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    DECADENT AMERICA MUST GIVE UP IMPERIAL AMBITIONS By Anatol Lieven November 29, 2005 Financial Times (UK) THE WISDOM FUND News & Views
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 6, 2005
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      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
      American Nationalism.]

      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
      wherever possible.

      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
      $43.3 trillion.

      Source: Mohsin Ali O.B.E., former diplomatic correspondent for
      Reuters, December 1, 2005



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