U.S. Empire: Not Fade Away

I wanna tell you how it’s gonna be.

But I really cannot. Prediction is just vastly more difficult than action, which makes it even odder that so much of the former goes on, and so little of the latter.

I just read In The Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power by Alfred McCoy. It’s one of the better books I’ve read in a long time on the history and current state of U.S. militarism. It’s excellent on the truly ridiculous (my word, not the book’s) chess analogy that has driven imperialist thinking, on the outcomes of backing dictators as puppets, and on the abuses of secret agencies — including their role in the drug trade in places like Nicaragua and Afghanistan.

McCoy gives us a good history of the surveillance state and its roots in the U.S. war on the Philippines, plus a fairly familiar account of U.S. torture over the decades, as well as a survey of new death technologies including space drones.

But I’m not convinced that a theme of declining empire ties all this material together. It seems to me that torture and drug dealing and proxy wars and weapons development can go on for centuries or end swiftly — unless the environmental damage they do and nuclear apocalyptical risk they entail limit their lifespan.

McCoy sees genius and success in the militarism behind Iran-Contra in contrast to miserable failure in the U.S. handling of opium production in Afghanistan. Perhaps. But U.S. actions in Latin America produced a World Court ruling, prison sentences, and the strongest opposition to U.S. empire on earth, whereas the U.S. war on Afghanistan has produced indefinite tolerance of endless killing and dying, no matter what additional crimes accompany it.

In the Shadows ends with analysis of China as a rival to the U.S., plus some truly laughable glorification of Barack Obama as a grand master anti-war imperialist (though stating that this comes at the expense of democracy in the U.S.). McCoy frames all of this as an international contest with the goal being to win, and he predicts horrible times ahead as empire ends, openly stating that his predictions are all based on the assumption that the U.S. public “cannot or will not take steps to slow the erosion of their global position.”

But what if they/we were to take steps to change our government’s approach to the world, including its focus on a “global position”? Britain did well for itself by curtailing its imperialism, not by slowing imperialism’s demise. I recommend following/chasing a book like In the Shadows with one like Authentic Hope by Jack Nelson-Palmeyer in which people are seen as having potential agency as democratic participants in shaping the future.

Authentic Hope is a book that has a chapter called “Good Riddance to Empire.” Indeed. And good riddance to imperial thinking. And to hell with the idea that China having a “larger” economy than the United States is bad news; China has more people than the United States too! It should have a larger economy for godsake.

Nelson-Palmeyer’s book focuses on things that should be done: create sustainable practices, control population size, improve local agriculture, reduce inequality, reduce militarism. We should consider, Nelson-Palmeyer suggests, the incredible — almost unfathomable — good that could be done for the people of the United States and the rest of the earth by redirecting the funding that now goes into militarism.

I’d like to see more proposals that people in the United States come to identify their interests with those of all other people, and fewer ideas on how to maintain a level of superiority — which I predict can only lead to an inferior outcome for everybody.

Well love is love and not fade away.

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