More Notes on the Fragility of Empire

“Were the Soviet Union to sink tomorrow under the waters of the ocean, the
American military-industrial establishment would have to go on, substantially
unchanged, until some other adversary could be invented. Anything else would be
an unacceptable shock to the American economy.”
— George F. Kennan (1904-2005) US advisor, diplomat, political analyst, and Pulitzer-prize winning historian, Professor Emeritus at the Institute for Advanced Study and former US Ambassador to the Soviet Union. 1987

So Kennan understood clearly in 1987 that the American economy was built around military industry. The need for an enemy, the threat to the US economy from not standing in opposition to an enemy had become an end in itself. Americans and the world had learned to live with the threat of nuclear annihilation (the thermonuclear war variety, not the poor engineering variety demonstrated at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and most recently at Fukushima). We got desensitized to that “hard rain” threat over a couple of decades and all attempts to reduce nuclear weapons around the world have been effectively thwarted by the US failure to lead, to comply with our obligation to reduce our nuclear stockpile as an important part in the non-proliferation treaty. We continue to upgrade and adapt nuclear weapons for use in changing battlefield scenarios. Need an example? Look at depleted uranium ammunition. We have avoided the issue of safely disposing of the uranium tailing produced in enriched uranium processes by turning the waste material into a heavy projectile weapon that can be used to pierce armor, kill enemy combatants and coincidentally expose a population in foreign lands to a chemical agent. If these were exploded on American soil by some party I think they would be called a dirty bomb. But they are just armor piercing DU shells when we use them.

A “good” thing for the American economy, I suppose. Lots of profitable economic activity dedicated to enriching uranium and a win-win for the military industrial complex to be able to turn the waste material into another profit opportunity in du sales to the American war machine.

But where does it get us? Does it make us safe? I think our distance, our continental isolation, from the peoples we exploit economically and oppress culturally is the dominant factor in the American experience of security and stability. I believe that our choices to build economic stability on the rock of military weaponry makes us less safe. As empires have historically discovered, the price of maintaining a standing army capable of taking on all comers (and even all comers at the same moment) is the oppression and exploitation of foreign nations and peoples. The formula is not stable. Great Britain chose to step back from empire at the end of WWII. Was it a choice or had GB had been so depleted by its proximity to the war in Europe that its time at the top of pyramid was over? I am not sure about that question, but the long term outcome was the shift to GB as servant to American hegemony, a bit of role reversal for the two countries, notwithstanding some notable disagreements between the two nation-states including a fracas in 1776 and another in 1812.

Here’s another thought from Kennan, from an earlier date:

US State Department 1948, Review of Current Trends in U.S. Foreign Policy: …We have about 50% of the world’s wealth but only 6.3% of its population… In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world-benefaction. George Kennan, US State Department 1948

Clearly, Kennan was not just a sophisticated insider and observer of the American Empire, he was an architect or engineer in the construction of empire. If there is a section of hell reserved for the dogs of war George Kennan has earned his place there. But these things are beyond human knowing or understanding. A person like Mandela spends decades in jail and a guy like Kissinger has yet to be arrested. Justice in our time is a chimera, a roll of the dice, a happenstance, not a predictable outcome of any human process that I can identify.

The US and Obama had an opportunity to put our feet on a different path. The collapse of the Wall Street megabanks, the banksters (financial wizards with conscience comparable to Kennan’s) who have arisen to lead the military economy were momentarily vulnerable. Coincidentally, the climate, the planet itself is starting to respond to our species hubris in ways that will force change, but sadly, Obama played it safe and propped up the banksters and chose to double down on the military economy instead of committing resources to an employment program based on clean energy and energy independence. The door was open, a path away from military empire and back on industrial and environmental stability lay on the other side through that door. Obama is not a dumb guy. He must have recognized the opportunity, but he appears to be a really cautious guy who just could not take bold steps. An effective orator and ineffective politician. I was never sold on the guy, so I don’t have to deal with the betrayal factor, but I am certainly disappointed. My energy and passion are with candidates like Kucinich and Dean. Do these guys have a chance in the big money politics arena? David, meet Goliath. He’s the big guy with heavy armor. Good luck with that guy.

Well, Goliath sometimes loses. It’s historic when he does, it’s history when Goliath prevails as he most often does.

Alternet is running a piece by Noam Chomsky today. Noam continues to respond to the “Obama Kills Osama” story in the same way that I do, by wondering how the country has moved forward into the realm of lawless, rogue states with so little outcry.

Noam asks When Did America Completely Jettison the Rule of Law? It’s a good question.

So we move forward into the post-rapture-disappointment week with Obama wearing the armor of Goliath. Somehow we have to find a way to reach Goliath. To persuade Goliath that might does not make right. That is the real David versus Goliath battle. Persuade Goliath to lay down his arms.

Happy Monday to all!

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