One and a Half Cheers for American Decline: The Future’s Not Ours – and That’s Good News
by Tom Engelhardt, September 21, 2010
Here’s a simple reality: the U.S. is an imperial power in decline — and not just the sort of decline which is going to affect your children or grandchildren someday. We’re talking about massive unemployment that’s going nowhere and an economy which shows no sign of ever returning good jobs to this country on a significant scale, even if “good times” do come back sooner or later. We’re talking about an aging, fraying infrastructure — with its collapsing bridges and exploding gas pipelines — that a little cosmetic surgery isn’t going to help.
And whatever the underlying historical trends, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and company accelerated this process immeasurably. You can thank their two mad wars, their all-planet-all-the-time Global War on Terror, their dumping of almost unlimited taxpayer dollars into the Pentagon and war planning for the distant future, and their scheme to privatize the military and mind-meld it with a small group of crony capitalist privateers, not to speak of ramping up an already impressively over-muscled national security state into a national state of fear, while leaving the financial community to turn the country into a giant, mortgaged Ponzi scheme. It was the equivalent of driving a car in need of a major tune-up directly off the nearest cliff — and the rest, including the economic meltdown of 2008, is, as they say, history, which we’re all now experiencing in real time. Then, thank the Obama administration for not having the nerve to reverse course while it might still have mattered.
Public Opinion and Elite Opinion
The problem in all this isn’t the American people. They already know the score. The problem is Afghan war commander Petraeus. It’s Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. It’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. It’s National Security Adviser James Jones. It’s all those sober official types, military and civilian, who pass for “realists,” and are now managing “America’s global military presence,” its vast garrisons, its wars and alarums. All of them are living in Cloud Cuckoo Land.
Ordinary Americans aren’t. They know what’s going down, and to judge by polls, they have a perfectly realistic assessment of what needs to be done. Jim Lobe of Inter Press Service recently reported on the release of a major biennial survey, “Constrained Internationalism: Adapting to New Realities,” by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs (CCGA). Here’s the heart of it, as Lobe describes it:
“The survey’s main message, however, was that the U.S. public is looking increasingly toward reducing Washington’s role in world affairs, especially in conflicts that do not directly concern it. While two-thirds of citizens believe Washington should take an ‘active part in world affairs,’ 49% — by far the highest percentage since the CCGA first started asking the question in the mid-1970s — agreed with the proposition that the U.S. should ‘mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own.’
“Moreover, 91% of respondents agreed that it was ‘more important at this time for the [U.S.] to fix problems at home’ than to address challenges to the (U.S.) abroad — up from 82% who responded to that question in CCGA’s last survey in 2008.”
Sooner or later — and I doubt it will take as long as many imagine — you’ll hear far more voices, ever closer to the heartlands of American power, rising in anxiety or even fear. Don’t think nine or ten years either. This won’t be a matter of choice. Our leadership may be delusional, but there will be nothing more to double down with, and so “America’s global military presence” will begin to crumble. And whether they want it or not, whether there’s even an antiwar movement or not, those troops will start coming home, not to a happy nation or to an upbeat situation, but home in any case.
But cheer up. The news isn’t all bad. Truly. We’ve just gotten way too used to the idea that the United States must be the planet’s preeminent nation, the global hegemon, the sole superpower, numero uno. We’ve convinced ourselves that neither we nor the world can exist without our special management.
So here’s the good news: it’s actually going to feel better to be just another nation, one more country, even if a large and powerful one, on this overcrowded planet, rather than the nation. It’s going to feel better to only arm ourselves to defend our actual borders, rather than constantly fighting distant wars or skirmishes and endlessly preparing for more of the same. It’s going to feel better not to be engaged in an arms race of one or playing the role of the globe’s major arms dealer. It’s going to feel better to focus on American problems, maybe experiment a little at home, and offer the world some real models for a difficult future, instead of talking incessantly about what a model we are while we bomb and torture and assassinate abroad with impunity.
So take some pleasure in this: our troops are coming home and you’re going to see it happen. And in the not so very distant future it won’t be our job to “police” the world or be the “global sheriff.” And won’t that be a relief? We can form actual coalitions of equals to do things worth doing globally and never have to organize another “coalition of the billing,” twisting arms and bribing others to do our military bidding.
* bold added