Of The American Empire
By John Chuckman
16 September, 2006
The rise now of China, Japan,
Europe, and others – India, Korea, and to some extent Russia and
Brazil – means the United States must be relatively diminished
on the world stage, much as an only child whose mother just gave birth
The United States is loosing
its capacity as supplier of many useful things to the world. This role
is being seized by China and others. The American working class, which
briefly achieved the status of world's working-class aristocracy after
World War II - industrial workers who enjoyed homes, cars, long vacations,
and even boats - has seen real wages declining for many years. It works
against rising competitors who can now deliver the benefits of their
much lower costs to the world owing to the phenomenon of globalization.
American manufacturing jobs are moving to the lower-cost places, replaced
at home if at all by relatively low-wage service jobs.
The American establishment's
vision of the future, implicit in its behavior and policies, has been
that traditional manufacturing jobs will pass to developing countries
while greater value-added high-tech jobs and intellectual property rights
will provide America’s economic strength.
But that is a somewhat arrogant
vision, because competitors like China and India do not plan to do only
lower value-added work, and they are uniquely gifted to succeed. The
Chinese, Japanese, and Indians have an extraordinary reservoir of natural
mathematical and engineering talent – every international competition
or test shows this starkly - that is only now beginning to be harnessed.
There is every reason to believe that over any substantial time the
US will decline to a secondary role in high-tech. China or India each
likely have something on the order of three or four times the natural
mathematical endowment of the US. Their new high-growth economies and
emerging modern infrastructure prepare the way for full application
of this priceless talent.
There are more forces at
work on the place of the American Empire than the emergence of other
economic powers, important as that is. Major studies of the decline
of empire – from Edward Gibbon to William Shirer - speak to the
overwhelming importance of the moral dimension in a society and of the
crucial role of capable and responsible leadership.
Polls show that three years
after launching its pointless war in Iraq, nearly half of Americans
still believed that Iraq was involved in making weapons of mass destruction.
Five years after 9/11, better than forty percent of Americans believe
Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11. Both of these ideas have been proved
complete fairy tales. But the concentration of American media and their
shared establishment interests with George Bush have produced a fabric
of omissions and exaggerations as great as we might expect in a non-democratic
society like China.
So-called liberal media,
the New York Times being the best example, do almost nothing seriously
to correct these misunderstandings. Indeed the Times helped drum America
into Iraq, an unforgivable manipulation from people who had the resources
to know better, and it did the same thing for horrific failures such
as the war in Vietnam. The American people are desperately misinformed.
What is the good of a ballot where grave ignorance prevails and is indeed
A menagerie of vitriolic
radio and television commentators plus a vast apparatus of phony think-tanks,
propaganda mills subsidized by right-wing interests, help greatly in
the effort to confuse public understanding. The vitriolic commentators,
little more truthful or civil in their speech than those doing the same
job for third-world dictators, reinforce popular myths and prejudices,
appealing to people’s lowest instinct to enjoy a good laugh at
the expense of others. The phony think-tanks, much like the Wizard of
Oz behind the curtain pulling levers to generate puffs of smoke and
dramatic noise, offer what passes for learned analysis. Both groups
receive an immense amount of broadcast time and publication space in
the United States.
Going back to the beginning,
it can be argued that many parts of the American Constitution - regarded
by Americans with a reverence usually reserved for scripture and a document
that is close to impossible to change in any meaningful way - are seriously
flawed and promote neither responsible government nor democratic principles.
The right-wing commentator and think-tank crowd always play up to the
quasi-religious notion that the Constitution is the most perfect political
document ever conceived. A disgraced, crooked, nasty right-wing politician,
Tom DeLay of Texas, always bragged of having a copy folded in his pocket,
almost like a priest carrying a bottle of holy water.
flaws leave little optimism for substantial political and policy change
in the United States. It’s as though all important political institutions
were trapped in amber. Without changing the Constitution's flaws, it
is hard to see how America's destructive policies at home and abroad
can be altered. There are many such flaws, but I’ll mention just
One is the Electoral College.
Many Americans do not understand that their vote for president technically
does not count. The Electoral College, besides being remarkably anti-democratic,
promotes corruption in elections with its winner-take-all provision
in states. It is amazing that a country more than two centuries old
and making great claims for democracy still can’t hold honest
national elections, both of George Bush’s victories, but especially
the first, being as dubious as something in an emerging nation.
Another ugly flaw in the
Constitution is the power of the Senate. It can veto the more democratic
House’s legislation. It must approve all major Presidential appointments
and treaties. It is a fundamentally anti-democratic institution, for
much of American history not being elected at all, but even now being
elected in a staggered fashion that insulates its membership from issues
of the day. Its internal sixty-percent rule for debate is plainly undemocratic.
You only have to look at photos of American Senators to see the swollen,
crinkled faces of arrogant (mostly) men, faces of bloated entitlement,
grasping power into their seventies and eighties. They resemble the
faces of heads of powerful families in the 16th century or, what is
almost the same thing, Mafia godfathers. Surprisingly often sons, or
other relatives, follow fathers as though they had inherited fiefdoms
or money-minting American evangelism ministries.
The Senate’s two members
for each state is an archaic nonsense that makes members from large
states virtually unreachable demigods. The two senators from California
each "represent" sixteen million people. The huge expense
of mounting media campaigns in large states, where a member could never
hope even to offer a live smile to most constituents, turns senators
into full-time Fuller Brush salesmen soliciting funds. The expense creates
two classes of constituents, those who give and the rest. Lobbyists
naturally exploit the situation, meaning policy reflects virtually only
the interests of the small group with meaningful access.
Dependence upon advertising
means tight control over what is disseminated, with voters expected
to believe the actor posing in a white lab coat on a patent medicine
commercial is giving genuine information. Advertising and brief appearances
on favorably-rigged talk shows generates attitudes of aloofness and
celebrity dangerous to the public interest. Thoughtfulness and real
debate at the national level have become uncommon.
The designation of the President
as commander-in-chief has proved an unfortunate provision with effects
the founders never foresaw. Many Americans do not realize that it was
the Parliament of Great Britain against which the early Patriots railed.
They saw the British Parliament as acting without the beneficent King’s
full knowledge, understanding fully that the King’s powers were
already heavily curtailed by the evolution of British parliamentary
government. The idea of the King as tyrant was built up later during
the Revolutionary War as a propaganda device, and it has been played
on by elementary text books since.
So in America’s constitutional
arrangements, command of the armed forces was granted to the new king-substitute,
the President (many founders had favored a lifetime or long-term president
who would be "above politics"). This authority was supposedly
offset by Congress’s having the only authority to declare war.
But as we all know, over the last sixty years not one of America’s
many colonial wars has been formally declared. The power to declare
war has become almost meaningless, but the power of America's Frankenstein
armed forces taking orders from a president-commander (often not even
honestly elected) is anything but meaningless.
The President does not himself
suddenly launch a war, although he clearly has at hand intelligence
and other agencies of limitless resources, whose leaders serve at his
pleasure, capable of constructing compelling myths for what he wants
done. He consults with key Senate and Congressional leaders, all under
the intimidating shadow of being branded as cowards (or almost worse
in America, poor patriots) in a fashion that is little different to
what a late-eighteenth century monarch would have done with key parliamentary
For that matter, few Americans
realize that even a dictator with such dreadful power as Hitler, for
the most part, did not summarily order dire events. Hitler consulted
and argued with other prominent members of government concerning major
turns in policy. Factions and other centers of power exist even in dictatorships.
It is just the people who are not effectively consulted.
The United States, under
George Bush, has spent itself silly on the military and security. It
has also foolishly spent much, if not all, of its moral authority in
the world - something derived from the many world institutions and arrangements
established at the end of World War II when America felt generous and
expansive - by going ahead with pointless destruction, ignoring world
opinion, as though the very act of doing so were the same thing as bold
leadership rather than the bullying it is. Bush is almost a parody of
poor leadership, believing himself a convincing figure with his jaw
squared, his eyebrows knit, while he mumbles what millions recognize
as platitudes and bald-faced lies.
The business of Bush wearing
a radio device concealed under his jacket for debates or press conferences
or important meetings - an indisputable fact from pictures of his back
taken at many angles - is a damning revelation of how under the American
system an incompetent can serve two terms as President. It is damning,
too, of the mainline media which never pursue such matters, choosing
never to embarrass a man who has done a great deal of harm to the nation.
America’s history is
important to understanding the attitudes of its people, although we
perhaps should judge American democracy today more by its external actions
which include invading pretty much any country it chooses, violating
the free elections of other countries, toppling democratically-elected
leaders, supporting the oppressive regimes, assassinating leaders, frequently
imposing destructive economic sanctions, and generally behaving the
way you would expect a bully to act who happened also to be the richest
kid in town.
Even an honestly elected
government which behaves without regard for those outside its territory,
which treats others as though they had no rights, can hardly be called
democratic in any meaningful sense.
The War in Iraq has been
called by an American expert the worst strategic mistake ever made by
the United States, and I believe that will prove a deadly accurate assessment.
How do all those American patriot types, clutching their private arsenals
in paranoid fear of government tyranny, fail to see how millions of
others, like the Iraqis, view American government tyranny abroad? The
enemies America has made in destroying and occupying Iraq will engage
it for many years in totally needless war and terror.
The Middle East has become
more unstable and less predictable for decades thanks to George Bush.
All recent American policies have been almost the opposite of what would
have proved appropriate and effective to a better future.
The glaring injustice of
giving Israel its way in almost anything, including bombing women and
children in Beirut, while the U.S. invades Muslim lands can only generate
frustration and despair beyond measure. Israel has become a garrison
state, a grossly inefficient economy, subsidized by the United States,
that maintains a nuclear arsenal and one of the world’s most powerful
armies, spending an extraordinary portion of its GDP on unproductive
military and security apparatus. It is now walling itself in and preparing
to carry on with little or no reference to the millions with which it
shares its part of the world, except to bomb and rocket them whenever
it feels rankled. This is a national vision from hell. The vision has
no long-term viability without endless subsidy, an indefinite drain
on American resources and the world's patience and a painful injustice
for millions of the region’s people.
Condoleezza Rice's disgusting
words about children and others torn apart by Israeli cluster bombs
in Beirut representing the birth pangs of a new Middle East pretty much
speaks for itself. Democracy? Democratic values? Human values? Nonsense.
Rather, they are words about as far removed from these values as you
I do not believe that any
nation which ignores the serious flaws in its democracy and treatment
of others can maintain the moral authority in the twenty-first century
required for leadership in the world. The world generally is evolving
towards democracy and respect for human rights. This is not a result
of American policy, it is the natural evolution of human affairs, it
is what happens as countries grow and prosper.
It is true, too, that any
nation which spends so much on its military, holding dear the anti-democratic
and anti-human rights values of any military, cannot maintain that same
moral authority. Eisenhower’s predicted military-industrial complex
is not a friendly face on the world, but it is indisputably the face
of America today.
Just consider, as one tiny
aspect of this, the disgraceful relationship between Vice-President
Cheney and Halliburton Corporation. Halliburton has prospered mightily
from Cheney’s role as a powerful advocate of war, and Cheney,
the company’s former CEO, has openly prospered from Halliburton
with all kinds of special payments since first running for office. It
is an open disgrace, but no more of a disgrace than the way money runs
American elections. The world outside America sees all this clearly,
and what else can the knowledge generate but cynicism and disgust? How
on earth can a man of this quality address the great principles of humanity
without causing listeners to snicker? How can anyone be expected to
take America’s high-sounding rhetoric seriously?
The American international
structure carefully built up after World War II is beginning to crumble,
although it is not always obvious yet since good appearances are carefully
maintained. A prime example is the crumbling of NATO. The grass is still
kept well-trimmed at headquarters, but America’s insistence on
making unnatural demands on this alliance, such as those it has made
in Afghanistan, are surely destroying what was once a powerful international
It may be just as well, for
Europe has a future more independent of the U.S., and perhaps the decline
in NATO only reflects an unavoidable changing reality. Europe’s
commercial know-how and technology make a natural marriage with Russia’s
vast natural resources. America has for a couple of decades worked to
suppress this development, especially with respect to Russian natural
gas exports, but it must in the end prove a losing battle.
Britain’s Tony Blair
has been exploited by the U.S. to spike European aspirations, much as
Margaret Thatcher was previously. Because of a shared history with the
former colonies, a good deal of residual xenophobia regarding people
on the Continent, plus a sense of its own special importance engendered
by memories of empire, Britain remains confused about its role in Europe,
and the United States keeps playing on this confusion to avoid a more
cohesive E.U. Such American policies in the long run can leave only
bitterness over manipulating Europe’s affairs, and they cannot
prevent what physical facts and natural self-interests dictate as destiny.
So, too, with respect to
Europe’s relations with the Middle East. Israelis sometimes talk
of Europe as being anti-Semitic simply because Europeans are more critical
of Israel’s policies. But Europe simply sees the problem of Palestine/Israel
in a clearer light than the U.S. where religious fundamentalism and
other powerful factors blur vision. Europe also naturally wants to cultivate
the best commercial relations with the owners of the world’s great
reservoirs of crude oil, so commercial incentives add to the force of
the moral view. Not only must Europe look to its future energy supplies,
but the E.U. is expanding, and Western Asia is becoming a next-door
These are just some of the
reasons we can expect a decline in the relative influence and importance
of the United States over the next decades. A more balanced, multi-polar
world is emerging. Unfortunately, the people who seem least ready to
deal with it are Americans.