GUEST BLOG: Kieran Kelly – The Empire Paradox: More Power is More Weakness

By   /   September 13, 2016  /   16 Comments

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In response to my recent article on US imperial wars some people objected to my characterisation of the US empire.


In response to my recent article on US imperial wars some people objected to my characterisation of the US empire. I wrote: “In global terms the US has never been more powerful” and some were quick to point out that the US empire is very weak. To those people I want to say that we are both right, but the weaknesses of the US empire do not generally affect its functioning. One day these weakness will become very, very important, but we cannot predict when that will be. In the meantime, critics of US empire undermine themselves by their focus on weakness, which often leads to millenarian predictions of immanent collapse.

To explain, I will begin by giving shape to the empire’s dynamic of power and weakness. There is nothing new in suggesting that empires can become victims of their own success. “Imperial overreach” is a common enough term and it is clearly worrying at least one imperialist (Zbigniew Brzezinski, whom I will discuss further at a later point). However, while the established language of “stretch”, “overextension” and “centrifugal forces” evoke 2 dimensions, I want to suggest that we visualise the empire in 3 dimensions.

2-dimensional metaphors of imperium are cartographic in origin. They reflect the logistical, strategic and tactical concerns of an empire of military, bureaucratic and economic control. The irony is that the imperial quest to conquer and tame geography is also a process of transcending geography with institutions and communications which erase differences and distances. Geography is still important in many respects, but I think we need to visualise the totality of empire in an abstract way, because in some important ways it has become a post-geographic empire wherein many important connections exist without physical proximity. This changes some facts of empire, even if others remain the same.

For example, the British had to worry about the “agency problem” in India which could be epitomised by, say, an East Indian company employee marrying a local woman and setting up in business with his new in-laws. This was very common, and the response from the Empire was to create a segregationist and anti-miscegenation racial discourse (and to ship young British women to India in bulk consignments). In contrast, the US can send agents to any country without such worry due to transnationalisation and global mobility. Though there is still a bias towards people of European descent, diplomats, spies, contractors, investors, missionaries, and garrisoning troops are ever more likely to be people of colour. Far from needing to keep its people separate, the US empire is benefiting from its ability to send agents who have ethnic origins and family ties to the neocolony in question. Meanwhile comprador oligarchs (especially in the Western hemisphere) are educated in the US and may have residences and business concerns in the US. The nationality on your birth certificate might limit your power at the highest levels (unless Trump and the “birthers” are correct), but there is still an international imperial elite including many non-US nationals who wield great power.

My proposal for an abstract 3-dimensional model of imperial power is a foam of conjoined bubbles. Each bubble represents a discrete institution of imperial power relations has the properties which we associate with metaphorical bubble such as a price bubble.

Imperial power relations are bubbles because the empire is a structure which puts power into the hands of the few. As Antonio Gramsci famously observed there must be “Consent” to domination, and as Gandhi noted: “We in India may in moment realize that one hundred thousand Englishmen need not frighten three hundred million human beings.” This sets up a dynamic that necessarily inclines towards an increasing but individually unsustainable concentration of power with the necessary increase of coercive power being a threat to the “hegemony” that maintains the consent of the governed.

Not every aspect of imperial power replicates the dynamics of an economic bubble, but I think that enough do to make the generalisation valid. In the resulting imperial spume each bubble; such as petrochemical hegemony, financial hegemony, or entertainment media hegemony, must individually expand or die, but the conjoined bubbles can artificially prevent a bubble burst, or may at other times simply fill the space so that the imperial mass continues with little diminishment. But as the bubbles continue a general trend of expansion there will be an increasing number of bubbles large enough that the bursting will set off a chain reaction. Theoretically there will come a point where the increasingly dominant and powerful empire will be susceptible to complete collapse from the tiniest pin-prick.

The problem is that the system is too complex for us to predict. We don’t know where we are at. The empire has responsive institutions, so vulnerabilities that are predictable are compensated for. This itself feeds the processes of inflation. To use another analogy, perhaps the future will bring a giant iceberg of imperial weakness which is foreseen, but cannot be avoided. It is possible, but the empire is constantly steering among icebergs. I think it is more likely that one day an unforeseen fault will cause a cascade failure, destroying the ability to steer. After that we can spend all the time we want arguing whether it was the unforeseen fault or the giant and obvious iceberg which is to blame (or praise) for the empire’s collapse.

Because of this unpredictability, the weaknesses of the US empire are significant potentialities, but they have little relevance in actuality. For those who oppose empire there is little to be gained fro focussing on imperial weakness.

I count myself among those who has a bias towards perceiving the inherent weakness, contradiction and self-defeat built into imperial expansion. We do not want to think of the empire as a “success” in any terms. We do not want to think that the mass-murderers of Washington DC might go to their graves believing that they have been on the side of the angels. We do not even really want to admit war and genocide can be used successfully to advance the interests of US empire. We want people to understand that nobody truly benefits from the cruel crimes of empire.

I do not want to believe that the US empire “wins” all the time, but I know that that is the real nature of empire. With very few exceptions it will always leverage from its superior power and will win every conflict eventually. Every time the US empire seems to be handed a defeat, it is only a matter of time before it becomes a US victory. In 1950 the US was worried about an independent Viet Nam becoming an industrialised socialist regional hegemon. Now Viet Nam is a poor neoliberal source of cheap labour that has signed the TPP and lets US warships use Cam Ranh bay and Haiphong harbour.  The Phillippines evicted the US military in 1992, to much acclaim, but they were back a decade later and have been increasing their presence ever since (including announcing of 5 new bases in recent months).

They are also hard to stop when they decide to go to war. 3 years ago, after protest had prevented US bombing of Syria, I wrote “Though apparently thwarted in its efforts to justify action against Syria, the US is likely to continue looking for cracks in the wall of opposition and will exploit any opportunity to act, relying on its well established impunity.” Sure enough, in time the US began bombing Syria, having found a completely different rationale that coincidently meant they needed to bomb the country they had wanted to bomb for unrelated reasons just months before.

In Latin America,  just a few years ago it seemed that the tide had turned decisively and enduringly against Usanian dominance, but now: Dilma Rouseff has been ousted; Venezuela is nearing collapse under the strain of US economic warfare and sabotage; Mauricio Macri plunged Argentina back into the deepest depths of neoliberalism; post-coup Honduras is rife with right-wing death squads; Rafael Correa will not be standing in the upcoming Ecuadoran election; and the historic peace-deal in Colombia has actually given a platform and relevance to mass-murderer Alvaro “I did it because it was a necessity” Uribe who is leading the right-wing campaign against peace (50 years of killing is apparently not enough).

In Europe, NATO has expanded to Russia’s borders in numerous places. India is now clearly in the US camp, a factor that should not be underestimated. Under AFRICOM (established 2002) the US military is now deeply entrenched and highly active throughout most of Africa. US military capabilities on the borders of rivals and enemies become ever more menacing with deployments such as the THAAD missiles in ROK, and ABM missiles in Romania and Poland.

The US remains the largest arms exporter and provider of military “aid”, but there has been a qualitative shift that increases the dependency of its clients. US weapons systems, and the insistence on “interoperability” amongst allies and clients, are now such that many military activities require US contractor or military personnel for maintenance. This gives the an unprecedented lever of control that supplements the military aid and training programmes that ensure that officers in the neocolonies are loyal to the empire. In direct terms the US can also, under circumstances decided by itself, take control of the massive and well armed forces of the Republic of Korea (ROK). Moreover, though its sidekick the UK has dropped from 2nd to 5th in military spending, it is now the second biggest arms dealer in the world.

The US has been proliferating missile defence systems which are designed to prevent retaliation from Russia after a massive US nuclear attack. This alone is causing dangerous instability, but the US is also trying to blur the lines between nuclear and conventional weapons to make them more “thinkable. Complementing this is a very expensive nuclear modernisation programme that includes many smaller “tactical” munitions.

In conventional terms the US also has excessive and peerless firepower. The US has 10 massive “supercarriers” currently in service. There total displacement is close enough to be called a megaton (1,000,000 tons). In contrast, adding all other countries aircraft carriers together you get under 200,000 tons of displacement (one fifth of the US strength). Total US naval size is 4 times that of its nearest rival (Russia): quote “the U.S. war fleet displaces nearly as much as all other warships in the world’s navies, combined.” Given that is also has the highest nuclear and conventional payloads, and the greatest technological sophistication, it is fair to say that the US Navy is considerably more powerful than all other navies combined.

In military terms the US is unquestionably a greater power now that it was in the past, and it is the greatest military power in world history.

The US has also gone from strength to strength in being able to impose economic control and in coercing and bribing governments into signing over economic sovereignty to the empire’s corporate arm. Once again it seems that the US empire never has to concede defeat, it merely bides its time and finds a new way forward when checked. The anti-globalisation movement in the late 1990s seemed spell the end of the march of neoliberalism. Indeed the Doha round of WTO negotiations, which started in 2002 and still continue, were hijacked by notions of development and welfare. Undeterred, the US has turned to bilateral and regional multilateral deals which further US hegemony and neoliberal governance. Now it gets to exploit the synergies that result from having its fingers in so many pies. The TPPA and TTIP, for example, also function to isolate China and Russia. We may still be holding a good fight against the TPPA, but the fact that the US could muscle in on someone else’s trade deal and then pervert in entirely to their own cause and then get the government’s concerned to sign the deal. Now many believe that TTIP is dead in the water. I would caution that there was a period when the TPPA also seemed dead (some say it is now), but stalled is not the same as dead.

The forces wanting these agreements are not going anywhere and no one is actually dismantling the process to this point. With the TPPA in particular, even if ratification becomes indefinitely delayed popular outrage, we don’t have a realistic way of getting the deal off the table altogether. This is a ratchet system, it can only go one way and it moves that way every time public pressure is relaxed or confounded.

Even if we defeat TPPA and TTIP, then there is already the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) which “imposes unprecedented restrictions on SOEs and will force majority owned SOEs to operate like private sector businesses.” As George Monbiot writes: “TTIP has been booed off the stage but another treaty, whose probable impacts are almost identical, is waiting in the wings. And this one is more advanced, wanting only final approval. If this happens before Britain leaves the EU, we are likely to be stuck with it for 20 years.”

We seem to have no means of reversing the progressive loss of economic sovereignty. Each individual country knows that they will be hammered if they take the first step. Thus in those periods where a country might be lucky enough to have a government that has a level of benevolent intent, they are constrained to trying to beautify our prison cells with some flowers and maybe (if we are really lucky) a comfortable vermin-free mattress. They provide insufficient and, above all, precarious well-being in a world where inequality has become a rampant cancer, as dangerous as it is obscene and surreal. Billionaires now own over $US7 trillion in wealth.

The empire can think up new ways of robbing and enslaving the people of the world because it owns our governments, it owns our bureaucrats, it owns our spooks, it owns our generals. As for multinational corporate interests (and their legions of lawyers and lobbyists and PR hacks), well the empire owns them and they own the empire (or is that the other way around?)

At the launch of a left-wing think tank author and academic Nick Srnicek said: “Neoliberalism is dead, and we have an opening to produce something new.” He is right, but wrong. His diagnosis is no different from what was said by people like him after the Asian Financial crisis 20 years ago. We must build intellectually robust counterarguments to neoliberalism, but we should realise it does not actually need to be intellectually valid to continue. You cannot kill that which does not live. Likewise, it is wrong to think that the rise of right-wing populism means an end to neoliberalism. It is a scam, and you don’t have to believe in the lies to perpetuate them or use them. Srnicek thinks that Trump is anti-neoliberal, which is what a lot of Argentinians thought about Mauricio Macri. Macri (who laid off 100,000 public sector workers in his first 3 months and deregulated labour laws for the benefit of employers) has just announced an end to energy subsidies which will cause a 400% rise in gas prices. Combined with Macri’s earlier move to raise wholesale electricity prices this will mean increases in power bills of up to 700%.

I think it is great, wonderful and necessary that we use the term “neoliberalism” as a catch-all term. It helps us draw links between the policies of our own governments and the international trends, and now people are grasping the fact that it has an authoritarian side. But I would caution against treating it as deriving its coherence from an ideology. As David Harvey pointed out in A Brief History of Neoliberalism neoliberals do not play by the rules they espouse.

Neoliberalism isn’t really particularly neo, it is just a new bottle for the old sour wine of market fundamentalism (as Fred Block explains in this interview). In practical terms, for example, Herbert Hoover was indistinguishable from a neoliberal except that he was less slick. In reality, the final nail in the intellectual coffin of market fundamentalism came before neoliberalism even existed. It was the work of economic historian Karl Polanyi whose unrefuted 1944 book The Great Transformation showed that market fundamentalism always was a bunch of crap going right back to its first policy applications in the 19th century. Polanyi also found exactly the same double standards in 19th century British laissez-faire that Harvey found in its modern incarnation, quoting a US Treasury Secretary who complained that the British Empire’s policy was “do as we say, don’t do as we do”.

Thus, neoliberalism always was an undead ideology of Zombie Economics. Personally I find it hard to believe that people take something like Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom seriously but clearly, like Ayn Rand, he is tapping into the hidden desire for absolution that obviously afflicts the wealthy and the bourgeois. It must be something like that, because it is a really pathetic book. First Churchill and then Thatcher had tens of thousands of copies distributed free to the Conservative Party faithful like it was the Tory Bible, or Little Red Book.

The thing about zombies is that, however shambling, they are hard to stop. There have been few sour notes in the orchestrated global advance of neoliberal imperialism. There have been thorns in the sides of the US – nation-states that just won’t play ball – but the empire has the time and expanse to quarantine such naughty countries until such time as they can crushed. People call the US weak, but they are destroying Syria now at no real cost to themselves. Syria was on a list, as was Libya. People point to Libya and call the intervention a failure, but Libya is fucked and it hasn’t hurt the empire in any way. Mission accomplished, surely? And then there is Iraq. Iraq, which would be an incredibly rich nation without intervention, is barely holding together. It is so divided that any powerful outsider (not just the US) can destabilise it. This is a clear win for the US, and they used the Iraq invasion to give $US19 billion of Iraq’s money to US contractors like Halliburton. Iraq now spends billions in oil money each year to buy US weapons and is completely dependent on US support to keep its government in one piece.

After what the US has done to Iraq, no one should think that Iraqis want the US there, but people still call the 20-year genocide a “failure” and a “tragic error”. It is an evil master-stroke, not a mistake. The empire is only threatened by such action in that eventually it may over-reach, so each success carries the germ of potential disaster. As I mentioned at the beginning though increased power and increased fragility go hand in hand. Maybe a collapse of the empire will come, but until that time the empire’s power is an actuality, but its weakness is only a potential.

People who develop the habit of announcing the immanent demise, or even just the weakness of the US will eventually find themselves in the same position as those cultists who have to sheepishly keep pushing back the date of the apocalypse as each predicted end-time passes without the end actually happening. Historians Joyce and Gabriel Kolko spent decades emphasising US weakness in foreign policy, beginning during the US war in Indochina. At each point, over the decades of writing, it seemed valid to highlight this supposed weakness, but if you trace their work through time that aspect of the work becomes ridiculous, which in turn brings into question their very understanding of the empire. Sun Tzu advised: “When you are strong, appear weak”.The Kolkos let themselves be misdirected. They let their desire for a more just world lead them astray.

The empire’s weaknesses are its contradictions, which is another way of saying what I wrote in the title: more power is more weakness. But the potential weakness only affects the empire in the here-and-now inasmuch as it causes imperialists to become circumspect and modest. That is not happening. We know it is not because there is an exception to the rule, and that is Zbigniew Brzezinski. He wrote an article this year calling for caution and realignment. However, he is claiming that the US empire is already dead (which could be seen as disingenuous) and that a global realignment has to occur in which Russia and/or China are incorporated. He is basically advocating a global carve-up of the world and his can even be read as an appeal to take substantive control of China and Russia in order to dominate parts of the globe through them (in the same manner that occupied post-WWII Japan was used as a sub-hegemon in East Asia).

Brzezinski is clearly not being 100% honest either. He makes a transparently fake denunciation of “the current inclination of the Saudi government still to foster Wahhabi fanaticism”. Once the obvious lie is removed he is clearly saying that SA (which used to just buy US weapons and not use them) should continue in its new-found warmongering role.

Perhaps Brzezinski is genuinely worried about continued unipolar expansion, and that is what makes him an exception, but his answer is to a problem of empire is more imperialism: a controlled US dominated delegation of power to subordinates: “the United States must take the lead in realigning the global power architecture”. Nevertheless Mike Whitney seized on Brzezinski’s article with glee at the arch-imperialist giving up on empire, and I think he represents a broader tendency to want to see the empire as crumbling. But even if one imperialist did give up on empire, it isn’t much to get excited about it. Moreover, if “giving up on empire” comes in the form of saying that the US should create an new New-World-Order, then I would hate to see what expansionism looks like.

Besides all of that, none of this is new for Brzezinski, and a veteran like Mike Whitney should have remembered that this echoes Brzezinski’s stance from 2006, especially since Whitney quoted him in 2007: “American power may be greater in 2006 than in 1991, (but) the country’s capacity to mobilize, inspire, point in a shared direction and thus shape global realities has significantly declined. Fifteen years after its coronation as global leader, America is becoming a fearful and lonely democracy in a politically antagonistic world.” In fact Brzezinski had much the same stance in 2000 when he published The Geostrategic Triad advocating “The progressive inclusion of Russia in the expanding Transatlantic”. He wanted the US to rule in conjunction with partners dominated by it. The details in his latest article are different (China promoted, Europe demoted, Russia matured), but the essence is the same, a unilateral imperialism that calls itself multilateral and pretends to be pragmatic by being thoroughly overtly repugnant in the name of realism.

Having seen many excited tweets about Brzezinski’s putative turn against empire, I think it is a good case study on which to end. It shows how we fool ourselves, seeking the easiest signs of hope and progress when the outlook is actually daunting and scary. We cannot see what lies ahead. We could be on the cusp of something great or something horrific or a long hard slow battle which we might not win. At the moment we have little control over such things. Any attempt to take a shortcut because of some will-o-the-wisp is counterproductive. We have been dealt a crappy hand, but that is what we have to live with because the masses are unreachable and will remain so until dissidents can offer a coherent comprehensive alternative to empire. That is why Srnicek was correct in his prescription, even if his diagnosis was a bit off.

To paraphrase Gramsci, what we need is accuracy of the intellect and sufficiency of the will, in that order.

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  1. dave brown says:

    Kieran you are right but you are wrong.
    Right to say that the US is still the dominant global power.
    Wrong that the US is not in decline.
    Its a question of relative decline.
    Brzezinski as you say saw long ago the need to co-opt Russia and China.
    After the “end of history” moment it looked like it would.
    Since then it has failed to quarantine both these new super-powers as subordinates, or mere ‘regional’ powers.
    The ‘victory’ over “communism” left it with none of the prizes it expected.
    The US never saw the rise of Russia and China as potential rivals emerging out of the collapse of the ‘state socialist’ regimes in the 1990s. It still regards China officially as ‘communist’ which it never was.
    Yet the decades of central planning outside the capitalist world economy created strong states in Russia and China that were able to resist all attempts by the US and its allies to turn these states into mere clients.
    So relatively speaking while the US appears to call the shots as in Ukraine or Syria or the South China Sea, it is not longer prevailing.
    The US has lost its superiority in nuclear weapons and cannot brandish these with impunity.
    In the Ukraine Russia invaded the Crimea and supports the breakaway Donbass enclaves.
    In Syria, the US is playing second fiddle to Russia in propping up the fascist Assad. Russia how includes Iran and on present indications, Turkey, in its power bloc with China and the other BRICS.
    The fact is that in the Great Game for control of Eurasia the US is losing. NATO is falling apart as is the EU itself as the Silk Roads begin to penetrate.
    Russia and China are moving into parts of the world that the US formerly regarded as part of its sphere of interest, namely the EU, Latin America and Africa.
    Such is the relative decline of the US that Trump is able to rise to power on a platform of return to the past ‘greatness’ of US isolationism.
    There is nothing so dangerous as an angry elephant at home and angry Eurasian bears on the loose.

    • Afewknowthetruth says:

      I agree with you general stance but not this:

      In the Ukraine Russia invaded the Crimea and supports the breakaway Donbass enclaves.’

      Having overthrown the legitimate government, the US puppet regime in Kiev declared that Russian, the language of the people of eastern Ukraine (which incidentally was only incorporated into Ukraine by Khrushchev in the early 1950s for economic reasons) was not to be used! Needless to say, they objected.

      Subsequently, the Russian-speaking region of Crimea (Russian since Catherine the Great’s time) managed to break free of Kiev control (the presence of a Russian base which had been paying ‘rent’ to Ukraine making the break easier) and voted to join the Russian Federation.

      ‘Russia invaded Crimea’ is just the propaganda story churned out by the corrupt western media, as a component of their anti-Putin, anti-Russia campaign.

      The fascist forces of west Ukraine US puppet government have been engaged in a war on the people of the Donbas region, to regain control of the mineral resources and factories that generated most of Ukraine’s wealth in the past (there’s not a lot of money to be made out of grain); volunteer units from Russia have supported the ‘east Ukrainians’ -who are really Russians.

      It has been reported that the US was all set to invade Crimea, but suddenly had a change of heart when the lead ships saw what the Russians had prepared to ‘welcome’ them: one of the most advanced missile systems in the world.

      • dave brown says:

        Yeah I should have said Russia annexed Crimea.
        I agree that it had majority support from those living in Crimea.
        My point is that there is nothing progressive about Russia compared to the US.
        Both are imperialist, and it is no use hoping that Russia (or China and their fellow BRICS) can stop the US taking us with them as it bombs it way to oblivion under crazy General Trump.
        The only way to stop this total destruction is an international workers revolution.
        Anything less will become part of the disaster.

  2. This was a fucking great read, I hope to see more from you here.

  3. matchstick says:

    The new Kieran article, like its precursors, contains important analytical conclusions that could be helpful for ‘the left’ in NZ toward further theoretical reasoning and practical derivation of future policies and actions.

    Not talking about militarist expansion, a historical strength of the USA – with global support echoing from all continents – comes from the powerful declaration of “all men / people are created equal”.

    This was, and still is, one of the most appealing and challenging political and social statements in human history and will be acknowledgment by an overwhelming majority of individuals, social and ethnic groups, religious aggregations and nation-states as an over-arching principle for life, action, interaction.

    “All people are created equal.” “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.”

    Perhaps not key phrases for facebooking or twittering; but the social and political quality of the statement and its compelling substance and attributes do actually continue to resonate with hundreds of millions in the Pacific, Asia, Europe, Africa, the Americas, and even in the US.

    For a start, direct sharing of experiences and interventions with analysts and citizens from Brazil, China, India, Russia, and South Africa would be helpful. The imperial notion of US-american exceptionalism – including its cannibalistic global and local economic materializations – can be brought to halt, and there might even be reasonably good chances for shifting the long-term perspective.

    ……….let’s have a searching look beyond Cape Reinga.

  4. Afewknowthetruth says:

    This article

    provides a good overview as to why America is no longer ‘top dog’ militarily, and why any attempt by America to impose its will on Russia or China will fail miserably.

  5. Kieran says:

    I would just like to add a couple of things here in response to some of the comments above. First and foremost, thanks for engaging with the article.

    In the article I suggested that there was a confirmation bias among anti-imperialists, but perhaps I was overlooking a more important and complementary sort of bias. This is one that has afflicted intelligence agencies, and it involves a bias towards the data that are most hidden, most difficult to uncover, and most privileged.

    This natural bias is hugely magnified by institutions and professions which develop certain methods of generating data. Social scientists have proprietary discplipline-specific metrics; journalists have sources; historians have dusty archives; and so forth. By training and by inclination they set out to answer the burning questions of life by seeking the answer through the most rigorous application of the tools of their profession. They have a hammer, and every problem must therefore be solved by nailing it to something. A better approach is to treat data as a mosaic wherein the hard to find pieces, though possibly important, are just a small part of a picture made up of a whole world of information, yet this bias causes those afflicted to see the little hard-to-get pieces (those from the deepest depths or the most highly placed source) as being key clues, or even the answer itself.

    You have to imagine what these things would look like if viewed from the moon. For example, from the moon the arms and money flowing from the US into Ukraine and then being used to kill on Russia’s doorstep would suggest US strength and Russian weakness. Russia would rather that the war was happening on the US border. I think that most of the people commenting and reading here will also remember the history of Brzezinski’s “bear trap”, and that should really remind everyone how bad it can be to have destabilisation in your backyard. Also, some of you may remember what a great time US and UK special forces terrorists had killing and destroying in Khuzestan (the Arab majority Iranian province) after the invasion of Iraq.

    The US military is present in more places now that it ever has been before, and that is saying something. I realise that no one was denying this and that people would be more likely to question the ability of those forces to successfully do anything that benefits the US. I know that apparent strength can melt away quickly. A $2 billion warship can be sunk by a $200,000 missile etc. etc. But I have studied asymmetric warfare and the discourse of asymmetric warfare, and I can tell you that people have a strange inclination to exaggerate the advantages of the weaker party – to the irrational point where they are treated as the stronger party. That is not how it works.

    This brings me to the highly informative Saker article shared by Afewknowthetruth. I had no idea that the Russians had such formidable weaponry. I have, however, acquainted myself a little with Obama’s massive nuclear arms modernisation programme. Do you know what the difference is? Well, unless Saker is wildly mistaken, the Russians are successfully holding their own (just as the Soviets did during the Cold War that, incidentally, ended in the collapse of the Soviet Union). In contrast, the US is trying to create an undeterrable and credible first-strike capability. They have an advantage in that they still have a certain “madman” quality – maybe not as strongly as in the days of Curtis LeMay, but fanatical irrational patriotism still bubbles to the surface at every challenge. They are also blurring the boundaries between conventional and nuclear weapons. The Chinese and Russians may fret over the future erosion of deterrence, but Iran must live with a genuine and unrelenting immanent threat that a pretext might be seized upon to attack their nuclear facilities. In contrast, the US has no realistic fears of attack by other countries, yet its enemies must treat the threat of a US attack very seriously. That is a pretty good negotiating position, don’t you think?

    At the risk of repeating myself, there are real weaknesses and challenges to the US empire, but quantifying their significance is irreducibly subjective. On the other hand strengths of the US empire are often measurable and concrete. Moreover because they are currently functioning as tools of domination we can assess them with an good idea of their level of significance. The view from the moon says that we must place more weight on the significance of the strengths than the weaknesses. Equally, the long historical view tells us 3 things 1) successful empires are a bit like bubble economies and tend to destroy themselves by unchecked power, not be thwarted from outside; 2) the US empire has grown more powerful in quantifiable terms over its entire lifespan; 3) people might say that they did expand power but that stopped 5 or 10 years ago and now they are in decline, but people were saying the same 5 years ago; 10 years ago; 20 years; 30; 40; even 50. Before that the imperialists themselves were the ones talking about US weakness: the “missile gap”, the “loss of China”, NSC-68; McCarthyism, the Red scare etc. As we should well know after 15 years of GWOT, if you want to build an empire you claim that your country is weak and under threat. If even the people who oppose empire are singing that tune, then you are on to a good thing.

  6. Afewknowthetruth says:

    Thank you for considering the points raised, Keiran.

    It can be argued that American power peaked at the end of WW2, when it was the only significant industrial nation that had not suffered substantial infrastructure damage, it possessed atomic weapons that other nations, particularly USSR (under Stalin) did not possess, and had supplanted the British pound with the US dollar as the global reserve currency.

    The USSR always had better tanks and better rockets than America (and used them very effectively against the Germans), and the coup of capturing the German rocket specialists in 1945 gave the USSR an even greater lead over the USA in rocketry: hence the first satellite, the first dog in orbit, the first man in orbit etc. The best the Americans could come up with was to fabricate some scenes of ‘men landing on the Moon’, put some men into orbit around the Earth for a while and claim they had been to the Moon. (The USSR never attempted such a mission because they knew it was impossible for humans to pass through the Van Allen belts and impossible to carry enough fuel to the Moon to support a manned landing). Whether the Russians could have developed nuclear weapons immediately after WW2 without secrets being leaked to them is conjectural. We do know that Khrushchev wrote about American planes flying over Czechoslovakia and even parts of the USSR unchallenged in the late 1940s. Stalin had a lot of very smart people shot or sent to gulags, of course, and it was only after his death that the USSR began to make rapid technological progress.

    The US was able to prop up the US puppet government in South Korea, was able to topple the Mossadegh government of Iran and install the US-friendly Shah Palavi, and was able to consolidate its occupation of numerous bases all the way from Germany to Japan. And through the 1970s and 1980s it was able to topple governments of small and medium-sized nations with impunity.

    That all came to and end with Syria, which Russia and China have apparently chosen as the battleground to bring the US down.

    An aspect that the vast majority of historians and commentators miss is that US was the biggest extractor of oil and the biggest supplier of oil derivatives throughout the 1940, 50s and 60s, so had ‘money coming out the ground’. That all changed over 1970-71, when US oil extraction peaked and went into decline. The opening up of Alaska provided a small hump on the US depletion profile but it has essentially been all downhill since 1971 (recent fracking activities providing another very costly very short-term blip on the depletion profile. Couple declining extraction with ever greater dependence on oil and the US soon became the biggest importer of oil.

    The enormous cost of the Vietnam War caused Nixon to close the gold window in 1971 when France demanded redemption of US notes in physical gold. “Sorry, no gold.” And the ever-greater need to import ever-greater quantities of oil led to the establishment of ‘petrodollars’, whereby fraudulently created money was recycled through the armaments and oil businesses.

    The ‘magic cheque book’ as Robert Newman called it

    has allowed the US to live beyond its means for decades. But the days of ‘the magic cheque book’ are numbered, with increasing numbers of transactions bypassing US dollars. it is only manipulation of interest rates and massive money-printing that is preventing global collapse

    China now has a greater holding of gold that America, has highly sophisticated manufacturing capabilities, and has forged energy relationships with Russia and Iran. Note the parade of Chinese soldiers through Moscow at the 70th anniversary of the end of WW2, indicating the closest military cooperation ever. Not only that, but most nations (including the US) are now dependent on China for many of what might be described as the essentials of life -clothing and footwear.

    There are now numerous regions of the world where the US dare not send its military (remember the US drone that Iran brought down a couple of years ago and is now copying). We’ve been hearing about an ‘imminent attack’ on Iran since 2004, and nothing has happened. With very advanced Russian missile system now installed there and energy deals between Iran and China, the chances of the US attacking Iran are surely lower than ever. I’m sure the saber-rattling is purely for domestic consumption, to persuade American’s the US is still capable of military engagement.

    In addition to ineffectiveness of its military arsenal, its financial predicament and its corrupt and ineffective political system, the US is now having to cope with the effects of establishing an agricultural system predicated on emptying the Ogallala aquifer and overuse of chemicals (bees dying as never before), collapsing infrastructure -especially roads and bridges, and the severe effects on the populace of industrially produced food and a health system that is geared to maximizing the profits of corporations rather than actual health.

    For me, the transition for a superpower to a ‘has-been superpower’ occurred in 2008, when the US puppet Sashkavilli attempted to invade Ossetia, and a few days later Russian troops had stripped Georgia of everything they could move and had blown up everything they couldn’t move. And America looked on, powerless to act.

    That weakness was very apparent at the recent meeting in China, where Obama was literally a laughing stock, matching the status of John Kerry these days.

    In the past nations were fearful of America. Now many of them regard America as a joke. The ridiculous election goings-on magnify the worldwide perception that the US is now a beyond a joke.

    • Kieran says:

      That is a very thoughtful and well-argued response. However, there is some conceptual slippage here that in some senses leaves us writing at cross purposes. I agree that in relative power terms the US was at its most powerful after WWII. And I agree that the US went into a decline from 1970-73. I have written about this stuff previously. The thing is, though, that I keep forgetting to remind people that I am not talking about the nation-state, I am talking about the empire. I use the term US empire, but as I have made clear the empire’s health is not the health of the USA itself.

      Take the above-mentioned period and the transition from gold-backed US dollar to petrodollar. I am not sure if you have read Michael Hudson’s Superimperialism, but I imagine you would find it very persuasive. It makes some very interesting points about the nature of the transformation in that period, and it does not shy away from the sort of things you are talking about.

      Hudsons “superimperialism” effectively allowed the US to collect tribute from almost all countries, including the Soviet Bloc. It came at the same time as the transition from Keynesian to “military-Keynesian” dirigism. Moreover, though some claim that de-industrialisation was already underway, but it definitely kicked into high gear at this time. Though Nixon baulked at it, forces were already poised to roll out Chicago school supply-side economics (it soon came with the crisis du jour of “stagflation” which became pretext for the Volcker shocks). All of these things weaken and impoverish the state, the nation, and the civil society of the US. But it kept military predominance and dollar/finance hegemony. It was all bad for the country, but it all made the empire more powerful.

      To be frank, It think they deliberately hollowed out the US in order to ensure that their own people did not become empowered. Other empires create poverty at home by accident, but this seems to have been much more purposive. It was at exactly this same point that US wages stopped increasing and have remained static when adjusted for inflation for an astonishing 44 years.

      On the subject of debt, all US debts are denominated in US dollars, so if any country tries to offload a great deal of US debt they will collapse the dollar, as you probably know. One thing that this means is that you can only get rid of US bonds at a rate which other buyers or the US are willing to take them off your hands. If you dump them you get nothing and the subsequent dollar collapse will hurt all economies on the planet. The US itself would suffer less than the poor countries of the world, and perhaps many of the rich.

      Eventually the US dollar will be less significant and the US will be isolated, but in a way that worries me because they are giving every indication that they will take extreme action to forestall that outcome or usher in a different empire-dominated world order – perhaps a more multinational neofeudal empire.

      I do not deny that China and Russia are militarily formidable, and that Iran is a quagmire too far (or seems to be), but the US military now acts with impunity throughout huge tracts of the lands and oceans of this planet – more than it or any other power has before. We need to judge things with a thorough contextualisation. For example, you cite the USSR’s superior rocket technology, yet through having more industrial might it was the US that developed the first ICBM capability and it kept ahead in virtually every nuclear missile category (and it still is). On this subject I would recommend Gareth Porter’s The Perils of Dominance despite the caveats of my earlier article having a go at him.
      Saker rightly ridiculed the US “rods from the gods” space-launched weapons programme, but like an expert magician the US is always misdirecting with such flourishes. It quietly develops much more modest, pragmatic and deadly weapons, like its air-launched nuclear cruise missiles. When I say “pragmatic” of course I don’t mean that they are “pragmatic” in any normal sense, or in any sense that any US official would admit to. They aren’t a nuclear deterrent, they are a terror device and a threatening first-strike weapon.

      You end by saying that the US is a joke. That is the one thing that I really must object to. I mentioned Sun Tzu’s dictum: “When you are strong, appear weak”. US imperialist vastly exaggerate roadblocks or losses (e.g. the loss of China); they reverse disparities to make themselves seem threatened (e.g. the missile gap); they feign helplessness when they are controlling events (e.g. in negotiations during the wars in Korea and in Viet Nam); they back enemies into a corner and then pretend that the enemy if forcing their reluctant hand (e.g. Iraq 1990-2003); and if their enemies weaken they falsify intelligence to create fantastic threats (e.g the “Team B” reports that helped launch Cold War II, the hysterical lies about Grenada and Nicaragua, the exaggerations of whichever Middle-Eastern bogeyman is the most useful excuse for the moment, and the whole Hitler-of-the-month discourse that kicks in with sickening frequency).

      Throughout all of this they have been blessed with friends, enemies and rivals who, needing to shore up their own international or domestic support, will bluster and denigrate them – helping them in their lies. Remember Mao’s “paper tiger” remarks? Kruschev yelling “we will bury you!” Remember Saddam Hussein promising the “mother of all battles”? Remember how many times the BBC has told you that they have no “credibility” or that they are “seen as weak”?

      The US has done so much to destroy their credibility over the years and not only does it not effect their hard power or soft power, but losing credibility doesn’t even really effect their credibility. It is as if everyone sees two different worlds at the same time and they talk about one of them all the time, but deep down they know they have to live in the other one, where all of that bullshit means absolutely nothing.

      I don’t know if I have covered everything here, but hopefully you can see that the facts and arguments you present can and should be read in a different way when you shift from a nation-state focus to an empire focus.

      • Afewknowthetruth says:

        I think we have now got to the crux of the matter. What we live in is not actually a US empire as such but is an international money-lender empire which has used America as a means to an end, and will continue to use America as a means to an end until some other option arises.

        Bill Still’s ‘Money Masters’, though now slightly dated, is one of the best resources I know of on the topic.

        ‘The development of fractional reserve banking practices in the 17th century brought to a cunning sophistication the secret techniques initially used by goldsmiths fraudulently to accumulate wealth. With the formation of the privately-owned Bank of England in 1694, the yoke of economic slavery to a privately-owned “central” bank was first forced upon the backs of an entire nation, not removed but only made heavier with the passing of the three centuries to our day. Nation after nation, including America, has fallen prey to this cabal of international central bankers.’

        (Needless to say, most people cannot be bothered to ‘wade through’ 3 hours of highly informative documentation, so ‘the secret’ remains ‘a secret’. )

        We live on a planet ruled by bankers, who pull all the strings of government, including the military, to further the short-term interests of bankers: that short-term interest is, of course, to maintain and expand their global Ponzi scheme and bring an ever-greater number of people under their control via debt-slavery and dependence on bank-owned corporations.

        Additionally, bankers desire for ownership or control of resources -everything from land to water to oil has driven political-economic policies for around two centuries.

        The surveillance state, the corrupt and ineffective education systems, the mass media brainwashing etc. are mechanisms for maintaining and expanding control of populations by the bankers. And wars are mechanisms for acquiring control over populaces of resources.

        When this perspective is understood, many aspects of history and present-day existence become explicable.

        For instance, socialist governments throughout the world have been toppled and replaced by fascist dictatorships, or more recently replaced by chaos.

        Gaddafi was using Libya’s oil wealth to raise the living standards of Libyans but with as little involvement of [Rothschild] bankers as possible; he was even in the process of establishing an independent African development bank: he therefore had to be assassinated a.s.a.p. That is just relatively recent example of a history of manipulation and intervention that goes back to the eighteenth century. (Prior then, it was primarily the greed of monarchs, the desire to acquire natural resources and religious differences that generated wars.)

        By the way, it was the use of ‘depleted uranium’ munitions -really nasty stuff that contaminates regions more-or-less permanently, and in contravention of several international conventions- by US/NATO forces that resulted in several quick victories, especially in Iraq.

        The control of societies by bankers permeates everything, including environmental policy. Thus, nothing whatsoever is done to prevent rapid planetary meltdown, and the failed scheme that was supposedly going to address emissions was simply another banker-initiated scam to generate or redistribute fiat currency. The incessant mantras populations are fed, that ‘population growth is good’, that ‘GDP growth is good’, that environmental destruction will be remedied by ‘sustainable development’ are all banker-instigated lies. And since infinite growth on a finite planet is mathematically impossible

        we are rapidly reaching the end of the game in which resource depletion, the accumulation of pollution and overpopulation determine everything.

        Note that energy depletion, accumulation of pollution and overpopulation do not feature at all in any NZ government policy development and all policies are geared to making all three predicaments far worse, as required to maintain the global banking Ponzi scheme just a little longer.

        Thus. we enter the period of collapse firmly under the thumbs of international banking (and other) corporations, and with the bulk of the populace either ignorant or in denial.

  7. Sam Sam says:

    All roads lead to Rome which was the technology that allowed Rome to expand there technology across there Empire and coincidently it was the technology that allowed early Christianity to expand across the Roman empire. As the empire grew the share weight of the empire crushed its roads because every section of road needed constant maintenance and solders to protect the labourers and traders from marauding barbarians. Eventually Rome didn’t have the solders to protect all its vassal states and maintain its roads and the empire reached its end game.

    Today we have the technology of financial engineering that has reached its end game in a lot of ways. The same roads that the barbarians used to march into Rome and take it over are now being used today by the big four banks in New Zealand who corrupt the system and take it over and unsettle the political forums and democratic process and cause financial anarchy.

    Every country is going down a similar path rejecting the empire of debt, an empire of debt that incidentally doesn’t care about boarders or land acquisition like traditional empires. Now unemployment and protest are a plague everywhere. The rise of mass shootings and police corruption can not continue. Mainstream must take a good honest look at private sector debt and include private sector debt in all mainstream theory so we can create a society that makes sense to all involved.

  8. Helena says:

    It all looks like a chess board. At the Black end is The City of London, District of Colombia and the seated between them as lead player is the Vatican. The opponents with hands on the white pieces are Russia, China and those countries aligned with the BRICS.
    But technology moves on and we are facing Zero Point Energy ably demonstrated by Putin when dealing with the warship Donald Cook. When the White Pieces are moved into position for zero energy to be deployed, Black pieces will freeze on the board.
    As @SAM has said, all roads lead to Rome. Interestingly, the Whore of Babylon as mentioned in the bible, is none other than the Holy See of Rome.