AMERICA MUST GIVE UP
- DECADENT AMERICA MUST GIVE UP IMPERIAL AMBITIONS
By Anatol Lieven
November 29, 2005
Financial Times (UK)
THE WISDOM FUND News & Views
[Anatol Lieven is a senior research fellow at the New America
Foundation. His latest book is America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of
US global power, as presently conceived by the overwhelming majority
of the US establishment, is unsustainable. To place American power on
a firmer footing requires putting it on a more limited footing.
Despite the lessons of Iraq, this is something that American
policymakers - Democrat and Republican, civilian and military - still
find extremely difficult to think about.
The basic reasons why the American empire is bust are familiar from
other imperial histories. The empire can no longer raise enough taxes
or soldiers, it is increasingly indebted and key vassal states are no
longer reliable. In an equally classical fashion, central to what is
happening is the greed and decadence of the imperial elites. Like so
many of their predecessors, the US wealthy classes have gained a grip
over the state that allows them to escape taxation. Mass acquiescence
in this has to be bought with much smaller - but fiscally equally
damaging - cuts to taxes on the middle classes.
The result is that the empire can no longer pay for enough of the
professional troops it needs to fulfil its self-assumed imperial
tasks. It cannot introduce conscription because of the general
demilitarisation of society and also because elite youths are no
longer prepared to set an example of leadership and sacrifice by
serving themselves. The result is that the US is incapable of waging
more wars of occupation, such as in Iraq. It can defeat other states
in battle easily enough but it cannot turn them into loyal or stable
allies. War therefore means simply creating more and more areas of
anarchy and breeding grounds for terrorism.
It is important to note that this US weakness affects not only the
ambitions of the Bush administration, but also geopolitical stances
wholly shared by the Democrats. The Bush administration deserves to be
savagely criticised for the timing and the conduct of the Iraq war.
Future historians may, however, conclude that President Bill Clinton's
strategy of the 1990s would also have made the conquest of Iraq
unavoidable sooner or later; and that given the realities of Iraqi
society and history, the results would not have been significantly
less awful. For that matter, can present US strategy against Iran -
supported by both parties - be sustained permanently without war?
Indeed, given the nature of the Middle East, may it not be that any
power wishing to exercise hegemony in the region would have to go to
war at regular intervals in defence of its authority or its local clients?
Furthermore, the relative decline in US economic independence means
that, unlike in 1917 or 1941, really serious war risks US economic
disaster. Even a limited US-Chinese clash over Taiwan would be likely
to produce catastrophic economic consequences for both sides.
In theory, the desirable US response to its imperial overstretch is
simple and has been advocated by some leading independent US thinkers
such as Professor Stephen Walt of Harvard.* It is to fall back on
"offshore balancing", intended to create regional coalitions against
potential aggressors and, when possible, regional consensuses in
support of order and stability. Not just a direct military presence,
but direct military commitments and alliances should be avoided
When, however, one traces what this might mean in practice in various
parts of the world, it becomes clear how utterly unacceptable much of
this approach would be to the entire existing US political order. In
the former Soviet Union, it could mean accepting a qualified form of
Russian sphere of influence. In Asia, it could mean backing Japan and
other countries against any Chinese aggression, but also defusing the
threat of confrontation with China by encouraging the reintegration of
Taiwan into the mainland. In the Middle East, it could involve
separating US goals from Israeli ones and seeking detente with Iran.
Impossible today, some at least of these moves may, however, prove
inescapable in a generation's time. For it is pointless to dream of
long maintaining an American empire for which most Americans will
neither pay nor fight. My fear though is that, rather than as a result
of carefully planned and peaceful strategy, this process may occur
through disastrous defeats, in the course of which American global
power will not be qualified but destroyed altogether, with potentially
awful consequences for the world.
In 2000, the assets of of all Americans were $40.7 trillion; U.S.
government liabilities were $20.4 trillion. In 2004, the assets of of
all Americans were $47.2 trillion; U.S. government liabilities were
Source: Mohsin Ali O.B.E., former diplomatic correspondent for
Reuters, December 1, 2005
WORLD VIEW NEWS SERVICE
To subscribe to this group, send an email to:
NEWS ARCHIVE IS OPEN TO PUBLIC VIEW