History News Network: Tom Engelhardt: Did Both the US and USSR Lose the Cold War?
Of the two superpowers that faced each other down in an almost half-century-long Cold War, one -- the United States -- emerged victorious, alone in the world, economically powerful, militarily dominant; the other, never the stronger of the two, limped off, its empire shattered and scattered, its people impoverished and desperate, its military a shell of its former self. This is a story we all know, and more or less accept. Winner/loser, victor/vanquished. It makes sense. That's the way we expect matches, competitions, struggles, wars to end.
But what if, as I've suggested recently, the Cold War turned out to be a loser/loser contest? That may seem counterintuitive. In [America] it would have been considered laughable not so long ago, except to a few scholars of imperial decline like Immanuel Wallerstein, and yet it may be an increasingly plausible thought.
...By the 1980s, the USSR was an overstretched empire -- economically worse than shaky, its military overblown, its money going down an imperial rat hole -- and then, of course, there was Afghanistan. (Anything already sound a little familiar here?) Afghanistan was Russia's Vietnam, exactly as several American administrations wanted it to be -- the difference being that Vietnam was a resounding regional defeat for us; while Afghanistan was a politically and economically empire-shattering defeat for the Soviet Union...
...If Afghanistan was the USSR's Vietnam (only worse in its effects), Ir-q may prove the American Afghanistan...
Latin America, of course, has long been thought of as the imperial backyard of the United States. From the 1950s through the 1970s, from Guatemala to Argentina, Brazil to Chile, we encouraged, funded, organized, and sometimes (as in Guatemala and Chile) led or all but led military takeovers of democracies. As it happened, the militaries of those countries, with their carefully nurtured ties to the U.S. military, proved far easier to topple than the one-party, one-leader system that has ruled Cuba through a forty-odd year American siege. In those decades, throughout the region, our representatives (ordinarily from the CIA) taught the local police and military torture techniques of an Abu-Ghraib variety, backed regimes renowned for disappearances, and generally helped impose a blanket of draconian rule on the continent in the name of anti-communism.
In the 1980s, with the help of a number of people who are now household names, including new intelligence "tsar" John Negroponte, the Reagan administration repeated the process in Central America, supporting death squads, military killers, and right-wing thugs in a counter-revolutionary terror. We poured multimillions into this process; later invaded the Caribbean island of Grenada and then Panama; and finally worked hard to impose an impoverishing economic system ("neoliberalism") on the continent in the 1990s.
Leaving the Imperial Orbit
It's remarkable what the Bush administration can't do today in its own backyard. It can't fully isolate Cuba; it can't create a regional "coalition of the willing" against Venezuela; it can't simply impose its version of economics on the continent; it can't stop a number of countries in the region from making energy deals of one sort or another with China, Iran, India, and other potential energy competitors. (And if, for a moment, you were to glance north, rather than south, you might notice that it was recently unable to impose its pet boondoggle, the Star Wars anti-missile system, on our recalcitrant northern neighbor. Another small sign of the times.)
More striking yet has been the rise of a new kind of "people power" -- a term [Americans] usually associate with Soviet-controlled Poland or the Marcos-controlled Philippines -- throughout Latin America. It could most recently be observed in Ecuador, where popular demonstrations drove the Bush-administration-backed President, Lucio Gutiérrez, who had only recently illegally dissolved the Supreme Court, out of the country; and again, only a week ago, in Mexico City where an estimated 1.2 million people turned out in a "silent march" to support Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, that city's left-wing mayor and the country's leading candidate for president in next year's election, after Vincente Fox's ruling party had tried to railroad him out of the race and into jail on a trumped-up charge. As Danna Harman of the Christian Science Monitor wrote of the march (People power rattling politics of Latin America), while discussing "the weakening of authoritarian regimes [in Latin America] and the growing self-assurance of the people -- including, in the case in Bolivia, the indigenous":
"People power's a fine thing for shaking up Eastern Europe and the Middle East, but as it spreads to the Americas, it could be coming uncomfortably close to home. What if people power caught on in the United States? What if accountability was being demanded not just from governments in Kiev and Beirut but also those in London and Washington? The bread and circuses approach to democracy has so far been an effective guarantor of political apathy across America, but what if Americans in large numbers were to one day wake up from their political slumber and demand that they too deserve a truly representative government?"
What if, indeed. What if we all began slipping out of the imperial orbit?
Emanual Todd, Author of The final fall, who predicted the fall of the Soviet Union in 1979, Recently wrote: After the Empire now predicts the terminal decline of America.
Howard Zinn: Declarations of Independence: Cross Examining American Ideology (Page 297):
The economic costs of war and preparations for war threaten the stability of the great powers. One of the reasons the United States withdrew from Vietnam was the drain on its budget, which required the neglect of social problems at home, bringing on the black riots of 1967 and 1968, throwing a scare into the establishment. The Soviet Union undertook bold initiatives for disarmament in the mid‑1980s when it recognized that its economy was overmilitarized and failing. Both superpowers must be reminding themselves more and more of all those empires in history that became arrogant with power, overburdened with armies, impoverished by taxes, and collapsed.
Footnote of the same book, page 332 footnote 24:
Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (Random House, 1987), surveys the last 500 years of history and concludes that heavy military spending has ruined the economies of great powers and ultimately hurt their security.
The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (Page 445):
Precisely because a top-heavy military establishment may slow down the rate of economic growth and lead to a decline in the nation's share of world manufacturing output, and therefore wealth, and therefore power, the whole issue becomes one of the balancing the short-term security afforded by large defense forces against the longer-term security of rising production and income.
Reuters: With expenditure of $455 billion, the United States accounted for almost half of global [World military spending], more than the combined total of the 32 next most powerful nations (More on the American Empire)
The Decline of American Power
Immanuel Wallerstein: Death by a thousand cuts Excerpts:
There was an old Chinese torture called Ling chi, a death by a thousand cuts. The cuts are all small, but in the end the person dies. This is what is happening to U.S. dominance of Latin America. The latest small cut, and it is a small cut, has happened in Ecuador. Ecuador is a small country with however several important features: It is an oil producer. It has a very large indigenous population which has historically been excluded from power and is of course economically and socially exploited. It borders Colombia where a civil war has been going on for a very long time now, and in which the United States is heavily implicated in support of the very conservative government. It is also a country in which in the last ten years three presidents have been forced out of office by popular uprisings, each time with at least the tacit support of the armed forces....The fact is that today the U.S. no longer can be sure that it has control - economic, political, or diplomatic - of its backyard, the Americas. It is dying the death of a thousand cuts - all small ones, but quite deadly, nonetheless.
Empire and the Capitalists (changed to be more easily readable) Excerpts:
Seen in longer historical perspective, what we are seeing here is the 500-year-old tension in the modern world-system between:
FIRST: those who wish to protect the interests of capitalism by ensuring a well-functioning world-economy, with a non-imperial power to guarantee its political underpinnings, and
SECOND: those who wish to transform the world-system into a world-empire.
We had three major attempts in the history of the modern world-system [of states taking the second route]: Charles V/Philip II in the sixteenth century, Napoleon in the beginning of the nineteenth century, and Hitler in the middle of the twentieth century. All were magnificently successful - until they fell flat on their faces, when faced by opposition organized by the powers that ultimately became hegemonic - the United Provinces, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
(Hegemony: The predominant influence, as of a state, region, or group, over another or others.)
Hegemony is not about macho militarism. Hegemony is about economic efficiency, making possible the creation of a world order on terms that will guarantee a smoothly-running world-system in which the [empire] becomes the [center] of a disproportionate share of capital accumulation. The United States was in that situation from 1945 to circa 1970. But it's been losing that advantage ever since. And when the U.S. hawks and the Bush regime decided to try to reverse decline by going the world-imperial path, they shot the United States, and U.S.-based large capitalists, in the foot - if not immediately, in a very short future...
...But doesn't Bush give these capitalists everything they want - for example, enormous tax rebates? But do they really want them? Not Warren Buffett, not George Soros, not Bill Gates (speaking through his father). They want a stable capitalist system, and Bush is not giving them that.
But in a capitalist system, there is also the market. The market is not all-powerful, but it is not helpless either. When the dollar collapses, and it will collapse, everything will change geopolitically. For a collapsed dollar is far more significant than an Al-Qaeda attack on the Twin Towers. The U.S. has clearly survived the latter. But it will be a vastly different U.S. once the dollar collapses. The U.S. will no longer be able to live far beyond its means, to consume at the rest of the world's expense. Americans may begin to feel what countries in the Third World feel when faced by IMF-imposed structural readjustment - a sharp downward thrust of their standard of living.
The near bankruptcy of the state governments across the United States even today is a foreshadowing of what is to come. And history will note that, faced with a bad underlying economic situation in the United States, the Bush regime did everything possible to make it far worse.
I have always wondered if the Hispanic minority, now 1 in 7 Americans (many from countries which America has historically brutally supressed) would play a part in the collapse of the American empire.
Are We Following in the Footsteps of the British? http://hnn.us/articles/641.html
Anthony Pagden: We Don't Want a Real Empire Even If We Sometimes Act Like One http://hnn.us/roundup/comments/8593.html
More: http://hnn.us/articles/22563.html about Jared Diamond article: http://www.truthout.org/docs_05/010205Y.shtml The Ends of the World as We Know Them