U.S. leadership has stumbled from one military debacle to another, a trajectory mirroring the sad finales of other historical imperial powers.
By Chris Hedges
America’s defeat in Afghanistan is one in a string of catastrophic military blunders that herald the death of the American empire. With the exception of the first Gulf War, fought largely by mechanized units in the open desert that did not — wisely — attempt to occupy Iraq, the United States political and military leadership has stumbled from one military debacle to another. Korea. Vietnam. Lebanon. Afghanistan. Iraq. Syria. Libya. The trajectory of military fiascos mirrors the sad finales of the Chinese, Ottoman, Hapsburg, Russian, French, British, Dutch, Portuguese and Soviet empires. While each of these empires decayed with their own peculiarities, they all exhibited patterns of dissolution that characterize the American experiment.
Imperial ineptitude is matched by domestic ineptitude. The collapse of good government at home, with legislative, executive and judicial systems all seized by corporate power, ensures that the incompetent and the corrupt, those dedicated not to the national interest but to swelling the profits of the oligarchic elite, lead the country into a cul-de-sac. Rulers and military leaders, driven by venal self-interest, are often buffoonish characters in a grand comic operetta. How else to think of Allen Dulles, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Donald Trump or the hapless Joe Biden? While their intellectual and moral vacuity is often darkly amusing, it is murderous and savage when directed towards their victims.
There is not a single case since 1941 when the coups, political assassinations, election fraud, black propaganda, blackmail, kidnapping, brutal counter-insurgency campaigns, U.S. sanctioned massacres, torture in global black sites, proxy wars or military interventions carried out by the United States resulted in the establishment of a democratic government. The two-decade-long wars in the Middle East, the greatest strategic blunder in American history, have only left in their wake one failed state after another. Yet, no one in the ruling class is held accountable.
War, when it is waged to serve utopian absurdities, such as implanting a client government in Baghdad that will flip the region, including Iran, into U.S. protectorates, or when, as in Afghanistan, there is no vision at all, descends into a quagmire. The massive allocation of money and resources to the U.S. military, which includes Biden’s request for $715 billion for the Defense Department in fiscal year 2022, a $11.3 billion, or 1.6 percent increase, over 2021, is not in the end about national defense. The bloated military budget is designed, as Seymour Melman explained in his book, The Permanent War Economy, primarily to keep the American economy from collapsing. All we really make anymore are weapons. Once this is understood, perpetual war makes sense, at least for those who profit from it.
The idea that America is a defender of democracy, liberty and human rights would come as a huge surprise to those who saw their democratically elected governments subverted and overthrown by the United States in Panama (1941), Syria (1949), Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), Congo (1960), Brazil (1964), Chile (1973), Honduras (2009) and Egypt (2013). And this list does not include a host of other governments that, however despotic, as was the case in South Vietnam, Indonesia or Iraq, were viewed as inimical to American interests and destroyed, in each case making life for the inhabitants of these countries even more miserable.
I spent two decades on the outer reaches of empire as a foreign correspondent. The flowery rhetoric used to justify the subjugation of other nations so corporations can plunder natural resources and exploit cheap labor is solely for domestic consumption. The generals, intelligence operatives, diplomats, bankers and corporate executives that manage empire find this idealistic talk risible. They despise, with good reason, naïve liberals who call for “humanitarian intervention” and believe the ideals used to justify empire are real, that empire can be a force for good. These liberal interventionists, the useful idiots of imperialism, attempt to civilize a process that was created and designed to repress, intimidate, plunder and dominate.
The liberal interventionists, because they wrap themselves in high ideals, are responsible for numerous military and foreign policy debacles. The call by liberal interventionists such as Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Susan Rice and Samantha Power to fund jihadists in Syria and depose Muammar Gaddafi in Libya rent these countries — as in Afghanistan and Iraq — into warring fiefdoms. The liberal interventionists are also the tip of the spear in the campaign to rachet up tensions with China and Russia.
Russia is blamed for interfering in the last two presidential elections on behalf of Donald Trump. Russia, whose economy is roughly the size of Italy’s, is also attacked for destabilizing the Ukraine, supporting Bashar al-Assad in Syria, funding France’s National Front party and hacking into German computers. Biden has imposed sanctions on Russia — including limits on buying newly issued sovereign debt — in response to allegations that Moscow was behind a hack on SolarWinds Corp. and worked to thwart his candidacy.
At the same time, the liberal interventionists are orchestrating a new cold war with China, justifying this cold war because the Chinese government is carrying out genocide against its Uyghur minority, repressing the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong and stealing U.S. patents. As with Russia, sanctions have been imposed targeting the country’s ruling elite. The U.S. is also carrying out provocative military maneuvers along the Russian border and in the South China Sea.
The core belief of imperialists, whether they come in the form of a Barack Obama or a George W. Bush, is racism and ethnic chauvinism, the notion that Americans are permitted, because of superior attributes, to impose their “values” on lesser races and peoples by force. This racism, carried out in the name of Western civilization and its corollary white supremacy, unites the rabid imperialists and liberal interventionists in the Republican and Democratic parties. It is the fatal disease of empire, captured in Graham Greene’s novel The Quiet American and Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient.
Aug. 9, 1998: U.S. embassy after attack, Nairobi, Kenya, (IDF, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)
The crimes of empire always spawn counter-violence that is then used to justify harsher forms of imperial repression. For example, the United States routinely kidnapped Islamic jihadists fighting in the Balkans between 1995 and 1998. They were sent to Egypt — many were Egyptian — where they were savagely tortured and usually executed. In 1998, the International Islamic Front for Jihad said it would carry out a strike against the United States after jihadists were kidnapped and transferred to black sites from Albania. They made good on their threat igniting massive truck bombs at the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that left 224 dead. Of course, the “extraordinary renditions” by the CIA did not end and neither did the attacks by jihadists.
Our decades-long military fiascos, a feature of all late empires, are called “micro-militarism.” The Athenians engaged in micro-militarism during the Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.) when they invaded Sicily, suffering the loss of 200 ships and thousands of soldiers. The defeat triggered successful revolts throughout the Athenian empire.
The Roman empire, which at its height lasted for two centuries, created a military machine that, like the Pentagon, was a state within a state. Rome’s military rulers, led by Augustus, snuffed out the remnants of Rome’s anemic democracy and ushered in a period of despotism that saw the empire disintegrate under the weight of extravagant military expenditures and corruption.
The British empire, after the suicidal military folly of World War I, was terminated in 1956 when it attacked Egypt in a dispute over the nationalization of the Suez Canal. Britain was forced to withdraw in humiliation, empowering Arab nationalist leaders such as Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser and dooming British rule over its few remaining colonies. None of these empires recovered.
“While rising empires are often judicious, even rational in their application of armed force for conquest and control of overseas dominions, fading empires are inclined to ill-considered displays of power, dreaming of bold military masterstrokes that would somehow recoup lost prestige and power,” the historian Alfred W. McCoy writes in his book In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power: “Often irrational even from an imperial point of view, these micromilitary operations can yield hemorrhaging expenditures or humiliating defeats that only accelerate the process already under way.”
The worse it gets at home the more the empire needs to fabricate enemies within and without. This is the real reason for the increase in tensions with Russia and China. The poverty of half the nation and concentration of wealth in the hands of a tiny oligarchic cabal, the wanton murder of unarmed civilians by militarized police, the rage at the ruling elites, expressed with nearly half the electorate voting for a con artist and demagogue and a mob of his supporters storming the capitol, are the internal signs of disintegration. The inability of the for-profit national health services to cope with the pandemic, the passage of a Covid relief bill and the proposal of an infrastructure bill that would hand the bulk of some $5 trillion dollars to corporations while tossing crumbs — one-time checks of $1,400 to a citizenry in deep financial distress — will only fuel the decline.
Because of the loss of unionized jobs, the real decline of wages, de-industrialization, chronic underemployment and unemployment, and punishing austerity programs, the country is plagued by a plethora of diseases of despair including opioid addictions, alcoholism, suicides, gambling, depression, morbid obesity and mass shootings — since March 16 the United States has had at least 45 mass shootings, including eight people killed in an Indiana FedEx facility on Friday, three dead and three injured in a shooting in Wisconsin on Sunday, and another three dead in a shooting in Austin on Sunday. These are the consequences of a deeply troubled society.
The façade of empire is able to mask the rot within its foundations, often for decades, until, as we saw with the Soviet Union, the empire appears to suddenly disintegrate. The loss of the dollar as the global reserve currency will probably mark the final chapter of the American empire. In 2015, the dollar accounted for 90 percent of bilateral transactions between China and Russia, a percentage that has since fallen to about 50 percent. The use of sanctions as a weapon against China and Russia pushes these countries to replace the dollar with their own national currencies. Russia, as part of this move away from the dollar, has begun accumulating yuan reserves.
The loss of the dollar as the world’s reserve currency will instantly raise the cost of imports. It will result in unemployment of Depression-era levels. It will force the empire to dramatically contract. It will, as the economy worsens, fuel a hyper-nationalism that will most likely be expressed through a Christianized fascism. The mechanisms, already in place, for total social control, militarized police, a suspension of civil liberties, wholesale government surveillance, enhanced “terrorism” laws that railroad people into the world’s largest prison system and censorship overseen by the digital media monopolies will seamlessly cement into place a police state. Nations that descend into crises this severe seek to deflect the rage of a betrayed population on foreign scapegoats. China and Russia will be used to fill these roles.
The defeat in Afghanistan is a familiar and sad story, one all those blinded by imperial hubris endure. The tragedy, however, is not the collapse of the American empire, but that, lacking the ability to engage in self-critique and self-correction, as it dies it will lash out in a blind, inchoate fury at innocents at home and abroad.
Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who was a foreign correspondent for 15 years for The New York Times, where he served as the Middle East bureau chief and Balkan bureau chief for the paper. He previously worked overseas for The Dallas Morning News, The Christian Science Monitor and NPR. He is the host of the Emmy Award-nominated RT America show “On Contact.”
This column is from Scheerpost, for which Chris Hedges writes a regular column twice a month. Click here to sign up for email alerts.
The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.
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Very succinct, concise reporting re: the American Empire home and abroad and the increasing dangers that we face.
I live in China. I teach Englsh to college students. I do not want my sweet, lovable, students to die in a US first strike nuclear attack, or to be “liberated” of their lives, limbs, self-respect in some Iraq style invasion.
Relatives back in the US have repeated rumors to me that Covid 19 is Chinese germ warfare against the US. It’s completely stupid, of course? Why kill your customers? But Yellow Peril racism has a long history. Jack London, more than a century ago, wrote about exterminating the Chinese with germ warfare, replacing them with White Anglo-SaXon settlers. That was the fate of the native Americans, of course. I fear that such attitudes are not dead.
In any case, a war, cold or hot, cannot improve the lot of the Uighurs, of the Tibetans, of Hong Kong’s residents. Probably it would make thngs worse. :-(
You have put together a great summary Chris. I agree with what you are writing except when it comes to the alledged failures of the US military. The US military are not there to win wars, they are just needed to create trouble. They surf the International Law system at the limits of gangsterism. The purpose is to make sure no nation can be successful unless it pays its tribute to the Great Master. Who of any importance blames the US military for their actions in Vietnam? The wars are just opportunities for the military rulers to practice their skills and they are rewarded with large budget increases in return. As a result of starting all those wars the US has developed what looks like the best war-ready military system among all nations and it knows it. The US military are also very clever and they generally don’t get into action unless they believe they have a 10 to 1 advantage over their adversary. So …
Exceptionally good, as usual. I always like the long historical perspective and the willingness to express harsh realities bluntly.
As a Secular Palestinian student in Italy, I witnessed first hand how American and Israeli inspired white supremacy and Western Chauvinism fuels it’s [Chauvinism] raise in Europe and more specifically in Italy (good luck getting a coffee without an outright assault on your dignity anywhere outside of your house or for that matter even finding a house as a non Anglo foreigner although the market is saturated with offers).
It was shocking to witness first hand how the raise into power of Donald Trump suddenly emboldened and brought to the surface all the vile and abhorrent displays of xenophobia that laid dormant up until that point even by people who you wouldn’t have expected it from.
This is scary stuff because it suggests that this rot is not sequestered in the borders of the United States alone but really is a trans Atlantic sentiment absorbing its spiritual guidance from the American GOP and Israeli Licudnik alt right.
Yet we constantly hear about how Russia is responsible for the raise of neo fascist and neo nazi organisations in Europe and how it also is supporting far right political figures in EU member states while what it’s [Russia] actually doing is fighting against nazis (armed by who remind me?) in Ukraine. It is a bizarre time to be politically conscious.
N.b This is not to absolve Russia of any wrong doing but to hi light that a lot of what goes on is pure projection. And that the rot is not going to be solved by blaming others but only by addressing its root causes, namely: a more equal distribution of wealth and social safety nets. But the former I guess keeps the Oligarchs, excuse me “business men” more satisfied.
Thank you Mr Hedges…A clear overview of the reality that ALL Empires collapse and die (good)…
I would only add these points: We accuse Russia (especially) and China of exactly what WE in the west have been doing and continue to do: interfere in other societies elections; monitor, disrupt other countries internet/phone call etc connections – not to mention Human Rights Abuses, e.g. Chagos Islanders, Marshall Islanders, indigenous peoples in the US/Canada/Aussie/NZ, African Americans, Guantanamo Bay, the CIA torture program definitely from 2001 onward . Then there are the total charades about the Skripal/Navalny poisonings, deliberately created to destroy Russia, plus the Ukraine-Czech business. Interesting Timing dontcha think vis a vis the latter? (Why on earth can’t we leave Russia ALONE? oh wait – they’ve got all this land and all those natural resources that we – supposedly – are going to stop using, ho ho.)
And yes indeed the MIC is Mammon & Moloch worshiping and for that to continue to sup up oodles of boodle there must be wars, there must be slaughterings of millions of other (usually of non-low melanin skin tones) peoples, destructions of their societies, cultures in order for $$$$$$ to be wadded into DC pockets as well as even more into such as Raytheon’s…
And we pretend to be holier than thou???!!! B*****ation! Humane intevention – in what way is slaughtering people humane? In what way is devastating their society, culture humane??? Only the most narcissistic, arrogant and hubristic people (always Low Melanin) could believe that….
The US defeat in Afghanistan is no ‘sad story’ at all. Rather it’s been very good and necessary, despite taking 20 years for the rulers to admit it. Military defeats for US imperialism, as for all imperialist powers, are victories for the oppressed around the globe, including ‘at home’ in the imperial ‘belly of the beast’. Military defeats can undo years of carefully managed propaganda and indoctrination and reveal the awful truths of empire in an instant. And they can lead to the disintegration of the bourgeoisie’s machine of death, a rather crucial pre-condition for overthrowing the tiny, parasitic capitalist oligarchy that remains the single greatest threat to the existence of the human species.
Buffalo_Ken” the hapless Biden Administration is sucking on Israel’s disproportionate teats and looking to start some sort of proxy military conflict. ” Rarely does a day go by recently where the Israelis do not arrest a Palestinian candidate in their upcoming elections and the US say nary a word. When China did the same in Hong Kong the US sanctions came thick and fast (with extra emphasis on the “thick”).
The Biden administration has thrown detente to the wind and is actively picking fights. If it goes down it appears to be prepared to take the rest of the world with it.
“There is not a single case since 1941 when the coups, political assassinations, election fraud, black propaganda, blackmail, kidnapping, brutal counter-insurgency campaigns, U.S. sanctioned massacres, torture in global black sites, proxy wars or military interventions carried out by the United States resulted in the establishment of a democratic government.”
Doesn’t he mean, 1945? What about the re-established governments of Germany, Japan and Italy after WWII?
Hedges was including the intervention in Panama in 1941 and the activities he listed have not led to democracies, but in fact overthrew several democracies.
germany, japan, and italy have been colonies occupied by the capitalist-zionist-fascist-imperialist (forgive redundancy) cabal.
What’s so sad about the finale of an empire?
exactly. if you haven’t stopped participating in and contributing to the empire, if you haven’t started building alternative ways of living around you, you go down with the empire. who’s sad about that??????
Racism is the offspring of imperialism. Imperialism and capitalism cannot be separated. Class based US Capitalism has continued the imperialism of previous monarchy, slavery and feudalism. Liberal humanitarians compartmentalize domestic and foreign policy. There is actually no separation in reality.
Dear Chris, you’ve nailed it once again. Elected representatives not truly representing us, the tragedy of militarized police, domestic economy floated by military manufacture, etc. Our foreign policy has been heartless and foolishly shortsighted. Harsh sanctions causing 400k children and babies to starve to their deaths this year in Yemen alone. And they are not even enemies! I think it may be our saving if China takes over as world financial leader. Let us leave the field and consider who we are.
Other than that, how did you like the outcome of The Continental Congress , Mr.Franklin?
Great article, but I disagree that the 1991 Gulf war was a good war. In reality, worldwide sanctions would have forced Iraq to peacefully withdraw. The Gulf war cost billions of dollars, killed or sickened a million people, left the region much worse off, assisted Iran, and caused a worldwide economic recession. More in this short video:
Ummm what is wrong with Iran, pray tell??? And ancient – far more ancient than the pretend culture not many hundreds of miles to its west – culture and society which has multiple different religious, ethnic cultures within it and they ALL live together equally, unlike that other ethnic cleansing one to their west….
thank the american public for this. i mean what absurd level of hubris would make people vote for bush who is clearly a man of average or less than average intelligence. i understand trump which was an act of desperation but voting bush was showing a level of hubris and contempt that was nauseating. and when history looks back at the empire they will show 2000 as the zero hour when the decline really started
Thanks for all your work. You might find time for this
rightdown the line
Dale T Hood
Well that was bleak. Is there no hope of course correction before the Christianized fascist police state takes firm hold??
Only socialist revolution.
Biden and his “not the dream team” are most certainly “hapless”.
I prefer to refer to Biden as the “Delaware Dimwit”. Lets call them collectively the dimwit give a flip about other children team of destruction who never learned the most basic lessons. That is what they are.
If I was a cartoon artist I could make a caricature of his dimwit team and his dimwit self – he would be sucking on something – but I’m not, so I won’t, and who cares about cartoon artists these days?
While China and Russia are out and about talking and implementing cooperation, the hapless Biden Administration is sucking on Israel’s disproportionate teats and looking to start some sort of proxy military conflict. What they don’t realize is that cooperative countries already have defensive missiles that will emasculate our pathetic military in a heart beat because it is always easier to defend. Being offensive takes way more “moolah” and all of that has been wasted while so many citizens in the country that I reside in still don’t have effing healthcare.
This is why I’m pissed off – me and a whole bunch of other ones of us. Something has got to change. Lets start with reducing executive power of the governors to make all of the “Executive Orders” and then how about the state representatives cast a vote for a Constitutional Convention. How about that? What could be the harm? It might begin some changes for the better and we might be able to catch up in the “Cooperation Game” where the People, the citizens of the country, truly matter and are paramount. Not the corporations of the wealthy individuals, but the citizen who created the government in the first place. If they created it, then they should be first in line for changing it and Article V creates a pathway to do just that.
Let there be justice and let it be swift!
I quite concur with your analysis, Ken. What gives Mr. Biden the impression that he has any sort of mandate to take this country to war with Russia (and through mindless escalation involving the entire world) because he’s got a hate-on for Vladimir Putin? The man barely squeaked to a victory in the election and at least half the country thinks he won through cheating–basically the way he makes most of his money together with Hunter. I don’t recall anyone asking the people (certainly Joe did not!) if we want war because we have an unsated urge to dominate the Russians, the Chinese and the entire world. We are, in fact, a nation with a multitude of ongoing crises, most of which are unfolding within our own borders and involve the ability of Americans to live peaceably with each other. Entire races are seething at one another, making up the most provocative of accusations through the mouthpieces of numerous loose-canon personalities. Millions are sick and hundreds of thousands are dying from a very real virus. The interfacing of these malign forces have precipitated additional outcomes catastrophic to our economy and standard of living. Isn’t that enough on our plates? Do we need our leaders warmongering across the planet, attempting to gin up wars with people on the other side of the planet with whom we have no direct contact and ever diminishing indirect influence? Every time he opens mouth, which is always to stir the pot with Russia, Mr. Biden proves just how accurate his critics are when they question his mental competence, and certainly doubt his judgement. You are not fixing anything, Joe, you are just making everything worse.
Not to get too deep here in this comment thread, but I’ve appreciated your sentiment as well as I’ve read it here (any maybe elsewhere unless there are many “Realist” out there – ha, ha).
Regardless, I think a point you raise above gets to the heart of the matter. I don’t believe every day citizens of the US of a want more war and strife. If the question boiled down to that, I believe most would say they want peace. It seems like an easy answer. Better for everyone – except I suppose and perhaps not in the minds of a few who gain upon the suffering of others. They will be proven wrong in the end, but they might take the whole ship down with their egos. You know – the “few” Psychopaths – who think they have all the strings and the rest are but puppets .
So, begs the question. WHY……? Why do those out of DC continue to perpetuate suffering of innocence both abroad and at home. WHY? Most of here could easily spew off numerous reasons, but the question is really – why isn’t anything changing for the better? Why is the same old s**t still the norm. WHY.
WWII ended a long time ago and if there is a lesson to be learned, the lesson is – WWIII will be the end of all of US – every member of the homo sapien species. So once again, I ask – WHY? Because there are other countries who are ready to tell the US of a to “eff off”. I don’t blame them one bit.
I’ve pondered solutions and even made a Proclamation of Independence, and I’ve talked my head off, but the only solutions that make a difference are the ones that resonate. Why isn’t peace resonating? What is keeping it from happening and how can “WE” stop it, so that our natural ability to work together mutually flourishes? Imagine the possibilities.
No easy answers, but I’m always searching for solutions. Why else would any of us be here?
Thanks and Peace – we need more realist these days.
I would only add, BK, that the OAP-ers are sucking of the ordinary working US folks taxpayer tit while seeking to destroy/expel what few of the indigenous of that land from their homes and land….
Just what advantage does Washington think it absolutely must achieve over Russia in the god forsaken Ukraine to justify the very real possibility of initiating a nuclear war and ending all civilisation on the planet? What more does Washington absolutely desperately need that it already does not have? I don’t get this devil-may-care attitude with respect to all human life. How is any American injured to a point justifying World War III by continuing the status quo, or something very near to it? Is this not madness?
Why must Washington demand, again under danger of provoking a civilisation-ending world war, that Russia cede its sovereignty over its clearly sociopathic and disruptive citizen Alexei Navalny who is in prison for clear-cut crimes in finance and while in such environment has gone on extended hunger strikes to damage his own health, which has not been ignored but treated by prison doctors (and a private doctor of his own). Rather than being persecuted, this man is colluding with the American government to slander and attempt to destabilise the Russian state, though he has demonstrably little political following in the country. The pathetic Juan Gauido surely polls higher than Navalny does in his own bailiwick. Washington’s demands on Navalny are not much different than Moscow demanding that Bernie Madoff be released scott-free into the general American population because it would cause havoc within our country. A more worthy and legitimate focus of Washington’s attention to achieve justice for an incarcerated gadfly would be to summarily release Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning who are basically being held without charges, trial or convictions, much like the forever detainees in Guantanamo. Allowing Joe Biden to endlessly persecute Russia through unprecedented dictatorial executive orders because of what looks like personal animus does not make for good foreign policy, it’s the prelude to disaster.
Could not agree more with you Realist – on every point….Thanks.