Is this the beginning of the end for the American “Empire”? Not an empire in the historically traditional sense i.e., Roman Empire, British Empire, but one where the presence of supremacy over other sovereign nations was the direct result of the global extension of economic and military power, not colonization. This extension of power was accompanied by a projection of the notion that a democratic republic offered societal supremacy. The notion that a people representative government, a democracy, combined with free market capitalism, could create the most powerful nation on earth. The notion has become fact.
The next question is, will the American “Empire” meet a similar end as its predecessors in history? Or, will the American “Empire” endure and overcome the failings of previous imperial regimes because its global influence is not one characterized by oppression and colonization? Is it the right time in history, as well as the right combination of political and economic systems, that will allow the United States of America to escape the failings that led to previous imperial declines? Further, has the American democratic, capitalistic system empowered it to build military technology that enables the ability to exert power and control without colonization? The answer is clearly yes. Has the American system become an engine of economic power and wealth creation that will allow it to continue to dominate the world stage? Again, yes. Have we evolved enough to allow American global dominance to continue, or will our demise be of our own making? This is the central question.
Reflecting briefly on previous imperial failures, first from Rome…
The Roman Empire lost the strengths that had allowed it to exercise effective control over its Western provinces; modern historians mention factors including the effectiveness and numbers of the army, the health and numbers of the Roman population, the strength of the economy, the competence of the Emperors, the internal struggles for power, the religious changes of the period, and the efficiency of the civil administration. Increasing pressure from invading barbarians outside Roman culture also contributed greatly to the collapse (editor’s note: does all of this sound eerily familiar to you?). The reasons for the collapse are major subjects of the historiography of the ancient world and they inform much modern discourse on state failure. 1
Where most accounts of British imperial collapse concentrate on the 20th century…. [the] story [begins] on the battlefield of Yorktown, in 1781. It was there that Britain suffered its first major anti-colonial defeat, when Lord Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington, effectively conceding American independence. Rather than portraying Yorktown and subsequent setbacks as anomalies in an arc of imperial ascent, Brendon uses this novel point of entry to reinterpret the British empire as an enterprise whose validity was persistently challenged, from within and without.2
….and finally, in the micro sense, with the NETFLIX TV series continuing these themes, placed in Birmingham England, the “Peaky Blinders” context.
The series revolves around the notion of social classes and empires, and how they rise and fall with a startling sort of predictability. As the show suggests, over time, empires become too big, too corrupt, and too complicated to sustain themselves and eventually, they collapse. …[T]he series expresses its fears of expansion by teaching Tommy a powerful lesson about the other sharks skulking around in criminal waters – especially when those criminals are the ones involved in governmental plots with massive geopolitical implications. Essentially, Peaky Blinders embarked on a fish out of water story by moving outside its own comfort zone and taking the risk of expanding too much and too quickly. There are times when that risk appears to have paid off[.] 3
Wars have been won and lost but the global expansion of various forms of market-driven, capitalistic economies continue to emerge and thrive. The former Soviet republics, Viet Nam, and China are prime examples. In some cases, national governments provide macro market control, but private enterprise is the heart of the system.
Aside from the recent parody of expansionism experienced with Denmark’s “refusal” to sell Greenland to the U.S., this country’s consistent attempts to exert influence politically, by deploying military resources to “hot zones”, has largely been deployed physically from one of the fifty states or a few bases on friendly foreign soil. Those on friendly foreign soil are typically under mutually beneficial defense agreements with fully sovereign nations and these have become fewer over the years since WWII.
Given the desired U.S. global persona is one of respect and decency, with no stated or unstated intentions of imperial colonization, U.S. military personnel or assets visit many foreign nations each year for largely benign reasons. Yet, these all send a message that should hostilities be deemed necessary between the U.S. and a foreign entity (sovereign nation or amorphous political or religious group) the U.S. is the nation with the greatest ability to project its military might to anywhere in the world with significant speed and firepower.
Should early signs of difficulty between the US, or our allies, and a foreign power become known, the U.S. diplomatic corps, with stations in virtually every nation, will lead efforts to find a peaceful solution. The U.S. Department of State holds a position of tremendous strength and importance, with virtually limitless resources (financial resources, military power, intelligence assets among others), to address any concern or threat.
Unlike in the Roman or British case, where communication and central control became a primary causes of failure, today communication and central control is virtually instantaneous from Washington. Our resources can be deployed from seconds to hours not weeks and months during which the situation could morph several times.
Yet what about the internal causes for failure? In the past, opposing political forces eventually found compromise in order to achieve the best outcome for the country and the world. Today the divides are so deep and visceral. Compromise doesn’t appear to be on anyone’s mind. The strategy appears to be to wait for absolute domination to strike and achieve one-sided goals.
The demographic trends point to increasing voter strength for liberal causes with clear intent to enact socialist policy. Some would point to nations like France and Great Britain whose world influence has considerably waned as more and more of their financial resources are diverted to pay for internal social welfare programs limiting the funds for military strength or to support foreign policy initiatives; even straining funds for internal security forces to battle terrorism at home. France has openly declared it does not have enough resources to track all internal terrorism threats. Despite more and more socialistic spending, the French people have protested almost daily the inadequacy of the social programs to help them meet basic daily needs for life.
One could easily see that occurring in the United States. The current president is often derided for his isolationist policy pulling back on military intervention across the planet. Once socialism is in power here, and decisions must be made for either “guns or butter”, funding for the military and foreign influence will most certainly face major reductions. Our ability to address foreign threats on foreign soil will be vastly diminished. As the French have discovered, the foreign battlefield has been exchanged for one at home though open borders, massive social spending and inadequate homeland security resources. Since 9/11, no other western nation has experienced more significant and bloody terrorist-led attacks.
The path American Socialists will take us down will be no different. Under the weight of increasingly heavy government social program spending, taxes will rise dramatically. And not just on the “rich”; President Obama declared that any family making $150,000 per year in income must be considered “wealthy”. The Green New Deal will triple utility rates and fuel prices for decades waiting for the promise of carbonless renewable energy to meet the demand. “Free” healthcare for all, “free” college for all would bring tax increases of 25%, or likely more, for virtually all taxpayers (including the middle class with the promise of “free” government services as justification). The strain will bring the economy to a crawl, funding for innovation and entrepreneurism will dry up. Over regulation and high taxes will drag us into recession. When recession inescapably occurs, tax revenues will trend much lower, so tax rates must rise again just to remain status quo. This cycle will repeat itself until the weight of taxes and regulation collapse the economy. Taxes will cause an innovation drought. Job creators, left with no investment incentive, will withdraw to protect what wealth they have left. Markets will collapse as joblessness, homelessness and hunger grow on an exponential scale. Federal program funding runs dry and the U.S.’s ability to borrow reaches an end. The American dream and American global leadership will become a fond memory.