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America: Quo Vadis?

Michael Werbowski, Prague, Czech Republic, May 7, 2006

In this essay on American so called "supremacy," I examine some domestic and foreign factors that can be attributed to this sole superpower's slow yet seemingly irreversible drift into an abyss. I will use historical "projection models" from the past comparing U.S. global domination to other imperial declines, such as ancient Rome, to better grasp the current context.

Rome in its heyday extended the borders of its vast empire in conquest after conquest then exacted a "tribute," or tax, on its subjected citizens. It was a reasonable trade off: the subjected peoples in return for a paying a "head tax" to their imperial overlords enjoyed the privileges of Roman civil rights and protection from barbarians thanks to the mighty empire's legions. Rome also exported its cultural grandeur, literature and architecture, which enriched the outer peripheries of the imperium.

By contrast, the United States exports "freedom and democracy." Decoded, these two words usually associated with liberty in today's context really mean tutelage by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (I.M.F.) in the form of debt repayments. Freedom, in the form of free trade agreements, is exported around the globe, which enables corporations to usurp national sovereignty and operate beyond the "rule of law" with impunity in pursuit of greater market access. In the process, this forces "target nations" to give up their rights over their domestic industries to multinational control and ownership.

The United States also exports its culture, such as video games and instant gratification in the form of fast food, to create an overweight and chronically ill populace on a global scale. This resembles a much cruder version of Rome's bread and circuses, which distracted both the citizens and the conquered masses at the same time. At home, America offers its growing illiterate, incarcerated or homeless population a brief reprieve from their pitiful existence by means of a computer generated "virtual reality."

The universality of Roman laws led to the modern day republic we call the United States of America. Yet America today (unlike the glorious Roman Empire) is unable or unwilling to extend "universal principles" abroad as it did after the Second World War so successfully in the form of the Marshall Plan to Europe. It only projects its military might in short bursts of "shock and awe." Hence, its power is derided in some circles as imperialistic aggression.

As a result, the United States is unable to win the "hearts and minds" of unruly peoples around the globe. It can bomb its perceived enemies, but it can do nothing to provide stability or prosperity after the use of military force, as it did in Germany and Japan in the post-war era. In fact, a deeply divided nation cannot even maintain a binding commonality of national purpose within its own borders. By that I mean invest in public education for its poorest citizens, provide universal health care for its oldest citizens, or secure its own borders.

This is compounded by a presidency restricted to promoting a corporate agenda at the expense of the greater good of the nation. Added to this is an administration willing and able to wage war, but not pay for it with higher taxes or able to ask its youngest citizens to make the "ultimate sacrifice." It is also unable to provide housing or decent pensions for its "war heroes" on the home front. For Rome, a similar situation, equally untenable, triggered revolts among its Legions. Perhaps America should do more to keep its troops happy.

Barbarians at the Gates

Implementing any national policy to stop the rot within the republic is hampered as well by the political chasms that divide the United States. The American "heartland," "the Bible belt," "the rust belt," and "the elite and effete Northeast," as they are called, are almost separate entities. These are disparate regions, seemingly insular foreign lands within an increasingly dissolute and divided nation.

Then there are the "ethnic mixtures" which make up the citizenry of the imperial republic. However, the melting pot simmering with immigrants is now boiling over. An increasing Latin-American population seeking their fair share of the American pie is demanding a political clout commensurate with their demographic weight. At the same time, their relatives on the Mexican side of the border are heading north in search of an ever elusive "American Dream."

One poor Mexican's dream is another Arizona cattle rancher's nightmare. Border States have mounted a patriotic resistance to this onslaught by mounting an armed militia that patrols for border-crossing undocumented day laborers with the benign consent of an overworked and underpaid federal border patrol.

How does one accommodate these growing internal-external border pressures, while at the same time engage in an endless "war on terror" overseas? The longer this question remains unanswered the faster America will slip into the abyss.

On the foreign front of the global scale American-state, the war in Afghanistan is being fought with too few ground troops. The same is true in Iraq. U.S. Special Forces soldiers try to win the war on terror by terrorizing local villagers who shelter their own "freedom fighters." Wielding a big stick without also dangling a carrot to the Afghan resistance, or any other armed opposition to the occupation, is unlikely to quell the ongoing uprisings in poor and backward states.

The same goes for Iraq, where one of the most costly wars in U.S. history is being fought. This unwinnable war is draining the U.S. treasury of more than $250 billion per year. Beating up bullies like Saddam Hussein or stomping on "military midgets" in the Middle East will neither win friends nor honor in the region for the United States, or quell a growing Arab insurgency. On the contrary, bombing semi-feudal societies "back to the stone age" is a futile military goal not far from utter folly.

The bombing must lead quickly to reconstruction and the stabilization and political engagement of the defeated enemy in post-war talks. In the case of Iraq, a far more advanced society than Afghanistan, the United States sought to pacify the nation with shock and awe followed by a brutal occupation. It has sought to put the ox before the cart by drafting a constitution in a state that is both at war and under occupation. How much longer can the United States finance such counterproductive conflicts even if they are meant to gain access to oil in the Persian Gulf? We all know the oil is running out, yet the Pentagon's strategists are obsessed with fighting oil wars just as we enter the post-oil era. This is madness!

Furthermore, America gets most of its imported oil in the Western Hemisphere from three client states — Mexico, Canada and Venezuela. It does not take billions of dollars to fund a massive intelligence agency to figure this out. South America is becoming increasingly troublesome for Washington, to be sure. But trying to overthrow its elected leaders is not likely to win Washington many friends in its backyard, either. For their part, Canada and Mexico are profiting from a boom in oil and gas exports to their American neighbor. A continental trade bloc within the context of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is a key element of American energy self-sufficiency.

Ironically, the United States, so heavily dependent on close economic ties to its North American trading partners, is damaging bilateral ties with these indispensable allies. Trade friction, differences over the Iraq war and militarization of the United States' borders has split apart the "Three Amigos."

Canada and Mexico have one big advantage over their "oil-aholic" neighbor: they are, relatively speaking, energy self-sufficient. This strategic resource, although nationalized in the case of Mexico, can be shared, provided the United States takes steps to accommodate rather than alienate these allies. NAFTA can be taken further and integrated into a European-style union with a common currency, a common immigration policy and labor movement flexibility.

But perhaps in the current state of affairs this is only a distant pipedream. Instead of courting its allies in North America, and France and Germany in Europe, the United States has hooked up with a diplomatic midget or "non-actor" on the international scene, as former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski refers to Britain. Mind you, I love foggy old England and its selection of warm ales and cricket matches. But why did America choose Britain as its deputy in the war on terror? Britain, no matter how charming it may seem from Washington, is still is suffering from a post-imperial complex. It has become a major base in Europe for terrorist cells and terror networks.

Furthermore, Britain has neither the economic resources (it refuses to join the world's new reserve currency, the Euro) nor the military muscle to support America's military theatrics.

Like "the mouse that roared," Britain goes to war with third-rate military midgets in the Balkans. Or in a more farcical fashion, against Argentina to protect a few dozen grazing sheep on a windswept barren island called the Falklands. Britain hopes some of its former imperial glory may rub off on America, and vice versa. Maybe America identifies with the old and dowdy "mother country" that it once spurned during the American Revolution. But such nostalgia is not worth much militarily or diplomatically in terms of winning imperial wars in the name of "freedom and democracy."

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