Tuesday, March 02, 2010

The Unraveling of the American Empire

Blowback was written in 2000, prior to 9/11. Here, Johnson anticipates the era of terrorism, the response, and the near inevitablility of the collapse of the American Empire:

"Blowback" is shorthand for saying that a nation reaps what it sows, even if it does not fully know or understand what it has sown. Given its wealth and power, the United States will be a prime recipient in the foreseeable future of all of the more expectable forms of blowback, particularly terrorist attacks against Americans in and out of the armed forces anywhere on earth, including within the United States. But it is blowback in its larger aspect--the tangible costs of empire--that truly threatens it. Empires are costly operations, and they become more costly by the year. The hollowing out of American industry, for instance, is a form of blowback--an untended negative consequence of American policy--even though it is seldom recognized as such. The growth of militarism in a once democratic society is another example of blowback. Empire is the problem. Even though the United States has as strong sense of invulnerability and substantial miliary and economic tools to make such a feeling credible, the fact of its imperial pretensions means that a crisis is inevitable. More imperialist projects simply generate more blowback. If we do not begin to solve problems in more prudent and modest ways, blowback will only become more intense.

David Calleo, a professor of international politics, has observed, "The international system breaks down not only because unbalanced and aggressive new powers seek to dominate their neighbors, but also because declining powers, rather than adjusting and accommodating, try to cement their slipping preeminence into an exploitative hegemony." I believe that the United States at the end of the twentieth century fits this description. The signs of such an exploitative hegemony are already with us: increasing estrangement between populations and their governments; a determination of elites to hang on to power despite a loss of moral authority; the appearance of militarism and the separation of the military from the society it is supposed to serve; fierce repression (the huge and still growing American prison population and rising enthusiasm for the death penalty may be symptomatic of this); and an economic crisis that is global in nature. History offers few examples of declining hegemons reversing their decline or giving up power peacefully, although Gorbachev's policies at the end of the Cold War may constitute one. Given that it is close to inconceivable that any American leader could have the authority and vision to act with similar restraint in dealing with our client states (for example, by withdrawing our military from the Korean penninsula), one must conclude that blowback will ultimately produce a crisis that suddenly, wrenchingly impairs or ends America's hegemonic influence. Given the almost sacred position empire bestows on the American military, it seems unlikely that the crisis will occur in that area. Thus, barring an unforeseen reform movement, it seems most probably that economic contradictions will force the unraveling of the American empire."

Chalmers Johson, Blowback 223-224

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