|The American Empire
By Alan Caruba
John Adams, our second President, cautioned, "Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide."
When the United States Congress raised the current debt limit to $9 trillion, it was an act of suicide. When Richard M. Nixon took the U.S. off the gold standard, he let the printing presses churn out dollars backed by nothing but the promise that we would honor our treasury bills and other debts.
After World War II, America emerged as the most powerful nation on earth, economically and militarily. Challenging us was the Soviet Union, a house of cards built on the utterly flawed system called communism. Eventually, it fell apart in 1989. Aspiring to empire, the Soviets discovered how costly it is to have to maintain a huge military to insure its subject nations paid tribute. Rome discovered this long ago.
Now it is the turn of the United States of America, a nation that traditionally has shrunk from imperialism, from the maintenance of colonies, to discover that, like the former Soviet Union, it is just too easy to spend yourself into a deep hole chasing the illusion of empire. The British Empire is no more. The dream of empire embraced by the French is no more.
Why, then, does America maintain a military force spread throughout the world at a cost more than the combined military spending of all other nations? Who is the new enemy? The United States has declared war on a tactic, not a nation state. We are at war with "terrorism." Feel free to define it any way you want.
Since the attack on 9-11, there has been no further attack on the United States. There have been minor attacks in Spain and Great Britain, both produced by indigenous terrorists no doubt inspired by al-Qaida. Having driven the Taliban out of Afghanistan, we turned our attention to Iraq. The United States is spending a billion dollars a month to create a democratic nation there. This adds to our constantly mounting debt. We are borrowing $80 million an hour.
Past empires received tribute in return for providing security. We receive none. Having "contained" the former Soviet Union at considerable cost, we now offer a Pax Americana in which we pay the bills and other nations receive the benefits. This is particularly true of past and present United Nations peacekeeping missions. What every empire needs is an enemy.
The new one is an evil ideology called Islamism. The President talks of fighting "terror." If he were honest, he would stop saying Islam is a religion of peace and identify it as the enemy. The problem with that are the more than one billion Muslims in the world.
It is worth checking the map to see where our combat troops are these days. The United States is militarily engaged in a region on which we depend to provide the oil we require to maintain our vast economic system. That system depends on hundreds of thousands of trucks that pick up imported goods from our ports and distributes them for sale at the local mall.
Americans get in their cars and drive to those malls. We drive everywhere. Or we fly and then drive everywhere. At night our cities are ablaze with light. For that you need lots of energy.
All nations require energy. There is nothing inherently wrong in that. However, our dependency on oil creates vulnerabilities for an empire that must maintain a huge military to protect its access to it, keeping the sea lanes open, and extending protection
To put it another way, had Saddam Hussein been content to simply sell us oil and live in his many palaces, the United States would have left him alone. Freedom was not a priority when we purchased oil from Saddam's Iraq. Freedom was not a priority when we did business with the Shah of Iran prior to the Islamic Revolution. We purchase oil from lots of nations where freedom is not a priority or even a reality.
The mistake the Iranian leadership is making is essentially the same one Saddam Hussein made. They are threatening the American Empire's need for oil and natural gas, the stability of the U.S. dollar, and most stupidly, its client states in the region.
At home, while we fret about Iraq, Americans continue their spending binge. The housing market remains strong. Indeed, the economy appears to be growing, and unemployment is low. The catch is that Americans, in general, have very low rates of personal savings. So they refinance their homes as if they were piggybanks. They run up debt on credit cards. Only now, it's harder to declare bankruptcy and walk away from that debt.
The American Empire exists only because nations around the world continue to buy our Treasury bills. Our debt. Awash in our dollars, they purchase our assets even though we tend not to notice or care unless it is Dubai and we get scared about "port security." Never mind that communist China runs the largest U.S. port on the West Coast or that 80% of U.S. ports are foreign owned, primarily by shipping lines.
Indeed, never mind that much of what we consider "American" companies are actually subsidiaries of foreign ownership. Joseph E. Seagram & Sons is foreign owned. So is Brown & Williamson Tobacco. There's Glaxo Wellcome Inc, MCA Inc, Zeneca Inc, and SmithKline Beecham. Japan's Sony has large investments here. If it weren't for the cheap goods it imports from China, Wal-Mart wouldn't even exist and Wal-Mart is a retailer, not a manufacturer.
At the end of 2004, direct foreign investment in America amounted to $1.53 trillion, an increase of 8.2 percent more than in 2003. It provides jobs for Americans. It sends tax dollars to the federal government. While Americans get jittery and scared about "port security", they are oblivious to the fact that foreign investors own and operate U.S. power plants, chemical facilities, and one out of every five oil refineries and natural gas facilities.
The American Empire exists because many foreign nations and people in those nations believe that this is a good place to do business. Snubbing them as we did with Dubai Ports is probably a very bad idea. No, they're not all angels, but neither are we.
Nor can we continue to borrow and spend at the present rate. We can't continue to look to the federal government to provide us cradle-to-grave insurance against bad things happening or to pick up the tab for hospitalization, prescription drugs, college loans, guarantee home mortgages, and the myriad other politically "earmarked" programs that shake the American money tree every hour of every day.
Despite much about America that foreigners find alluring, there are many nations led by those who harbor a deep resentment and even a hatred of America. They want the Euro to replace the Dollar. They want to raise the price of the oil and natural gas we need to function. They harbor those who want to keep sending the billions in illegal narcotics we consume. And they know that the more money we have to spend on armies, navies and air power, the more parts of America we will have to sell to pay for them.
Since 9-11 Americans have had a bad case of the jitters. An attack on the homeland may be the least of their worries. In fabled New Orleans, the motto was "Laissez les bon temps rouller" translated as "let the good times roll." And then their neglected levees broke.
Alan Caruba writes "Warning Signs", a weekly column post on the Internet site of The National Anxiety Center. © Alan Caruba 2006
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