Perspectives: A Review of 2010
by Francis Shor
(Swans - December 13, 2010) On the eve of the US involvement in WWII, Henry Luce, owner and editor of Time-Life, projected a new world order that he labeled the "American Century." Convinced that the United States would be the guarantor of progress and prosperity around the world, Luce articulated a vision that had deep roots in the imperial enactment of "manifest destiny." Toward the end of the war, the U.S. institutionalized its global leadership at Bretton Woods with the establishment of US-dominated economic organizations, such as the World Bank and what would become the International Monetary Fund.
Through its financial, military, and cultural prowess over the next two decades, the U.S. managed to induce, seduce, or bludgeon other countries into accepting its rules of the road. By the 1970s a number of "bumps" in the road, from the loss of the war in Southeast Asia to the OPEC oil crisis, seemed to stall the US juggernaut. Undeterred by these seeming setbacks, the ruling elites improvised new strategies over the next decades from neoliberal economics to "full-spectrum dominance" in order to retain their global hegemony.
Now, a decade into the 21st century, the United States is a dying empire whose every move, whether financial, military, or geopolitical, suggests that it has reached the end of Luce's American Century. From the recent G-20 meeting in South Korea to the maneuvering for a new Maliki-led government in Iraq, the strategic objectives of the United States have gone awry. Just a brief survey of the global and domestic terrain underscores the fact that U.S. is on the road to nowhere.
Desperate to reinforce its economic primacy in the aftermath of the crash of 2008, the Fed tried everything from shoveling trillions to the Wall Street banksters to manipulating the dollar. In the process, the United States only further isolated itself at the G-20 and provided additional impetus to those countries, from China to France, seeking alternatives to the dollar as the denomination for global reserve currency.
While China may not yet be prepared to dump its massive amount of Treasury bills, it has been slowly building its trading and energy connections to countries from those in the Caspian Basin to Africa and South America. Also, China has not been averse to using its own resources and military might to challenge Japan, thus warning the United States that China has its own strategic measures that take primacy in the region.
Given its addiction to war and Pentagon "diplomacy," Washington will continue to ramp up its military options, even at the cost of budgetary crises. Seeding even more future conflicts, Special Operations Forces have been deployed in over 60 countries. Having been foiled in Iraq and now bogged down in Afghanistan, Washington policymakers are engaged in a "Long War" that can only enrage peoples around the globe, undermining in the process any claims for global leadership.
The domestic blowback of such economic and military failures goes beyond the continuing bankruptcy of the "middle class." The loss of US potency in the world, in turn, undermines the compensatory socio-psychological component of national identity. The strident voices on the right, based on real fears and paranoid delusions, promise whites, in particular, that they can "take back the country." Against both the diminishing US hegemony in the world and the changing national demographics, the battle cry that they and the U.S. will be "number one" is an illusion steeped in severe denial.
Yet, the ruling elites seem dedicated to continuing their plunder and misrule. The only roadmap they are apparently following is their own self-serving agenda. While the economy and environment are degrading, a tiny elite attempts to convince a bewildered electorate and apathetic citizenry to perpetuate its own immiseration. It's time for a completely new direction before we all are herded onto a road going nowhere or even beyond -- to a post-apocalyptic nightmare envisioned not by an optimistic Henry Luce but by a pessimistic Cormac McCarthy.
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About the Author
Fran Shor, a Professor in the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies at Wayne State University in Detroit, teaches courses in the fields of historical and cultural studies. He is the author of three books, Utopianism and Radicalism in a Reforming America, 1888-1918, Bush-League Spectacles: Empire, Politics, and Culture in Bushwhacked America, and the recently published Dying Empire: U.S. imperialism and global resistance (Routledge, 2010); and scores of articles in academic journals. He has also published extensively on Web sites such as Common Dreams, CounterPunch, and History News Network. A veteran activist in peace, justice, and international solidarity campaigns, he is a long-time board member of the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights and Peace Action of Michigan. (back)