Monday, April 09, 2007

Is the American Empire on the Brink of Collapse?

U.S. military/CIA expert Chalmers Johnson argues that are ever expanding military spending, the health care and Social Security demographic crash, and overreaching ignorant elitists in DC will bring about national bankruptcy and the end of the Empire.
But the broad argument that I'm trying to make in Nemesis is that history tells us there's no more unstable, critical configuration than the combination of domestic democracy and foreign empire. You can be one or the other. You can be a democratic country, as we have claimed in the past to be, based on our Constitution. Or you can be an empire. But you can't be both.

The classic example is the Roman republic, on which our country was, in many respects, modeled. They decided, largely through the influence of militarism, to retain their empire. Having decided to retain it, they then lost their democracy due to military intervention in politics after the assassination of Julius Caesar and the coming to power of military dictators. They were termed Roman emperors, but they were essentially military dictators.

There is an alternative model that I advocate in the book. It's not as clear-cut an example, but it is certainly one that's relevant, and that is Great Britain after World War II. After the spectacular war against Nazism, it was brought home to the British that if they were going to retain the jewel in the crown of their empire, namely India, with its huge, vast population, it could do so. It could keep people under its control through military force. They'd used that often enough in India, as it was.

In light of the Nazi experience, though, it now seemed almost impossible to go in that direction. Britain realized that to retain its empire, it would have to become a tyranny domestically. It chose, in my view, to give up its empire. It didn't do it beautifully, and we see imperialistic atavisms all the time, Tony Blair being the best example. But it chose to give up its empire in order to retain its democracy....

I believe that we're close to a tipping point right now. What happened to the Soviet Union between 1989 and 1991 could easily be happening to us for essentially the same reasons. Imperial overreach, inability to reform, rigid economic ideology. And we have, as you know, also very serious economic dependencies on the rest of the world now. We are a wholly indebted country. We're not paying for the things we're doing....

I believe we will stagger along under the fa├žade of constitutional government until we're overtaken by bankruptcy. Bankruptcy will not mean the literal end of the United States, any more than it did for Germany in 1923, or China in 1948, or Argentina just a few years ago, for 2001 and 2002.

But it would mean a catastrophic shake up of the society, which could conceivably usher in revolution, given the interests that would be damaged in this. It would mean virtually the disappearance of all American influence in international affairs.
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