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PNAC and the Bush Legacy - Pathetic Failure?

by Zwackus Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 02:01:58 AM EST

In a several day old Salon thread, on a thread about the legacy of Bush, Cheney, and the Project for a New American Century, I wrote this.

On another point, could you even say they got lucky?  Sure, they got their "transformative event," and the wars they wanted - which proved what a complete bunch of idiots they were.  The wars have been disastrous failures for everyone except defense contractors, and the people who argued for them are generally agreed to have been either dramatically misguided or idiots.  Their big master plan was shown to be little more than fanboy drooling, as America teeters on the bring of complete collapse.

This prompted a response from generic . . .

But in a lot of ways they succeeded. Constitutional rights are almost gone and a lot of their policies are now locked in.
Unemployment may be disastrously high, but absent a social movement that threatens the hierarchy of property in a big way that will probably only lead to more recruits for the army. The Federal deficit is quite a lot bigger than it would have been, but it is also not all that important. The army may be overstretched, but it also isn't needed to make defiance of US dictates incredible costly.
The point I am trying to make is as follows: The Neocons may have through their actions made most everyone worse off, but I doubt that they brought the US empire much closer to collapse.

It seems like something worth discussing.


Since its my diary, I'll explain my side in a bit more detail.

The PNAC proposal was rather sweeping, and had some rather impressive goals.  I propose that Bush and Cheney got the opportunity they wanted, and executed their strategy without opposition - and were greeted by pathetic failure.  Their adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan not only failed to accomplish the broad goals of the PNAC, namely making the world quake in fear of the triumphant American Empire, but they also failed to accomplish any other positive outcomes, no matter how narrowly drawn.

America and its empire may or may not be on the brink of collapse - I suppose that depends on how apocalypse minded one is.  However, is it really any more respected or feared than it was before the war?  All that money spent, and all those chances - just to be in a position comparable to where one started.  How is that a success?  Especially when one factors in the ridicule and contempt heaped upon the actors involved in the fiasco for the gross and obvious incompetence with which they carried out their devious master plans.

Display:
My simplistic model of empires goes something like this:

  • Rise. For some reason (resources, trade routes, organisation) a polity of some kind is stronger then its neighbours and can impose its will on them. It uses this to build an empire (or not, but then it exits this model).

  • Empire. As long as the original reason stays, the empire can loose battles, and even wars and bounce back. Even if the original reason has evaporated the empire can stay as from sheer inertia (and they tend to have some inertia) as long as it does not screw up or is defeated.

  • Fall. Unless it has been defeated, empires enter this stage when they screw up and undermine their own power.

I would place the Bush regime at the point of screwing up an empire that was moving from inertia. When the US took over the remains of the european empires (world war two) they had the industrial base to build anything and the resources within the country with which to do it. Both those reasons are severely undermined today, but the US empire could have trotted along for a long time if it had not decided to show how little raw power accomplishes.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 05:53:38 AM EST
we are entering stage 3 with a vengeance.

is there the will or wisdom to dismantle the empire, cut losses, and retire from the world leader gig gracefully?

the pattern says no, though some point to progress in this regard with britain's.

it is fascinating to analyse, (and i think we have a huge opportunity to learn from) the dismantling of this one.

i just listened to chalmers johnson about this subject (of 'blowback trilogy' fame) on a podcast from Tom Dispatch this morning, 800 bases worldwide...

file under: unsustainable!

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 08:42:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
At this stage, it's not "Will the Empire last, and how long?" but "Will the US last?". I'm hoping not. Being bogged down by the likes of Oklahoma, Mississippi, the constant whining of Louisiana ... let these turkeys solve their problems by preying to Jebus and let us scientist/engineer types steer a new course for California.

They tried to assimilate me. They failed.
by THE Twank (yatta blah blah @ blah.com) on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 08:52:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
They can have and keep the confederacy.

Like the bumper sticker says: "Come the Rapture we'll be rid of your people!"

by US Blues on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 08:55:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Hello US Blues. You new here?

They tried to assimilate me. They failed.
by THE Twank (yatta blah blah @ blah.com) on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 08:59:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Click on the name. When that page loads click on "Info". Those with ID#s below 1000 are from before November, 2005 and those with ID# below 2000 are from before April 2007. Since the summer of 2008 the ID#s have gone from around 3000 to  8900+ and counting thanks to a swarm of spammers.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 11:58:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
let us scientist/engineer types steer a new course for California.

Really ? And where are you gonna get your water and food from ? Cos, you sure as sugar ain't gonna have any of your own come 2025.

Well, okay, that's possibly an exaggeration, there might be some rain spilling south of the Oregon state line, but everything south of Mendocino is gonna be a desert. And no second coming of Mulholland is gonna save SoCal or central valleys when the rains stop and the irrigation-driven salinification of your northern valley agriculture really bites.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 09:40:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Especially as Lake Mead is gonna be dry by 2020. So, it's gonna be a 3 horse race between Arizona, Nevada and SoCal for the contents of what's left of the Colorado river and guess who'll get last dibs

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 09:44:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I tend to be one of those "optimistic" types who believes that all but the most rediculous problems can be solved if people put their heads together and try. The major problem you cite ... water supply. Got plenty of it in the ocean ... just need to desalinate and transport. But that takes energy you say. Plenty of sunlight if it's used and used properly.

Once we get out of bullshit mode and into problem solver mode, just get the fuck out of our way and eat our dust!

They tried to assimilate me. They failed.

by THE Twank (yatta blah blah @ blah.com) on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 04:22:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Building a solar powered desalination infrastructure will take on the order of a decade.

You need to start somewhere between right now and ten years ago. 'Cause there's no way you're going to be making major infrastructure projects if you don't have a reliable water supply...

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 05:00:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not the person to talk desalination ... not my field. Let me give you another example.

Back in the mid/late '80s I lived in Stockton CA, about an hour's drive south of Sac. There was then, maybe still is, a company named Pre-Peeled Potato Company, "mom-and-pop" small business, 75% of their business was selling peeled raw whole potatoes, raw french fries in plastic bags to local restaurants.

Problem: Have to use sulfites to keep them from discoloring but the FDA is talking about outlawing the use of sulfites and threatening to put all of these small operations across the US out of business because there's not a replacement known to sulfite treatment.

Acccording to the owner of Pre-Peeled big old mighty Monsanto had been trying and failing to find a sulfite replacement for 17 years. I had a friend at UC Davis who let me use his lab and I had a new treatment to replace the sulfites in 3 weeks research time. I hold the patent on the process which has since lapsed.

So don't tell me what can and can't be done, on whatever timescale. Just get the fuck out of my way!

They tried to assimilate me. They failed.

by THE Twank (yatta blah blah @ blah.com) on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 05:12:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You had the support of the full power and infrastructure of a modern industrial state.

If you only start running out your desalination infrastructure the moment you start needing it, you won't have the support of the full power and infrastructure of a modern industrial state by the time you're halfway through. Because you won't have a modern industrial state by the time you're halfway through.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 05:23:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If the US goes belly-up soon (I'm such an optimist) we have enough water for our current needs but we recognize we have a serious problem on the near horizon and it's time to stop bullshitting around and get to it, with our current "infrastructure of a modern industrial state". If all we do is let the assholes run the show, YES (!!!), we are screwed.

P.S. Please excuse all of my "get the fuck etc." I just get tired of it all. I've been surrounded by do-nothing assholes since grad school, and I tend to go off. My bad.

They tried to assimilate me. They failed.

by THE Twank (yatta blah blah @ blah.com) on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 05:30:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Do not confuse demonstrating something is possible in a lab and converting that into an economically significant production.

how many cubic yards/tons of water does San Francisco need ? Or the LA conurbation ? Or sacramento for that matter ?

It will be difficult to create the industrial base to produce that in a decade (as Jake says), where is the energy coming from for a start ? Every cubic yard of water weighs one ton. You have to lift a ton of water to the average height of your population, that's a heck of a lot of energy which you don't have spare right now.

I bet none of your pipework faces the right direction cos it's going to the hills. D'ya wanna dig up San Francisco ?

This is no 3 week lab job. This is a generational programme to re-orient California's entire water supply system from high mountains to low seas and de-salination and, like Jake says, you're 10 years past the last possible project start date.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 05:49:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Point 1: I'm not a hydraulic etc. engineer so I won't comment on this area.

Point 2: Didn't say the problem to solve was an easy one.

Point 3: Changing peoples' habit patterns is a must ... CONSERVATION.

Bottom line: When survival is at stake, when you're looking at your children/grandchildren who are about to go thirsty (God bless my vasectomy), I say we can get the job done! Did you hear ... I'm an optimist.

They tried to assimilate me. They failed.

by THE Twank (yatta blah blah @ blah.com) on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 06:00:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's not your grandchildren that will go thirsty. In 10 - 20 years time, it will be you

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 06:05:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Don't count on it. I could have a heart attack/stroke within the next 24 hours and it's adios. I've had chronic, untreated high blood pressure (my mother's side) for decades.

They tried to assimilate me. They failed.
by THE Twank (yatta blah blah @ blah.com) on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 06:40:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If nothing is done, then yes. But things can be done. First more efficient water use. Then recycling of waste water. Then if that's not enough, build desalination. It's not rocket science. You just need money and engineers, two things Californa has in abundance.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 12:09:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Maybe one other trivial thing... like an unlimited supply of cheap energy.

I don't expect that'll be a problem!

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 12:59:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
For all practical reasons, we can access more or less unlimited supplies of cheap energy. See my signature.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Thu Sep 16th, 2010 at 03:48:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
energy supply it used to be. But I must have missed your explanation of what has replaced it.

You should tell these people, for example:

HOUSEHOLDERS will have to find up to $600 more to meet soaring energy and water bills next year.

A significant portion of the spike in annual utility bills is the increase in the cost of water - almost $300 more a year for a family of five - to fund Adelaide's $1.83 billion desalination plant, according to the state's peak welfare body.

The SA Council of Social Services (SACOSS) said many people already were making sacrifices to meet the rise in basic cost of living bills.

Families were not running heaters and airconditioners, not sending their children on school excursions and even skipping meals.



It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II
by eurogreen on Thu Sep 16th, 2010 at 11:14:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There are plenty of competitive alternatives which are more or less limitless, and only hindered by a lack of political will. The two most obvious are wind and nuclear power.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Thu Sep 16th, 2010 at 03:13:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Honest to God, you think nuclear- or wind-driven desalination plants are going to lower these people's utility bills? Hello?

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a cheap energy crisis.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Thu Sep 16th, 2010 at 04:45:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Your obsession with absolutes, and refusal to understand the incredible waste and slack in the American system remind me of the Japanese in WWII.

Read up. Americans can work 12-hr shifts and live ten to a room if they're convinced it's necessary. We don't have to feed the world. We can easily feed ourselves. We don't need Chinese crap, we just like it.

Don't get cocky. Follow the rise of the Tea Party if you need  any proof of how weird American minds can be. All that energy can be channeled.

I live in a 450 unit development that was built in months, from scratch, during 1939, to house shipyard workers in Richmond, California. We were building a 500' ship a DAY!

We still can. Americans are nuts. It's a survival trait.

Align culture with our nature. Ot else!

by ormondotvos (ormond.otvosnospamgmialcon) on Thu Sep 16th, 2010 at 09:33:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
OMG Americans are just so exceptional!
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Sep 17th, 2010 at 03:38:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
They sure are. Not that they are better at doing stuff than we are over here, they're pretty much the same as us. The difference is the, I don't know, dynamism, frontier spirit, can-do mentality? It's a cliche, I know, but all cliches are built on something real.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Fri Sep 17th, 2010 at 03:55:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
They sure are. Or at least they could, with the right political and regulatory framework.

And like some Indian politician once said: "no power is more expensive than no power."

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Fri Sep 17th, 2010 at 03:52:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Desalination? Compared to current water bills? Do you have any references for this. (Electricity prices have already come down in Germany, thanks to wind power).
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Fri Sep 17th, 2010 at 03:57:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Desalination is surely cheaper than dying of thirst.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Fri Sep 17th, 2010 at 04:03:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Having checked Wikipedia, current costs for desalination are roughly half a dollar per cubic metre. This refers not to technologies in the lab, but those already deployed on a full scale in places like Singapore and Israel.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Fri Sep 17th, 2010 at 04:07:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Those Aussies must be real cretins, their desalination costs range from $1.27 to $2.09 per cubic metre. Electricity constitutes half the running cost. So it's mostly about cheap energy.

On the other hand, waste water can be recycled for half the cost. But generally isn't, for cultural reasons.

Still. As long as the energy is available, it's not too expensive, after all. Ce n'est pas la mer à boire.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Fri Sep 17th, 2010 at 12:33:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You forgot a crucial factor of production: Political organisation. Which is probably going to be the limiting factor in the case of California.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 02:43:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes. None of these things will happen unless there is a political will to do them.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Thu Sep 16th, 2010 at 03:49:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's not just a matter of political will. Even if political will showed up tomorrow, I'd give it an even chance that they'd waste five to ten years trying to get The Market to come up with a solution.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Sep 16th, 2010 at 03:53:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Waiting for the market to act is also a clear situation where there is a lack of political will. Indeed, trusting the market is the definition of not having political will: you don't have to do anything, because the laws of history economics will resolve the issue, without you having to do anything at all.

A bit like the narrative of a certain other ideology... ;)

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Thu Sep 16th, 2010 at 03:05:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Almost, but not quite. If will alone were sufficient to create a functioning political organisation, Europe would already be a federation, and the US Democrats would have primary challenges from the left in all 50 states of the union...

The problem here is not only the lack of will, it is also the fact that three or four decades of lacking will means that the institutional tools that require wilful political direction have atrophied: Even if everybody agreed tomorrow that market-based solutions are inadequate, market-based tools are the only ones left in the institutional tool box. I'll bet you nobody in California's bureaucracy knows how to lay out a five-year plan for industrial development, implement it and come up with reasonably relevant metrics with which to measure its success or failure. Those are skills and modes of thinking that cannot be bought on the open market, or conjured into existence overnight.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Sep 16th, 2010 at 07:04:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This is a crucial point.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Thu Sep 16th, 2010 at 07:15:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There are a number of such people, even if they had to come out of retirement. They would be people who were educated in the 50s and 60s and were mid level when Reagan became president. There are probably even some still alive and alert who served under Roosevelt or Truman, though they would be in their 90s.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Thu Sep 16th, 2010 at 11:10:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hire a headhunting bureau, and then don't complain when they bring you planeloads of French and German managers and engineers.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Fri Sep 17th, 2010 at 03:57:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The problem here isn't that the US doesn't have competent engineers. The US does have competent engineers - maybe not competent to German standards, but close enough as makes no matter. The problem is that policymakers don't understand how useful engineers are. Headhunting bureaus, like computers, are not magical - they only give you what you ask for. They're not going to ask for "a complete and competent bureau to oversee and execute the construction of a crash infrastructure programme," and even if they were, such outfits aren't for sale. If it were that simple, the only third-world countries in the world would be the ones that were repeatedly bombed back to the stone age.

Their best bet is probably to go to Halliburton or Bechtel, actually. They'd be paying two or three times as much as they ought to pay for it due to the institutionalised graft, corruption and managerial incompetence of those organisations, but the engineering would probably work. And you can always print more money.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Fri Sep 17th, 2010 at 04:14:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
and, like Jake says, you're 10 years past the last possible project start date.

No, they're ten years past the first possible last possible start date.

If it takes ten years to build up the infrastructure, and the shit hits the fan somewhere in the next twenty years, the smart start date would have been fifteen years ago. But it's possible to start today and get lucky in terms of when the shit hits the fan. The point is that the longer you wait, the more luck you'll need to have a working infrastructure the day you need it.

And of course you have all the intermediate scenarios, in which you have enough infrastructure when TSHTF to support a modern industrial state under a careful rationing regime, and the technical capacity to expand that infrastructure to support a more pleasant society. That's doable too, but requires you to have the political will and organisation to pull off a careful rationing regime.

In any case, this is an infrastructure task, not an entrepreneurial task. And even if California had the world's best and brightest entrepreneurs, recent history does not inspire any great confidence in California's state-level leadership when it comes to infrastructure projects.

(But wouldn't California's state-level leadership change when out from under Federal rule? The experience of the dissolution of the Soviet Union suggests otherwise - what happened there was that the federal level disappeared, and the mid-level apparatchiks like Yeltsin took over.)

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 06:23:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's eminently possible to initiate crash programs after the crash happens. See France 1973.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 12:14:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That depends crucially on how much you need the good you're bootstrapping in order to run the crash programme. It also depends crucially on how well your political system works. In the case of water and California... well, let's just say that if I lived in L.A., I'd sleep more soundly at night if I knew that an infrastructure upgrade was already in the pipeline.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 02:23:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think the biggest problem the the US faces is the Oil crunch. The pressure on the price of oil is getting tighter and tighter and there's only so long that a diminishing supply can maintain the $80 threshold.

As china has all of the US' finances tied up, it is far less vulnerable to a price hike. Which means that it's more urgent for the US to secure exclusive access to certain supplies. I think that's what the recent colossal arms deal with Saudi is about, especially as Iran is already in the chinese sphere (even if the pipeline links are done).

But Iran is under-exploited and the Saudi fields are (allegedly) failing and may well be unable to maintain current levels of supply much beyond 2015. At that point the wheels may come off the empire big time.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 09:56:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Not to contradict the gurus, but your analysis of political will neglects the efficiency of a wartime command and control economy, which has been demonstrated in WWII.

Perhaps, just like Europeans are afraid now of war, Americans aren't afraid of it. We're very successful at shoving problems overseas, and you've see what we'll do to the market and the law if someone crashes a few planes.

There's plenty of undirected will around. We just need a good crash to organize us. How many survivalists do you have in France, anyway? Ever hear of this place?

www.emergencyessentials.com

Align culture with our nature. Ot else!

by ormondotvos (ormond.otvosnospamgmialcon) on Thu Sep 16th, 2010 at 09:41:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Helen isn't in France. Pay attention.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Sep 17th, 2010 at 03:40:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In addition, Emergency Essentials has no kits for making beer, without which she wouldn't survive for long.
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Fri Sep 17th, 2010 at 03:49:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I would place the Bush regime at the point of screwing up an empire that was moving from inertia.

I agree that the "accomplishments" of the Bush43 Administration are concentrated and dramatic, but they were the culmination of work that had been on-going since the end of WW II, but especially since the defeat of Goldwater in '64, to advance a radical libertarian agenda supported by Fredrich Hayeck and Milton Freedman, underpinned by the novels of Ayn Rand and advanced with the financial support of wealthy right wing individuals such as Richard Sciafe, an heir to the Mellon fortune, through conservative "think tanks" funded to devise compelling arguments for doing what the wealthy wanted. These efforts culminated in the election of Ronald Reagan and their agenda increasingly has been enacted as legislation and adopted as administrative and regulatory policy since that time under both Republican and Democratic administrations. The result was that young "W" was given the keys to a hot-rod with weak brakes, poor steering and a big engine along with a case of his favorite liquor. Not surprising he drove the hot rod off a cliff.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Thu Sep 16th, 2010 at 11:05:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Given that everything--even American empires--goes through the rise-stabilization-decline cycle, I think part of what you say originally is correct and part of what your responder said is correct.

The Cheney-Bush administration got its pivot moment and its wars, but I also think they couldn't have had as great an effect as they've had, and will continue to have, had the American empire not been already at the point of beginning to decline (that's less a political evaluation than an assessment of what is). Results likely would have been similar had a Democratic administration done something equally stupid.

However, the C-B admin has greatly enriched its pals and henchmen in the military-industrial complex and has, as others have pointed out, pretty much destroyed the constitutional protections that Americans have grown up with, and to some extent took for granted.

Just now, we have people in the congress screaming about how the Chinese are hurting the U.S. economy by keeping the yuan artificially low, and by golly we aren't going to stand for it!

They seem not to understand, or want to admit, that the U.S. no longer has the international clout it had financially before George Bush. The economic decline, and with it the political loss of power, goes back at least to the Reagan years. The problem has been building since then, but the stupidity and venality of Cheney-Bush and the neocons accelerated the process.

A big chunk of damage to the U.S. economy was done by the Bush tax cuts, which have cost more than both of those wretched wars. (And, of course, now I can't find the link that details it.)

So, in the sense that the PNAC was intended as a political way of being, then I think Bush failed. But if the intent was to destroy nations while enriching their cronies, they did a bang-up job.

by Mnemosyne on Thu Sep 16th, 2010 at 08:51:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree with your over all analysis. If I recall correctly, the total amount of the Bush tax cuts amounted to $2trillion differential over the eight year life of the cuts. The projection when Clinton left office was for a $1trillion surplus, not counting off budget items such as SS and Medicare. Bush's tax cuts turned that surplus into a deficit of $1trillion before counting the >$1trillion cost of Iraq and Afghanistan. Throw in at least $4trillion of direct expenditures bailing out Wall Street, which, with guarantees, etc. adds up to over $14trillion and -- well, a $trillion here and a $trillion there and soon you are talking about real money -- like the annual GDP of the USA.

Even if we only incur direct costs of, say, $5trillion from the wars and bailouts that is still a significant amount of money. Add up the estimated worth of the Forbes 400 and it doesn't even come close. That starts to be a little scary.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri Sep 17th, 2010 at 12:30:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Just now, we have people in the congress screaming about how the Chinese are hurting the U.S. economy by keeping the yuan artificially low, and by golly we aren't going to stand for it!

They seem not to understand, or want to admit, that the U.S. no longer has the international clout it had financially before George Bush.

Actually, nothing prevents the US from unilaterally devaluing the dollar. What your congresscritters are arguing, however, seems to be that China should revalue its currency, rather than the US devalue. In other words, they want to make a song and dance about the dollar being overvalued relative to the Yuan, but they don't want to draw attention to the fact that the dollar is overvalued against a lot of other things as well, not the least being the oil-exporting countries...

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Fri Sep 17th, 2010 at 03:09:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yup.

The yuan has been controlled this way since at least the late '70s, and the U.S. has been muttering and growsing. But by now, it's become a problem large enough and notable enough that the politicians feel safe in making a public complaint.

And those fellows who value their lifetime perks (including comprehensive health insurance at taxpayer expense) do not want to be caught out devaluing the dollar, because even Joe Sixpack can begin to understand that. Or at least to understand the overly simplified version he will be fed by the right-wing crazies and Fox "news".

Attacking The Other almost always plays well to the galleries.

by Mnemosyne on Fri Sep 17th, 2010 at 07:25:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Every deficit is someone's surplus and to a large extant these cronies - a few dynastic families and corporate fiefdoms - are what the empire is all about. And since the US is not revenue constraint I think the deficit is the least of its problems.
by generic on Fri Sep 17th, 2010 at 08:21:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
More to the point, thinking about the damage they have done in dollar terms confuses more than it illuminates.
by generic on Fri Sep 17th, 2010 at 08:42:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That is the natural result of a system in which all things are priced in dollars and the only value is the return on investment. It also shows the madness of accepting such broad claims for the scope of economics.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri Sep 17th, 2010 at 09:21:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As an Aussie friend here said to me- if they were professional fascists we would never have had the 2008 election here in the US. Even these men could not overcome the US Constitution being somewhat operational within their DNA.

There is a deep discontent in the US, and my perception is that when the teabaggers wake up and discover who has been screwing them over all these years, they will turn on the oligarchs in an ugly manner. It will make the powers that be wish they had taken the guns away from the rednecks. ;-)

by US Blues on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 08:54:06 AM EST
There is a deep discontent in the US, and my perception is that when the teabaggers wake up and discover who has been screwing them over all these years, they will turn on the oligarchs in an ugly manner. It will make the powers that be wish they had taken the guns away from the rednecks. ;-)

I would love to believe this but the Right has a powerful, well funded propaganda machine and the teabaggers aren't the Mensa crowd.

They tried to assimilate me. They failed.

by THE Twank (yatta blah blah @ blah.com) on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 08:57:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
when the teabaggers wake up and discover who has been screwing them over all these years,

I think it is more likely that they will split and some will wake up and the remainder will dig deeper into their delusions. The question becomes the relative proportions of each group, especially if those who wake up remain as active and involved as they were when sleepwalking. Similar considerations apply to so called independents, but they are probably less likely to be aggressively active.

The MSM is not likely to sound the alarm that would awaken any of them, neither is either major party -- it would likely be too great an affront to important funding sources. This is why I see a temporary coalition between left and right elements who want to reform the relationship between money and power as a possible key element.

Another key element would be the devolution of the financial situation beyond what the Central Banks can paper over. To date it seems they have been betting on a recovery of real estate prices to bail them out. All they have really been doing is helping to hide the extent of the problem, especially the Fed, as with its Maiden Lane SIVs.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 12:21:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't believe the awakening will come throw the media, nor will it be in the interests of those in power. Even lingering unemployment could be the beginning of the avalanche, but I suspect reality has more tricks up it's sleeve.

The temporary coalition that you mention is also something I suspect can happen. The truth is that from a class perspective us folks of lesser means have more in common at a root level with one another than with the false dichotomy of left-right politics.

The number of truly delusional people is probably quite small, the larger untapped group are those who have lost interest- people who don't vote or who claim to be Independent. I believe economic ills will be the cause of change, and it will be out of control of the oligarchs.

by US Blues on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 03:45:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree that the US empire has lost ground under the Neocons' watch, but I don't think their foreign adventures had much to do with it. Russia is back on its feet, China's influence has increased and there is now a real threat of independent development in South America. Maybe they could have prevented some of that, but they didn't cause it.
At one point it really looked like their imperial hubris could bring the whole structure down. There was resistance in Europe around France and Germany, reconciliation in Korea and even a mildly deviant Japan. None of that lasted long and it remains to be seen if the popular resentment they caused will have any lasting consequences.

On the domestic front there is now bipartisan consensus for indefinite detention and extra legal assassination. There is no serious challenge to the metastasising national security complex. To accomplish that one or two wars were necessary. Even if these wars look like miserable failures.

by generic on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 08:58:36 AM EST
The systematic undermining of the Constitution and Bill of Rights since 9-11-'01 is likely the biggest "accomplishment" of the neo-cons and PNACers, and they set about that deliberately, were and remain disdainful of those who oppose those developments on grounds of preservation of constitutional government. It perhaps becomes a quibble as to whether they wanted to undermine the constitution. They have succeeded in redefining it in terms that make it unrecognizable to those who are concerned with civil liberties. They would argue that "the enemy" made them do it -- a cheap and crude salve to what ever passes for a conscience amongst that crew.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 12:29:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
They probably couldn't have done anything to Russia, but they could have quashed Latin America really good if they'd been half as competent as their predecessors a generation ago (and hadn't been obsessing over the Arab Peninsula and immediate environs).

China remains a case of a massive misalignment between the interests of the US and the interests of the people running the US. Which is the overall theme of the neocons: they only look like failures if you start from the assumption that they were trying to tend to the best interests of the US. If you start from the assumption that they were looking out for the best short-term interests of themselves and their cronies, and really don't give a rat's ass about the US, then they've been a magnificent success. Which is no doubt why our own European elites are so anxious to ape their accomplishments.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 05:00:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually, one of the biggest neo-con contributions to the demise of the USA as a hegemon has been their policy of exporting manufacturing to China. They have thereby fed the industrial development of China by shipping them machine tools and intellectual property from going concerns that Wall Street bought up to shut down and ship to China. They have put in place the current account problem we face with China because it was the easiest way for them to make money in the short term. The result is that China has >$1trillion in US currency reserves and treasury bills and notes. This policy has simultaneously hollowed out US manufacturing capacity, thereby weakening the nation.

Had they been less greedy they could have followed a less ambitious project along similar lines in Mexico and have had much greater control over the result. This is what Ross Perot thought was happening in 1992. That project could have been expanded to other Latin American nations, none of which could ever, conceivably threaten the USA. But greed and short term gain triumphed to the long term detriment of the USA.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 09:59:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Interesting topic.  But it's often best to separate wishful thinking from a healthy reality check when talking about "American empire."  Plutarch, it should be recalled, was already bemoaning the fall of the Roman empire with the life of Julius Caesar which ended the Roman democracy. Today, we commonly mistake  that period as the rise of Rome and not her fall, because Roman empire went on to last almost 400 more years in Western Europe as a centrally organized political entity, and 1400 more years in the East. And the Western world still lives largely in the Roman shadow today, over 2000 years after Romans thought their empire had already spun into decline.  Religiously, culturally, and politically, we still live in the Roman world, so preponderant was the extent of Rome's power in history.

Similarly, I'm skeptical of any argument that predicts an American imperial collapse anytime within then next few centuries, let alone decades or years.  There just aren't any rivals for the job, China notwithstanding, and there is no rising language for global governance and international relations today other than the rights-based one of liberalism which America has successfully spread throughout the globe through an odd combination of naive idealism, commerce, diplomacy and military conquest. Those are just the facts of life in the world today.

Historically there have been maybe only one or two other societies that have had similar, global-scale preponderance as America does today. By similar I mean complete spectrum dominance of the social sphere within the known world or area of the world of the time -- cultural, linguistic, political, economic, military -- where the empire defines the global age for almost everyone within its sphere. China, until it was prematurely overrun first by the Mongols under Genghis Khan and then again by the British a few centuries later, is one such historical example, and Rome is the other.  Both lasted over a thousand years, ebbing and waning, and taking a millennium to finally fall as unified political organizations. And even then, in the case of China being reborn again in the 20th century, or in the case of Rome providing a still expanding global religion and philosophical outlook of over a billion adherents, they have refused to die.

America, by any honest, sober appraisal of the extent and influence she plays in history and global society, is in that same, super-empire category as ancient Rome and China.  And even if it is starting to decline, the sober money would be betting that America will still be the most politically relevant force in the world a thousand years hence, despite all of the best efforts of neocons to screw things up today. It's just too ingrained throughout the lives and institutions of too many people around the world to be able to realistically collapse in any shorter time period, barring an asteroid-like event.  

That doesn't mean that justice-minded people shouldn't oppose it, successfully, when injustice occurs.  But we shouldn't be operating under a view of the world that presupposes that America and her aircraft carriers, sprawling embassies, lawyers, international financiers, and development aid workers are actually going away anytime soon. It just wouldn't be reality-based.

by santiago on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 01:12:05 PM EST
Interesting point.

However, minor quibble. Plutarch was correct in saying that the roman republic (I wouldn't say it was democratic because it was closer to oligarchy) died with Caesar, even if his murder was an attempt to save it. But Rome already had an empire under the republic, it simply changed the form of local administration.

The empire only collapsed when the anarchies that developed centrally fatally weakened it. It did not contract slowly from the peripheries, it carried on happily until it imploded.

Neither China nor anyone else threaten it, like Rome the US is unchallenged and is, unchallengeable. But, all the aircraft carrier groups can't save it if the centre doesn't hold. And that is the critical problem. the ocuntry has continued on a certain path that were predicated on certain truths; cheap oil, cheap water, cheap food.

But the oil is becoming unaffordable for a country that has given all its treasure to a foreign power. Rebuilding the highways infrastructure will be irrelevant without trucks to use it.

the population has moved to the south west sunbelt. But the water infrastructure cannot possibly cope. If you think the oil crunch is bad; the SW water crunch, when Northern California and Lake Mead run dry sometime in the next 15 - 20 years and 30 - 40 million people start to thirst, is gonna make the oil crunch look like a picnic.

Cheap food. Ah yes, the mid west grain belt is beginning to find petroleum based fertilizers, weedkillers and pesticides difficult to afford. This is not a situation that will improve. And with increasingly expensive wheat, everything else gets much more expensive and nutritional values starts to fall away.

Or it might take centuries. Take your pick, but I know where my money would go.


keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 02:06:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Those are good arguments, but I'll quibble back on some of it.

Cheap oil, food, and water, are, as you say, critical elements that explain a lot of America's rise and of urbanization in general. However, what still remains to be seen is whether resources ever get prohibitively expensive in America even as they do elsewhere.  Oil and food are still really cheap in America, and they were so even at the height of the oil peak and food crisis of 2 years ago, despite all of the whining about it at the time.  That says alot about what part of the world is likely to go without things if resource scarcity begins to rear its head -- hint, not the part that has the military, political, and institutional implements at hand to gain control of them anywhere in the world. As Amartya Sen argued, when there's famine in an exchange based society like our current American world, it's never the wealthy and powerful who are affected -- it's the marginal poor who starve or go thirsty instead, a mere "market" correction. Sadly, there's at least a billion slum dwellers today in the world who will disappear unnoticed before anyone in America, Europe, or Japan has to face any societal-changing effects of resource scarcity, simply because their claims to any resources in our property-rights based world are so weak relative to any of us who live in the industrialized world.

It is true that a lot of people have moved to deserts in America because of the unsustainable, de facto subsidies on water and fertilizers. But that doesn't mean they're going to die, or that the country will run out of water.  Some of them might just have to move back to the depopulating blue-state Midwest again in the future, where not even the worst climate change predictions show fresh water running out, and 100 million hectares of the world's most productive and mostly non-irrigated agricultural real estate lies.

I just don't see a collapse in the cards, even in the most pessimistic scenarios.  It's just too big already to go away very quickly.

by santiago on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 06:18:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A collapse for the rich may be unlikely.

Without a change of direction, a collapse for everyone else in the US is very likely indeed within the next fifty years.

My guess is that the most likely outcome is a military dictatorship. The US is already starting to look like one, there would be solid support for one from a number of quarters, including some of the population, and it would mean loss of momentum without loss of face - which matters far more in authoritarian cultures than effectiveness, innovation or intelligence do.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 06:35:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That's what the the social theory of empires predict too -- they come down to dictatorship.  They don't end, however, until people don't need them anymore, which is the reason they come to be in the first place.
by santiago on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 07:03:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Easter Island did.

Limited resources are limited. When they're gone, they're gone - and so is any culture that believes otherwise.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 09:09:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
From left to right across the political spectrum, from the rich/owning class to the (formerly) working class, Easter Island is the scenerio that the US is trying for with all its effort.  

There is a fair chance we will achieve it.  

There are of course a small number of groups and individuals seeking other outcomes, but they are as yet insignificant.  


The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 10:02:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That's a good point.  But you are also assuming that if America was to cease being the imperial actor in the world that it currently is, everyone would suddenly start living sustainably.  Alternatively, it is entirely possible that the world would be on an even more unsustainable path and perhaps even more violent among the greater powers, as it was in the 19th century and early 20th century.  It seems a bit of a red herring, therefore, to bring the environmental argument into a  discussion about what might cause American power to collapse.  
by santiago on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 10:31:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Seeing that the US has the biggest per capita energy footprint on the planet... maybe not so much. Since the US hegemony is based on hard power provided by liquid fuels and soft power provided by the dollar as international clearing currency, and since successive oil shocks promise to make both those things nonviable... Well, you do the math.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 05:13:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That's one version of America's power. One that is consistent with viewing an empire as some kind of political entity imposed from above upon unwilling subjects, like something out of the script for the movie "300."

But an alternative view of empire, one that is consistent with the observable evidence of empires lasting for really long periods of time despite being ruled often by people with obviously self-destructively insane ideas and with economics based largely on plunder instead of production, is that empires are supported from the ground up, not imposed from the top down.  People, or at least a critical mass of people, need them, and when they come into existence for whatever idiosyncrasy of history, people thrive and establish beneficial relationships that become dependent on the empire's continuance.

In the alternative view of empire, maintaining a given level of hard power such as military hardware and soft power like an international reserve currency are mere temporal symbols of power, not the actual manifestation of it. Rather, power comes from the ability of an empire to provide a needed degree of trust and security to that elite portion of the planet's population who engage in transnational relationships of all kinds, through laws, other institutions, and political organization which support them. Now that through the phenomenon called "globalization" those transnational relationships include even the ET blog and an ever greater portion of the world's population, the growing transnational elite seems to be an ever increasing demand for the kind of things that an empire like America, similar to Rome and China in ages past, provides best: lawyers, organizers, and soldiers.  In this view, America's power is not dependent upon oil or its own manufacturing base at all.  Rather, it is dependent upon its continued ability to provide institutional and organizational support to the transnational class amidst a world facing severe environmental dangers and mineral resource constraints.

On a negative note toward that end, the failure of the Obama administration to provide for effective climate change legislation domestically, and to organize for climate change treaty internationally in Denmark last year, is much more indicative of a weakening empire than some military and diplomatic mistakes in Iraq.

by santiago on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 04:36:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In this view, America's power is not dependent upon oil or its own manufacturing base at all.  Rather, it is dependent upon its continued ability to provide institutional and organizational support to the transnational class amidst a world facing severe environmental dangers and mineral resource constraints.

Yes. That's what the (post-)Bretton Woods clearing system, the IMF and the OECD are for. Take those away, and the US no longer has any capabilities that other trading blocs do not already posses, usually in greater quality.

The US/China trade balance will eventually be restored - either because the US ceases its de-industrialisation, or because the US runs out of (civilian) industrial plant. Either way, China will stop shipping "free" stuff once the US stops shipping industrial infrastructure. If this rebalancing happens on the US' time table and on US initiative, it may be possible to salvage the dollar-based clearing system. If it happens pell-mell as a result of unilateral Chinese realignment, the dollar clearing system goes out the window, and with it goes the GATT, IMF, World Bank, OECD and most of the American colonial empire, which all depend for their power on the fact that sovereign debt is denominated in dollars.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 04:58:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Take those away, plus the UN and the WTO, and the US has lost a lot of its institutional tool sets.  But it still retains quite of bit of its organizational capabilities because of its still quite large economy under a unified political authority, and those capabilities are what allow for adapting or creating new institutions to deal with the changing needs of global constituencies. Is anything guaranteed? Of course not. There are ample opportunities for failure.  But an objective view of things would have to say that the US still holds a very strong poker hand here that one should be wary of betting against.
by santiago on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 05:13:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Absent the (post-)Bretton Woods-based international institution, it has nothing that Europe or China doesn't, and lacks quite a bit of both institutions and real economic capabilities (as opposed to financial shenanigans, which are only currently possible for the US because of their command of the Bretton Woods architecture).

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Sep 16th, 2010 at 03:15:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
On the other hand, the US has never had any serious competition. The Romans defeated the two or three premier economic and military powers of their age when they ascended to the position of hegemon. The US became hegemon by default, because they were the only industrial country to remain neutral throughout both world wars (no, the little spat with Japan doesn't count). For thirty years after that, the rest of the world could be roughly divided into colonies and shell-shocked craters.

At the first sign that Germany and Japan had recovered their civilian economies to a level that permitted them to re-enter the world market in any significant volume, the vaunted American automobile industry - the backbone of the American industrial economy during its rise to hegemon - simply folded up, barely even putting up a fight.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 06:36:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That's now how I recall the history of the world wars.  America didn't remain neutral.  America has its empire today because it militarily conquered its enemies -- Italy, Japan, and Germany, the technological and cultural superpower of the time, and it diplomatically conquered its rivals, England and France.  That is, American won its empire the old fashioned way -- the most violent use of deadly force in world history.  The Axis powers were at least as great a threat to America as Carthage, Egypt, and the Celts were to Rome.
by santiago on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 07:01:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
[That's NOT how I recall ...]
by santiago on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 07:01:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
By the time the US entered the European theatre in any material capacity, the war was all over bar the shouting. The actual wars were between Russia and Germany in Europe and China and Japan in Asia - the rest was a sideshow. One telling statistic in this respect is that the losses (on both sides) of the amphibious landing in Normandy - one of the iconic American successes in that war - were slightly below the ordinary daily losses in the East, nevermind heavy fighting.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 08:04:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Also, the US funded and sponsored WWII - or elements on Wall St did.

It's tempting to wonder if there was a genius-level Machiavellian plan to destabilise Germany and neuter the UK by sponsoring a self-destructive psychotic lunatic, leaving a hegemonic gap to be filled.

I suppose it's possible, but there's little evidence that US diplomacy is that sophisticated.

And had the UK lost the Battle of Britain and been invaded, the US would almost certainly had sued for peace with Hitler.

As it was, the most valuable payload left over from the Nazis was a bus full of rocket scientists and the odd psychotic quack, all of whom were collected during Operation Paperclip.  

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 09:16:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That might be misleading. The USA was important for supplying war material via Lend-Lease, which began in March 1941 and benefited China, Russia and the UK. From 1942 forward the US growing presence in the UK and their activities in North Africa and Italy complicated things for the Axis Powers. Germany was unable to totally concentrate on Russia. While it is true that Hitler had badly bungled Barbarossa, had he not had to be concerned with Africa, Italy and a possible invasion from the UK and had the UK not had the support of the USA things might have turned out more favorable to Nazi Germany. A negotiated peace might have been the result, with Germany being the hegemon in Western Europe. Certainly Germany would have had better access to the Ploieşt oil facilities, which had been important for Barbarossa, than it had after US bombing efforts out of N. Africa in 1943.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 09:21:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Germany had at no point more than five million troops deployed to the West Front, including North Africa. They lost between four and ten million on the East Front, depending on whether you count PoWs and whether you count support troops from their clients.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 05:03:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Agreed. And Russia had lost a million men a month during significant parts of WWI. The Soviet Union really won WW II. This would not have happened had not Stalin moved the arms manufacturing industries east of the Urals in the '30s. Even so, what would have happened had Hitler not been so mad and had he more appropriately equipped and provisioned his troops for the Russian campaign is hard to say, especially had the threat of action on the Western Front by the USA not existed.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 11:10:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If Hitler hadn't been crazy, he wouldn't have invaded Russia in the first place. He'd have called it over after the invasion of France and sued for peace, demanding recognition of the German conquests in Central Europe, a return of the Rhineland and maybe a couple of particularly symbolic colonies. Give or take a demilitarised zone on the French border and in the Low Countries.

Would probably have gotten it too, assuming that he'd sued for peace before terror-bombing London.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 02:39:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No time for a long comment...


And even if it is starting to decline, the sober money would be betting that America will still be the most politically relevant force in the world a thousand years hence, despite all of the best efforts of neocons to screw things up today. It's just too ingrained throughout the lives and institutions of too many people around the world to be able to realistically collapse in any shorter time period, barring an asteroid-like event.

I think you're missing the inner rot, the cancer, that is today's socio-political amurka.  And the speed of today's (what passes for) civilization is so much greater than in ancient times you can't speak in terms of a millenium. You might not be able to speak of decades.

There is so much broken about the hegemonist, it would defy reality NOT to take the seriousness of the disease into account. The symptoms are legion, to continue your Roman metaphor.

And as far as asteroid-like events, amurka has been the catalyst of an environmental breakdown which is already occurring on a hundred fronts... not without effects in our lifetimes.

Think Maya.

But the real story is the breakdown of civil society in amurka, played out before our eyes in living video-game reality.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin

by Crazy Horse on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 02:17:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The inner rot of Rome is an historical cliche.  That's what Rome was famous for, more so than America.  But it was so dominant in the world nonetheless that it took a thousand years for it to fall, and it still influences our world today.  The US is at least as dominant in the world, culturally, politically, militarily, and economically as Rome was in its world.

Your point about the Mayans is well taken though.

by santiago on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 05:48:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No, the Roman empire did not fall over a period of 1000 years. In historical terms, it fell overnight.

In terms of military domination it was at its peak AD100. Within 100 years it was beginning to fall into disarray and entered a period of 50 years of civil war and strife that only ended with the breakup of the unitary empire under Diocletian.

Maximum power to collapse in 150 years. A memory of roman rule clung on in the west, particularly in Britain, for another 2 centuries but it had no real centre and disappeared entirely in 476

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 06:01:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Roman empire really fell when Byzantium fell in 1452, if you are going to be consistent with looking at history from the point of view of uninterrupted political organization of significant military, economic, and cultural power in the world, not when the former capital of the empire was captured and politically disbanded in 476. But that's not the way to look at the empire either. Even at its peak, Rome was never really a united political entity in the way the modern nation state is.  It was always a collection of common institutions often frequently at war with itself.  And those institutions held sway for much longer than 1000, especially if you consider the influential place of the Roman Catholic Church in the world even today.  My point is that America's fall will be like that, not like Britain's, so if we're witnessing the beginning of decline today, there is long way down where America will be the dominant force still in world affairs.
by santiago on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 06:53:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Perhaps. Or perhaps not. The Gold Standard was, well, the Gold Standard, of international commerce from roughly 1850. It continued until 1968 in name, but in reality it had ceased to be the unifying commercial institution by 1918, and was firmly and finally replaced by US institutional hegemony in 1944 at Bretton Woods. The US-based international trade system is only approximately the same age that the Gold Standard was when it collapsed. Whether the WTO will have greater staying power once the US shifts from being a supplier of industrial plant to China and becomes a supplier of raw materials remains to be seen.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 07:06:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's a bit odd to be counting the Dark Ages, when Europe was a barbaric and irrelevant backwater, as part of Rome's enduring legacy.
by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 09:19:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Only if you think that Rome was an empire based in Western Europe.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 07:20:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But then, does the US count as a prolongation of the British Empire ?

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 08:40:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It did start out as a breakaway frontier province of it...

By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 09:25:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The darkness of the Dark ages is overestimated. Things were going pretty well until the black death arrived and the climate cooled.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 12:21:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
people quit bothering to keep written records, leaving historians of later times with little real information about events and conditions.  

By the eleventh century this changes and history picks up again, giving us the Medieval period.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 12:56:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We do have data that population dropped strongly, cultivated area was reduced, and trade went way down in the high middle ages in western europe...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 11:32:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
13th and 14th century.  By then record-keeping was relatively good.  The 14th century saw weather problems and crop failures at the outset, and also saw the start of the Hundred Years War and the first two waves of the black plague.  

So, yes, if you mean the end of the High Middle Ages, you would be right.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Thu Sep 16th, 2010 at 01:32:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ah, sorry, I was wrong in usage, apparently High middle ages is the middle of that period, that is, 10th to 13th century, which was indeed a period of prosperity. I was thinking of the Early middle ages - 5th to 9th century, which although lacking a dense written historical report, show proof of depopulation - broken trade routs (no more meditteranean artifacts in England), fewer fields cultivated (which had to be recultivated in the "high" middle ages when many "Villeneuve" were founded in France), smaller cities...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Fri Sep 17th, 2010 at 04:46:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Even an agricultural-military society (no high technology) is complex enough to have positive feed-back effects that in the phase of rising cause success to generate more success and expansion to lead to more expansion, that in the phase of decline turn from virtuous to vicious and cause failure to generate more failure and contraction to lead to more contraction.  

I would be remiss if I did not mention Dimitri Orlov (also here)and his use of the example of the recent collapse of the Soviet Union to illustrate why the imminent decline of the industrial West (and especially the US) may be steeper and deeper than most believe based on their superficial look at available resources.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Fri Sep 17th, 2010 at 01:04:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As I have learnt on ET, most of the depopulation can be explained by the plague of Justinian:

Plague of Justinian - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The actual number of deaths will always be uncertain. Modern scholars believe that the plague killed up to 5,000 people per day in Constantinople at the peak of the pandemic. It ultimately killed perhaps 40% of the city's inhabitants. The initial plague went on to destroy up to a quarter of the human population of the eastern Mediterranean. New, frequent waves of the plague continued to strike throughout the 6th, 7th and 8th centuries CE, often more localized and less virulent. It is estimated that the Plague of Justinian killed as many as 100 million people across the world.[2][3] Some historians such as Josiah C. Russell (1958) have suggested a total European population loss of 50% to 60% between 541 and 700.[4]

After 750, major epidemic diseases would not appear again in Europe until the Black Death of the 14th century.



Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Fri Sep 17th, 2010 at 03:35:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, but the inner rot of amurka is no historical cliche (said as an amurkan.) It's real and is already having an effect. The level of literacy has dropped dramatically, and the social debate is clinically insane.

It's even more about that unpredictable nexus between the effect of environmental degradation of a very modern technological society gone to seed, coupled with the socio-political rot.

I'm only positing that the dominance will end much quicker because of this nexus. Which of course doesn't limit its hit to amurka. China is poisoning itself as we comment.

What's striking to me is that the attempt to find some balance within the modern chaos is occurring in Europe, likely because it's already passed through the self-destruction phase.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin

by Crazy Horse on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 06:13:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The traditional, or legendary, founding date for Rome is 735BC. The Republic was founded in 509BC. The Roman Empire in the West, of the Latin Empire fell in 476AD. So the Republic and Empire together lasted less than 1000 years and the Monarchy, Republic and Empire a little over 1200 years. It is true that the Christian Church became important in the Empire with Constantine, especially after the Council of Nicea in 325AD, but the Roman Church never gained the role that the Church did in Byzantium and the Church in the west was important as a bearer of literacy and a provider of literate men for western kingdoms. The Roman Catholic Church did not become a truly significant institution until the second millenium, even though it granted Charlemagne legitimacy by crowing him Holly Roman Emperor on Christmas Day, 800AD. But Charlemagne's Empire was short lived. The Church in the West was mostly decentralized until the 2nd millenium.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 10:15:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You're just pointint out that Western Europe was historically a rough place to live. Look at the Eastern Mediterranean for continuity.

By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 06:21:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What about the Brittish empire, is it not more similar to the current US empire then Rome or China?

Rome and China expanded their empires to encompass most population centers in the area, gaining mostly natural borders. They rules the 'known world'. And as long as those limits stood, any rebellion or indeed invasion could only end in the a change on the throne (the emperor is dead, long live the emperor). The US has a similar position within North America, but not within the world.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 02:21:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't think so.  Britain isn't in the same category.  Britain was basically a colonial empire which was geographically dispersed around the globe, but British language, culture, and institutions of commerce, law, and governance did not hold sway outside of the relatively small fringe of the world's population that happened to live within the British commonwealth. The commonwealth was the extent of its polity.  Same goes for the rest of the colonial empires of Europe and Japan with which pulled off exclusive blocks of the world that were unavailable to Britain or anyone else.

In the previous age of globalization at the end of the 19th century, comparatively little trade, commerce, or cultural relationships occurred between empires -- most of it occurred within them, between the core power and its colonies. The British liberal dream was to open the whole world to free trade and thus make everyone abide by the rules of liberal commerce, but it never achieved this until America took over the British, French, German, Japanese, and the others during WWII, creating, for the first time, a truly universal commonwealth finally in the 1990's.

The only comparable historical examples appear to be Rome and China, which held sway in the extent of their own worlds at that time similar to the way America holds sway in the whole world today.

by santiago on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 05:24:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You have a somewhat ahistorical definition of 'small fringe.'

Britain also had significant influence on China after the Opium Wars, which neutered China as a colonial competitor and eventually destroyed the Chinese dynastic system.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 09:27:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, that is where Britain had colonies and the only place it with which it could trade freely, the source of all value added from empire.  It's mostly space and none of it industrialized except the British isles themselves, and it contains almost no institutions for establishing commerce and investment outside of the blackened area. It's a trading bloc.

Compare that with the map of what constitutes the global polity over which America presides today, where the whole globe including all of the industrialized countries, except for a few "rogues" like Iran or principled rivals like Russia, have exempted themselves. (Since 40% of China's economy and all of its economic growth currently depends on trade with America and its allies, China is honestly part of the American polity for now, like it or not.)

The US spends as much on its military as the entire rest of the world combined, most of which is formally allied with it through structural military cooperation agreements.  That alone is just one amazing fact about how much more of the world is within the American polity than any other empire since Rome. We're all Americans now.

Another statistic:   Of the top 20 global cities, 18 were in countries either allied with or conquered by by the US during WWII.  (Madrid and Beijing being the only exceptions, with Shanghai another possibility, tying for 20th place. And even though China was a US ally in WWII, it was clearly a different China than the one in place today.) Britain's empire consisted of merely undeveloped colonies, while America's empire consists of other empires.

by santiago on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 11:16:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Describing India or the Middle East as 'empty space' is an eccentric definition of historical reality. Although it's certainly a revealing one.

The Empire was never just 'a trading bloc' - it was a resource extraction enterprise. Industrialisation wasn't necessary because the point was to bring raw materials home and export processed goods abroad, not vice versa.

The US has decided to take the opposite approach, which may turn out to be less than entirely wise because it introduces obvious dependencies and strategic weaknesses.

As for China being American - has anyone told the Chinese?

Using that argument the US is actually a colony of Israel, Saudi-Arabia and China.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 07:21:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The point is that the British empire in 1910 consisted of Britain and a bunch of places where capitalism and industrialization had yet to take hold -- the poorer parts of the world.  The American empire, by contrast, consists of most of the industrialized countries and the wealthiest parts of the world, in addition to some of the poorest.  Therefore, the two are in different categories entirely.
by santiago on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 01:17:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In what exotic view of history were India and China 'the poorer parts of the world'?

And I see you've avoided my point about the strategic failures inherent in US de-industrialisation.

When most of your military hardware relies completely on components, raw materials and energy sources that have to be imported from potential enemies, you are not in a winning position.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 01:46:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Most of American military hardware does not rely on things imported from potential enemies unless your definition of "potential" is dishonestly wide. A lot of it is, however, imported from formal allies.

RE: China and India. They weren't industrialized in 1910, and they still aren't, although in just the last decade they have gotten around to doing something about it.  I think you'll find that there are few who would disagree with the categorization of China and India in 1910 as two of the poorest places in the world, especially since, despite all of their economic growth, over the last decade, that categorization still applies to them.

I didn't avoid your point about strategic failures inherent in de-industrialization. It just isn't a compelling claim on its own with regards to the discussion at hand.  You'd almost have to post your own diary on it to warrant the variety of implicit claims made in it. For example, how, specifically, is a "resource extraction bloc" different from a "trading bloc?"  And why should we presume that resource extraction for the purposes of exporting manufactures creates any less a dependency than importing low-cost manufactures for the purpose of consumption? And why is dependency even a problem for an empire at all -- isn't creating interdependency relationships the whole purpose of an empire?

by santiago on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 02:45:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And why should we presume that resource extraction for the purposes of exporting manufactures creates any less a dependency than importing low-cost manufactures for the purpose of consumption?
 
This should be obvious on its face:  Consumption is the dead end of the resource-to-product-to-trash trajectory--no further value or use is possible.  To be a consumer is to be helpless, economically.  This in turn leads to political helplessness.  

The stark but useful image is this:  Who has power--the junkie or the drug dealer?

Yeah, I know many Americans would say the junkie, but that is just proof of cluelessness and the whole reason we are now swirling down the shitter.  

isn't creating interdependency relationships the whole purpose of an empire?

No.  The purpose is extracting wealth from conquered regions and colonies.  All national strategists understand this perfectly well.  Usually the wealth extracted is raw materials, but it doesn't have to be.  The main thing is the ability to compel unfavorable terms of trade.  

So:  Is China attached to the US rather than the other way around?  Certainly they are getting unfavorable terms of trade, that is, low prices for the stuff they produce.  But by getting the low prices on industrial goods, rather than raw materials, they have become industrialized--which means materially and technically capable.  

Thus the US is getting immediate benefits (cheap goodies) at Chinese expense, while China is getting the long term benefit of economic strength and capability.  Both sides are taking on costs:  for China massive pollution and for the US social breakdown and loss of capability.  

As Chris Cook points out, by September 2007 the US had lost the strategic initiative--the ability to force events rather than be forced by them.  By September 2008 both China and Russia and demonstrated, independently and separately, and in the latter case very publicly, that they could veto US actions in western Asia.  

Thus a relative decline in American power is a two-year-old fact.  An absolute decline is also postulated, on economic and geological grounds.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 09:45:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Britain quite intentionally destroyed Indian manufacture in order to build up British manufacture. That they ran rich India into the ground, causing poverty and starvations while building Britain as an industrialized nation does not show that India was of little importance, it shows that Britain wanted to move the most valued parts of the production chain to Britain.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Thu Sep 16th, 2010 at 07:28:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Most infamously, Clive ordered the weavers of Calcutta to be rounded up and to have their thumbs amputated, thereby creating a demand for British cloth by destroying a large part of the Indian homespun production and setting a stunning example to those who remained.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Thu Sep 16th, 2010 at 11:09:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
that is so f**ing sick. omfg, that evil is beyond monstrous.

doubtless formalised in exquisite documentation in triplicate, and signed off as 'necessary measures were taken'.

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu Sep 16th, 2010 at 12:00:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's not just about what happens in-country is it?

It's about trade movements, and for over 100 years British Naval power by and large gave the Brits the ability to impose global terms of sea-borne trade, which included the currency in which transactions took place.

There was a transitional period between the wars, and the US took over GB's role as global hegemon after WW2 and in particular thereby to unilaterally impose their currency.

The end of cheap energy necessary for global projection of power, and the growth of virtual trade are IMHO the principal reasons for the end of the US empire.

We are now in a bipolar world. The US will always have a veto - ultimately backed by nuclear weapons - but can no longer act unilaterally. If they could, they would already either be garrisoning Iran, or have bombed Iran back to the Stone Age.

China is content to wield economic rather than military power, and expends resources largely on internal security; the capability of defending her borders; and nuclear capability.

China has always, and not without reason, despised barbarian outsiders - which the Wall was intended to keep out - and the pragmatists who run that country are quite content for US 19 year olds to die protecting Chinese trading interests.

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 03:57:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Iran is the biggest strategic and military failure of the last fifty years for the US.

Obviously there's an interest in stealing the oil and installing a local puppet - again.

The fact that it hasn't happened, that covert action has failed and that overt action is now impossible, proves that the US is completely powerless against any enemy that isn't bite-sized like Grenada, or poodle-compliant like most of Europe.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 07:25:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Does it really prove that?  Or does it just prove that the US was right in the first place when Britain convinced it to take over responsibility for Britain's Iranian oil fields -- that they should just let the socialist election stand, as Gen. Marshall advocated at the time?

I agree that it is the biggest foreign policy failure. But nevertheless, America's power grew since 1979.  Why is that? Probably because empires of the kind that the US is are so resilient to failure.

by santiago on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 02:50:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Also because US power was at an all time low in 1979 (since WW2 at least), which is why I suppose gold became so expensive, being an insurance against the collapse of the global world order, which was guaranteed by the US. From the position of 1979, it was hard to fall deeper into stagnation and decay. Reagan succeeded not because his policies we're all that brilliant, but because practically any policy would have taken the US upwards from where it was. Add to that the oil price crash of 1985 and you were set.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Thu Sep 16th, 2010 at 03:18:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We were in a bipolar world. Between 1945 and 1991 to be precise. Before 1945 the world was multipolar. The decade after the end of cold war (basically my formative years) was unipolar. For the last ten years we've been heading back to the multipolar world at a gorgeous speed. The financial crisis is a great sign of the times.

And really Chris, it makes no sense to claim that cheap energy is required for global power projection. We had that long before even the advent of oil.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Thu Sep 16th, 2010 at 03:12:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Starvid:
We were in a bipolar world. Between 1945 and 1991 to be precise. Before 1945 the world was multipolar.

True.

Starvid:

And really Chris, it makes no sense to claim that cheap energy is required for global power projection. We had that long before even the advent of oil.

I didn't claim that: the sail-powered British Navy was zero carbon.

But I do say that the current pattern of US military energy use is unsustainable.

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Thu Sep 16th, 2010 at 04:32:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The US Armed forces consumes about 300.000 barrels of oil a day. The US produces millions of barrels a day, and will surely produce at least 300.000 barrels 50 years from now.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Fri Sep 17th, 2010 at 04:00:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Maybe so.

But that figure is down from 490m bpd in 1985, and it's not just about the amount, it's about the cost and the logistics.

US military energy consumption- facts and figures | Energy Bulletin

As the saying goes, facts are many but the truth is one. The truth is that the U.S. military is the single largest consumer of energy in the world. But as a wise man once said, don't confuse facts with reality. The reality is that even U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) does not know precisely where and how much energy it consumes. This is my Fact Zero.


"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson
by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Fri Sep 17th, 2010 at 11:02:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But the cost is not in the energy itself, but in protecting the logistics. I've read stuff about fuel transported to the armed forces in Afghanistan costing incredible amounts, like $1000 or $10,000 a barrel or something. It's not like the main cost is exploration, production, refining and marketing...

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Fri Sep 17th, 2010 at 05:01:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The US Armed forces consumes about 300.000 barrels of oil a day. The US produces millions of barrels a day, and will surely produce at least 300.000 barrels 50 years from now.

The US produces about 5 million barrels of oil a day and imports about 10 million barrels. So it is likely that we can still produce enough oil for the military 50 years from now, if that is what military vehicles are using then. But if we have not transitioned to a renewable economy long before that our society will not be able to support a military that could come close to requiring 300,000 barrels/day. Perhaps then the military will have to bring out the alien technology they have allegedly been hiding since Roswell. :-)

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri Sep 17th, 2010 at 09:17:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Santiago:
Similarly, I'm skeptical of any argument that predicts an American imperial collapse anytime within then next few centuries, let alone decades or years.  There just aren't any rivals for the job...

This is an interesting use of historical comparisons, but the Western Roman Empire did not fall to a superior competitor. It collapsed from within. The costs of maintaining the empire were fobbed off on those least able to resist them and the result was the destruction of the productive capacity of the empire. In the end the complexity that had built Rome was not sustainable and large portions of the population over large areas of the empire found life better under barbarians who brought a simpler but less complex system. The parasitic elite ruling class killed the host off of which it was feeding. This is the most likely fate of the US empire.

The second factor is that the pace of developments has sped up over the last two centuries, so that temporal comparisons of the duration of previous empires can be misleading. We have gone from a wood and coal burning economy to a petroleum based society with peak oil in less than 150 years. Unless we can transition to a sustainable post petroleum economy and society we are almost bound to collapse in a few decades. If we can make the transition, it is likely to involve shedding of our empire, which is mostly needed to extract petroleum energy resources.

The third factor is the environmental impact of petroleum based energy, which seems likely to significantly reduce the productivity of the biosphere. The adjustment of world population to reduced carrying capacity will certainly have a negative impact on our own ability to transition to a post petroleum economy and society.  

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 02:53:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The costs of maintaining the empire were fobbed off on those least able to resist them and the result was the destruction of the productive capacity of the empire. In the end the complexity that had built Rome was not sustainable and large portions of the population over large areas of the empire found life better under barbarians who brought a simpler but less complex system. The parasitic elite ruling class killed the host off of which it was feeding. This is the most likely fate of the US empire.

just to say this invites comparisons

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 03:00:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I thought I could safely leave those comparisons to the reader.  :-)

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 04:56:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
ARGeezer:
This is an interesting use of historical comparisons, but the Western Roman Empire did not fall to a superior competitor. It collapsed from within.

Spot on.

The US will fall to its own people, and IMHO within two to five years.

ARGeezer:

If we can make the transition, it is likely to involve shedding of our empire, which is mostly needed to extract petroleum energy resources.

This transition has already begun, IMHO, and I date the End of Empire to a Suez Moment in or around the first half of 2007.

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 04:30:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for the links on recent (2007) history.  

The Fates are kind.
by Gaianne on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 11:10:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That's my point. Absent a rival for the job of super-empire, it takes a thousand years for even an unsustainable megalith like the US, or Rome, to fall.

It's true that the increased speed of resource consumption is different today than it was in the past, and that might explain something. But we have to consider what an empire really is too.  It's not a dominant overlord or hegemon coercing otherwise unwilling followers like characters out of a "Conan the Barbarian" script. An empire, as sociologists have looked at it (actually the founder of modern sociology, Max Weber, got his start studying empire and how best to assimilate people into one for the German Kaiser) is really a large, meta-framework for supporting human relationships across national or regional boundaries.  People require rules and norms of behavior to interact with others from other lands and speaking other languages.  

Empires provide that transnational infrastructure of human relationships, and those relationships are what sustains empires and gives them their power to influence how multi-ethnic societies govern themselves and relate with each other -- not the oil, guns, and steel that people get so pre-occupied with.  Think Marx here and not Malthus: Empires are sustained by the successful re-production of human relationships, not by the production and consumption of physical resources.

A world that has become dependent on trade and transnational commerce, communication, and migration requires an empire, because it requires a common polity for such relationships to continue. That need makes America indispensable as a political actor for too many people, particularly non-Americans.  Mere resource constraints won't be enough to stop people from maintaining the transnational relationships they have become accustomed to, so they will continue to expect America to provide the social infrastructure upon which those relationships were established, and that will keep America around long after people have grown tired of the whole idea.

by santiago on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 06:42:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Empires are sustained by the successful re-production of human relationships, not by the production and consumption of physical resources.

On this I could not agree more, but this is where I see the problems. We are ceasing to reproduce the human relationships in adequate number. In the USA the organization of the economy and society has been around and for the needs of capitalist enterprise. That process has proceeded to h high degree of completion. The underlying ideology of that organization has been provided first by classical economics and subsequently by neo-classical economics. The requirements for the successful functioning of that economy were taken to be creating self regulating markets for all important factors of production. These consist of land, labor and capital and all three have substantially been turned into markets.

However, markets are not societies and people do not work for rational market oriented reasons. A market and an economy are embedded in a society and it is the norms of that society that enable the markets to function. And there is a fundamental contradiction at the heart of our arrangement. Land and labor are not just commodities, as required by the market. Land is also the entire environment and labor is also the entire society. The requirements of the market ideology when applied to land and labor ignore the human and environmental implications of these non-economic dimensions of land and labor, with highly destructive consequences for both the environment and society.

The term Utopian is often used to denigrate systems as idealistic but impractical, but it applies to the successful application of Classical Economics and subsequently Neo-Classical Economics more thoroughly than it ever did to, say Robert Owen's Lanark or any of Fourrier's "Utopian communities" but it has just had massively better public relations courtesy of massive amounts of money applied on its behalf by the beneficiaries of this particular Utopia.

When all aspects of a functioning traditional society are subjected to "market discipline" it is typically highly disruptive to that society. It renders meaningless all of the reasons for which the members of that society engaged in productive work. The result is demoralization and massive disfunction. This has happened over and over, yet we are encouraged to believe that this is just the result of moral weaknesses on the part of the afflicted. This begs the question, as it was the destroyed culture that provided the morality that is now judged inadequate and it was the newley introduced market forces that destroyed that culture.

Even in functioning market societies the ideology does not work. The ideology treats labor as a commodity. If there is less need for that labor, it has to be laid off. But the market has consumed almost all of the means of subsistence existence on which the laid off labor could subsist. That might work in small town Arkansas today, but it is impossible in Los Angeles.

China is in the process of rapidly converting to a market society. The impacts on the environment are stunning, but, in terms of classical and neo-classical economics, those impacts are "externalities." I am reminded of the Dilbert Cartoon sequence where the Elbonians were convinced to sell the mud that comprised their country for facial treatments and that process was so successful that they removed all of the crust and had to live on molten lava.

Capital, denominated in money, was the third factor required to be put into a self regulating framework, but money is, in reality, a social relationship, even if that fact is ignored or surpressed. The self-regulating form of money classically and neo-classically was the gold standard. Mercifully, we have given up on that mad project, but by putting the control of money in the hands of central bankers who are accountable to monied elites and not subject to democratic oversight we have allowed the control of money to be directed for the private benefit of a small class and to the detriment of the entire society.

So we have a society that is organized around an ideology that is non-functional and which does not represent what actually happens. The miracle is that it has worked as well and as long as it has. Our current society is a massively failed utopia where each of the three main factors of land, labor and capital cannot be treated as the organizing theory requires. Expensive public relation campaigns can only paper over this problem so long.

The United States of America as hegemon might be able to reign for a thousand years, as Hitler dreamed, had it an ideology that was more congruent with actuality. But that does not mean that we will resolve the problems by changing the ideology, no matter how crazy. Just look at Christianity, to which we cling even as we worship Mammon.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 08:03:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Those are good questions you are getting at here, worthy of further thought, and I am largely in agreement with you:

  1. Aren't we really talking then about the fall of capitalism instead of the fall of the US?

  2. If so, can the US empire survive a change from capitalism or other there other forms of transnational relationships that also require the organization of a transnational polity that would also survive an end or radical change in capitalism?

  3. Since people have been predicting the impending end of capitalism since it began, shouldn't we be a bit more modest about joining that band again?  Capitalism seems to always survive and adapt and prove its naysayers wrong.

Another observation: The transcendental empires of Rome and China that I want to compare to the US, were never really purposefully established entities, like the one that Hitler or others dreamed of.  They never decided, in their early history, that they were going to be empires.  They just kind of evolved that way. Compare that to European and Japanese political leaders who have overtly organized their societies to be imitations of Rome, with obvious dreams of Roman-like imperial grandeur from the beginning. America, on the other hand, has always denied it is an empire or that it has any such ambitions, while at the same time acting just like one when thrust into the role by world events or its own interests and the rapid growth of its own power as a political organization in the world.  

That tells me again that America is more in the category of the transcendental, durable empires, not the purposeful but more brittle ones like Britain, Russia, Germany, Turkey, and others.  It's an empire because of the particular niche it fills in a world that needs it, not because of some ingrained dreams of megalomania on the part of its some leaders who imagined themselves to be Roman Caesars and tried to play the part.

by santiago on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 12:00:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
As I have said many times, we agree on much more than we disagree!

I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that the core problem we face is that of political capture by the economic elite. That capture makes progress on everything important almost, if not completely, impossible.

The first task is to break that capture any way we can.

There is nothing wrong with much of our system that broader accountability would not solve. Were there such a thing as justice for economic malefactors we would not be in the situation in which we find ourselves.

The economic theory under which we labor is so flawed as to be a major impediment to the beneficial guidance of our economy. Just as the MMT guys say about money: "If your theory does not accurately describe how money is created and how banks operate it will not give useful guidance. It doesn't and it doesn't. Mainstream economics is retained for its public relations value. Solving that problem goes back to accomplishing the first task, but wider awareness of the problem can help bring about the breaking of the link between economic and political power.

I responded to a similar question in Sven's Paris diary, but this is hardly a final answer.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 12:17:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
America is more in the category of the transcendental, durable empires, not the purposeful but more brittle ones like Britain, Russia, Germany, Turkey, and others.  It's an empire because of the particular niche it fills in a world that needs it, not because of some ingrained dreams of megalomania on the part of its some leaders who imagined themselves to be Roman Caesars and tried to play the part.

We can hope, especially if we are able to reform the worst aspects of our system. But we cannot forget that we modeled the structure of the US Government heavily on the Roman Republic, especially the separation of powers. But Washington, especially, warned against involvement in foreign affairs, though that was a practical necessity at the time of our founding. We also took cognizance of the broadest and best survey of existing governance at the time in the form of Montesque's Spirit of the Law. A good argument can be made that the founding fathers would expect future leaders to keep up with developments in understanding how societies can and do operate. We clearly have not.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 12:23:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Everything you need to know about the US is in Congress - especially the two giant fasces on the back wall.

Philip K. Dick used to suggest that the Roman Empire didn't die at all - it metastasized into the Catholic Church, then the British Empire, then the US Empire.

The biggest revolution yet to come will be civilisation without the mindless insect banality of empire.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 07:30:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The biggest revolution yet to come will be civilisation without the mindless insect banality of empire.

Can I realistically expect to see this in my lifetime?

They tried to assimilate me. They failed.

by THE Twank (yatta blah blah @ blah.com) on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 07:34:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That's a key difference, however.  America's founders  mythologized the Roman republic.  European rulers  mythologized the later Roman dictatorship. ("Czar" and "Kaiser," for example, are local pronunciations of the informal Roman military title in the last empire, "Caesar.") During all of Rome's period, even the later dictators and their historians mythologized the Roman Republic and Athenian democracy and never employed a formal title like "emperor." (There was never a formal institution for the ruler of the empire in Rome until well into the Byzantine period -- just an informal habit started by Augustus of selecting a leading general of the armies who, as a private citizen of civic will was expected to protect the Roman republic. Kind of like if Warren Buffet were suddenly granted command of a huge private army to replace the poorly managed Pentagon and in return was expected to ensure that politicians uphold the principles of the US constitution.)

Rome was a much less formal affair, rooted in the contradictions of have been a republic, than monarchies of Europe that sprang up afterward claiming divine rights and the titles of kings and emperors to rule and such.  My argument is that America is much more like Rome in that sense as well, as any of the European empires with which it has been compared.

by santiago on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 01:22:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Aren't we really talking then about the fall of capitalism instead of the fall of the US?

Define "capitalism."

If by "capitalism" you mean that those who own capital control production, and by extension the political economy as a whole... then "capitalism" has been dead since around 1940 in the US, and around 1950 in the rest of the industrialised world. In the Fordist and Financialised political economies, capital didn't and don't command diddly-squat - capital was and is a super-abundant factor of production, the same way labour used to be a century and a half prior.

If by "capitalism" you mean that those who own financial assets control the political economy, then "capitalism" died - hard - in the 1930s, and has only really been resurrected in the 1980s in the US and the 1990s in the rest of the world.

If by "capitalism" you mean a society in which the majority of production happens outside the household, the majority of production is specialised, and individuals obtain the majority of the goods they need by trading for them rather than making them at home... then the Soviet Union was a capitalist system.

If by "capitalism" you mean "productivism," then you have to have a plausible story about how it's going to survive the first series of serious resource shocks since its inception around 1850.

If by "capitalism" you mean merely "any of the above," then I propose that what you're actually arguing is that the American empire is coterminous not with capitalism but with industrial society. The fact that Russia is a more or less working industrial society and is not part of the American empire would seem to gainsay such an assertion.

If so, can the US empire survive a change from capitalism or other there other forms of transnational relationships that also require the organization of a transnational polity that would also survive an end or radical change in capitalism?

You assume that there is a need for a transnational polity. The transnational polity in question isn't doing anything for Europe that Europe can't do on its own. It was back when Russia was a serious contender for global hegemony, but that was then and this is now. And the only thing the transnational polity is doing for China is giving China free industrial capacity... so you need a plausible story about why China will still need the US when the US runs out of civilian industrial capacity to ship to China.

I'll also note in passing that Russia had an empire longer than the US has existed, nevermind sporting an empire. So I'd suggest that it's far too easy to proclaim the Pax Americana.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 05:35:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not assuming that there is a need for unified transnational polity.  I'm asking the question of whether there is a need for one. To what extent is American power in the world today the result of people all over the world tending to agree that they need it, rather than it being something imposed upon them by others?
by santiago on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 12:57:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Latin America is clearly in the US empire by force - Latin American politicians who seek to extract their countries from the American empire tend to have accidents. Russia isn't in the American empire. Europe is supporting the American empire against our objective interests because of a collective psychosis originating in the peculiar geopolitical conditions of the 1980s (which is where most of our politicians were imprinted with their mental picture of the world). China is there because the US is providing a service - free industrial capacity. The rest of the world is in the US empire because they're shackled to dollar-denominated debts.

So, in summary, the only places that are in the American empire of their own volition are Europe - who might wake up from her insanity any day as the last Cold Warriors shrug off this mortal coil - and China, who will run out of good reasons to remain within the American empire within the next few decades.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 02:23:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's more ambiguous than that.  Clearly empires take strategic actions to help their constituencies -- the transnationals, as I am calling them. But that doesn't mean that there isn't significant elite support in client countries for being under America's umbrella.  This support even remains present and actively involved in maintaining that relationship even in democratic societies where institutional control sometimes passes to people, like Chavez or Ortega, who actively advocate for independence policies rather than dependent ones. Just because the CIA or the army are sometimes called in to support a local constituency who implicitly favors American empire (no one explicitly does, not even in America) doesn't mean that the support of that constituency is not authentically "grass-roots."
by santiago on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 04:49:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I define capitalism as Marx does: a set of human relationships whereby society is organized for the benefit of an entrepreneurial class.
by santiago on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 01:26:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The entrepreneurial class died as a serious economic and political force in the successive merger movement of the first quarter of the 20th century. From that point on, the US (and, with a ten- to fifteen-year lag on account of the world wars, the rest of the industrialised world as well) has been a planned economy in all the dominant sectors of production. The Politburo has at times resided in the automobile and steel industries, at times in the military-industrial complex and at times on Wall Street (this latter version usually didn't work out so well...). At no point after the introduction of Fordist mass production was the entrepreneur a central player in the planning system.

This is, incidentally, an important reasons for the failure of Marxian policy prescriptions in the modern world: They assume that you start out with a capitalist society, and the society of the latter half of the 20th century wasn't capitalist in the Marxian sense of the term.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 02:06:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I am getting the impression that the empire you describe could as easily be named the World empire. If say the ruling center moved from Washington to Beijing, would not the empire you describe still stand?

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 08:24:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It is a world empire in scope, but it is also intrinsically an American one. One can imagine the center of affairs of such a polity moving into the hands of other custodians, much as the center of power in the Roman Empire moved from Rome to Byzantium under Constantine (and Antony and Cleopatra had previously attempted to move it Egypt), but for it to happen like that and not be the fall of one and the rise of a distinctly different empire, I think at the very least American leaders would need to comprise much of the political elite in China already, and I don't see that as a big possibility right now.  But who knows?  Chinese graduate students grow in American Universities every year, and most of them seem to want to go back and help China's rise continue after starting their careers in the US.
by santiago on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 12:11:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I do not know about China, but the politically similar Vietnam still has a policy that foreign-educated technocrats do not yet have access to the upper rings of the party in power...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 11:59:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And considering all the good that foreign-educated technocrats did to Russia and South Africa, that does not seem like an entirely unwise policy...

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Sep 16th, 2010 at 03:41:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
ARGeezer:
This is an interesting use of historical comparisons, but the Western Roman Empire did not fall to a superior competitor. It collapsed from within.
Look at Hellenistic civilization, then. It didn't collapse, it moved its seat to Rome and then moved back to Byzantium.

By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 06:13:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yet the key innovation that allowed Rome to develop as it did was that of expanding Roman citizenship beyond the Roman polis to include all of Italy including Cisalpine Gaul. That, plus the civil engineering tradition the Republican institutions, the military institutions and many other specific Roman aspects. Upper class Romans employed educated Greeks, often held as slaves, such as was Julius Ceaser's scribe, if memory serves. The Eastern Roman Empire was much more Hellenized than was Rome itself and Italy, where Hellenization was much more of a veneer. At least that is my impression.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 04:04:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
ARGeezer:
In the end the complexity that had built Rome was not sustainable and large portions of the population over large areas of the empire found life better under barbarians who brought a simpler but less complex system. The parasitic elite ruling class killed the host off of which it was feeding. This is the most likely fate of the US empire.

>>>
Exclusive: Elizabeth Warren in her own words - War Room - Salon.com

Has our financial system become too complicated for a person with a high school or even a college degree to navigate?

I think complexity has become a strategy. Let me just start with your credit card. In 1980, Bank of America's credit card contract was just a little over 700 words long. That is a little over a page, easy to read. You could tell what the terms were. Today, credit card contracts can run 30 pages or even longer. And much of it is tiny, incomprehensible print. Now, why the changes? Well, part of it is regulation. A large part of it is that a complex document is one where it is a lot easier to hide the tricks and traps. It is a lot easier to fool people. No one realizes until after they've committed $5,000 on their credit card that the interest rate is no longer going to be 3.9 percent, but is going to jump to 28 percent.

In other words, complexity is itself a part of the business model. It is part of what keeps the customer from evaluating the cost and the risk, and it is part of what keeps the customer from comparing product to product, which would drive the prices down. So, from my point of view, complexity really is the enemy. The American people have to be in the conversation; they have every right to understand what their contracts are, they have every right to understand what policies their government is embracing, and if I can be helpful in that, I am glad to do so.



'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty
by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu Sep 16th, 2010 at 12:09:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Rome, however, enjoyed a crucial advantage that America does not: After the defeat of the Hellenistic successor states (Carthago, Macedonia and Egypt), Rome enjoyed a technological advantage over the closest runner-up comparable in scope to the difference between the Conquistadors and the Incas. In every aspect of civilisation - agriculture, architecture, literacy, metalworking and infrastructure - Rome was the only game in town this side of India.

US infrastructure is a joke - get out of the Northeast and you're basically in a third-world country. US primary and secondary education is a disgrace. US universities still have some of the best labs in the world, but the distance to the rest of the industrialised world is in no way comparable to the difference between the Romans and the Germanic tribes. US metalworking will, if current trends continue, cease to exist by mid-century.

Oh, and the Romans had a sustainable economic model, at least until the plagues of the ninth century came around and shook things up.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 04:49:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'd dispute that. The US still holds wider technological superiority in everything, particularly when you look at its research university system and its ability to attract innovators even when they originate elsewhere. The evidence is pretty overwhelming here.  And Rome was not nearly as advanced compared to Egypt and the Parthians as America is today to its potential rivals or more rebellious clients. (And we've sparred before regarding your overly pessimistic opinion of America's metalworking industrial base.)

But more importantly, the Roman economic model was inherently unsustainable for most of its long life, based on either the plunder of conquered regions or on stripping citizenship from some to levy ever higher taxes and selling it to others for ever higher prices, not to mention being ruled by idiots and psychopaths much of the time. It was frequently at war with itself as well, something America has actually managed to avoid for a century and a half now.  But despite all of those documented internal weaknesses of the Roman empire, it still managed to rule its world for centuries and influence the world still today, which all speaks to the likely inertial longevity of Pax Americana.  

by santiago on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 05:41:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The US still holds wider technological superiority in everything,

Not in high-voltage electrical engineering (that's Germany). Not in nuclear engineering (that's France). Not in natural gas (GazProm). Not in railways (Japan). Not in communications infrastructure (EU). And that's just off the top of my head.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 06:47:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That's all dispersed among other potential rivals. Put them altogether, and you won't find a possible contender that has a higher technological base in general, or the means of producing it with a comparable university system.
by santiago on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 07:05:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That's only true if you treat the EU as a collection of independent states - if you aggregate the EU into one coherent polity (which, as the French are about to learn to their discomfort, is increasingly the proper way to view the EU), everything on that list except natural gas is done better in the EU than in the US. To which we can add solar power as well.

The US retains a clear advantage in semiconductor engineering, but since most of the actual production of semiconductors has been relocated to Indochina, this is a transient effect - R&D takes place in the context of physical production, and for semiconductors, that's not in the US anymore. Give it 20 years, and the US and EU will be comparable on semiconductor engineering, unless American industrial policy is radically reversed.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 07:38:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Is the EU a coherent polity yet? (Rhetorical question.)

One, the US conquered Germany when Germany was the most advanced country in the world technologically by far. It was the center of science, philosophy, and culture at the time, so there is more to the equation of empires than technological prowess and workmanship.

But two, the EU is part of the American empire, and very strong and interlaced part, so EU technology is American technology. That's why America can buy its new high-speed trains from Siemens. Empire expands the size of the polity, increasing its power by using what it needs from the expanded areas.  The US no more needs cell phone or train making or stem cell or steel making technology to maintain its power than Britain needed its own opium  or nutmeg plantations to retain hers.  Empire provides the means for a political elite to escape the technical limits of one's constituent base. What provides an empire with power is need of countries to be a part of it instead of outside of it, nothing more. That's where the evidence should be focused regarding the question of America's longevity as an empire.

by santiago on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 12:13:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Which brings us to the question of what, precisely, the US is doing for Europe? Another decade, two on the outside, and the Soviet Union will have passed from living memory among the Serious People.

So what precisely is the IMF, the World Bank and the Bank of International Settlements doing for Europe that Europe can't do better, cheaper and more efficiently through bilateral relationships with other trading blocs?

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 05:44:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, that is the big question. Why does Europe think it needs America?  Is it true that it does, or is the European political consensus just duping itself?
by santiago on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 12:42:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Short version: Until 1991, Europe did need America. After 1991, Atlanticism has been an explicitly right-wing project: The post-Reagan US offers an appealing model for looting an industrial society, and the right wing is all about looting. The European left-wing project does not need the US, but the European Left ceased to exist in the early 1990s, and has taken twenty years to re-emerge as a serious political force.

Slightly longer version.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 02:31:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That's what I used to think too. I remember getting involved in an anti-New World Order movement at the time, that never got off the ground, trying to advocate for the abolition of NATO instead of its expansion.

But there is an alternative to consider here too. Maybe what Europe has really always needed, even for the EU to be successful, was not to defend itself militarily from others like Russia, but rather to defend Europeans militarily from themselves -- to prevent the recurring cycle of wars among great powers that had plagued Europe since the Middle Ages until America overcame them all by default in WWII.  Perhaps being organized into the American Empire really does provide Europe with the Pax Americana that Europe needs more than anything else.

by santiago on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 04:59:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That was an indisputably valuable service. However, Europe is not a static place, and the need for an external agent to impose peace between European states, while indisputable in 1945 is greatly diminished or non-existent in 2010. For France and Italy to go to war with each other today is as improbable as California going to war with Arizona. Hell, for Germany to go to war with Russia today is about as believable as Alaska invading the North-West Territories.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 05:08:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But what about France and Britain?  (rhetorical question again?)

But that's the unanswered counter-factual here: Is inter-European conflict really diminished? Or does it just appear so because of the protective umbrella that America has been providing? What really happens if that umbrella goes away and, say for example, an anti-Islamic gay fascist party gains power in the Netherlands and starts causing institutional crises for the EU by unilaterally imposing some very "un-European" but popular laws that end up getting, say, German nationals of Turkish descent kidnapped and killed with the implicit support of Dutch authorities.  (Or substitute whatever other crisis of national, modernist ambiguity here, such as what happened in the Balkans recently.) Under NATO, such a situation wouldn't likely come to use of cross military operations.  But without NATO, can we really be so sure anymore?  The main reason that California has not gone to war with Arizona over its outrageous immigration policies is that neither state has its own army anymore. (The national guard isn't really a state militia anymore.) That's still not the case in Europe.

by santiago on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 05:27:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
santiago:
Is inter-European conflict really diminished? Or does it just appear so because of the protective umbrella that America has been providing? What really happens if that umbrella goes away and, say for example, an anti-Islamic gay fascist party gains power in the Netherlands and starts causing institutional crises for the EU

Ah - so you do have a sense of humour. :)

Not that the US doesn't have enough anti-Islamic gay fascists of its own to worry about.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 11:00:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, there's more than enough of that to worry about in the US.  But when it happens in the US, it's an American problem, not a European one, and it has nothing to do with the issue of empires.  When it happens in Europe, however, the dynamics may be a bit different, perhaps  because of the greater intensity of national and ethnic rivalries.  There's got to be a reason, after all, that Europe has such a militant history, and it seems a bit odd that such militancy has diminished so much in the last 60 years under the aegis of a foreign empire, doesn't it?
by santiago on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 11:21:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Uhm, Europe doesn't have a much more militant history than the US. The US just had a handy indigenous population to exercise their militaristic tendencies on, and the good sense to mostly refrain from exercising their militaristic tendencies on anybody who had a sporting chance of fighting back.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Sep 16th, 2010 at 03:20:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Opportunity for conflict, provided in the form of many smaller, linguistically diverse, and armed nations, provides for greater militancy, even if Americans are as militant or even more so, than Europeans.
by santiago on Thu Sep 16th, 2010 at 10:29:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The fundamental reason California can't go to war with Arizona is that Southern California would die of thirst if they tried. Similarly, the question you should be asking yourself is whether any two European countries would be able to secure their supplies of food, fresh water, deep water ports, fossil fuels, metal and electricity while simultaneously securing access for their troops to actually fight a war with each other.

Even if you do find such a pair, you will have to conjure up a scenario where war between those countries seemed to be profitable to the people running the propaganda machine of at least one of them. So the second question you should be asking yourself is why it should be more profitable for the war profiteers to make war in Europe than in Africa? After all, colonial wars offer all the nice things about wars (large military procurement with few questions asked about cost and quality, the possibility for leveraging jingoistic fervour into electoral advantage, promotions and decorations for the generals, and so on), without the drawbacks of fighting someone who has a sporting chance of shooting back (namely, the risk that the war profiteers' own factories might get blown up, that their political career might end because their parliament ceases to exist, or that they might find themselves personally on the business end of an artillery shell trajectory).

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Sep 16th, 2010 at 03:39:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The potential for profit is only one of the bases for which wars occur.  There are many others.  If profit were the sole basis, WWI never would have occurred.
by santiago on Thu Sep 16th, 2010 at 10:32:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The first world war only did occur when the supply of unclaimed colonies to have colonial wars in was exhausted. The warmongers of today have a much neater setup, in that our colonies are never really conquered or pacified, yielding an unlimited supply of rouge states to wage war in. Besides, Europe today is not Europe of 1914. Europe today is a bloc, Europe of 1914 was a set of different blocs that happened to be headquartered on the same subcontinent.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Sep 16th, 2010 at 10:40:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But WWI was only the penultimate in a series of inter-European spasms of military conflict, which tended to occur every couple of decades going all the way back to the Middle Ages. Before WWI were the Franco-Prussian and Austro-Prussian wars, and before that the Napoleonic Wars, and before that the Seven Years War, and before that the War of the Austrian Succession, and before that ...

All of these wars were "world wars" in the sense of being multinational conflicts, which Henry Kissinger famously theorized as being anti-hegemonic wars about restoring the balance of power among European empires agreed to in principle at the Treaty of Westphalia, when the dual concepts of the nation-state and international law were born.

And these all happened while colonization was going full steam.  In fact, one could say that colonization merely provided the  economic means for being able to afford the ever more expensive royal luxury of being able to wage war on your European cousins.

by santiago on Thu Sep 16th, 2010 at 11:09:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
santiago:
the US conquered Germany when Germany was the most advanced country in the world technologically by far. It was the center of science, philosophy, and culture at the time, so there is more to the equation of empires than technological prowess and workmanship.
That was because Germany had gone insane after losing a hegemonic war which was the consequence of an earlier bout of insanity.

The US is going the way of insanity. Will a couple of Teabagger President do to the US what the Kaiser and Hitler did to Germany's hegemony?

By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 06:33:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And that brings us back the question the diarist posed: Are America's neocon misadventures, particularly in Iraq and potentially in Israeli policy, enough to undo it? What I'm arguing is that maybe not, because unlike Germany, which merely wanted to dominate continental Europe as a hegemonic power, the US already does dominate the whole world without really having had ambitions to do so as far as its internal political consensus is concerned, much as Rome did in it's time.  

And Roman history is replete with insane and murderously self-destructive leaders as well, so the real historical question when it comes to empires isn't the common one: Why did Rome fall?  Rather, it is why, given its well-known  history of self-destructive action, poor leadership, and economic unsustainable, did Rome last so long?

by santiago on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 12:52:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
News of US hegemony will be news to Russia, China and most of South America.

In reality the US could disappear tomorrow and after some rather fraught re-adjustment, the rest of the world would continue without skipping a beat.

There would be wider and easier access to energy resources, improved economic stability - crises and depressions being one of the prime US exports - improved peace and security, and a useful resurgence of European social democracy as a viable political model.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 01:56:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Would there really?  Maybe, but maybe not.  What would be the consensus discourse for international law and security of property and personal rights for foreign peoples trying to engage in commerce, cultural exchange, and even love affairs across national borders.  We seem to have forgotten how difficult and comparatively rare and exotic such relationships actually were prior to the end of WWII.

It's completely possible that it would be as you say. But it seems just as likely that transnational activities could all but cease for most people who engage in them today, as they did after WWI, when some of the European empires began to lose their colonies and curtailed trade and migration with everyone except the Americas.

by santiago on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 11:31:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What would be the consensus discourse for international law

There's a consensus discourse on international law? Now that is going to be news to Russia and China. And Serbia. And Libya. And I really could go on here...

and security of property and personal rights for foreign peoples trying to engage in commerce, cultural exchange, and even love affairs across national borders.

"How badly will we piss off this guy's country of origin if we lock him up and beat him? Can we afford to piss off this guy's country of origin like that?"

How is that different from the way things work right now? Except, of course, in the sense that white, English-speaking people are going to find themselves on the sharp end of the stick a little more often, and brown people and Russians a little less often...

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Sep 16th, 2010 at 03:48:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But that's the whole point.  There is a consensus discourse on the basis for international law and norms for behavior as it regards how individuals engage in cross-border relationships, and that discourse is not likely to be shared by Russia, China, Libya, etc. absent US power to push it on actors from those regions when they engage with others.  The discourse is what we know as "liberalism," or rights-based discourse, which provides for individual human rights and private property rights as the basis upon which other discussions of how to interact across borders begins.  Without a common discourse, and a means of enforcing it on others who don't share it, transnational relationships of all kinds become inherently more risky, and thus reduced. (That's my hypothesis, at least.)

China and Russia are perfect examples of this, since their internal political discourse is often so contrary to the liberal one.  Their external discourse, however, is completely consistent with liberalism as actors from those countries relate with others in any number of spheres, from business activity to participation in liberal institutions such as the UN.  Property rights and individual liberties do form the basis of the way they relate with everyone outside of their own countries, and it is because they <i<have to</i> in order to have those relationships with anyone from the American-dominated world, which is almost everyone else.

My hypothesis is that without a powerful sponsor to champion a world-consensus on basic things such as individual rights to private property and freedom from government persecution, globalization will be reversed and transnational relationships will dwindle, like they did in the early part of the 20th century when colonial empires started to crumble.  That development can actually be a good thing for many people, but it would be a bad thing for others who currently enjoy the benefits of transnational relationships, including just about anyone who uses the internet as we do to communicate with others around the globe.  

Note that this does not speak at all to whether specific values promoted by the liberal discourse of America and its allies are inherently good or bad - just to the ability for that discourse to provide a common, universal ground for rules and norms of transnational behavior, reducing the risks of engaging in those relationships.  Empire provides a universality of discourse within it, and it is the global extent of the American empire that provides for the phenomenon we call globalization today. If my hypothesis is correct, the caveat would be that if the American empire were not global in extent but reduced to something much smaller, transnational relationships of the kind we see all over the world today would be reduced to regional areas of respective empire-like domains, just as they were in the 19th century.

What's some falsifiable evidence that would invalidate my hypothesis? I think historical evidence showing that there were, in fact, as many transnational relationships between imperial domains in the 19th century as within them would compel me to rethink it.

by santiago on Thu Sep 16th, 2010 at 10:26:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The discourse is what we know as "liberalism," or rights-based discourse, which provides for individual human rights and private property rights as the basis upon which other discussions of how to interact across borders begins.

Bullshit.

There is no discourse on individual human rights and private property. What there is is a "consensus discourse" that what English-speaking white people do is always right, and what everyone else does is always wrong if they disagree with English-speakng white people. How can you tell the difference between this and a rights-based discourse? Because when Russia or China tries to interact with the world in terms of a rights-based discourse - when, for instance, Russia tries to get paid for the gas it sells to Ukraine - the world pretends to be offended.

My hypothesis is that without a powerful sponsor to champion a world-consensus on basic things such as individual rights to private property and freedom from government persecution, globalization will be reversed and transnational relationships will dwindle

Leaving aside the fact that no such discourse actually exists, except as ritualised genuflections, the fact remains that the second-tier economic and political blocs - India, China, Europe, NAFTA, Mercosur and ASEAN - have fully the weight in both economic capacity and population that any pre-WWI empire. If the empires of the 19th century could guarantee transnational relationships, these organisations can do so as well, and for the same reasons.

What you will see is not a cessation of international relationships, but the cessation of the US function as a clearing house of international relationships. You'll see economic blocs engaging in bilateral relationships with each other, rather than bilateral relationships with the US. Now, from the perspective of the US, this will, of course, look like a diminution of the volume of international relationships. From the perspective of the rest of the world, however, it will look like a diversification and restructuring.

The joker in this game, of course, is that the transnational corporations will die in this change. If you view transnational corporations as media of exchange between different societies, this will look like a diminution of international exchange. But the honest way to analyse the transnats of today is not as exchange between the different societies in which they are based. The honest way to analyse the transnats is as quasi-sovereign societies of their own, with which other societies can interact. And in that picture, destroying the transnats of today is similar to Germany and Russia carving up Poland, or treating the €-zone as one country for purposes of measuring international trade. In absolute terms it is a diminution of international trade, but in terms of trade between the surviving nodes of the network it is not necessarily so.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Sep 16th, 2010 at 11:05:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Jake:
There is no discourse on individual human rights and private property. What there is is a "consensus discourse" that what English-speaking white people do is always right, and what everyone else does is always wrong if they disagree with English-speakng white people.

His assertion and your objection are part of that ongoing discourse, how ever much some may find it objectionable and hypocritical. It is,IMO, better to acknowledge the existence and power of that discourse, however much you want to undermine it. There is validity both to Santiago's statement and your response. Thesis and antithesis.

Santiago's statement:

My hypothesis is that without a powerful sponsor to champion a world-consensus on basic things such as individual rights to private property and freedom from government persecution, globalization will be reversed and transnational relationships will dwindle.

...may well be true and predictive of the nature of international relations if/when the USA is no longer able/willing to bear the costs of being the global hegemon. But the benefits of that hegemony are now going almost exclusively to the financial elites in the USA, so a decline of the power of the USA on the international stage MAY result in at least a relative improvement in the position of the vast majority of the population vis a vis the elite. And it may be found that the majority of the benefits of hegemony can be had at half or less of the costs. It is a long way from a unipolar world to a multilateral world with no one dominant player and there may well be many meta-stable nodes along that spectrum.

Among other possibilities is that many of the formal values of the current international system will come to be voluntarily accepted by more nations than will accept the current coercive system. That would be consistent with a fairer application of those values as embodied in rules. That is, of course, the optimistic outcome....

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Thu Sep 16th, 2010 at 12:39:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
His assertion and your objection are part of that ongoing discourse, how ever much some may find it objectionable and hypocritical.

I'm not disputing that there is a Washington Consensus discourse. I'm disputing that it has any but the most strictly ceremonial connection to individual rights and private property.

Claiming that there is a unifying international discourse on individual rights and private property is akin to claiming that Islam provides a unified discourse between Iraqis and Iranians because both genuflect towards Mecca. The actual international discourse is in terms of clients and sovereigns - a discourse that is not particularly American and which does not need an American hegemon to continue functioning. Pretending to a universalist discourse when in fact employing a colonial one is a typical conceit of colonial powers, and not one that particularly endears them to their colonies.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Sep 16th, 2010 at 07:13:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
santiago:
"liberalism," or rights-based discourse, which provides for individual human rights and private property rights as the basis upon which other discussions of how to interact across borders begins.

when these ideas first took flight, there was a comfortable gap between our climate-shifting planetary predations, and the ability of the biosphere to put up with us.

the liber in these 'liberal ideas', what made them liberal, was the championing of the individual's right to be treated with dignity, and he and his family's hard work building their home/estate not to be idly robbed from him by royal or state fiat.

very fine, and historically apposite.

but now individual rights are owned by corporations larger than states, mushrooming taxes force old people off the land they have worked for generations, sustainably, (if without contributing much to national exchequers or GDP), and eminent domain laws make mockery of these claims. so, establishing these baseline rules is fine and dandy, but they're riddled with loopholes and not lived up to more than very partially even by their loudest exponents. perhaps the ideas outlive their authors, or are failed by them, notwithstanding their ability to stay alive and morph with circumstances to new iterations.

riches were first accumulated by industrious farmers living in harmony with the land, if they grew 4% a year they could reproduce and expand until resources stopped them, and in many cases great civilisations waxed and waned, but surely capital(ism) originally consisted of that?

in our wish to organise our societies better we have troubleshot many ideologies regarding social justice, rules of law etc, any one only has to browse the bible lightly to see how many of those rules, bitterly defended to the death, are now obviously quaint or deranged.

either these noble old ideas need completely new bottles, or we can evolve more intelligent ones. they look great on paper, but are aspirational affirmations at best, and frequently lip-serviced with a nudge/wink, as in 'we know what's really going down, but let's go on with the charade'. america and its hegemon control are boasting a leveller playing field and a more humane approach to ideational international governance, but the rhetoric does not match the facts on the ground. will we expect a fairer system to flow from the chinese, bric group, the russians, the EU? all bets off. your point is well taken, and its easy to let carping perfectionism be the good's enemy, the main point i think is does it matter whose hand's on the tiller as long as we take a saner direction and ecologically and socially aware philosophy than the liberal ideas so endorsed (and betrayed), and cyclically (and i believe at least somewhat cynically) reiterated set of which you speak?

(not you being cynical, just to be a little clearer!)

thanks for adding so much solid counterpoint and interesting ideas to these discussions at ET, santiago.

apologies for the jumbled syntax too, a storm brewing, and my sinuses registering the barometry...

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu Sep 16th, 2010 at 11:25:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
santiago:
The discourse is what we know as "liberalism," or rights-based discourse, which provides for individual human rights and private property rights as the basis upon which other discussions of how to interact across borders begins.

This isn't the Anglo view of liberalism at all.

In practice there are two views of democratic liberalism. One accepts the usefulness of compromise and the limitation of absolute freedoms in return for freedom from anarchy and monarchic tyranny. It offers peaceful co-existence and enhanced opportunity at the cost of some relatively nominal  membership fees.

In the other 'freedom' and 'liberalism' are plain synonyms for 'artistocratic privilege.'

The sleight of mind promoted in the class war has been to persuade peasants that the middle classes battling on their behalf are actually threatening their (nonexistent) right to personal kinghood.

The Anglo model is essentially baronial, not liberal.

The Anglo interpretation of democracy is based on the right of every individual to become emperor in their own personal realm, with privileges that include lack of oversight, lack of accountability, selfish accumulation without overt consequences, the creation of subservient hierarchies, and - ideally - freedom from tribute.

The basis of the anti-government and anti-tax movements in the US isn't so much about taxation in the abstract, but in the fact that the existence of a federal government and an IRS directly undermines the sacredness of individual droit de seigneur.

You can't be a real emperor while you're still legally bound by other people's rules and demands.

In the limit this is ideal of personal kinghood is grandiose, immature, and adolescent.

But it's still the key guiding narrative in right-wing US politics and in business.

Europe meanwhile, after many centuries of this kind of thing, has realised that it's a spectacularly stupid and self-destructive way to run a culture.

It doesn't matter if the US model survives for the next few centuries in some form or other. What matters is the devastating loss of innovation, creativity, original thought and possibility that it trails in its wake - and all of those things are the foundations of real rights and freedoms, not the dishonest and strictly limited plastic freedoms that are the best the US model can offer.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Thu Sep 16th, 2010 at 12:34:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
santiago:
including just about anyone who uses the internet as we do to communicate with others around the globe.  

I would like to note that the telegraph was established as the first international wired communication system, with common standards during the 19th century. If Internet needs USA as global dominator, then was Britain the global dominator that the telegraph needed? Or did it not need a global dominator?

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Thu Sep 16th, 2010 at 01:20:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There's a way to answer that question: Follow where telegraph cables were laid. Controlling for distance and population or GDP, if I'm right, the cables should be greater within the respective commonwealths of empires and not between them, which would imply that if a given imperial commonwealth had been historically bigger, the magnitude of transnational relationships observable in the world would have been greater too.
by santiago on Fri Sep 17th, 2010 at 12:39:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What I think you would find is a telegraph net, that on the same landmass you would find more cables within areas controlled by the same state, then between such areas. Cables on the bottom of the oceans were rather few an expensive, and the only empire to control an international net reaching all parts of the world, was the British empire.

However, I bet the same - higher number of cables within political entity then between - can be said about the internet. For example, our own little branch of Echelon FRA collects data at the rather few nodes were traffic enters and exits Sweden.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Fri Sep 17th, 2010 at 03:52:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And once you're running cables anyway, you might as well run more capacity than you expect to need: The marginal cost of doubling capacity if you're running cables anyway is much lower than retrofitting extra capacity on afterwards. So as long as somebody finds it worthwhile to run internet cables across borders or geographic boundaries, there's likely to be connection. And this is likely to be the case, considering that even during the coldest bits of the so-called "Cold War," Western Europe and the Soviet Union were running gas pipelines across what was probably the least permeable border of the time.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Fri Sep 17th, 2010 at 04:07:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
the Roman economic model was inherently unsustainable for most of its long life,

It would seem that the same unsustainability applies to a society that will allow or even encourage the wealthiest and most powerful elements to devour the productive capacity of that society for short term profit and with no regard to the long term financial or productive sustainability of the society in which they operate. One of the things about dictatorships is that they can turn on those who created them, so this is short-sighted even for the very elites who are doing it. It is the sort of thing that those blinded by visions of Utopia can do when all they can see is what ought to be according to their vision.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 10:26:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Jake - US infrastructure may be a comparative joke, or even a real joke, but i don't think poverty in the US is yet comparable to the 3rd world. And even the infrastructure in the Northeast is due for failures.

You are so correct in that the Robber Baron 3.0 society has brought the infrastructure to pending chaos. After a decade of squabbling about modern transmission to no avail, longer in California, there are only a few points of light (new projects) amongst a deteriorating and fragile net.

Witness the cost of one small gas rupture in San Bruno.

Witness the decade long fight over who's going to pay for transmission upgrades... while at the same time utilities are rolling out profit-center smart meters.

Perhaps there are real pockets of 3rd world amurka, not counting beyond the pale NDN reservations (80% unemployment, forced sterilizations, violence bred by the conquerors... at least until the casinos came), where that's real, but few and far between. and some of rural amurka retains the ability to adapt very well, as that's what they've always done.

the point of my earlier comment is that together with the environmental destruction, including health effects, which looms like the four horsemen on the horizon, the ability of amurka to respond is challenged by the lack of education.

Lawyers and MBAs are not real good at designing, plannning, and building desalinization plants. They're not real good at restoring topsoil, though they may have to learn that quickly.

Anyway, for Santiago's benefit, here's Manhattan (Wall Street) towards the end of the century.



"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin

by Crazy Horse on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 05:59:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Jake - US infrastructure may be a comparative joke, or even a real joke, but i don't think poverty in the US is yet comparable to the 3rd world.

Of course not. The "third world" bit was supposed to apply only to the infrastructure (including, in the worst hit parts, parts of the education infrastructure).

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 06:49:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
great discussion.

santiago:

 There just aren't any rivals for the job, China notwithstanding, and there is no rising language for global governance and international relations today other than the rights-based one of liberalism which America has successfully spread throughout the globe through an odd combination of naive idealism, commerce, diplomacy and military conquest.

america contributed those before WW2, (unless you lived in in s. or c. america!), since then things have gone badly awry.

because they bet on the wrong fuel...

and, the america we knew and respected has been hijacked by those to whom the buying, monopolising and selling of said fuel has become much more important than even their own country's status as example, or moral indicator.

there's the core rot.

after america's graphic example, i think it will be much easier for other great powers to resist the temptation of moving into her vacuum. it's a terrible job, earning the hate and resentment of all you subjugate. it's also ruinously expensive...

corporate america is carving chunks out of the nation and the world and trashing them. no empire can survive this abuse for long, and it looks like the planet can't either.

'swhy energy decentralisation is, imo, the most subversively radical idea to come down the pike since the Enlightenment. right now it just looks like it's about business, but that's only the beginning.

if people have what they need for a happy life at home, they are a lot less amenable to demagoguery, and entreaties to go bashing up neighbours for more lebensraum, oil, blood diamonds, oil, lithium, oil, water, etc.

 did i mention oil?

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 12:13:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
All good points, but it still leaves what I think is the fundamental question about America's Roman empire-like place in the world: Is the present power of the US the way it is because some elites have conspired to make it so? Or is it rather the way it is because people have actually liked to engage in more transnational relationships of all kinds, commerce, communications, cultural exchange, migration, educations, etc., and it turns out that having an effective political organization with the power to establish and maintain institutions facilitates transnational living?

if people have what they need for a happy life at home ...

That seems like a pretty big "if" to me. Maybe there will always be some people who aren't happy with life at home, and maybe it's those people happen to running things now more than others.

by santiago on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 01:12:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
santiago:
Is the present power of the US the way it is because some elites have conspired to make it so?

Why yes, or at least: after ww2 USA was by default the mayor power, no longer only a great power (a status sought by such doctrines as manifest destiny and the Monroe doctrine). It then dedicated policies to stay that way, this set of policies is more famous as the cold war.

Btw, I fail to see why delusional ideas in the center of the empire, about the structure of said empire, is an advantage. If anything it should cause inefficient actions like sacrificing virgins in face of invasions.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Thu Sep 16th, 2010 at 07:49:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
santiago:
Or is it rather the way it is because people have actually liked to engage in more transnational relationships of all kinds, commerce, communications, cultural exchange, migration, educations, etc., and it turns out that having an effective political organization with the power to establish and maintain institutions facilitates transnational living?

well, it is rapidly appearing that 'having an effective political organization with the power to establish and maintain institutions' is more figment of imagination, wishful thinking and historical nostalgia than reality, except the pentagon, and even that looks a lot less effective lately.
santiago:

if people have what they need for a happy life at home ...

That seems like a pretty big "if" to me.
 and maybe it's those people happen to running things now more than others.

heh, i should have said 'happi_er_'.

santiago:

if people have what they need for a happy life at home ...

That seems like a pretty big "if" to me. Maybe there will always be some people who aren't happy with life at home, and maybe it's those people happen to running things now more than others.

with all we know these days about which essentials/baubles, intellectual or material, make people happy, (oops happier), that's why we need to do that.

were a millionth of the energy put into financial profit invested in more humanity-enhancing activities, we'd outgrow our collective, infantile need for hegemons. indeed america might have already fulfilled  the important transnational part of its destiny, and now like a dandelion head, can pass into history, knowing the seeds of its better ideas are winging everywhere the winds of technology blow.

ideas and technology outlive the empires that spawn them...

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu Sep 16th, 2010 at 10:41:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
melo
were a millionth of the energy put into financial profit invested in more humanity-enhancing activities, we'd outgrow our collective, infantile need for hegemons.

That is the consequence of having accepted that economics is its own autonomous sphere with its own set of laws and that the whole of society must be subjected to those rules. The consequence is that the values of our society are then collapsed into one value: Return on Investment, or Equity. That single value is grossly insufficient to serve as the basis for a functioning society, though it does seem to have served very well as a pretext for the looting of that society by a parasitic elite.

Unfortunately, it seems that the host is on the verge of expiring from the effects of parasitism. What can they do when they kill the host, the society in which they developed? There is no other suitably sized victim available, especially when one considers that this is not just a problem of the USA, but of the UK and the EU as well. I don't think they are going to be able to take over China or India. This mad notion that the economy can be abstracted from the society in which it functions, if acted on for a sufficient time, will destroy the society in which operates. It may well be that most of these elites do not understand and/or do not accept the self destructive effects their actions are having.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri Sep 17th, 2010 at 12:16:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
ARGeezer,"[...]It may well be that most of these elites do not understand and/or do not accept the self destructive effects their actions are having."

It seems to me these elites have beliefs regarding these issues. If so, then they're not likely to search out facts and exercise logic, which may account for them being oblivious to realities outside the bubble of their own personal world.

NVA, a viable option when the political process fails.

by NorthDakotaDemocrat (NorthDakotaDemocrat at gmail dot com) on Sat Sep 18th, 2010 at 01:27:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
but they also failed to accomplish any other positive outcomes, no matter how narrowly drawn
 

Looting the American treasury for the benefit of their cronies must certainly be counted a PNAC goal, and in this, at least, they were thoroughly successful.  

So successful that perhaps, for them, it justifies everything else.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Tue Sep 14th, 2010 at 10:22:12 PM EST
America and its empire may or may not be on the brink of collapse - I suppose that depends on how apocalypse minded one is.

I think, beyond a ten or fifteen year window, this isn't even an interesting question. Since the industrial revolution (or maybe the agricultural revolution) we've been building towards an all consuming "human empire." Today about 98% of human lives and an equivalent percentage of the planet's physical resources are dedicated exclusively to this project - the structure of which is well outlined by ARGeezer in this comment.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 01:22:10 PM EST
To which I should have added that it's the human empire we need to concern ourselves with - as it's our reality and it's in a lot of trouble.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 01:23:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's not just that the American empire is over - the idea of empire is over.

It's about to go the way of pharoahs and kings as an outdated and redundant political concept.

This may not be obvious yet, but it's an expected and perhaps even an inevitable philosophical progression from the current rather dismal state of affairs.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 11:04:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well said.

The dolphins who lifted conquest-centric empires for ever more-brief periods of time have insisted that their image shall only be used on causes they believe in.

"Be the Change," their guidon reads.

Never underestimate their intelligence, always underestimate their knowledge.

Frank Delaney ~ Ireland

by siegestate (siegestate or beyondwarispeace.com) on Thu Sep 16th, 2010 at 08:44:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
ThatBritGuy:
the idea of empire is over.

wouldn't that be great...

i think that's probably what we said every time another one hit the rocks of hubris and foundered.

perhaps you are right, and we are finally ready to want/deserve an existence untrammelled by empires/bubbles/yoyo pendula/calculated earthquakes/wars of conquest/attrition and institutional thievery.

there comes a time in every species' life...

secular, moral, civic, political, economic education, get em by seven, they'll be liberal humanists for ever!

(some perhaps after an obligatory period of fashionista rebellion ;))

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu Sep 16th, 2010 at 11:39:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
is to enrich defense contractors, and your first statement acknowledges that has been a roaring success arising out of PNAC imperialism. So, the PNAC authors were successful in what mattered most to them, and I bet the military-industrial complex has been very generous showing its gratitude.

;->

fairleft

by fairleft (fairleftatyahoodotcom) on Mon Sep 20th, 2010 at 12:16:44 AM EST


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