The United States, in decline but still able to kill us all…

Aug 10, 2022
United States of America Gold writing on stone
Image: Pexels / Brett Sayles

The global dominance of the United States, in so many fields, from space, to science, to entertainment, to sport, to novelty in the development of the English language, has been taken for granted, is part of our fabric of Australian existence.

Reinforced by the Covid Era of Isolation, Netflix, Facebook, and Computer Games and inability even to get to Bali or Thailand let alone China. We are now in a noisy metal barrel where even dissident voices seem projections from the dissident voices of the US, similarly muted and squeezed. At a time when the US and its roles in the world are suddenly dramatically changing.

The undoing of the United States, the collapse of the imperial centre, is happening with little awareness in Australia. Our generally oblivious mindframes affect the capacity of political leaders to reflect upon or point to core problems of our world. Richard Adams, the author of Watership Down, that great rabbit adventure full of meaning for human society, coined the rabbit language word ‘tharn’ for the mental state of rabbits caught in the headlights and stuck. We are a tharn nation, gabbling about entertainments and irritations, eyes glued to the seatback monitor, not wanting to know the plane is crashing.

Heed these markers:

    • The Americans were first to the moon, but NASA after the retirement of the space shuttle has depended on Russian rockets to get to their joint space station. The Russians are now planning to remove the propulsion units of the station which keep it from crashing, their property, for use on a bigger new venture. America is losing in space, though US private business has appallingly taken the lead in cluttering near space with junk.
    • The fiercely presented wearisome trope of commitment to a Rules Based International Order is quite suddenly unmasked as an American Establishment desire to maintain a unipolar control of the world, with violence. This is being unmasked in much of the world if not NATO and AUKUS and the conservative acolytes in Japan and ROK. Ideological assertions of democracy versus autocracy, built by vilification and isolation of China and Russia, is rotting from the head as big democracies are in serious trouble. We are doing OK in Australia, our minds from age 12 filled with bubblegum flavoured vape and Tiktok, graduating to Facebook and the metaverse, and with a newer, kinder, kinda-tealish government we can all go to sleep, take off our masks and order American franchised fast food. Or real Aussie drinks. But while we have had a narrow focus on bad boys in the SAS we fail to review our complicity in the great crimes of the twenty first century, led by champions of democracy, smashing the lives of people in a number of countries far more violently than has the Ukraine war so far. Biden and his Secretary of State were advocates for invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, so appallingly bringing down bad governments and making countries ungovernable. Creating Al Qaeda and ISIS in the process, directly through funding and arming extremists (in Afghanistan beginning before the Russians were invited into Afghanistan) and via embitterment of ordinary people. The world is destabilised, American control is widely undone.
    • The march of folly in American strategic policy has enshrined the madness of control by a giant defence industry and defence budget now past $800 billion. Poverty of foreign policy has led to regimes of sanctions which have been substantially shaped by Richard Nephew whose book reveals that far from focusing on potentates and oligarchs, the targets of sanctions must be ordinary people and the purpose is to inflict pain and weaken resolve (his words). Consider sanctions related deaths in  Iraq Venezuela Cuba, Afghanistan Pain but no loss of resolve, hatred not submission. The US official study of the effects of strategic bombing on Germany in World War II by J K Galbraith and others long ago suggested morale and resolve were increased by the bombing of cities and civilians. And yet we have the ongoing commitment to defend and achieve democracy by mass murder, with constant focus on disruption, regime change, and violence… not on peace.
    • There is no more important issue than climate. Trump withdrew the US from the Paris Accords, Morrison pretended not to. Australia, Canada, and the United States lead the world in per capita carbon dioxide emissions (apart from some small states and oil producers), emitting around 15 tonnes; the EU 6 (Germany 8… Luxembourg, where the population produces 300kg of steel per capita, is up there with us at 15). China while factory to the world and producer of more than 50% of the world’s steel, 7.6 in 2019. [World Bank numbers]. Biden and now Albanese were quick to signal climate intent internationally. But there is the problem of passing legislation in the US… On 27 July 2022 after prolonged negotiations there was agreement on a so-called Inflation Reduction Act, for expenditure of $433 billion, of which $369 for energy and climate. Democrat Senator Manchin, a coal magnate from West Virginia, who has hitherto opposed all climate spending, agreed but with the stipulation that if the Interior Department plans wind or solar projects on any public land it first must hold a sale of oil and gas leases on that land. The Republican party as a whole, and soon as a majority in both houses, is entirely opposed to climate action. That is to say, the prospective majority of the legislative arm of the United States government wants the planet to die… while also continuing the campaign for a rules based planet under American exceptionalist power. This is existential folly. Barbara Tuchman we miss you!
    • The American constitution of government, with Executive, Legislature and Judiciary equal (very different from Australia), is coming undone. Most celebrated recently in the actual and anticipated reduction of rights by the Supreme Court, a process only just begun. Most dangerous is the legislature where as noted Democrats are blocked by one of their own, a coal magnate senator who lets little of the Biden agenda through. There will likely be a rout of Democrats in the midterm elections this November, for the whole of the House and part of the Senate (there are two senators for each state, six year terms). Electoral prospects are affected also by the efforts in many states to make voting more difficult. The Republican party and major business appear steadily more openly to oppose as far as possible government involvement in anything beyond defence and the massive subsidy of the defence industry and banks, and a capacity to print money. This is the most likely successor to Trump, Florida governor De Santis The American mind is to be narrowed down. Religious fascism.
    • In the executive there is evident enfeeblement of a president of my age, 79, notionally working hours that grey the hairs of young men. He is now universally unpopular, not even Democrats want him to stand again in 2024, though he wants to. His international policies are driven by his long experience in the Senate and as Vice President to Obama; dreaming of past power. Both he and his Secretary of State are foreign policy mainstream conservatives who advocated invasion of Iraq in 2003.
    • Into this separation of powers now comes Democrat Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a long term heavyweight for pro-democracy intervention and regime change, planning a visit to Taiwan to spruik independence. The president says not a good idea but out of my control. The Chinese president and American president on 29 July 2022 had two hours of phone conversation. Reuters reported: “Those who play with fire will perish by it,” China’s foreign ministry quoted Xi as telling Biden in their fifth call as leaders. “It is hoped that the U.S. will be clear-eyed about this.” The aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan and missile cruiser Antietam have left Singapore and are headed north. (The inconclusive Civil War battle of Antietam in September 1862 in a tiny valley near Washington DC was the bloodiest day in American history to now, 22,000 dead or missing in the morning and afternoon.) I do not know what Australian naval or air force elements are entangled, embedded with this venture.
    • Australia recognises, as does the United States, that Taiwan is part of China. Though the media vague up the history, China kicked the Portuguese and Dutch out of Taiwan early in the 1600s, long before the greatest land grab in history, of Britain over the Australian continent, could even be imagined as the British didn’t know it was there then. The government in Taipei is the Government of the Republic of China. The large opposition party in the National Assembly is the Kuomintang, ruling party of the government of the Republic of China that lost the revolutionary war on the mainland in 1949 and retreated to Taiwan. The ROC held the China seat in the UN until 1971 with American backing. The majority of local governments in Taiwan are governed by the KMT because the party of the national government is on the nose both because of its independence-advocating foreign policy and corruption allegations. Pelosi’s visit risks great power war as not seen since 1945. The American right wing is fervently in support. Stanley Kubrick made a movie about such madness, we are sleeping through it.
    • The US economy is in serious trouble. Disrupted by COVID. Made flaccid by many years dependence on China for products of all kinds, and with industry shipped abroad. The economy bulged by COVID recovery funding. Growing inflation and technical recession. Because of the dominant anti-socialist, anti-interventionist (other than in subsidy of major industries and banks) perspectives, there is no control over inflation other than by the Federal Reserve lifting interest rates. Not only does this inside the US favour the rich and hurt the poor , but also much the same is the case internationally. There is a big shock arising from US interest rates in Asia. Also in Australia: there is a big difference between US housing loans, predominantly at fixed rate, and those in Australia, predominantly variable, shifted in response to official interest rate changes. Where the US needs a sharp yank on the reins of interest rates to get results, such action has greater impact outside the US. The US dominated International Monetary Fund wants to give no more loans to Asian countries in trouble, including Sri Lanka. China is blamed for Sri Lanka’s debts but borrowing from China represent less than 10% of total foreign borrowing. See this not-friendly-to-China Indian study
    • The US dollar is the reserve currency of the world and the US government can print money to cover its huge fiscal deficit. This situation is made more serious as Japan and China are, for their own economic reasons, reducing their near trillion dollars of holdings of US government bonds. They may each see emerging risk in having such exposure. China is succeeding in getting more trade transactions settled in Chinese currency. Saudi Arabia thinks it’s wise to do that with China. India and Russia want the same kind of shift from the USD, Russia has more leverage.
    • The US campaign for unipolar dominance has included partly fabricated propaganda against China and Russia. This no longer convinces or concerns a wide sweep of the world beyond NATO, the G7, the EU and AUKUS. Mix in enough lies and it all seems lies.
    • The summit meeting of BRICS in June seemed a more constructive meeting than the G7. The countries of Eurasia also have the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation SCO. The  Iran,Russia, Turkey summit meeting in Tehran  in July 2022 seems to have been more successful than President Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia to meet also other Arab leaders, a visit described by the Wall Street Journal as worse than an embarrassment, with no success in getting more oil onto the market, no turning Arab countries away from growing ties with China, no agreement to sanction Russia, no advance on the mad notion of war with Iran. A new rail line from Russia to Iran with plans to connect it to ships to India has been opened. The American desire to frustrate development of the overland Eurasian world is not succeeding.
    • The Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles in June exposed erosion in support for the United States because the US refused to invite people it did not like; therefore the Mexican president and others stayed away. There is unraveling of the 1823 Monroe Doctrine of US dominance of the western hemisphere. The Cuban president, Miguel Diaz-Canel addressed a ‘peoples summit of the Americas’ held at the same time, from home. Part of the live broadcast is here.
    • The ferocity of sanctions against Russia this year has speeded the diversion of US oil and gas to Asia and away from Europe.
    • In the 1950s Mao used the expression ‘paper tiger’ to describe the US: “Outwardly a tiger, it is made of paper, unable to withstand the wind and the rain.” In the mid1970s, heading towards normalisation of relations with the US, the Chinese Foreign Minister spoke of the US having “ten fingers on ten fleas” to describe American overreach and in particular the failure of the US war in Indochina and absence thus of any threat capacity of the US against China. It could be said that the US now has ten fleas under ten fingers… but it has two lively ambitions afoot: to antagonise China and damage Russia.
    • As Dostoevsky observed, we tend, in seeking to see the world, to look in a mirror. The United States in looking at the world sees threats. The world, broadly speaking, is not like the US. Australia, with our military imperialist views, is similarly misguided. Forty seconds of useful words from an intelligent young Chinese entrepreneur can be listened to here.
    • There is a podcast accessible on Patreon and YouTube called Fall of Civilisations… serious presentations about civilisations and how they came to an end, so far fifteen episodes,  by Paul Cooper an English writer with relevant doctorate One of these is about the end of the Bronze Age in the eastern Mediterranean, suddenly, around 1200 BCE Literate societies, writing, maintaining financial and trade records, big cities trading with each other. Appearing to be eliminated by climate change and food shortage, with evidence of violence and fire in many cities; also with the arrival of ‘sea people’, probably climate and starvation refugees. There is gentle comparison with our present global situation. The big point to me being that crises are not gentle or slow, but come about in lurches, much as a brain tumour works, growing and pressing and with pressure in a confined space smashing parts of the brain suddenly and unpredictably.

The world is littered with failed civilisations, proud people… none of whom believed they would fail and disappear.

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