Sunday, January 21, 2018

Year one of post-imperial America

The Berlin Wall fell on November 9, 1989. That was the end of Russia’s Empire, the end of the USSR. I was 30 years old. I may still have a newspaper from that day.

When did America’s empire end? It’s not so clear. Was it 9/11/2001 when the towers fell? Was it 3/20/2003 when the US split from its NATO allies and invaded Iraq?

Historians will decide, but I think most will settle on the election of Donald Trump on November 8, 2016, 27 years after the fall of the USSR. The symmetry is irresistible.

Both left and right agree, America is no longer a hegemonic power. The GOP’s collapse and Trump’s incoherence have made America a mighty but brainlessly blundering behemoth. The world has shifted from a unipolar to a multipolar system ten years earlier than expected. Everything frozen is in motion, from Korea to the West Bank. The sun has set on the American Empire, Putin’s revenge has been poetically perfect [1].

Was America’s Empire a good thing? I think the rebuilding of Europe and Japan was a good thing. I think containment of the Soviet Union was good. The long peace, without direct conflict between world powers, was good. Avoiding the end of human civilization was probably good too. Most of this came between 1945 and 1989 though. The record over the last 27 years has been more mixed. Perhaps the world will do better without America.

Where do we go now? I have given up on the prediction business. What I hope happens is that the GOP is swept from power on November 3, 2020. By then much of America’s federal government will be severely damaged or devastated, but we now know that our system was rotten and ready for a fall in 2016. After 2020, without the burden of empire, the United States can begin rebuilding. Like a city leveled by flood or earthquake, we can return better than we were.

- fn -

[1] Do read that Atlantic article. I’d forgotten Anna Chapman from 2008! Among other things we learn that Russia is justly proud of its astounding coup, but not entirely sure it was a good idea:

… The original aim was to embarrass and damage Hillary Clinton, to sow dissension, and to show that American democracy is just as corrupt as Russia’s, if not worse. “No one believed in Trump, not even a little bit,” Soldatov says. “It was a series of tactical operations. At each moment, the people who were doing this were filled with excitement over how well it was going, and that success pushed them to go even further.”…

… The head of the FSB’s elite cyber unit and his deputy were forced out; two other top officers from the unit ended up in Moscow’s most notorious jail.  “They’re now under incredible pressure both from the inside and the outside,” Soldatov said. “Sometimes,” says Michael Hayden, a director of the National Security Agency under George W. Bush, “you have successful covert operations that you wish hadn’t succeeded.” …

… What Russia showed in the 2016 election—and what it has continued to show in the election’s aftermath—is not so much its own strength, but American vulnerability: that it doesn’t take much to turn the American system on itself. “Covert-influence operations don’t create divisions on the ground; they amplify them,” says Michael Hayden, the former NSA chief. John Sipher, the former CIA operative, agrees. “If there’s anyone to blame, it’s us,” he says. “If we accept the stoking, it’s our fault.”

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