In an article published in 2008, after citing British historian Correlli Barnett's observation that "War is the great auditor of institutions" as an opening gambit, political scientist, professor of history and international relations, and prolific author Andrew Bacevich contends that since 9/11, America "has undergone such an audit and found to be wanting".
Now before we dismiss Bacevich as an unreconstructed bleeding heart anti-war advocate who doesn't understand the realities of the world and the existential threats his country faces, it is important to fully appreciate the man's bona fides. A former senior US military officer whose tours of duty included Vietnam and Europe, Bacevich has arguably forgotten more about America's place in the geopolitical firmament than all of president Obama's advisers combined will ever know. For evidence of this read any one of his books, which include Washington Rules: America's Pathway to Permanent War and Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and their Country.
And if that's not enough, well after he described the Iraq debacle as a "catastrophic failure" (and well before others were prepared to do so), his own son, a US army officer, in 2007 was killed by an improvised explosive device (IED) in Iraq. Although it's not known how Bacevich felt about his son's death given the circumstances, it is hard to see how he would have viewed it as anything but a futile sacrifice, like so many other young Americans.
Bacevich is not alone in critiquing his country's foreign policy misadventures. In his 2004 book of essays, Dismantling the Empire: America's Last Best Hope, the late Chalmers Johnson also provided in a similar vein a sobering and persuasive argument for America drawing back from the imperialist ambitions that have characterised its foreign and national security policies over the past few decades. Like Bacevich, Johnson (who passed away in 2010), was an esteemed academic and researcher, and a prolific writer of books on America's role as modern empire, including such tomes as Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire and The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy and the End of the Republic to name a couple. Again, the titles offer an immediate insight into the content and themes readers might expect to encounter therein.
And againlike Bacevich, Johnson was not enamoured of the usual partisan bickering that accompanies America's foreign policy and national security debate. Much like the domesticpolicy debate one suspects, neither author sees Republicans or Democrats as having workable solutions to what is an endemic problem with entrenched historical antecedents, few of which ever seem to be part of the political or broad public debate, especially any defined by mainstream media. Whether it's in his published works or his numerous magazine and newspaper articles, Johnsonleaves little doubt as to what he sees has been driving, and continues to drive, this geopolitical obsessive-compulsive disorder – the profits of waging war. To preserve any lasting vestige of itself as a democratic republic, the empire as it stands must be dismantled. He sums it up this way:
We are on the brink of losing our democracy for the sake of keeping our empire. Once a nation starts down that path, the dynamics that apply to all empires come into play – isolation, overstretch, the uniting of global and local forces opposed to imperialism, and in the end, bankruptcy.
Johnson basically said that if America is to sustain itself as a viable nation economically, socially, and politically, and preserve whatever integrity, standing and influence it currently enjoys among nation states as a truly global leader in the conduct and management of world affairs, it must attend to three fundamental issues.
Firstly, the US needs to dismantle the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) completely, an organisation which he viewed as being both incompetent and dangerous not only to America's own security but global security. For that matter he might well have included a few other modern era 'alphabet' agencies as well. NSA anyone? DEA? HSA?
Secondly, he proposed the curtailment of any further expansion of US global military presence along with the progressive dismantlement of the existing infrastructure. This itself is an interesting proposal especially given that recently our own country Australia has just signed up to a new agreement with the US to increase its military presence here in the top end.
And thirdly, he emphasised America's urgent need to scale back and then eradicate the intertwined military, industrial, security and economic foundations that have both driven and underpinned the growth of US empire for far too long. This was something that even the old warhorse himself president Dwight D (Ike) Eisenhower warned us all about in his oft- referenced 'farewell to arms' address at the fag end on his presidency in 1961. (MIlitary-industrial Complex anyone?)
If these actions are not taken, Johnson argued in his introduction, the "long-standing reliance on imperialism and militarism in our relations with other countries and the vast, potentially ruinous global empire of bases that goes with it", will lead to "…a likely collapse similar to that of the former Soviet Union." Although Johnson rightly observed that this outcome is not inevitable, he noted pessimistically "…it may be unavoidable given the hubris and arrogance of our national leadership."
For anyone following current events from outside the realms of the corporate media's reach – the proxy war with Russia over the Ukraine, the incessant sabre rattling over the downing of MH17, Israel's genocidal incursions into the Gaza strip, the deteriorating situations in Iraq and Syria and the rise of ISIS, the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, just to name a few of the volatile global ructions to which America is a party to or has some vital stake in – these conclusions should be obvious. The hubris is palpable, and hubris is always the precursor to imperial decline.
Moreover, if we accept Johnson's supposition that America's unerring desire to impose political and economic dominion over the rest of the world is driven largely by economic (read that:energy) imperatives, then the irony herein is that in doing so, the US may end up bankrupting itself, must also be blindingly obvious. That this expansion and overreach is unsustainable is a polite way of saying it. It would be more direct and honest to say it is America digging itself a Grand Canyon-sized hole and jumping in, [then] shitting in said hole, and shooting itself in both kneecaps so it can't get out. The implications for the rest of us are dire indeed.
And what of the Great Black Hope? For all President Obama's 2008 election promises to bring America back from the brink of imperial overreach, and to dampen its global hegemonic ambitions by relying more on the wielding of soft power than hard power, America's place in the world order is even more precarious now than it ever was. Not all of this is the fault of the Obama administration to be sure. Although his election rhetoric indicated otherwise, as with many presidents who take over the White House, they have to deal with the accumulative baggage left behind by their immediate (and invariably their not so immediate) predecessors. This is to say, Obama was locked into pursuing the Bush Doctrine (or as the neo-conservative military historian Max Boot defined it – the Doctrine of the Big Enchilada).
But a hell of a lot of it is the present administration's cross to bear, and has been for some time. In fact it seems that not a week goes by where this contention does not become even more apparent. At best Obama seems to be trying to be all things to all people - whilst placating the neo-conservative hawks in his administration and in the broader Beltway, not the mention those in the international community.
Yet after now almost six years of Obama as president, the imagined scenario of imperial collapse becomes all too plausiblyundeniable. For those who might scoff at this suggestion, it is important to remember that there were indeed plenty of folk who did predictthe collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc: that is, well and truly afterit all went pear shaped!
As for the likes of Johnson and Bacevich and their fervent hope their country will pull back from the strategic brinkmanship it has been engaging in, it seems unlikely to happen anytime soon. This becomes especially evident when one reads author F. William Engdahl's Full Spectrum Dominance – Totalitarian Democracy in the New World Order, published in the year before Chalmers' death in 2010. Engdahl delivers a comprehensive and unsettling account of the evolution of US global military strategy since the Fall of the Wall and especially that which has been enacted since 9/11.
Put simply, the term "full spectrum dominance" denotes America's plan to advance their long-term goal of total military control of every nook and cranny of the Big Blue Ball and beyond: this includes land, sea, air, inner/outer space, and even cyberspace. In essence, full spectrum dominance is the very opposite of what Johnson had in mind as defined earlier. Yet clearly the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the prominent players in the National Security State and other stakeholders not just eager to maintain the status quo but relentlessly pursue its expansion appear not to have received Johnson's 'memo'. Or for that matter, Andrew Bacevich's either, someone else who has had a word or two about "full spectrum dominance" and its implications.
And if anyone is on the lookout for a prime example of the blowback of this "World is Not Enough" tendency to dominate the globe militarily in the name of freedom, democracy and liberty, the rule of law and the filthy lucre, then a cursory examination of America's recidivist history of 'regime rehab' since the CIA instigated overthrow of Prime Minister Mossadegh in Iran back in 1953 should provide a salutary lesson in why the US's hitherto relatively untarnished reputation as the global go-to 'good guy' is taking a trashing at present. Folks are waking up and smelling the rodent. Whilst this may be a good sign and certainly not before time, it is still not enough either.
By the end of November of 2008, after eight years of the Bush administration it was not hard for Americans and non-Americans alike to buy into the singular promise of "Yes We Can" and "Change We can Believe In" message that candidate Obama brought to campaign. America was on the ropes economically and financially, and some would say spiritually and morally. It had overreached itself militarily and geopolitically in ways not seen since the Vietnam era. Clearly even many die-hard Republicans had had enough of the Bushmeister's regime, which apart from anything else had done much to diminish America's reputation for world leadership and all but cut the power on its moral beacon. It certainly used up most if not all the political and moral capital it accrued as a result of the 9/11 disaster, the worst attacks on American soil since Pearl Harbor in 1941, and one for which no-one has yet to be called to account.
That it accrued the degree of capital it did is remarkable in hindsight, especially given the extraordinary and catastrophic defence, security and intelligence failures on the day itself and leading into it. All this, along with the fact that the powers that be had to be dragged kicking and screaming to an investigation into what actually happened and how such a failure transpired. Even after the monumental shell-game regarding Iraq's mythical weapons of mass destruction, along with its alleged links to al Qaeda and support of terrorism, and the revelations of the execrable treatment of Abu Ghraib prisoners (to name a few of the memorable outcomes from America's response to 9/11), America continued to dine out on the sympathetic support that sprang from that historically tragic event.
As well, that the belated revelation the numerous pretexts for war in Iraq were bogus failed to dent the image that America had carefully crafted in the wake of 9/11 - possibly best exemplified by the plaintive wail, "Why do they hate us?" - is also illuminating. And the very fact that there are still so many disturbing questions regarding the 9/11 attacks outstanding - the 9/11 Commission Report raising literally hundreds more questions than it answered - now leaves many Americans and non-Americans alike wondering, "where to from here?"
Where indeed? In addition to Johnson's recommendations, here's a few more. America needs to pull back from its unstinting support of Israel. It should counterbalance the excessive influence the Israel lobby has on both the domestic political scene and its foreign and national security policies. And above all, it should clip the wings of the Zionistas in the US, Israel and the diaspora as well. Overall, it needs to reflect long and hard on its compulsion for meddling in the so-called Greater Middle East, and we need no further evidence in support of this given the current circumstances.
All this of course is about as likely to happen as the suggestions made by Johnson and Bacevich, but we press on regardless.
It should also stop meddling in Europe, and begin by reassessing its support of the Ukraine government instead of pointing the finger at Russia for its perceived aggression in the east of that country. A rapprochement with Russia should be the order of the day, but instead we get old school Cold War belligerence that we all thought was well past its use by date. The hypocrisy demonstrated by the West over Russia's policies in respect of the Ukraine (and the Crimea) is breathtaking, and an example of geopolitical double standards of the first order. It could do worse than look in its own historical backyard and see the mess it has created therein in similar scenarios for what it has truly represented. And it will need to go back a long ways in order to do this!
It's all very well to label Vladimir Putin "dangerous" as some folk have done, but he has good reason not to trust the West in general and the US in particular. Despite its promise not to expand NATO after the collapse of the former Soviet Union, America and its European allies have consistently tested Russia's patience by not abiding by this agreement in a way that America herself would never have tolerated had the 'boots on the ground' been on the other foot. Whilst a discussion of such is outside the scope of this article, Putin knows what they did in the lead up to – and aftermath of – the USSR's collapse. Which is to say, for anyone wanting to get a real handle on Comrade Putinski's Bolshie 'up yours' 'tude towards the Americans, two words will do here: Project Hammer! A story for another time perhaps.
By way of taking this discussion full circle, if indeed war is the "great auditor of institutions", then we can only conclude from that that permanent war – the very type of which America seems determined to engage in going forward and has been for some time now – will be the "great auditor" of empire. The downside is that – such is the monumental faith, hope and trust we have placed in it over such a long period – thatempire's decline and fall almost certainly will mean the decline and fall of the rest of us. For this reason alone, I hope I am proven dead wrong, or dead before proven right. Not that that will be of much comfort to those left behind, whether its family, friends or the rest of the long suffering humanity that will have the bear the brunt of the inevitable, albeit uncertain, but doubtless ugly, outcome.