With today’s video I try something new. Most of my video scripts come to me more fully formed, in a rush of inspiration. With this “Avoiding the British Empire” series, I’m trying something more ambitious. The first 9 episodes of the video series are meant to work with each other, building the case, and helping viewers arrive at a picture of the world that grows with each installment. The series is meant to be greater than the sum of its parts. I’m not sure this has been entirely successful. I tend to focus on making discrete points and individually successful videos. My writing process is like that as well. This series is the first I can think of, where multiple videos started out as “Oh, I need to do this in this video”, rather than as a loose collection of thematically related issues. Many of the videos in the series predated the over-arching series structure. Today’s video did not. What do you think?
Video Transcript after the jump…
Hey there. Over the past two years Great Power Competition has supposedly become the guiding light of US strategy. It is also, as we will show today, a ridiculous myth. In foreign policy discussions we hear over and over that the world is a dangerous neighborhood. We should be scared, and we need to be ever vigilant, because there are bad people out there beyond our front door, and they are coming to get us. There are bad people in the world. But the thing is, we in the United States are not just one neighbor among many in the bad neighborhood that is the world. We are the landlord. If the neighborhood is falling apart, that’s on us.
In January of 2018, US policy changed dramatically. Since 2001, The main foreign policy priority of the United States had supposedly been fighting terrorism. I have a 40 + video series, called Everybody’s Lying About Islam on how useless that effort has been, but at least it was something the American people thought they wanted. With January 2018’s new defense strategy the Pentagon quietly announced a shift to Great Power Competition against countries like Russia and China. This seismic shift went largely unexamined, because we were all too busy watching the President Trump show.
The only nice thing about this shift in strategy is that it’s more honest. We in the United States have already been counter productively pursuing this great power competition strategy for like 30 years now. We have a huge foreign policy establishment that was built to fight the cold war, and it just kept on fighting it, long after the Soviet Union voluntarily dissolved itself.
Our main target for much of a century now has been Russia. When this competition started the Soviet Empire out weighed the US population by tens of millions of People, and the cold war opened with their ideology swallowing up whole continents. 70 years later the Soviet Empire is gone, Russia has embraced a crappier version of our guiding ideology and there are almost 200 million more of us than them. Despite all the hype, in the six years since NATO expansion finally turned them rogue, Russia isn’t taking continents, it’s largely failing to take individual provinces of its old empire.
The parallels between the US and British Empires should be jumping out at you here. A Russia that is never as intimidating as advertised was a key feature in the drive towards militarism in both empires. As I keep emphasizing in this series, this isn’t just stupid and fraudulent, it’s dangerous. This drive towards war, territory, and formal empire is what killed the British Empire and it’s probably what will kill the US Empire too.
Don’t think the US is building formal territorial empire? Well what If I told you that the United States has already been militarily involved in Iraq for three times as long as the British Empire was? The British had semi-formal influence in Afghanistan for longer than us, but they never managed to physically occupy the place for more than a year or two. We are closing in on 20 years. We also have a metastasizing network of military bases all over the world. We don’t technically control any of these countries, but if you don’t think these bases represent a heavy finger on the scales in the politics of all host countries you are fooling yourself. All this empire has cost trillions. Those trillions could have built the world’s best healthcare system, or brought us back to 1950s levels of income equality. Or it could have cut US national debt to a quarter of what it is today. Hell, the money we have spent on forever war could have done all of that. Instead, all it has really accomplished is to turn Iran into a somewhat annoying regional power.
Iran, a problem created by US empire building, is now being used to justify more empire building. This great power competition thing really is a perpetual motion machine. By putting military installations everywhere, we spread our vital national interests everywhere. In so doing we embarrass ourselves, pumping up every local bully into an Adolf Hitler level threat. We spend trillions to defeat foes that spend hundreds of dollars to kill our soldiers.
At the turn of the 20th century the British did exactly the same thing in South Africa.The British eventually won the Boer war, but only after incredible financial and moral cost. That’s the best case scenario for what we’re building up to with the Iranians.
The conflict with Iran is taking on more tragic dimensions every day, but it’s US empire building in another area that is likely to bring the war that ends US power. I am no utopian. I believe that US competition with China will define the 21st century. But as the more powerful player we get to define rules of the game. The competition could have been about building better electric cars and the race to cure cancer. Instead, we spent 20 years doing a war on terror, so the competition is about missiles and who can do a better job brutalizing Muslims. It’s some pretty sick stuff that will only lead to sicker stuff, much like that scramble for Africa the British started back in the 1880s.
This is all pretty grim, but none of this is hopeless. The US is still so much more powerful than anybody else, that all we have to do to end the pointless tragedy of hyper military “great power competition” is decide to end it. I believe one of the best ways to convince Washington DC to do this is to learn from the British Empire’s bad example, so I wrote a book about it.
Avoiding The British Empire is available now in paperback and ebook form. Please do check it out. Come back next time when we will discuss Halford Mackinder, the man who originated a lot of the bad ideas behind US empire.