Pax Americana and its attendant bloat threaten to bankrupt the American Empire
Rome – at its imperial apex – had one dictum when dealing with attacks upon the empire; it would confront the attacking state, devote the resources and manpower to annihilate it, and ensure it would never rise again by sowing its ground with salt, decapitating its warriors and children, and taking its women as slaves. In this manner the empire ensured its citizenry stability and its enemy’s complete devastation. Until the corrosive rot of decadence, monumental governmental corruption, hostile immigration of Germanic tribes, and imprudent imperial over-extension hollowed out and ultimately split the imperium Rome’s citizenry lived in relative security for hundreds of years.
Pax Romana. Its friends respected Rome’s power. Its enemies feared it.
This rather barbaric point is made to underscore what is now – one decade after 9/11 – being proven as bitter reality: the American Empire is experiencing an accelerated version of the decline and fall of Rome. The empire’s gargantuan Military-Industrial-Complex has fallen victim to a raging case of self-imposed, anachronistic, and inevitably bankrupting strategic bloat, and its failed tactical agenda vis-a-vis radical Islam is a recipe for ruinous quagmire, destined to sentence the West’s citizenry to privation, repeated butchery, and a condition of constant, debasing fear. Pax Americana is a sprawling, fraying colossus.
Pride before the fall
All empires fall for one of three reasons; they are defeated in battle, they are undermined by disastrous governance, or the monumental costs of maintaining an empire are ultimately more than the empire can afford to pay. Often all three factors are in concert and hasten an empire’s precipitous decline.
The costs of maintaining the American Empire are staggering. The related annual expenditures – including Department of Defense, FBI counter-terrorism, Homeland Security, space-based satellites, and interest on debt incurred in past wars –accrue to approximately 1.7 Trillion (that’s with a “t”) U.S. dollars. The American Empire permanently deploys close to a quarter of a million troops in nearly 50 countries and territories. It has about 900 military facilities spread all over the globe. Its military budget – 740 billon dollars – accounts for just under half (at 43%) of the entire world’s military budgets COMBINED. It spends a quarter of a trillion dollars a year merely maintaining this global military network.
Regardless what trendy “declinists” like Fareed Zakaria claim, the United States is an Überpower almost unrivaled in history – it still dominates in all aspects that are crucial to its age: military, technological, cultural and financial.
Altogether the Military-Industrial-Complex represents about 13% of the U.S.’s Gross Domestic Product – this at a time when there is no direct superpower rival (China – simultaneously America’s largest creditor and biggest rival – is ascendant but still far behind), the U.S. Public Debt is at a mind-melting 15 Trillion U.S. dollars (essentially 100% of GDP), and the U.S. budget deficit is at 1.75 Trillion dollars (and counting). Drowning in a maelstrom of debt and in arrears to its greatest potential rival, the American Empire finds itself facing downfall through institutionalized over-commitment and hubris…in fact, the Empire is fundamentally bankrupt.
At what price security?
The American Empire may be near-invincible in battle – add to its unparalleled military arsenal an unprecedented measure of geographical security (as Alexis de Tocqueville once stated, “Placed in the center of an immense continent…the Union is almost as much insulated from the rest of the world as if all its frontiers were girt by the ocean…”) and there is no country or coalition of enemies that can defeat the U.S. – but abominable leadership, financial degradation, and the crushing cost of empire threaten to precipitate the empire’s rapid decline and eventual financial insolvency. Furthermore, that security is not as it was…the U.S. is vulnerable to asymmetrical attacks.
Though the American Empire’s existential security may be – short of an utterly suicidal nuclear attack ensuring the complete annihilation of the attacker – impregnable from enemies outside its borders, the rot of an overblown, mismanaged empire has taken vicious hold. Nothing points to the rot as much as the ruinous wars started in Iraq and Afghanistan after the calamitous attacks by Islamic radicals in September 2001. These military campaigns – initially tactically successful but strategically ill-conceived (and seemingly never-ending) – have bled the U.S. of critical financial, military, and political resources, and pushed it further along the road to the graveyard of empires.
Despite an alphabet soup of coalitions and international organizations – the U.N., NATO for the North Atlantic Area, CENTO for the Middle East, SEATO for Southeast Asia, ANZUS for Oceania, plus a host of bilateral alliances that guarantee the defense of states like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Israel, Taiwan, and most of Europe – the United States has carried the preponderant brunt of the financial burdens and casualties of these Middle Eastern / Central Asian wars, and it is now an overmuscled yet exhausted 800-pound behemoth; its supreme military divisions alternately garrisoned in hostile Middle Eastern desert lands and doomed to fighting bloody asymmetrical skirmishes in the desolate outback of Central Asia on its primitive enemies’ terms, (and always conscious not to overstep the threshold of savagery that might engender global opprobrium). The American Empire fights with one hand tied voluntarily behind its back – one eye on its mortal enemy and the other on the world’s press and the public ignominy it inflicts with every misstep and civilian casualty. All the while its treasury is bled dry of critically-needed finances and global rivals like China, Russia, and Iran exploit the void left by the empire’s military morass to arm themselves and prepare to challenge for regional and global supremacy.
Pax Americana and its attendant bloat threaten to bankrupt the American Empire. President Eisenhower – himself a 5-star General in the U.S. Army – forewarned his countrymen of this fate 55 years ago. Liquidating large swaths of this unwieldy network, rationalizing and downsizing the parasitical Military-Industrial-Complex, radically reducing our global military footprint, and re-considering the strategy vis-a-vis radical Islam – and the concept of Pax Americana altogether – should be immediate priorities for the U.S. Absent of a fundamental re-think the road to perdition is well-defined.
The American Empire and the Arab Spring
There are nearly 1.5 billion Muslims in this world. Islam is the world’s fastest growing religion. An exceedingly high percentage of its followers are young, poor, subjugated, and highly disaffected. They have known only oppression and want. Their governments (run by Muslims) are extraordinarily corrupt. Although many of these countries are fabulously rich in mineral wealth, the benefits of these riches have been hoarded by the top .0001 percentile of the government elite and the ruling families from which they are spawned. This minute percentage of the population has wealth beyond obscenity and has a vested interest in keeping the vast, teeming majority oppressed, badly educated, and disoriented. A large portion of the population in these lands is packed into poverty-drenched flea pit shanty towns and crowded, filthy metropolitan areas and has had – until now – nary a hope of escaping or improving their lot.
The 22 Muslim ‘States’ within the geographical area known as the ‘Middle East’ – many fantastically rich in fossil fuels and the major benefactors in the modern world’s addiction to these fuels – have a COMBINED GDP slightly smaller than…Spain. Their governance is an abject failure and a grotesque swindle; a sham perpetrated by the miniscule Elite upon the swarming “Arab Street”.
The “Arab Street” has awakened to this sham and is throwing off the shackles of encrusted despotism, one state at a time. A large percentage of the participants in these historic, heroic uprisings are courageous, freedom-seeking people longing to join the modern world in all its contradictions, disarray, and opportunities. At the very least these revolutionaries hunger for the basic dignity of self-determination. Yet an intense minority of this population now sees radical Islam as the way forward. They have been relentlessly inculcated in Madrasahs and Mosques since infancy that America and the West underwrite their own ruling, oppressing elite and that we are the corporeal manifestation of evil and blasphemy. The West is presented as their ultimate oppressor, exploiter, and mortal enemy. These Muslims see themselves as the world’s uttermost victims and the West (i.e. the U.S.) as the supreme tyrant.
Adding to this toxic cocktail of victimhood and loathing is the fact that this radical minority are taught that to die (and kill) for the cause of Allah in “defending” the Holy word and values (and land) from the “infidels” that do not share this world-view – this is presented as the epitome and supreme climax to their existence. Jihad as manifest destiny.
Holy War or War of Cultures? (It is all one and the same)
This extremist minority’s ideal state of existence would be to reestablish the Golden Days of the Islamic Caliphate – the ‘Dark Ages’ (in Western parlance) when Caliphates controlled the Muslim world and conquered lands as far away as Spain. In this world Jihad is the highest calling and unbelievers are to be converted, subjugated (and taxed for their refusal to abrogate their inferior status – the Jizya), or vanquished. Muslim men are to submit to the wishes of the Caliphate and mullahs and are to be told how to live and die by the “Sharia” and the word of the Koran. Women are but chattel that is not to be permitted to study, work, or choose their role in life – they exist to submit to men and propagate the species.
This leads us to the obvious conclusion that we are involuntarily engaged in a “Holy war” of sorts (to the enemy it is thus, to the West it is best described as a “War of Cultures”) with this intense minority. There is no middle ground here. There are no gray areas, however many left-leaning media sources like the New York Times or Die Zeit or The Guardian or the BBC or CNN attempt to parse semantic exercises in caution, cultural relativity, and procedure. Either you are for that worldview or you are not.
We have been impotent in curbing the corruption that stifles and cripples these lands – in fact the West in general (and the American Empire specifically) has been intimately complicit in this corruption and oppression. Our guilt by association – we are the “infidels” that have been supporting the tyrannical status-quo perpetrated by their despotic rulers for decades – is irrefutable to the frothing masses feeding on hatred for our support of their “elites” and, above all, (in their eyes) the heathen Israelites. We cannot just ignore this opprobrium and ask to live in peace because that will not be allowed. Our very existence is an affront to this radical minority.
We are thus left with the bitter reality that either we must accept that our comfortable existence will be more and more brutally inconvenienced and degraded by the manifestation of their hatred for us and our way of life, and that this hatred has some justification hence somehow some form of credence (an externalized version of White Man’s guilt taken to perverse extremes), or we must resolutely engage the enemy (while energetically helping the vast majority in these societies who wish to move toward freedom, human rights, and self-determination), stand by our values – however imperfect they may be – and prosecute the battle to a swift, clear, and unmistakable conclusion: the destruction of the enemy.
The American Empire’s past strategy of conventional forces, a massive footprint, and a phalanx of contractors, NGO’s and advisors trailing behind are in this particular battle self-defeating, anachronistic, needlessly alienating, and appallingly costly in blood and treasure. Invading a sovereign country and stationing tens of thousands of troops in the hopes of simultaneously winning the battle on the ground and the “hearts and minds” of the conquered indigenous population while tip-toeing around the issue of cultural sensitivity is sheer folly and a recipe for quagmire. The attempt to export Democracy to these forlorn regions has proven an unimaginably heavy millstone. The clear and painful lesson has been that nation-building can only be done after complete military victory – the means of winning of hearts and minds should take a backseat to the ends of swift, unrelenting military success.
Asynchronous warfare is not what the American Empire’s military is built to wage – but it is what it will have to become expert at. Asynchronous warfare is combating terrorism. Guerrilla warfare, paramilitary warfare, and insurgent warfare are all forms of asymmetrical warfare. Thus, asymmetrical warfare and asynchronous warfare are the same. The American Empire’s war with Islamic radicalism will henceforth be almost exclusively an asymmetrical or asynchronous war. It is a war of ideology, a war of philosophy, a war of culture, and a war for the survival of the Western way of life.
This entails ensuring the Islamist enemy that any act of martyrdom that causes destruction to our interests or injury to our citizenry will be in fact an act of (asymmetrical) war – not (merely) a prosecutable crime. In other words, we are back to the example of Ancient Rome – a mature power cognizant of the burden and responsibilities of its manifest destiny if there ever was one.
It must be made clear that there will be no mercy in the prosecution of this dictum because an act of terrorism will in effect trigger a response that will smite the very people who support, train, and celebrate the perpetrator(s). It must be made clear to the suicidal/homicidal ‘martyrs’ that, “You are risking annihilating not only yourself, but your supporters as well – they are all put in peril at the hands of your own act. You will also be their murderer. Any attack on us will be a potential death sentence on your enablers.” The retaliation will be surgical and lethal.
The West must draw a clear line and execute the consequences. You can choose to live in peace, tolerance, and dialogue with us or, choosing to engage us in violence, you will perish. Failing to make this dictum clear will only delay and amplify this problem for future generations, and sentence them to calamitous bloodletting at the hands of an emboldened and far stronger foe than what we face today.
While vigorously engaging and defeating the barbarism of Islamist radicals, the West must give the brave Arab democracy movements all the assistance they need – be it moral, humanitarian, or financial. These historic movements deserve the West’s commitment to liberty, encouragement to personal determination, and stabilizing financial aid. Providing this support is not only morally revivifying and good policy, but it also demonstrates that Western values and Arab societies’ cultural resurgence are not mutually exclusive principles. In fact, they can be mutually supportive.
The American Empire in the 21st Century: Rebirth or terminal decline?
Two consecutive failed presidencies in the last decade, a demoralizing financial meltdown, ruinous wars, a misdirected foreign policy, massive incompetence and larceny at the national governmental level, and the staggering costs of a sprawling Military-Industrial-Complex have badly undermined and weakened the American Empire. A fundamental re-think about the costs of empire and reconsideration if the present World Police / Pax Americana Doctrine and its attendant world-straddling military infrastructure is at all essential (and even constitutional) is critical at this point in American history. Failing to address this debate is not only irresponsible to America’s present citizens, but cataclysmic to future generations of Americans.
Historically, few empires voluntarily gave up their dominions in order to remain independent, self-governing polities. The graveyard of history is filled with tombstones inscribed with the names of empires that declined and perished at their own hands. If the American Empire – bleeding itself dry through imperial overstrain, nation-building, and obsession with the Politically-Correct principle of “Humane War” (the ultimate oxymoron) – does not learn from their examples, its decline and fall is etched in stone.
Alexander Ackley © 2012 for The International Chronicles