COVID-19: What the Virus Might Do to the American Empire

In the new diplomatic landscape, which can as yet only be dimly seen, old verities going back to 1945 will be rediscovered, writes Tony Kevin. 

Woolworths supermarket shelves in Melbourne, Australia, cleared by pandemic buying, March 2020. (Christopher Corneschi, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

By Tony Kevin
in Canberra, Australia

Special to Consortium News

Under current CV19 lockdowns, there is much quiet time at home in which to reflect on how dramatically the virus is even now changing our familiar New Cold War world, and how such changes will gather force as the weeks of crisis unfold.

Australia is a good place from which to reflect: an excessively obsequious minor member of the U.S.-led anti-Chinese and anti-Russian Western strategic alliance, Australians are also conflicted by our need to earn a living and our obvious economic dependence on our major trading partner and Asia-Pacific strategic neighbor China. Two contradictory imperatives are gnawing at the minds of thinking Australians.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in September 2019 at state luncheon in Washington. (State Department, Ron Przysucha)

Meanwhile, the 120-year old Australian federal system is under strain: a symptom of world politics also under strain. The federal Prime Minister Scott Morrison, with the task of protecting as much as he can of the shrinking national economy, failed like President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Boris Johnson to take the hard lockdown decisions early enough. It has been a case of too little too late, with the state premiers finally this week seizing the baton from him, locking down and isolating their states to preserve their populations’ lives – with the federal government following belatedly behind.

Only today, a leading Australian mining-industry oligarch, Andrew Forrest, announced that the public interest, charity arm of his company, Fortescue Minerals, had negotiated with the Chinese government to secure ample supplies for his home state Western Australia of desperately sought Chinese-made personal protective equipment (PPE) which will be essential to combat the virus as it expands into WA.

Minutes earlier, WA Premier Mark McGowan had warned the federal Australian government in tough public language to rapidly move the Covid-19 quarantined German cruise ship Artania away from Perth, and away from Western Australian coastal waters. He asserted that his primary duty was to protect West Australians from CV19, and he would not let Perth become known as a safe haven for homeless, stricken cruise ships. The matter remains unresolved.

Changing How We Think

Around the world, borders are closing down to all but essential travel. Online, we still seem to be one world. I can, thank goodness, easily plug in to what people in Beijing and Moscow, as well as in Washington and London, are saying. But globalization is rapidly becoming anachronistic (in its original literal Greek meaning– “in the wrong time”) in terms of mass global flows of people and, increasingly even, of goods and services themselves.

For instance, it is hard to see the (largely American-created) massive cruise ships industry, or mass airborne global holiday tourism, recovering quickly — or even, ever — from CV19. For a long time, people are going to want to stay closer to home and avoid such risky disruptions in their and other people’s lives. The globalization model is broken.

The pandemic’s brutal, erratic course around the world – from China to Korea and Italy, thence to Spain, the U.K. and worst of all to the USA, is rapidly changing the way we will think about the world and about our respective countries’ and elites’ participation in it. CV19 is a disease with our rich elites’ fingerprints all over it: their privileged globetrotting lifestyle, serviced by armies of Third World serf labor, is in an ugly spotlight now.

Example of the barriers set up throughout Beijing to control foot traffic during the pandemic. (James Barnard)

Old Ideologies Dissolve

One cannot predict what the world will look like after this pandemic runs its course. One certainty: it will be very different from the world before CV19, with the knowledge of other such viruses potentially to come.

Let’s look at the de-coupling of supply lines: a concept first touted by U.S. strategic thinkers before CV19 struck, as part of warfighting Cold War Redux. Western governments wanted to reduce dependence on superstar firms like Huawei, to “de-couple” strategic Western industries from the risk of Chinese sabotage. The plan was to reduce markets for Chinese suppliers of key information technology, despite Chinese mastery of the lowest-cost capitalist production mode.

Now the boot is on the other foot. Goaded by sanctions and other Western interference, China and Russia are well on the road to research, industrial and agricultural self-sufficiency for the Eurasia-centered heartland. Meanwhile the U.S., caught at the end of global supply chains that all seem to start in China, is begging for much-needed ventilators and PPE: in competition with people like Andrew Forrest, who know how to deal with China.

Two groups of people in our Western societies are finding it particularly hard to get their heads around the rapid dissolving of old ideological certainties.

First, the brave and bold radical movements in the West. Used to exposing a constant diet of disinformation from Western Deep State sources, they find it hard to believe that CV19 can be more than another propaganda trick by the Deep State to strengthen its control over society. They refuse to see the real threat CVI9 poses to decent human societies, by the fact of its extreme virulence, delayed visible symptoms, and generation-sensitive lethality. They cling to their familiar worlds of friends and enemies, and lose sight of medical and epidemiological realities. They try to rationalize CV19 away.

More significant here is the Western strategic community, caught now in a similar, increasingly anachronistic world of familiar friends and enemies. Cold War Redux, which by one measure began around 2013 with Western-instigated anti-Russian violent regime change in Ukraine, Russia’s vulnerable underbelly, is now so deeply embedded in Western strategic thinking that even the most thoughtful Western strategists find it hard to see beyond its familiar boundaries of thought and policy.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo continues to fulminate thoughtlessly and vindictively, threatening ever-crueler sanctions against Iran and Venezuela. The White Helmets continue to foment false chemical warfare allegations, in the war against the legitimate Syrian government, which their side are losing. NATO continues automaton-like to arm and exercise against the imagined Russian threat.

Coronavirus patients at the Imam Khomeini Hospital in Tehran, Iran. (Fars News Agency, CC BY 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

A ‘Pitiful, Helpless Giant’

CV19 is collapsing this dangerously illusory world. Let’s look first at military logistics.  Spectacular news broke on Tuesday that the captain of the U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, on station near Guam, has requested the immediate evacuation of 90 percent of his crew of 4,000 into individual quarantine after the carrier reported an outbreak of CV19 on board. Over 70 crew members have tested positive for C19 and in cramped ship conditions the disease is spreading fast. The captain recommends a skeleton crew of 400 be left on board, to safeguard the ship’s weapons and reactors while it is quarantined and sanitized.

More contradictions: The U.S. has been forced to suspend a planned attack on pro-Iranian Shia militia in Iraq, because of spreading CV19 in U.S. bases in Iraq. Planned massive NATO maneuvers this summer on the Russian border have had to be scaled back severely due to CV19 risks. Faced by horrendous mortality facts and projections in New York, Trump is forced to send the U.S. Navy’s largest hospital ship there to bolster local overstretched medical resources. China and Russia – the putative enemies – are flying much-needed medical relief supplies in to the U.S.

The U.S. may be sliding towards becoming the “pitiful, helpless giant” which Richard Nixon warned against in 1970.

The USS Theodore Roosevelt. (Flickr)

The familiar diplomatic fabric of our former world is also under intense pressure now. The UN and the UN Security Council, for long theaters for ritualistic Cold War games, is being energized by the CV19 world crisis.  UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has denounced the anachronism and cruelty of wars and sanctions by powerful countries in the new CV19 world. He has called for a “ceasefire.” His call was supported by the Pope, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping and so far 53 UN member nations.

More and more, the U.S. and its NATO allies look like a resentful and recalcitrant rump of ill-wishers. The U.S. blocks a motherhood UN Security Council resolution calling for unified world action against CV19, because China and Russia reject draft resolution language claiming that the virus originated in China.

The Dark Web

Let’s look at that troubling question. In what country did the CV19 virus first break out? In wet wild animal markets in Wuhan, or in germ warfare laboratories? Did it break out accidentally or was it deliberately released? The Dark Web is full of disturbing allegations and counter-allegations. So far, none of the major powers have dignified any such allegations at the level of official government statements. The ships of states sail on, but there is angry gossip just below decks.

Trump, Putin and Xi would undoubtedly know of these ugly stories. It is no coincidence that in recent days the three leaders are again talking cordially. Trump’s Cold War hawks in Washington have been silenced for now. Trump knows he has to maintain civility towards his partner leaders who are now helping his stricken country. He needs them. And they are too professionally gracious to humiliate or reprimand him in America’s hour of need.  All three will observe the courtesies, whatever the Dark Web is alleging.

Let me draw this together: the pre-CV19 economic, strategic and diplomatic world is starting to unravel in myriad ways which are not yet clear. In its death throes, the dying Cold War world will take casualties:  NATO, conceived as a Euro-American aggressive military alliance against Russia; the war-mongering Pompeo and the U.S. fondness for economic sanctions against its enemies.

What Might We Expect?

President Donald Trump in Churchill War Rooms, June 2019, in London. (White House, Shealah Craighead)

In the new diplomatic landscape, which can as yet only be dimly seen, old verities going back to 1945 will be rediscovered. The UN Security Council will again find its proper role as a collective instrument of world solidarity against aggression by any – any — powerful nation that goes rogue. The U.S. will learn again how to practice real diplomacy based on nations’ sovereignty and mutual respect, instead of crude great power bullying. Russia and China will generously put their past hurts behind them, secure in their new strength after Putin’s establishment of an invulnerable, nuclear MAD deterrent and the nightmare experience of CV19.

In this model future – I will admit, an optimistic model, but not grossly so– the world will begin to recover its sanity. We will gradually step back from the precipice of nuclear devastation on which we have teetered for at least the past seven years. We will work together to build less environmentally destructive systems of global trade and travel, armed with the new knowledge that having survived CV19 lockdowns will bring. We will concentrate on rethinking societies, and on rebuilding public order and confidence and respect for all classes in Western societies after the terrible wounds CV19 is inflicting on the weak and poor as I write. We will work together to put in place more resilient, less fragile systems of global trade and cooperation.

I argue here, in sum, that the U.S. and its obedient allies cannot go on fighting an anachronistic Cold War Redux against China and Russia, while the world struggles to defeat CV19, this stealthy new common enemy.

And that when this war is won — as it will be won: to then go back to Cold War Redux will seem increasingly distracting and pointless. I think Trump, for all his faults, dimly gets this already. As Xi and Putin certainly do.

Tony Kevin is a former Australian senior diplomat and the author of six published books on public policy and international relations.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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25 comments for “COVID-19: What the Virus Might Do to the American Empire

  1. DH Fabian
    April 3, 2020 at 01:12

    I got as far as, “the brave and bold radical movements in the West.” Those days are long behind us. There was “Black Lives Matter,” in the US, which called attention to a critically important issue that was quickly turned into a tool that only more deeply divided people. Then there was Occupy, which was almost instantly reframed as a (meaningless) pep rally for the middle class. I can’t say what’s happening throughout the Western world, but that’s the closest the US came to seeing any sort of “radical movement” since the early 1970s.

    • April 4, 2020 at 11:21

      Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter were rapidly turned into controlled opposition, through the intervention of NGOs with shadowy funding. In the absence of principled leadership they became sounding boards for their shrillest and nuttiest voices. OWS burned out completely and BLM became just another interest group within the Democratic Party. I’m convinced that pandering to BLM, with all of its shrill and vile elements, weakened the Democrats in 2016 and provided the opening for Trump to get elected. The economic populism that launched Occupy popped up in the Sanders campaigns, only to be neutered and corralled into support for “not Trump.”

      Maybe the economic bulldozer of the epidemic will cause a class-based political realignment, maybe not. The Democratic Party is already trying to racialize the issue.

  2. rosemerry
    April 2, 2020 at 16:11

    I found Tony Kevin’s article to be informative and even positive. This tiny virus puts a lot of events into perspective, and the two aircraft carriers now disabled are a case in point. The whole Pacific plans of the USA are now cast aside, as air support cannot be given to the Navy and Obama’s famed “Pacific pivot” is less than a joke. All of the huge costly buildup of US weapons and delivery systems, all its nuclear weapons made small and usable, all its NATO exercises to pretend that Russia is some sort of existential threat and has to be sanctioned and stopped from providing wanted natural gas to European states via a pipeline all of them want, become meaningless failures in the face of a tiny virus it cannot control. I do not think events will return to “normal”.

  3. Patrick
    April 2, 2020 at 11:36

    The economic competition and contradictions between the US and China and to a lesser degree Russia will only accelerate once we get on the other side of this plague. To me, war between the US and China seems inevitable.

    • rosemerry
      April 2, 2020 at 15:56

      Well, just what we need to encourage us in this hour of need!

      The USA has been able to get away for far too long with its aggressive and counterproductive role in the world. I think and hope that the terrible consequences on the deliberately unprepared USA of the COVID-19 spread in the next few months will lead even the unthinking masses and their “elected reps” to rethink their systematic destruction of international agreements. Every other nation (except Israel of course) knows that solidarity and cooperation are essential if this plague is to be controlled, and even the “enemies” of the USA are trying to help it despite the offensive obstruction and greed of the US leadership.

    • Sam F
      April 2, 2020 at 20:59

      Yes, the US goes to war for money, and attacks small countries on pretexts, but China and Russia are superpowers.
      Why would economic competition between the US and China or Russia lead to war? Neither of them are expansionist.
      Russia has no point of conflict with the US at all: the zionists bribe US politicians to weaken it the Mideast.
      Is it not likely that the local bully will meet his match after some proxy scuffles, or see that he cannot win?

    • Odyssios
      April 3, 2020 at 07:57

      ‘To me, war between the US and China seems inevitable.’

      Terrifying echoes here, of the situation in the decade or so before 1914. Even absent nuclear weapons (and who could doubt any losing side possessing them would hesitate to use?), there is no set of squabbles that could justify such a war. Economically and socially ruinous; ecologically catastrophic.

      Is such a war possible? Yes. Inevitable? No. We (the human species) have the collective wit and wisdom to negotiate the difference. Will we? Dunno. Could we? Yes.

  4. Babyl-on
    April 2, 2020 at 11:19

    Please excuse or perhaps enjoy my rant.
    I am sick of the journalistic herd mentality and lazy repetition of misleading and perhaps even false “ideas” such as “The New Cold War.”
    Unless your definition of hot war is so narrow it only includes thousands of troops and tanks and battles in fields of old then you may be right but you defeat understanding.
    There is one world war it is a war which kills hundreds and thousands of innocent people EVERY SINGLE DAY. Military command of Africa does not report its slaughter across the continent with troops killing in 52 of 54 African nations. Tens of thousands have died prematurely in Venezuela do the the Latin American front of the hybrid war against the people of the world. CV-19 is being exploited for its ability to disrupt and kill. Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen – these are not separate wars they are fronts in the same war.
    This is not just about the US, this is civilizational in depth and scope, it is abundantly clear that Western Civilization has never been anything but a succession of brutal empires fighting with each other until it was all consolidated into one – last – Western empire bent on “Global full spectrum domination.” Sanctions are a means of killing people without using bullets but killing without bombs is just so so cold it doesn’t count as REAL war.


    But look across the globe, this empire is the last one, China is not an imperial civilization, no other nation on earth seeks global domination. There is no zero sum game being played any more except for the for the one of the empire against itself.

    • Skip Edwards
      April 5, 2020 at 13:50

      To rosemary and the rest in this line,
      We are all being hooked again as the US propaganda machine takes advantage of another, what will turn out to be a mini crises, in order to avoid the real crises – Human Caused Climate Change. The real, easy money for the plutocrats is in fossil fuels. They only see the ends of their nose, except unlike Pinnocio’s which grew longer with each lie, theirs, and ours, grows shorter as the cancerous carbon emmissions silently steal away our last remaining time to collectively act. The unfounded greed of these fossil fuel plutocrats and their (our) puppet government elected officials are killing us as their pockets fill with ever increasing amounts of cash stowed away out of our sight in their off shore tax free money laundering operations. These people are either evil, or worse yet foolishly jumping and squealing with glee as their wealth grows and our chances at survival diminish. Like cows in their slaughter house death march happily chewing their cud we will suddenly see death’s door of gloom open up in front of us like the Coronavirus and killing us off one at a time. Will the last one standing turn out the lights! Or, will we have the courage to stand up together and put an end to this insanity? The COVID-19 pandemic is merely a primer for what’s to come.

  5. Nathan Mulcahy
    April 2, 2020 at 10:23

    How low can the criminal Mafia gang of US of A go? “Delivery of Covid-19 aid from Alibaba chief to Cuba aborted at the last minute due to US sanctions”


  6. Nathan Mulcahy
    April 2, 2020 at 09:36

    Hope is eternal, and I too hope that something good will emerge out of the current catastrophe. In this, the BIGGEST problem is “US of A” – a huge, corrupt Mafia gang masquerading as the political class of a country. They will not relinquish their hold voluntarily. So the question is, what will it take to make this gang do it?

    • Skip Edwards
      April 5, 2020 at 13:52

      FEAR! Theirs of us.

  7. peter mcloughlin
    April 2, 2020 at 06:30

    It’s true, we live in a “dangerously illusory world”. Yet the pattern of history has been pointing to another global war even before covid-19 came along. Certainly the pandemic contributes to that instability: being politically exploited and used to create scapegoats. But a “pitiful, helpless giant” can be the most dangerous creature, that all must be wary of – including itself.

  8. Paolo
    April 2, 2020 at 05:39

    To me it looks like a very naive happy-ending Hollywood type of story.
    I’d rather predict a devastating economic crisis the outcome of which is totally unpredictable. It could be anything, from riots to civil wars, dictators and gangsters, you name it

  9. geeyp
    April 2, 2020 at 01:31

    Those three leaders can do a world of good, if they don’t allow themselves to accept the limitations imposed upon them from the likes of deep state spastic addled Pelosi types. The new silk road is calling. We here in the USA need to accept it and add our cooperation to it.

    • OlyaPola
      April 2, 2020 at 09:30

      “We here in the USA need to accept it and add our cooperation to it.”

      Some have a practice of not waiting for an invitation making it more likely that an invitation won’t come.

      Some seek to assign themselves significances that others do not assign to them and so resort to ends justifying meansness including intercepting others’ presents, thereby increasing the likelihood of being struck off even more invitation lists.

      Faced with such disappointment some would resort to Lesley Gore impressions intoning – Its my party and I’ll cry if I want to, you would cry too if it happened to you.

  10. AC
    April 1, 2020 at 23:23

    I like the positive outlook and an eventuality. Entropy and Mean Time Between Failure, it means everything eventually fails. When complex systems fail, they do it with complexity. Nobody would have guessed that American empire’s survival would be challenged by a germ and not a violent war. The American experiment has not stopped or gone off the rails, all things are temporary, today it is an expose on greed and waste. The greater American public resents the corporate greed, manipulations and lies. The people are tired of the myth of justice for all and the American Dream, we all know it’s BS. The solution is simple, organize based on ideals not ideologies. The sooner we organize ourselves outside of the current political framer work and mindset, the sooner American society will become well. It maybe the “gradual demise of Uncle Sam”, I don’t mind if he has a cough, a bad heart and covid 19, and he is invalid, I have come to terms with this, I am born American, I will treat him with dignity until his inevitable and imminent death. By no means is Uncle Sam my favorite, I just want to take the high road and leave his bitter hate and militarism to die with him. Lets grow up as a society, bury Uncle Sam (our collective right-wingnut militaristic uncle) and move on, Eventually everyone will get over it. I suggest we support and revere Lady Liberty, or some other seditious ideals like privacy, free medical care for everyone, a properly funded school system, free university for all those who qualify. We did get to the Moon and back, did we do that just for ego? Are we that shallow as not to believe in ourselves? Well then, get on with it, organize.

  11. April 1, 2020 at 21:12

    “And that when this war is won — as it will be won: to then go back to Cold War Redux will seem increasingly distracting and pointless.”

    Yes, for sure to the first part.

    I wish I could say the same for the second part, but that involves some vicious ideology, and I can’t see that fading away any more than I can see the Church forgetting about hell.

    The disease will likely be petered out largely in a few months.

    That’s not a lot of time to change the ways of many dark and determined men.

  12. Sam F
    April 1, 2020 at 20:49

    If the problem of government corruption in the West were merely a sincere “cold war” mindset from which the powerful might awaken by a mere shakeup due to the epidemic, one might agree. The shakeup suggested is some military retrenchment, NATO weakening, and discrediting of US officials and sanctions.

    But the problem of the US is that economic power controls mass media and all branches of federal government via elections, so that its government is no longer even related to democracy. The tyrants of economic power do not awaken to civilization: they despise it as the last refuge of “losers” of their game of fraud and corruption.

    It is not yet clear how the epidemic shakeup would cause the West to practice diplomacy based “mutual respect” instead of bullying, to redesign governments based on “respect for all classes,” or to build “less environmentally destructive systems” or return the UNSC to it original role. The powers that be do not want any of that and will attack any who seek such change.

    So if the epidemic brings about the changes we desire, this must come about by means other than an awakening at the top. Let us consider how that may occur.

  13. Noah Way
    April 1, 2020 at 19:11

    The global tourism model is broken (except for the 1%). The economic globalization model – control of and profiting from strategic resources – is accelerating without pause. As the majority of western governments serve these interests nothing is going to change. To assume any different is delusional.

    The best we can hope for is popular uprisings that take down fascist states like the US. Complete economic collapse will go long way towards spurring that – unless the US stops lavishing “relief” on Wall Street instead of citizens.

    • paul easton
      April 2, 2020 at 10:52

      It would be nice if we could all just get along, but then again…

      Do we really want to live in a world system led by a gangster triumvirate?

      Or do we want to play a new and different game?

    • paul easton
      April 2, 2020 at 11:28

      I know nothing about economics but I have to wonder:

      What happens when you keep printing money and giving it to the owning class? What happens when consumption tanks? What happens when the few are sitting on piles of cash while most of us are impoverished? Does it result in an unstoppable instability? A black hole of collapsing production? Does everyone get torn apart by tidal forces? Or do they emerge into a different universe?

  14. Skip Scott
    April 1, 2020 at 18:12


    From your mouth to God’s ears. May it truly come to pass.

    • J E Tipre
      April 2, 2020 at 03:56

      I shall fall asleep consoled. May it come to pass.

  15. Jon Adams
    April 1, 2020 at 17:41

    This was a hopeful article.

Comments are closed.