The Superpower Conundrum: The Rise and Fall of Just About Everything

(Image: Hawaii Independent)

By Tom Engelhardt

The rise and fall of great powers and their imperial domains has been a central fact of history for centuries. It’s been a sensible, repeatedly validated framework for thinking about the fate of the planet. So it’s hardly surprising, when faced with a country once regularly labeled the “sole superpower,” “the last superpower,” or even the global “hyperpower” and now, curiously, called nothing whatsoever, that the “decline” question should come up. Is the U.S. or isn’t it? Might it or might it not now be on the downhill side of imperial greatness?

Take a slow train — that is, any train — anywhere in America, as I did recently in the northeast, and then take a high-speed train anywhere else on Earth, as I also did recently, and it’s not hard to imagine the U.S. in decline. The greatest power in history, the “unipolar power,” can’t build a single mile of high-speed rail? Really? And its Congress is now mired in an argument about whether funds can even be raised to keep America’s highways more or less pothole-free.

Sometimes, I imagine myself talking to my long-dead parents because I know how such things would have astonished two people who lived through the Great Depression, World War II, and a can-do post-war era in which the staggering wealth and power of this country were indisputable. What if I could tell them how the crucial infrastructure of such a still-wealthy nation — bridges, pipelines, roads, and the like — is now grossly underfunded, in an increasing state of disrepair, and beginning to crumble? That would definitely shock them.

And what would they think upon learning that, with the Soviet Union a quarter-century in the trash bin of history, the U.S., alone in triumph, has been incapable of applying its overwhelming military and economic power effectively? I’m sure they would be dumbstruck to discover that, since the moment the Soviet Union imploded, the U.S. has been at war continuously with another country (three conflicts and endless strife); that I was talking about, of all places, Iraq; and that the mission there was never faintly accomplished. How improbable is that? And what would they think if I mentioned that the other great conflicts of the post-Cold-War era were with Afghanistan (two wars with a decade off in-between) and the relatively small groups of non-state actors we now call terrorists? And how would they react on discovering that the results were: failure in Iraq, failure in Afghanistan, and the proliferation of terror groups across much of the Greater Middle East (including the establishment of an actual terror caliphate) and increasing parts of Africa?

They would, I think, conclude that the U.S. was over the hill and set on the sort of decline that, sooner or later, has been the fate of every great power. And what if I told them that, in this new century, not a single action of the military that U.S. presidents now call “the finest fighting force the world has ever known” has, in the end, been anything but a dismal failure? Or that presidents, presidential candidates, and politicians in Washington are required to insist on something no one would have had to say in their day: that the United States is both an “exceptional” and an “indispensible” nation? Or that they would also have to endlessly thank our troops (as would the citizenry) for… well… never success, but just being there and getting maimed, physically or mentally, or dying while we went about our lives? Or that those soldiers must always be referred to as “heroes.”

In their day, when the obligation to serve in a citizens’ army was a given, none of this would have made much sense, while the endless defensive insistence on American greatness would have stood out like a sore thumb. Today, its repetitive presence marks the moment of doubt. Are we really so “exceptional”? Is this country truly “indispensible” to the rest of the planet and if so, in what way exactly? Are those troops genuinely our heroes and if so, just what was it they did that we’re so darn proud of?

Return my amazed parents to their graves, put all of this together, and you have the beginnings of a description of a uniquely great power in decline. It’s a classic vision, but one with a problem.

A God-Like Power to Destroy (more…)

Putin Says US Imperial Footprint Unmatched: ‘Draw a Map and See’

Despite US military dominance, Obama accuses Russian leader of attempting to ‘recreate Soviet empire’

By Lauren McCauley

Responding to ongoing brinkmanship between the United States and his country, Russian President Vladimir Putin dared reporters to publish a map of the two nations’ global military footprints and then “see the difference.”

The comments came over the weekend as G7 leaders assembled in Bavaria, Germany—a meeting which, prior to the recent upheaval in Ukraine, would have also included Russia. On Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama closed the summit by saying that the Russian leader was aiming to “recreate the Soviet empire.”

G7 leaders stood united in their threat to increase sanctions against Russia if the conflict in Ukraine escalates.

“Does he continue to wreck his country’s economy and continue Russia’s isolation in pursuit of a wrong-headed desire to recreate the glories of the Soviet empire?” Obama asked in his closing remarks. “Or does he recognize that Russia’s greatness does not depend on violating the territorial integrity and sovereignty of other countries?”

However, Obama’s accusations of Russia violating the “sovereignty of other countries” are striking in light of the United States’ own military strategy, which Putin highlighted days earlier in a Saturday interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

“U.S. military spending is higher than that of all countries in the world taken together,” Putin said. “The aggregate military spending of NATO countries is 10 times, note—10 times higher than that of the Russian Federation.”

Outside of what he described as the “remnants” of Soviet-era armed forces in Tajikistan, Armenia, and zones with high terrorist threat such as the Afghanistan border and Kyrgyzstan, Putin said that “Russia has virtually no bases abroad.”

“We have dismantled our bases in various regions of the world, including Cuba, Vietnam, and so on,” he said.

And despite statements about Russian aggression, this draw-down highlights a policy that “in this respect is not global, offensive or aggressive.”

“I invite you to publish the world map in your newspaper and to mark all the U.S. military bases on it,” Putin continued. “You will see the difference.”

Amid the verbal sparring match, the U.S. military also took steps to increase pressure on the ground.

On Friday, U.S. Strategic Command announced that three nuclear-capable B52 bombers were being deployed in addition to two B2 bombers to the United Kingdom for exercises to demonstrate “the United States’ ability to project its flexible, long-range global strike capability” in training missions over the Baltic states and Poland.

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