Lowering the Throne of America’s Delusion

The U.S. will not face reality about its foreign policy disasters but rather retreats to fantasy worlds that exist only in its own imagination, writes Michael Brenner.

The Triumph of Pompey. (Gabriel de Saint-Aubin, 1765, Metropolitan Museum of Art)

By Michael Brenner

When Pompey the Great made his triumphant return to Rome in 61 BCE from his stunning conquests in the East, a spectacular ceremony was planned. Pageantry on a grandiose scale was designed both to satisfy his outsized ego and to display superior status in his rivalry with Julius Caesar.  

The centerpiece was to be a towering throne where a regally costumed Pompey would pass through a Victory arch installed for the occasion. A small problem arose, though, when a rehearsal showed that the throne was 4 feet taller than the height of the arch.

That is an apt metaphor for the uneasy position in which Uncle Sam finds himself these days. He proudly pronounces his enduring greatness from every lectern and altar in the land and pledges to hold his standing as global Number One forever and ever. Yet, America constantly bumps its head against an unaccommodating reality.

Instead of downsizing the monumental juggernaut or applying itself to a delicate raising of the arch, or lowering of the throne, the U.S. makes repeated attempts to fit through in a vain effort to bend the world to its mythology. Evocation of the concussion protocol is in order – but nobody wants to admit that sobering truth.

U.S. engagements in the world over the past 20 years reveal a grim record of failed ventures. Most have been caused by unrealistic goals, blinkered views of the field of action, overweening pride, an ignorance of foreign places and their history, and an unseemly readiness to take complacent comfort in fantasy worlds that exist only in its own imagination. In short, American foreign policy has been misguided – badly and consistently misguided.

The inevitable frustrations and failures owe equally to sheer incompetence. An endless string of errors – diplomatic, military and political – is as difficult for the nation to reconcile with its ‘can-do’ self-image as is the admission of the glaring discrepancy between the belief in the country’s providential mission and its increasingly evident ordinariness.

Vince Lombardi, the legendary American football coach, is often quoted as declaring: “Victory is not the most important thing; it’s the only thing.” That has been an implicit American motto from the beginning. However, in the global arena over the past generation, the U.S. has been setting records for failure and futility.

The Ever-Growing List of Debacles

1). The era began with the success of evicting al-Qaeda from Afghanistan and toppling their Taliban hosts. It’s been downhill ever since, at an accelerating pace – culminating with the crack-up at Kabul airport where the obtuseness and criminal irresponsibility of the Pentagon brass (abetted by the C.I.A.’s habitually faulty intelligence) produced a human and political disaster. The Taliban are back in power thanks to American misbegotten actions in seeking the liquidation of Taliban adherents who had fled their organization and retired to their homes in 2002, and our unbounded reliance on feuding clans of corrupt warlords.

Al-Qaeda evolved from a fanatical jihadist cadre numbering in the double figures to an international conglomerate with franchises in a dozen countries and a free-lance fan club operating in Western capitals. The alleged training camps and indoctrination centers had no more tangible existence than did Saddam Hussein’s WMD.

Attack on U.N. headquarters in Baghdad under U.S. occupation, 2003. (U.N. Photo/Timoty Sopp)

2). The Afghan fiasco pales compared to the multi-dimensional tragedy created by the Iraq invasion and occupation. The scorecard:

  • Hundreds of thousands dead, wounded, orphaned.
  • The fostering of sectarian blood-letting that institutionalizes the country’s political fragmentation.
  • The massive destruction of economic infrastructure.
  • The welding of ties between Shi’te majority governments in Iraq with Iran’s clerical regime (our avowed enemy – justified or not).
  • Torture and abuse in dedicated camps that permanently blemished America’s cultivated image as the champion of human rights.
  • The spawning of the Islamic state – conceived, organized and recruited in American prison camps – Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s Camp Bucca foremost.
  • The resulting mayhem in Iraq and Syria with deleterious effects across the region.
  • One effect: the flood of refugees into Europe that fueled the rise of far-right and neo-fascist movements across Europe – disrupting political life in friendly countries and undermining the EU.
  • In Syria, prioritizing the overthrow of Assad’s regime over the fight against the al-Qaeda affiliates who led the insurrection (a failure that is probably a success for Syria, for America and for the region).

3). Redoubling our unqualified support for Saudi Arabia under the leadership of the cocaine-addicted, megalomaniac Mohammed bin-Salman, otherwise known as the crown prince, thereby allying ourselves with the Sunni side in the historic contest between them and their Shi’a rivals. That led to the disgraceful policy (continuing to this day) of supporting and participating in the unwarranted assault on Yemen’s Houthis which has devastated the poorest country in the region, destroying lives in what amounts to massive ‘war crimes.’ Yet, a State Department official just last month declared Saudi Arabia “a force for progress” in the Middle East. The resulting shredding of what remains of the American pretense of being the custodian of human rights globally has made risible such events as Joe Biden’s League of Democracies summit.

4). Similar suffering and destruction inflicted on Somalia by American meddling and military intervention with no discernible U.S. interest at stake.Tearing up the Iran nuclear deal – and then setting onerous, unacceptable conditions for its resurrection. Steps counter-productive whether the U.S.’s goal is foreclosing any prospect of Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon or regime change (Washington’s preferred solution).

Strategic Blindness

An abysmal record unmatched since the infamous performance of the WW I generals on the Western front – equally honored with medals and laurels.

This long litany of failure and incompetence is overshadowed by the strategic blindness of treating Russia and China as implacable enemies. By doing so, Washington has not only obviated any alternative strategy for developing a stable, long-term relationship. It has also cemented a formidable power bloc that is now well able to contest the United States in whatever sphere it wants to cross swords with.

This mosaic of misconceived strategy and rampantly amateurish maneuvers strongly suggests that America’s foreign policy elites are living in a delusional world – dissociated from reality. That raises three basic questions: 1). what are the causes?; 2). why the uniformity of attitudes towards foreign affairs by the political class?; and 3). why is there so little dissent from policies that have produced a steady stream of abject setbacks?

The Roots of Delusion

Crowd at an Obama campaign rally in Des Moines, Iowa in May, 2008. (Jill Heemstra/Flickr)

Americans are struggling to draw into focus their exalted image of themselves and reality. They are not doing a very good job of it. The gap is wide and growing. That is due in good measure to what has been happening beyond the country’s shores as well as at home, and over which it lacks the skills and the means to exercise decisive influence.

The U.S. response has been one of avoidance and reaffirmation of thought and deed. It seems to fear that staring at reality squarely, will find reality staring back at it in a discomforting way.

Fading prowess is one of the most difficult things for humans to cope with – whether it be an individual or a nation. By nature, we prize our strength and competence; we dread decline and its intimations of extinction. This is especially so in the United States where for many the individual and the collective persona are inseparable.

No other country tries so relentlessly to live its legend as does the U.S. Today, events are occurring that contradict the American narrative of a nation with a unique destiny. That creates cognitive dissonance.

America’s exalted sense of self is rooted in the belief of being pace-setters and world beaters in every domain. The state of affairs sketched above — marked by impulsive enterprises that underline America’s foredoomed, audacious ambition to gain global dominance — does not represent rational strategic judgment.

It is the national equivalent of ostentatious iron-pumping by bodybuilders worried about losing muscle tone.

Psychologically, reality is avoided with overweening self-confidence coupled to material strength, perpetuating the national myths of a destiny to remain the world’s No. 1 forever, shaping the world system according to American principles and interests.

“No other country tries so relentlessly to live its legend as does the U.S. Today, events are occurring that contradict the American narrative of a nation with a unique destiny.”

President Obama declaimed: “Let me tell you something. The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth. Period. It’s not even close. Period. It’s not even close. It’s not even close!”

Is this meant as a revelation? What is the message? To whom is it intended? Words that are neither a prelude to action nor inspire others to act – nor even impart information – are just puffs of wind. As such, they are yet another avoidance device – a flight from reality.

The tension associated with such a nation encountering objective reality does not force heightened self-awareness, nor a change in behavior, when there is no opposition. Today, there is no foreign policy debate whatsoever.

In addition, America’s vassals in Europe and elsewhere have a national interest in preserving the warped American view of the world (Israel and Poland, for instance) or have been so denatured over the decades that they are incapable of doing anything other than follow Washington obediently – despite staring at a potentially fatal abyss with China and Russia.

Reality testing, in these circumstances, leads to conformity in viewing the world through the shared delusional prism – rather than a potential corrective.

An Insecure Americanism

Americanism provides a Unified Field Theory of self-identity, collective enterprise, and the Republic’s enduring meaning. When one element is felt to be in jeopardy, the integrity of the whole edifice becomes vulnerable. In the past, American mythology energized the country in ways that helped it to thrive. Today, it is a dangerous hallucinogen that traps Americans in a time warp more and more distant from reality.

There is a muted reflection of this strained condition in the evident truth that Americans have become an insecure people. They grow increasingly anxious about who they are, what they are worth and what life will be like down the road.

This is an individual and collective phenomenon. They are related insofar as self-identity and self-esteem are bound up with the civic religion of Americanism. To a considerable degree, it’s been like this since the very beginning.

A country that was “born against history” had no past to define and shape the present. A country that was born against tradition had no rooted and common sense of meaning and value that cut deeply into the national psyche. A country that was born against inherited place and position left each individual at once free to acquire status and obliged to do so for insignia of rank were few.

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That changed over the course of the 20th century. Within just a few decades, America became a great world power, a superpower, a champion of democracy and freedom and the defender of the West against Soviet-led communism. It was the “heroic” century which culminated in the triumph of victory in the Cold War.

After the collapse of Communism, the United States ruled the roost. In its own eyes, this unique hyper-power had seen history confirm its anointed role as both model and agent for the construction of a better world. American “exceptionalism” now meant emulation of America – pure and simple.

That confirmation should have strengthened the belief in the pageant of progress. It should have given a boost to self-esteem. It should have compensated for the creeping insecurities associated with socio-economic-cultural changes within the United States. That has not proven to be the case.

Strenuous displays of patriotism have a contrived cast to them. They suggest strained efforts to overcome doubt more than they do genuine pride and conviction. National self-confidence is not demonstrated by gigantic flags seen everywhere from used car lots to hot sheet motels, the ubiquitous lapel pin, the loud and gaudy demonstrations of chauvinism at sporting matches, the bombast of shock jockeys, or the belittling and condescending treatment of other peoples.

Rather, those are sure signs of weakness, doubt and insecurity. The compulsive militarization of foreign relations fits the pattern; the same psychology is at work. A society that sees reality through the screen of violent video games is juvenile and immature.

A Dissociated State of Mind

Stage-managed Bush victory speech dissociated from reality of disaster in Iraq. (Kipp Teague/Fliickr/cropped/2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

America is close to a condition that approximates what the psychologists call “dissociation.” It is marked by an inability to see and to accept actualities as they are for deep seated emotional reasons.

It is defined as:

Dissociation … is any of a wide array of experiences, ranging from a mild emotional detachment from the immediate surroundings, to a more severe disconnection from physical and emotional experiences. The major characteristic of all dissociative phenomena involves a detachment from reality, rather than a loss of reality as in psychosis. … Dissociation is commonly displayed on a continuum. In mild cases, dissociation can be regarded as a coping mechanism or defense mechanism in seeking to master, minimize or tolerate stress including … conflict.”

Conflicts of purpose, conflict of aims, conflict of ideas, conflict between idealized reality and actual truth. Dissociative disorders are sometimes triggered by trauma (9/11?).

This psychological appraisal of the American body politic does not explain adequately, however, either the exaggerated response to a single (if singular) event confronting it with reality, or the intensity and acuteness of the delusional thinking in the absence of evidence from the real world. The objective truth is overwhelmed by the subjective virtual truths that shape their perception of reality.

What do these developments foretell for the United States’ relations with the rest of the world? The most obvious and important implication is that Americans will be ever more dependent on maintaining that sense of exceptionalism and superiority that is the foundation of their national personality.

A fragile psyche, weak in self-esteem and prowess, is sensitive to signs of its decline or ordinariness. Hence, the obsession with curbing China. Hence, the country will continue to exert itself energetically on the global stage rather than become progressively more selective in its engagements and choice of methods for fulfilling them.

Continuity is a lot easier than reorientation. It doesn’t demand fresh thinking and different skills. Quite frankly, today, the caliber of high and mid-level personnel would have to be upgraded. Less amateurism and careerism, more experience and sophisticated knowledge.

Equally, a U.S. president would have to seek out people with a different mindset. That is to say, a more nuanced view of the world, more acute awareness of other countries’ political culture and leadership, and a talent for dealing with other states on a basis other than the assumption of American superiority and prerogative.

Attempts to dictate the internal affairs of foreign countries would become the rare exception rather than the norm. Moreover, it is necessary to loosen the hold on the nation’s mind of dogmatic ideas as deeply rooted in the American experience as they are out of synch with today’s world.

All of this is a tall order. It appears to be beyond America.

Michael Brenner is a professor of international affairs at the University of Pittsburgh. [email protected]

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31 comments for “Lowering the Throne of America’s Delusion

  1. robert e williamson jr
    January 7, 2022 at 17:39

    My opinion, humble as it may be. Micheal for me you got it almost correct. But I see things a little differently.

    When standing in the timber at the bottom of the mountain one neither sees the the forest or the mountain. Move back from the forest and the mountain and both come into view.

    I believe the same can be said about U.S. citizens and their limited opinions on government.

    This young country of ours expanded at a blinding rate when we consider the time line of it’s life.
    The length of Americas life (history) is very short sort when compared to countries world wide. The growth and successes it has experienced here is the modern age which has been phenomenal.

    But something happened when the government sprouted a secret arm. Circa 1947 concepti0n – 1950 implementation.

    Micheal you seem to dwell on using the example of the events surrounding 911 which I see clearly as being the result of outdated policies, outdated political views and a misapplication of U.S. strength based on the views of neocaons the their fixation with with military solutions being the end all to the problems the U.S. faces.

    The responsible parties “BLEW IT BIG TIME”, 911 never should have happened , those who are paid to know should have known and like did know something big was up. What happened. Petty sibling rivalry among responsible party’s who were primed to make a power grab if anything really bad happened,. and had it not been for our dysfunctional national government, congress, the executive including DOJ and and defense community. Something I certainly don’t believe is over!

    When a select group inside the government decided to kill a sitting president all bets were off.

    Congress intimidated, failed to do it’s job holding them accountable and they haven’t been held accountable since.

    Otherwise Micheal I agree pretty much with everything else you wrote. Maybe even more so because one must be able to see the big picture here.

    Anyone have a better explanation for this countries severely bloated military budget, than an intelligence community and military that are out of control with respect to parity with the rest of the government here?

    Thanks CN

    • robert e williamson jr
      January 7, 2022 at 18:04

      This Should follow, “Something I certainly don’t believe is over!” Reason being 911. in my view, is resulting symptom of misguided policies and malfeasance pushed by the military and intelligence communities.

      After, ” Congress intimidated . . . .” Micheal do you know of and have you read Loch K Johnson’s “A SEASON OF INQUIRY REVISITED” ? His revised his 1985 “A SEASON OF INQUIRY” and this new revision was released 2015. You might like to read it, good read, flows well and opens the real story of the tainted Church and Pike investigations. He explains who CIA failed to play well with others and pressured, intimidation by any other name anyone they could get to.

      Sorry! I hurry it is a serious flaw of mine.

      Thanks CN

  2. Lois Gagnon
    January 6, 2022 at 18:17

    I felt we were beginning as a nation to reflect on who we really are vs. who we are taught we are after we left Vietnam. Then Reagan came along and told us to forget all that and party hardy cuz we’re the shining city on the hill. People bought it hook, line and sinker. I was apoplectic. We still haven’t recovered from his delusions.

  3. Jim Thomas
    January 5, 2022 at 20:10

    The Soviet Union filled a desperate need for the elites who made policy. It provided the perfect “ENEMY” from which the the elites would protect the people. Thus, Kennedy’s lie about the “missile gap” and other lies in order to justify more and more obscene amounts poured into, and stolen from, the military budget. U.S. foreign policy has always been about Empire and theft. The elites benefited from the U.S. wars of aggression throughout the world — in fact, many of the wars were fought to allow them to loot the invaded country (Guatemala, United Fruit, etc.). And the MIC ALWAYS WON —- they are allowed to steal trillions of dollars from the people. Of course, the MIC is always eager for the U.S. to start any war, regardless of its merits, because, win or lose, the thieves always win. They keep the money either way. In fact, no war fought by this Country since WWII has been legitimate. All have been wars of aggression.

    The U.S. “leadership” is an amateurish embarrassment. The attempt by Tony Blinken and his fellow novices to lecture the Chinese team of professional diplomats at the summit last Spring (March, I think) was cringe-worthy. Biden has escalated tensions with both China and Russia to a dangerous level which the word “irresponsible” is wholly inadequate. This foolishness has, however, accomplished something which I did not think was possible, viz. the creation of an iron-clad alliance between two historical arch enemies, China and Russia. I view this as a good development because it is very evident that the fools who run the show in Washington are too blind to reality to understand that the rest of the world is not going to continue to put up with this Country’s abuse and bullying. Good for them. Now if we can just avoid nuclear holocaust and finishing the task of making our planet uninhabitable, all … may…possibility…be, good, well, no, not good, but, perhaps, tolerable if we can get by with a much reduced standard of living. Is that what we used to call Hope and Change. Ask Obama.

  4. Jimm
    January 5, 2022 at 19:51

    As Catherine Austin Fitts recently stated “In America the middle and upper middle class have been enjoying the rich subsidy of a dollar system run by force that is killing a lot of people.” It goes without saying to also include those above upper-middle.

  5. Jovanda
    January 5, 2022 at 17:42

    I am convinced we are facing a “predator paradox”, wherein our species’ unprecedented capability for aggression and consumption has become streamlined and institutionalized, it’s momentum backfiring in the self-destructive annihilation of the host, therefore itself.
    Identifying and understanding this unconscious, organic process would reveal potential interventions and possibilities for Conscious Cooperation, even ecological models for institutionalized healing, non-competitive survival. Tyrants and their enablers are psychopaths; they must never be admitted into positions of authority.

  6. Colins
    January 5, 2022 at 17:39

    When MIC, Corporations & a mad Crony Capitalist Kleptocracy networks own, manipulate & leverage so many of the politicians, media, & NGO’s in America & abroad, I’m afraid there is not much hope, & from what we’ve seen for some time now, the plan is to bring the rest of the world down with them, one way or another.
    Real & Deep change it has to start with dismantling Coroprate & Kleptocrat power, including their structures & influence over the afore mentioned, dismantling their wealth & global maleficence with impunity, for mind.

  7. Guy
    January 5, 2022 at 16:08

    Thing started going South since after WWII but really ramped up since 9/11 IMHO .There is so much that the general population simply does not know and would be shocked if they did.
    A good article.

  8. Boris J Dirnbach
    January 5, 2022 at 15:59

    Dissembling politicians including Dems but especially Reps use “exceptionalism” to justify imperialistic adventures that are great for their business donor$; exceptionalism is how they dupe the rubes, their voters.
    Given that the corporate press never holds these pundits to account (eg Condoleezza Rice is still celebrated as a foreign affairs titan, ditto for Kissinger) and these pundits & their think-tanks make big bank by mouthing policies that benefit weapons manufacturers what’s the impetus to revisit their embrace of a muscular foreign policy.
    Max Boot, eg, dumped Trump but he never apologized for promoting the Iraq War. Nevertheless, he can op-ed his way into WaPo whenever he likes because punditry.
    To me, our foreign/military policy is more like the Wizard of Oz who knows he’s conning the hicks but why stop – it’s too lucrative to go straight.
    Daniel Ellsberg captures the duplicity perfectly:
    […] Part 1 of 13. […] DANIEL ELLSBERG: The difference, as I said, Stalin and Hitler were very comparably ruthless murderers. Killed many millions of people, tens of millions, even. But the idea that Stalin was reckless, expansionist, determined by military means to take over a large part of the world, which Hitler was, was wrong. It was plausible. As I said, he looked enough like Hitler. And that was the ideology that I was brought up in, in a way, since I was 17 or so, right at the beginnings of the Cold War. But I think in retrospect that was not only wrong, but essentially our intelligence people always knew that was wrong. That Stalin, in terms of expansion, was a much more conservative figure, and understood very well that he was number two in the world; that he was not vying to take over, take over the world from the United States. Did not want war with the United States.
    And by the way, I think that’s true now. The expansionist tendencies of Putin are being enormously exaggerated. And I think, from all I can see, and why, I think, for much the same reason: that it justifies a $1.7 trillion dollar expansion, which is very hard to justify in the war on terror. Let’s say, you know, we needed the war on Russia still. And that doesn’t mean, by the way, that Russia is totally passive in this point. They, too, are spending more than a trillion dollars. Do they need that in some military sense, if I were advising? And I knew a lot of the people that used to be in the Gorbachev period, policy advisers in that period. I’m certain they would agree with me, certain, that they cannot militarily justify the new weapons they’re building. […] hXXps://therealnews.com/the-doomsday-machine-the-big-lie-of-the-cold-war-daniel-ellsberg-on-rai-1-8?fbclid=IwAR14HOmH5wTwOTv98sMDz619YRRVKqKp1VYZQRwUzElLhxYhO6CZixruSx0

    • Consortiumnews.com
      January 5, 2022 at 16:35

      Russia spent $61.7 billion on defense in 2020. hXXps://www.statista.com/statistics/1203160/military-expenditure-russia/

  9. val
    January 5, 2022 at 15:35

    I don’t think they look at it that seriously.
    I think most who are connected to any administration are mostly concerned about the money.
    From the politicians to public officials in DC and around the country, its all about the money.

  10. Caliman
    January 5, 2022 at 14:34

    All of the “failures” pointed out in the article, the death and misery, the trillions “wasted,” the seeming “defeats” are part of the program: (1) funnel $$ from the 99% to the pockets of the 1% through application of the mil-ind-security complex and (2) loot foreign lands and bleed them dry to the same purpose. There is no failure, there are no defeats, trillions have been made, God bless America.

    The 99% IS indeed confused and suffers from dissociation: they thought they were citizens of the city on the hill and the great defenders of democracy, which seems at odds with Iran ’53, Guatemala ’54, Vietnam ’60’s, Chile ’73, El Salvador ’80’s, etc. etc. but it has been made clear to them, as China inexorably rises and we are beggared by our elite and die in unprecedented numbers to a respiratory disease, that perhaps we are not who they say we are.

    Well, better late than never …

  11. rosemerry
    January 5, 2022 at 13:03

    President Obama declaimed: “Let me tell you something. The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth. Period.” Even if true, is this really something to be proud of, when the result is that the USA punishes any country it has decided is an enemy?

    “Within just a few decades, America became a great world power, a superpower, a champion of democracy and freedom and the defender of the West against Soviet-led communism”.

    Michael, this is YOUR comment, not Obama’s, or George W Bush’s! After WW2, in which the USA had NO civilian casualties or destruction/invasion of its land, it decided to turn on its ally, the USSR, which had, by any objective analysis, defeated Nazism in Europe. The USSR had lost tens of millions of men and suffered huge destruction, as had many European countries and regions. Immediately the USA claimed that the USSR was the essence of evil and for almost the rest of the century led the “Cold War”, as well as stopping any European country having any communists in its government. This was notable in France and Italy, where communists were the backbone of the resistance to Nazism. All those years of “glory” included acting against new nations emerging from colonialism, and communists were blamed for helping them (with justification-they did!) Democracy and freedom??? Not via the USA.

    • Frank Lambert
      January 6, 2022 at 11:38

      Rosemerry: You hit the bullseye with that one! Absolutely correct, if one does the research of that period in world history.

      Thank you!

  12. David Otness
    January 5, 2022 at 13:03

    Leaving out the fact(s) the U.S. is so many $trillions in debt with a hollowed-out husk (beyond military weapons manufacturing) of an economy with few prospects of ever getting back the now mythical middle class lifestyle once expected. An ever more restive multiple younger generation population caught up in a bleak future of indentured servitude to student loans that only lead to a prescripted if not conscripted dead end. What *better* way out than further large scale non-nuclear wars in the Owners’ plans, considering their parting with any of their wealth is anathema to them? As if any battle plan lasts past the first fire exchanged.

    They don’t seem to realize this path so far chosen by them is going to lead to a or a series of lethal for hundreds of thousands of our kids and grandkids ass-kickings as they commit our armed forces up against real and determined, let alone selected and demonized adversaries, not some fuggedaboudem Third World sandal-wearing ‘other’ who nonetheless have succeeded in humbling our many $trillions expended every time since Vietnam. (OK, Grenada and Panama.Wow!) So now it’s “tough guy” time against Russia and China, hmm?
    It’s only the nuclear stockpile that even allows them this illusion of chest-puffing superiority. That they are playing nuclear chicken with the fate of the world in balance shows how far this country has strayed, and especially how decadent and morally defunct what passes for U.S. leadership actually is: but a hollow husk in service to none but the corporate-ensconced. This country is fundamentally bankrupt due to its plutocratic suasion. So what are the other options, pray tell? I truly fear there is no Option ‘B’ as things stand in this other contrived crisis the plutocrats hatched.

  13. Scott Calbeck
    January 5, 2022 at 12:57

    A scholar of the pre-Revolutionary War era described the “violent self-pity” of colonists, inhabitants of the frontier, who could not and would not accept peaceful coexistence with their Indian neighbors. Today, America seems unable to peacefully coexist with much of the world, and Americans seem close to being unable to peacefully coexist with themselves. Why has that “violent self-pity” lived on for 250 years?

    • val
      January 5, 2022 at 15:40

      I heard Dr. Colonel West say that Democracy is a fantasy and people living under that fantasy is living a fairy tale.
      I am paraphasing but he was on CSPAN giving an interview.

  14. Anonymot
    January 5, 2022 at 12:43

    The Presidents you cite are just human beings. They don’t , can’t in fact, know everything. They are dependent on “experts” in each field that they administer. If they make wrong choices it is not only because they are ill-trained and ill-chosen, but because they are fed misinformation.

    It’s about time that we speak of not the figureheads, but of those who quietly feed them the misinformation on which those politicians depend. Politicians have slowly been transformed into experts, but in only one increasingly complex field: politics, the means of being elected. They espouse what they are told will get them elected. Once elected their ears are filled with the expertise of those who “know”.

    It’s time we talk about who feeds the errors that form our disastrous foreign policies to those Presidents for we know who they are.

    • val
      January 5, 2022 at 15:52

      I believe you. Here in Minnesota we have governor Waltz, who declined to use Military healthcare assistance during the height of the
      pandemic. 2 Months ago he changes, almost 2 years of covid and vulnerable people getting inadequate or no healthcare
      and he changes his mind 2 years into the Pandemic and says we need the military help to deal with the healthcare crisis. All that time he let pass, knowing the healthcare worker shortage, knowing vulnerable people were at risk but 2 month ago he says lets bring in the military to help out. Why? Why? Because its election time. He’s not a leader but a follower.

      I realized he is being told how to govern and he follows. A Dam Shame

  15. f
    January 5, 2022 at 12:09

    “Evocation of the concussion protocol is in order…”

    Comedy gold!

  16. Odyssios
    January 5, 2022 at 11:48

    So what you’re really saying is that the US is in a terrified state of not daring to look up. I completely agree. But this refusal is not going to end happily with a sudden ‘Oh my! What was I thinking of?’ moment. But end it will, like it or not. Denial limits ability to control or shape the rude awakening.

  17. evelync
    January 5, 2022 at 11:23

    They think we’re fooled.

    We’re sick of paying taxes into for profit wars that rob this country of resources for decent healthcare for all, pandemic preparedness, environmental sustainability, sustainable infrastructure and a humane set of values. We’re sick of sending young people into the giant maw of death and destruction who come home traumatized for the crimes they are driven to commit.

    It’s a fucking joke.

    We’re driving ourselves into bankruptcy to feed the bloated corporate for profit war machine and too big to fail banks and the rest of the oligarch class which owns the politicians.
    Remember Schumer’s – “they’ll get us six ways from Sunday”.
    We are incapable of facing the truth because the truth is not profitable and threatens the lust for money and power.

    Responsible diplomacy is not for school yard bullies who KNOW because they’re the “best and the brightest”.

    Each year that passes proves that the secretive intelligence services serve the for profit giants, always have. Their illusions of power make them so fucking paranoid that they view their own employees who have a conscience and report wrongdoing and crimes are seen as their enemies.
    They torture people not to learn anything but to punish.

    The 2013 Korean film – “The Attorney” based on “the real life story of Roh Moo-Hyun, ex-president of South Korea, who was well known for his human rights activist career as attorney.”

    is a remarkable film that goes to the dark side of where we’re willing to go given what we do to people who are seen as “threats” to the regime. This film reveals how those at the top think. It’s a no holds barred descent into the mindset that this article writes about. And culminates in the courtroom.

    Surprisingly Amazon Prime just added it. I’m surprised they haven’t yet been charged with subversion.

    • Julie Wornan
      January 6, 2022 at 06:36

      Here’s a way to start bringing back sanity to America: tax the 1% to empower the 99%.

      The top marginal tax rate on the highest incomes in the USA averaged 81% from 1932 to 1980, 39% from 1980 to 2018 (statistics from Thomas Piketty, Capital and Ideology). Often it was over 90%.

      We could pass legislation to bring back a 90% federal tax rate on corporate and private incomes in excess of, say, $1 million. Top assets as well as incomes should be taxed. The receipts could finance educational opportunities and health for all. There might also be a guaranteed minimum income.

      Relieved of financial stress and worry about medical fees, Americans could hopefully rediscover self-confidence and a taste for thinking for themselves. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to teach children to appreciate the history and culture of other lands. Russians also love their children and their cats.

      The 99% are actually a majority (yes, really!) so this should be a feasible goal.

      • rgl
        January 6, 2022 at 21:01

        The things you say to remedy what ails America, has all been said before. Repeatedly. Unfortunately, all the things that need to be changed, amended, or outright binned, are all controlled by that perfidious ‘one-percent’. For a peaceful transition to humanism, all these bloodsuckers, hucksters, grifters, liars, and thieves that run the railroad, that basically *own* the railroad, would have to agree to derail their gravy train.

        Give up their priviledged perch? Relinquish their power? Share the wealth of America?

        Methinks not.

        They are making armed rebellion a near-certainty. What did JFK say? “If you make peaceful revolution impossible, you make armed revolution inevitable” I am pretty sure I don’t have that exactly right, but in essence, this is what he said. I believe America is at the point of deciding which it is going to be.

  18. firstpersoninfinite
    January 5, 2022 at 11:04

    Yes, pizza and beer! And we’ve had so much of it for so long that nobody would want to see us anymore even if we did happen to get out at all.
    This is a thoughtful article with sharp psychological acuity. Taking on the military/industrial complex, the entrenched consultants raking in millions in both parties, the lobbyists selling Congress the votes they continuously make without question – how does anyone overcome those forces without bloodshed or authoritarian control? That is the question which awaits us.

  19. Vera Gottlieb
    January 5, 2022 at 10:46

    So many people in awe of the US…obviously they don’t get it or refuse to see reality.

  20. GBC
    January 5, 2022 at 10:39

    The author is on to something with his diagnosis of dissociation. Was it Rumsfeld who said that we create our own reality? That in a nutshell is the Neo-Con mantra. You knew nothing would fundamentally change–as Biden promised–when careerist mediocrities like Jake Sullivan and Antony Blinken won important roles in the new administration. Why are there no figures in this administration who correctly foresaw or were critical of our decades of failure. Why aren’t the likes of Andrew Becevich given a wider audience in the centers of power? One point I think the author overlooks is the sheer inertia that our MIC exerts on policy. To what extent does simple greed account for our endless blunders and criminality? Our credentialed elite have wedded corruption and greed via an endless money stream of “defense” spending to the imperial hubris of the Neo-Cons. Combine with Neo-liberal economic theory that has shrunk the middle class and destroyed blue collar America, and we have the recipe for an authoritarian, feudal future at home, and looming nuclear brinkmanship abroad.

    • Thomas
      January 6, 2022 at 23:37

      I think it was Rove not Rumsfeld about creating our own reality but it really does not matter, an arrogant comment by mediocre or evil suits who have no concept about reality.

      Your comment is an excellent dissection of the arrogance, the greed, the hubris, the hypocrisy, the utter disillusionment of our suits in charge or were in charge of the complete disaster that is or has been American policy on almost all sectors.

      It fits very well to the shocking but not surprising summation by Brenner of where we are or where we have been and why. I still have to ponder his article about the insights he provides but your comment helps a great deal.

      My problem throughout this discourse on our current disaster is that I waver between despair, depression, or simply rage-not sure how we will ever get out of this mess. We have no leaders!

      • GBC
        January 7, 2022 at 10:26

        Thanks for the reference to Rove rather than Rummy. You and others here might be interested in this take on the state of the nation from Naked Capitalism, which like CN, is a must read. The commentariat there is excellent as well.

  21. Hans Suter
    January 5, 2022 at 10:34

    I believe this shit started much earlier, here’s just one example:” hXXps://reliefweb.int/report/lao-peoples-democratic-republic/mag-removes-300000th-unexploded-bomb-laos “

  22. Jeff Harrison
    January 5, 2022 at 00:52

    It doesn’t merely appear to be beyond America it IS beyond America. The US has thought of itself as the greatest thing since pizza and canned beer. And we’re not. We don’t really get out much.

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