osama bin Laden, and 19 hijackers, mostly of them also Saudis, from a tiny group called al-Qaeda that briefly possessed an “air force” of four commercial jets.”

    A review of available video footage of 9/11 aircraft impacts reveals NO COMMERCIAL JETS. None. The 2nd impact videos show an object strongly resembling a military jet flying at speeds impossible for a commercial jet that close to the ground disappearing/dissolving into the Wtc LEAVING NO DEBRIS BEHIND. No wings,tailpiece-nothing fell on the street.
    I can find no evidence that any Afghani citizen or resident (eg bin Laden) had anything to do with 9/11,except as made up scapegoats. So why does every reporter, “alternative” or otherwise, repeat the government’s Original Conspiracy Theory without question? Don’t they know 3 steel frame buildings fell that day, 2 at near free fall speed n 1, Wtc7,at 99.9% free fall speed? Perhaps they are unaware of the huge amount of Gold Bullion stolen from the vault underneath the Wtc that morning or the impossibility of a commercial jet entering the world’s most protected airspace over the Pentagon without being destroyed by the missile defenses there because it couldn’t have the capability of broadcasting the correct security message….or seeing it wasn’t shot down,maybe it did? Those hi-tech,clever Afghanis!

  14. HH

    The U.S. imperial decline is largely the result of plutocratic dominance. This might have worked in an earlier century, but the complexity of the modern global economy doesn’t favor a government paralyzed by squabbling lobbyists. The American billionaires do not, unfortunately, operate as an efficient secret society crafting sound domestic and foreign policy. Their profit-driven myopia is creating a crumbling tower of Babel instead of good government. Until civic virtue displaces private greed, the decay will continue.

    1. Procopius

      Michael Hudson commented recently that there are similarities between the modern United States and the late Roman Republic, mostly in that the inequality of wealth is huge and the government is controlled by rich oligarchs. I wonder when they are going to transition from contending lobbyists to hiring private armies, and then fighting between themselves.

  15. Soredemos

    So, there! Yes, it was vague and could simply have been a reference to the fate in Afghanistan, that famed “graveyard of empires,” of the British empire in the nineteenth century and the Soviet one in the twentieth century.

    Surprised that no one else has mentioned this yet, but Afghanistan is in fact not the ‘graveyard of empires’. This was a fiction invented by the British as a cope when they themselves couldn’t conquer and hold it. In reality Afghanistan has not only been held for extended periods of time by numerous rulers, but has itself been the heart of multiple kingdoms and empires.

  16. Keith McClary

    “Here’s a question for you: If the U.S. is ‘back,’ as our president has been claiming, what exactly is it back as?”

    Sort of like MAGA, when exactly was it great?

  17. Tom Stone

    No mention of the rampant careerism in the US Military or its corrosive effects?
    Anyone who believes the “Readiness reports” put out by commanders needs their heads examined, report less than the minimum 110% readiness and you are riffed.
    And our equipment is worn out, there is ALWAYS a shortage of spare parts and the logistics tail of modern weapon systems has to be seen to be believed.
    The tachs that work on these systems take yeaars to train, at which time they usually leave the service and go to work for a defense contractor where they make 3 X the $ for doing the same work as civilian contractors.
    The USA simply does not have the trained techs or spare parts for an extended conflict.

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