The Empire is in free fall

Feb 1, 2024
THe US Capitol dome in Washington DC with a crack down the middle over the American flag.

By 2021 it was apparent that we were witnessing the accelerating but creeping collapse of the American Empire. That collapse has passed an inflection point – the Empire is now in free fall.

Thomas Homer-Dixon, in his brilliant book The Upside of Down, noted that the Roman empire eventually reached the point where “the empire could no longer afford the problem of its own existence”. This is the predicament now facing the United States, its vassals and sub-imperial powers such as Australia.

For the power elites managing the United States’ imperial system, it is of course verboten to acknowledge this predicament. At best we get tame bureaucratic utterances such as in the 2023 Defence Strategic Review where it stated that the “United States, is no longer the unipolar leader of the Indo-Pacific.”

Likely the last person to acknowledge the collapse of the empire will be its current ‘emperor’, President Joe Biden. As recently as October 2023 President Biden stated that:

“We’re the United States of America for God’s sake. The most powerful nation in the history of the world.”

Whilst that clearly was once true, tropes about American exceptionalism, as noted by Emma Shortis, now ring hollow. Outside of the collective West, the leadership of which is becoming increasingly desperate and thus erratic, belligerent and downright dangerous, there would be few countries who subscribe to Biden’s view.

I have previously argued that through a combination of ‘normal diplomacy and keeping its powder dry the future of the United States imperial system could have been one of almost imperceptible relative decline occurring over many decades.’

This is the ironic tragedy of the collapse. Through the inability to comprehend its own limitations and the ruthless pursuit of maximalist objectives, successive imperial courts have made one disastrous decision after another. The net effect being that the possibility of a slow relative decline has been replaced with the near certainty of a rapid absolute collapse. This is the phase of pax Americana that we have now entered.

The United States faces an unsolvable commitments crisis.

It is embroiled across the full spectrum of conflict (from competition to war), either directly or indirectly, in Eastern Europe (Ukraine), the Middle East/West Asia (Gaza, the Red Sea, Syria, Iraq and Iran) and Asia (China and its littoral environment) and across all instruments of national power (Diplomatic, Informational, Military and Economic).

There is not one of these conflicts where there is a reasonable prospect for what may be considered a successful outcome for the United States. Indeed, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the United States is violating a well-known military maxim by continuing to reinforce failure.

Further even if the United States was to be successful in one or more of these conflicts, it is unclear what actual benefit accrues to the empire as a whole (as opposed to a tiny minority who are benefitting mightily) other than in abstract terms such as a projection of ‘strength’ or ‘power,’ the punitive but ineffective airstrikes against the Houthis in Yemen being an example. Indeed, the empire is now well past the point where its return on investment in empire has turned decisively negative. A predicament for which there is no solution from the perspective of maintaining the status quo. The ultimate outcome will be a traumatic ‘right sizing’ of the United States and what is left of its imperial architecture as it is forced to align its objectives with much-diminished resources.

The death and destruction occurring in many parts of the world indicate just how traumatic the unravelling of the United States imperial system is likely to be, with the potential to get much, much worse. A key indicator of the collapsing empire is the tendency for its increasingly nihilistic actions to undermine both its own objectives and expose its ever-growing weaknesses.

The fiasco of project Ukraine is Exhibit One. The engineered proxy war in that country has not only strengthened Russia and emboldened those on the side of multi-polarity but highlighted the many weaknesses of the United States military, its hardware and its industrial capacity.

It has also highlighted how ruthlessly the United States will treat its ‘allies’ and vassals. Europe’s business model, reliant upon cheap energy and minerals from Russia as it was, has been sacrificed by a weak and self-serving political class who are clearly not serving the interests of their people. The unwillingness of European leaders to inquire too deeply into who destroyed the Nord Stream gas pipelines being emblematic of this weakness. Meanwhile Ukraine is pressured to fight on, even as it has suffered half a million dead (according to at least one Ukrainian official), is running out of fighting age people for its army and has no prospect of achieving anything that might be considered a victory.

A defining feature of the decision making of the United States as its empire crumbles is an inability to deescalate. Every action by an opponent requires an escalation. There is no brake, there is no reverse gear. This feature is deliberately being used against the United States with ever increasing effect as demonstrated by the Houthis in the Red Sea.

Previous US Presidents have reigned in the excesses of former Israeli Governments. President Biden could do the same with one phone call to Prime Minister Netanyahu. Instead, the United States has launched illegal military strikes against the Houthis, that have not stopped their attacks against shipping and show no likelihood of doing so, risk enmeshment in another prolonged conflict and have had the effect of further reducing maritime traffic through the Red Sea, the opposite of the stated objective.

The remainder of the world watches on. Observing the ever-growing chasm between what the United States claims to be and what its actions show it to be. The decision to cease funding of the UNRWA this week after last week’s International Court of Justice preliminary orders being a case in point. Meanwhile, the BRICS+ nations in a methodical but businesslike manner are building an alternative system of ever-increasing attractiveness to the decaying remains of a once all-powerful hegemonic system.

Despite the mounting evidence of imperial collapse, Australia, with its institutionally ingrained inability to think of a future outside of being a sub-imperial power, shows no signs of awakening to the dangers that being allied to the United States at this point present. Expect the next few years to be a very rough ride.

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