Difficult Times Ahead
Cheney/Bush and his Phony War on Terror (h/t to Ranger Against War for that entirely appropriate label) may well be the end of America as we have known it. Perhaps neither his criminal cabal nor catastrophic wars are each sufficient in itself to fundamentally change this nation but, taken together with other events and world trends, they portend difficult times ahead. Mired in a $100 billion per year war and saddled with about $1.0 trillion in non-productive military spending, American enters the 21st Century at a distinct disadvantage in a world of rising economic powers.
Like Mark Twain’s death, America’s decline has been predicted before. The closing of the American frontier in 1890 ended a driving catalyst for change in 19th century America: renewal by moving on. The Great Depression raised fears about the end of capitalism and American industrial might. With each prediction, however, came new opportunity—largely--due to this nation’s favored geographic and resource advantages—that renewed Americans’ hope. Even the end of our energy independence in the 1970’s did not to change America’s trajectory. Along with our geographic and resource advantages, the nation benefited greatly from a well-educated populace and individual initiative. Our good fortune has grown from the many times the nation has risen to the occasion and figured out how to make do in difficult circumstances. In the process, we have earned a reputation for innovation, openness and generosity despite our unfortunate racist and violent tendencies.
But now I don’t see America with many good options left. We are squandering our blood, treasure and reputation in a desperate attempt to stop history. I’m not just talking about the US here; I’m looking at North America as a whole in competition with the rest of the world. While Europe, Russia and Asia are emerging as economic powers, based on (you guessed it) economic, resource and geographic advantages, North America is composed of a massively debt-redden, hemorrhaging economy (US), a failed nation-state plagued by corruption and violence, unable to support its growing population (Mexico) and other nations that offer little hope for their people (Central America). Canada seems pretty stable but it is unlikely to serve as an effective counterweight to the US and the rest of the continent.
America’s challenges are not entirely unique—other nations and regions have their own problems of instability, economic injustice and violence. What IS unique is that for the first time in my experience America seems to have little beyond its military strength to fall back on—no frontier, no colonies, declining industries, a diminished currency. And whatever military advantage we still have is quickly eroding in the meat grinder of the Middle East where determined adversaries have turned our strength against us. “Bleeding America to to the point of bankruptcy,” in the words of Osama bin Laden.
Maybe I’m being too pessimistic; maybe America will find its place in changing world where our technology, initiative and innovation will contribute to sustainable economic opportunity and justice for all. But 60 years of an ever-expanding National Security State and especially the past seven years of Cheney/Bush crypto-dictatorship don’t offer much hope for me. The paranoia and militarism that have grown in America since the end of WWII have changed this nation for the worse. We turned much of our national life over to a military culture that spawned massively unproductive investment. Instead of roads, schools, health care and other social goods, we built weapons that rapidly became obsolete as adversaries developed effective counter-measures.
And, then the “all powerful” Soviet Union simply evaporated under its inherent economic contradictions and the end of the Communist experiment in Eastern Europe. Instead of seeing this long-predicted (George Kennan, 1949) collapse as a new opportunity to welcome a former adversary into a mutually beneficial world community, America’s leaders behaved like conquerors, demanding concessions and obeisance from a nation with a proud heritage of history and culture, strong sense of nationalism and a people who have endured more trauma than most Americans will ever know. A simple reading of history should remind anyone that picking a fight with Russia is a losing proposition.
Even more shortsighted has been America’s unwillingness to look to the future even as domestic energy sources declined. We’ve known about the limitations and vulnerabilities of our fossil fuel resources for decades now and done nothing beyond continuing to rely on the promise of more cheap energy, even if we must support repressive regimes or use military force to secure what we and our allies consider necessary supplies of that energy. In doing so, America has earned the enmity of the peoples whose resources we covet, giving rise to violent opposition to not only our actions, but even to the very idea of America.
None of this is new with CheneyBush. He is simply the latest in a long line of myopic and short-sighted leaders. The difference is that America has little in reserve to protect itself against the this catastrophic failure. The erosion of civil liberties and sweeping assertions of presidential authority are also not new but this administration has certainly given head to the executive’s natural inclination toward tyranny (that’s why the Framers limited presidential powers) in much the same way it has ballooned our national debt. At best, I see only a slowing of the trend with the coming change in administrations. Even if he wanted to, I doubt Obama has either the skill or experience to challenge the corporate-military state that CheneyBush has nurtured so much more than his predecessors. John McCain will surely keep it fat and happy.
As an American who inherited a dynamic but flawed society, I am embarrassed to leave behind the severely deteriorated polity that has evolved in my lifetime. I would like to think that this nation, which has offered much to the world, can still rise to the occasion, can still give life to the ringing words of our founding documents. I very much want to believe that. Current prospects make that belief a matter of faith.
Labels: american empire