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Tag: imperialism


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The Decline of the American Empire

// Posted by on 02/25/2012 (5:48 PM)

One of the programs I watched on Al Jazeera this week was an episode of Empire called “The Decline of the American Empire.” The description of the episode was:

“The… Read more

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One of the programs I watched on Al Jazeera this week was an episode of Empire called “The Decline of the American Empire.” The description of the episode was:

“The US has the world’s biggest economy, the most influential culture, and the most potent military machine, with a budget that equals that of all other nations combined. It is the only power with a global project defended and supported by more aircraft carriers, Fortune 500 companies, and more successful media-tainment conglomerates than any other. America’s post-Cold War optimism has given way to pessimism, forecasting a declining power and more crucially, the end of “the American era”. But the last decade has been problematic for the world’s only superpower. The rise of new regional and global powers, coupled with Washington’s recent war fiascos and financial crisis have worsened the outlook for the future of the US. So, is all this talk of the US decline premature? And if not, what role will the US play in a post-US century?

The first 20 minutes or so looks primarily at the military-industrial complex in America, and actually highlights many similar points outline in the 2005 documentary Why We Fight, directed by Eugene Jarecki, detailing the rise and maintenance of the “American war machine.” The first major point that the program “The Decline of the American Empire” deals with is the idea of U.S. strategic overstretch. Using the U.S. implementation of carrier battle groups (consisting of “an aircraft carrier, cruisers, destroyers, scores of combat aircraft … and a multitude of long and short range missiles and other weapons… it is so large the entire thing requires roughly 10,000 military personnel to operate”), it is pointed out that while we have 12 of these groups, no other nation on Earth has one, and the question of “why?” is raised.

The answer comes from Nicholas Burns, former U.S. under-secretary of state: “We are absolutely keeping America safe. The world is so complex right now, there’s so many threats and challenges to our national security. You can’t meet them in Boston, in Los Angeles, you have to go out to meet them to defend the country.” This is where I tend to grow a little skeptical. To me, defense implies reacting to some threat or adversity, not going out and looking for, or meeting, challenges. In the following video clip, starting at around 2:40, Lieutenant Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski echoes that sentiment by stating “If you join the military now, you are not defending the United States of America. You are helping certain policy makers pursue an imperial agenda.”

While certainly arguing a concrete political view, I think that Karen Kwiatkowski, among others in the documentary, makes a pretty bold statement about the military-industrial complex.

I think the root of the problem is closely related to the statement by Karen Kwiatkowski, that the military-industrial complex has led to a disastrous rise is misplaced power, with “people making policy who have no accountability to the voter.” This concept is elaborated on and really dissected in “The Decline of the American Empire.” Professor Andrew Bacevich states: “There is in a sense, a partnership, probably goes too far to call it a conspiracy, ’cause it’s wide open, but there’s a partnership between members of congress, the armed services and large scale defense contractors, all of whom benefit in different ways by maintaining very high levels of military spending.” This relates directly to the concept of defense, and whether we defend ourselves at home or out in the world, because, according to Nicholas Burns, “We can’t just retreat to fortress America you know and bring up the drawbridge and hope to defend our international security interests by bringing all the troops home,” and therefore, “The cycle is endlessly perpetuated. Wars need funding, funding creates jobs, jobs strengthen the economy. So perhaps the most important question of all, is whether geo-political instability is the excuse, rather than the justification. This is the essence of real politics.” I think it’s an extremely controversial topic and question, but it’s my opinion that this U.S. strategic overstretch, coupled with misplaced power due to policy makers acting more on an imperial agenda than strictly one of protection, is, in fact, contributing the the decline of the American empire.

An important thing to understand, however, is the current nature of this empire. Tom Engelhardt puts it into relative perspective by stating “There’s a kind of a madness to the situation which we’re discussing very rationally in a way, and that is this, I mean in the Cold War, a genuine major enemy, a giant nuclear arsenal, the Soviet Union, a giant army, an imperial power, that was that moment. Now, the Soviet Union disappears one day and the resulting period we end up with is a national security state, a Pentagon budget, a military intelligence bureaucracy, a national security state that’s staggeringly bigger in a world in which, at most, there are a few thousand scattered terrorists who wanna do something to us. We’re dealing unsuccessfully with a couple of minority insurgencies in the greater Middle East. I mean its extraordinary to imagine that somehow we ended up with this gigantic, call it what you will, imperial… behemoth.” I think our country has spent far too long attempting to deal with an actual threat (as in, the Cold War) to know how to handle even a minor threat (as in, “a couple of minority insurgencies”), let alone no threat at all.

I don’t want to come off as anti-American in anyway, but after watching these documentaries and programs, I feel as though we need to need to regain some perspective on the world and our particular role in it. While the general message of “The Decline of the American Empire” was that this decline is moving at slow speeds and might not ever lead to the downfall of our country, there are certain things that need to be done to ensure America remains a world superpower.

One of the things the program pointed out was the fact that both American education and American corporations are still dominating the globe, echoing the main idea behind the article “Are Companies more Powerful than Countries.” The narrator of the program states “But while America Inc. may have lost it’s AAA rating, American brands still dominate the globe. Coca Cola has a global revenue of $35bn per annum, Microsoft, $69bn and Apple a whopping $100bn.” Technology analyst Kate Bulkley elaborates by saying that “Rumours of the collapse of the US tech sector innovation is let’s say overblown. I think that there’s a lot of innovation still in Silicon Valley, there’s a lot of innovation in America full stop. You can’t count out the companies like Google, Microsoft, Facebook, you know they just keep coming.”

The last thing I want to talk about is the military-indisutrial-media complex. Starting at around 6:05 in the video below, the documentary delves into the role of the media in America’s wars.

Normon Solomon, in an excerpt from his book entitled “The Military-Industrial-Media Complex,” begins with “After eight years in the White House, Dwight Eisenhower delivered his farewell address on January 17, 1961. The former general warned of ‘an immense military establishment and a large arms industry.’ He added that ‘we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.’ One way or another, a military-industrial complex now extends to much of corporate media. In the process, firms with military ties routinely advertise in news outlets. Often, media magnates and people on the boards of large media-related corporations enjoy close links—financial and social—with the military industry and Washington’s foreign-policy establishment.” While we might not have propaganda films like the original “Why We Fight” movies, we still have the news media, which, as an extension of the military-industrial complex, manipulate their audience by controlling the flow and content of the information presented. While this has its advantages, such as sparing the audience of brutal, violent images or videos when possible, is it ethical or moral to attempt to control how we think about the events being presented by not presenting the whole picture?

Obviously there is a spectrum here, and these are just my opinions based on the documentary we watched in class and the program on Al Jazeera about the decline of the American empire. I think that the U.S. military-industrial(-media) complex is still struggling to find its niche in the current geopolitical climate, and by continuing to operate as though we still have a major threat against our country (like we found in the Soviet Union during the Cold War), our country is steadily heading towards a decline in our power throughout the globe. I would like to know how other people interpreted the documentary, however, and if anyone actually watches the entire program “The Decline of the American Empire,” let me know how you would connect the two, or whether you think that there is no link between the major ideas presented both programs. Lastly, although I think that the news media is doing what’s in their best interest by limiting the information they relate to us, I think that there is still an opportunity to become as informed as possible via social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Do you think the general news media reports on too little information, too much, or somewhere in the middle depending on the topic? Furthermore, how will the rise in social media sites influence the reporting by the news media, and do you think one or both of them will have to evolve to compensate for the other?

 


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