Thursday, February 25, 2010

Decline of Empire

Some time ago I was acquainted with Chalmers Johnson via a YouTube video. I requested some of his books and just recently began one of them entitled Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire. The premise of the book is that America's military and economic empire has led to the kinds of unintended consequences that the CIA refers to as "blowback." In this theory, events like 9/11 are blowback for America's policies in the Middle East.

Interestingly, Johnson argues in Blowback that the American empire is more analagous to the Soviet Empire than other Empires, such as Rome and Britain.

"I do not believe that America's "vast array of strategical commitments" were made in past decades largely as the result of attempts to exploit other nations for economic gain or simply to dominate them politically and militarily. Although the United States has in the past engaged in imperialist exploitation of other nations, particularly in Latin America, it has also tried in various ways to liquidate many such commitments. The roots of American "imperial overstretch" today are not the same as those of past empires. Instead they more closely resemble those that brought down the Soviet Union.

Many Americans do not care to see their country's acts, policies, or situations compared with the Soviet Union's; some condemn such a comparison because it commits the alleged fallacy of "moral equivalence." They insist that America's values and institutions are vastly more humane than those of Stalin's Russia. I agree. Throughout the years of the Cold War, the United States remained a functioning democracy, with rights for its citizens unimaginable in the Soviet context (even if its more recent maintenance of the world's largest prison population suggests that it should be cautious in criticizing other nation's systems of criminal justice). Comparisons between the United States and the former Soviet Union are useful, however, because those two hegemons developed in tandem, challenging each other militarily, economically, and ideologically. In the long run, it may turn out that, like two scorpions in a bottle, they succeeded in stinging each other to death.

Chalmers Johnson, Blowback pages 31-32

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