I think about history a lot. And when historians look back to the beginning of this century, I’m beginning to get the sense that the only story they will be able to tell is one of US imperial consolidation. This could easily be just one part of a three-parter, but I don’t think I’m going to bother to tell the other parts of the story, because they are adequately covered elsewhere. Most know that US oil and gas is now dominant in the world, and that the US dollar is stronger than it has ever been. But few understand how much our own foreign policy disasters cleared the way for that dollar and petro-supremacy. With today’s video I lay that out…
Does the United States do any strategic thinking at all? During the Cold War the United States was focused on defeating the Soviet Union, and everything was secondary to that. Even the insult of the explicitly anti-American Iranian revolution was largely ignored in the name of fighting the Soviets. The US government colluded in arming Iran during the 1980s after all. But for the thirty years since the cold war it really hasn’t been about focus… it’s been about finding or creating the enemies necessary to keep the defense money flowing. We’ve been going everywhere and been acting as offensively as possible to keep the world dangerous.
We have clearly reached the limits of that approach. Biden’s supposed withdrawal from Afghanistan (I’ll believe it when I see it) could be an early recognition of this. The US is still overwhelmingly powerful, but when we’re on the border of an enemy that cares infinitely more about a piece of territory than we do, like Ukraine or Iraq or Taiwan, we can’t effortlessly exert our will anymore. If we continue to act as unwisely as we have in the past two decades, we seriously risk getting caught out in a much more serious way than the Iraq disaster. The most obvious way this could happen would be if we somehow blunder into a simultaneous war with Iran and China, in two different regions. With today’s video I examine that possibility, and come to the obvious conclusion that the best thing we can do for the security of Taiwan is get back into the Iran nuclear deal. Fewer enemies mean we might be able to more effectively compete in the rivalries we maintain.
To some extent, today’s video is about what empire means. Is it just about territory? I think not. Later in the week we will show how the British Empire quickly disintegrated after it lost something more intangible: its “informal empire”. This concept is pretty amorphous, and as I think about the way I’m using it this week, I think I may not do a very good job of sticking to just one definition either. Informal Empire includes what is currently known as “soft power”, the financial and cultural weight that a society has, distinct from its military power. But I consider some aspects of military power to be part of “informal empire” as well. If you are undertaking some sort of quick punitive expedition to get people to act more in accordance with your wishes, I think that’s informal empire too. Obviously, when we’re talking about military action, the lines between informal and formal empire become less clear.
I think my definition of informal empire probably includes everything that is not formal empire. If you’re not planting a flag, or a near century-long “temporary presence” like the British had in Egypt, we’re talking informal empire. US military bases abroad are formal empire. Everything else the US does in those countries, from the bankers to the diplomats, to the fact that people in that country love Apple iPhones… is informal empire. I hope this has been clarifying rather than mystifying, and I hope you enjoy today’s video “Is the United States an Empire?”
Today’s video skirts an interesting question. How much do the US people know about the power our government, financial and legal sectors exercise in the world? My sense is not much. I have this, perhaps naive, hope that if they did have a better sense of that power, they would want the US government to use that power more responsibility. Instead, at this point we’ve got a government and media that actively misleads the people on this topic, and often misleads itself.
A key part of Washington DC’s ability to benefit from ever increasing defense budgets is keeping people scared. Emphasizing that US financial and legal power is capable of shutting down almost any real threat would kind of sabotage that effort. So we pretend that places like Russia and China are somehow independent actors that can do us harm, rather than stakeholders than are almost as wrapped up in benefiting from the status quo as the US is. I dunno. It’s something I think about a lot.
This one answers a very specific question. Turkey has been acting in ways that the US and the EU disapprove of for at least four years now. Elements of the problem go much farther back, but up until the Gezi park protests in 2013, and the accompanying crackdown, the West was pretty much on board. That hasn’t been the case for quite a while now. But it’s only recently, in the past few months that real cracks between Turkey and Western countries have become visible. Why did it take so long?