Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The End of the American Century

Conservatives constantly bleat about "American exceptionalism" and bemoan the fact that the USA is less and less able to inflict its will on the rest of the world. What many of them ignore is the fact that their own failed policies and failed leaders have accelerated the downward slide of America's role in the world.  Some of the decline would have occurred no matter what as other countries in the world industrialized and modernized.  But failed policies explain much of America's lost standing.  In some ways it is remarkable that America never learned a thing from the decline of the British Empire which had previously enjoyed a century of world dominance. A piece in Salon looks at the end of the so-called American Century.  Here are some excerpts:
In 1914, the American Century began. This year the American Century ended. America’s foreign policy is in a state of collapse, America’s economy doesn’t work well, and American democracy is broken. The days when other countries looked to the U.S. as a successful model of foreign policy prudence, democratic capitalism and liberal democracy may be over. The American Century, 1914-2014. RIP.

A hundred years ago, World War I marked the emergence of the U.S. as the dominant world power. Already by the late nineteenth century, the U.S. had the world’s biggest economy. But it took the First World War to catalyze the emergence of the U.S. as the most important player in geopolitics. The U.S. tipped the balance against Imperial Germany, first by loans to its enemies after 1914 and then by entering the war directly in 1917.

Twice more in the twentieth century the U.S. intervened to prevent a hostile power from dominating Europe and the world, in World War II and the Cold War. Following the end of the Cold War, America’s bipartisan elite undertook the project of creating permanent American global hegemony.
This vision of a solitary American globocop policing the world on behalf of other great powers that voluntarily abandon militarism for trade has been shared by the Clinton, Bush 43 and Obama administrations. But by 2014 the post-Cold War grand strategy of the United States had collapsed.

China and Russia have rudely declined America’s offer to make them subservient military satellites, like Japan and Germany.  China has been building up its military, engaging in cyber-attacks on the U.S., and intimidating its neighbors, to promote the end of American military primacy in East Asia.

The U.S. still has by far the world’s most powerful and sophisticated military — but what good is it? Russia knows the U.S. won’t go to war over Ukraine. China knows the U.S. won’t go to war over this or that reef or island in the South China Sea. As Chairman Mao would have said, America is a paper tiger.

The U.S. military was able to destroy the autocratic governments of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya — but all the foreign policy agencies of the U.S. have been unable to help create functioning states to replace them. Since 2003, Uncle Sam has learned that it is easier to kick over anthills than to build them.

In addition to having a huge military that for the most part can neither intimidate strong adversaries nor pacify weak ones, America has an economy that for decades has failed to deliver sustained growth that is widely shared.

Apart from a revival of oil and gas production in the U.S., the economy’s main area of comparative strength has been technological innovation.

The picture is even bleaker when we turn our gaze from Silicon Valley to the rest of the American economy. The manufacturing sector has been decimated by subsidized imports from China, Japan and other mercantilist countries, and by the decisions of many American multinationals to shut down American factories in order to exploit cheap labor and take government subsidies in other lands. America’s infrastructure is decrepit, but Congress cannot even agree about how to fund the aging interstate highway system, much less invest in twenty-first century transportation and communications systems. Most of the jobs being created in the U.S. are in the low-wage, non-union, no-benefit service sector where millions are trapped in the status of the “working poor.”

The U.S. remains a paragon of liberalism and democracy compared to many foreign dictatorships and anarchies, of course. But the proper comparison is with other advanced industrial democracies. By that test, current American democracy offers little for Americans to take pride in.

Personal freedom? These days, Europeans insist on far more protections for individual privacy against government surveillance or corporate exploitation of our data than we Americans have been.
Having been captured by the neo-Confederate White Right, the Republican Party in one state after another is trying to change voting laws to minimize voting by disproportionately black and Latino low-income voters. And politicians of both parties have to grovel and scrape before a small number of billionaires, in order to win in the “money primary” that weeds out politicians who can’t find some hedge fund manager or casino owner to bankroll them.
With two lost wars in a decade, a stalled economy choked by parasitic lobbies and a political system dominated by billionaires, you would think there would be a sense of crisis in America. But neither party is willing to acknowledge the severity of our problems, much less contemplate the radical structural changes that are necessary to address them.

Those on the right who denounce “crony capitalism” perversely tend to focus on government aid to a productive industry like the Export-Import Bank, while averting their gaze from the most egregious examples of economic parasitism — finance-industry predators and the predatory medical-industrial complex. For their part, neoconservatives are in complete denial about the limits to American power illustrated by the debacles in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and, earlier, Vietnam. (To be sure, we did defeat Grenada and Panama).

The U.S. is facing a triple crisis — a crisis of foreign policy, a crisis of economics and a crisis of democracy. The American republic has renewed and rebuilt itself during even greater crises in the past, and can do so again. But the first step is to drop the happy talk and chest-thumping and flag-waving and be honest with ourselves about the severity of the problems confronting us.

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