Later, as the scale of the U.S. defeat in Iraq was becoming difficult to suppress, the government quietly conceded what had been clear all along. In 2007-2008, the administration officially announced that a final settlement must grant the U.S. military bases and the right of combat operations, and must privilege U.S. investors in the rich energy system -- demands later reluctantly abandoned in the face of Iraqi resistance. And all well kept from the general population.
Gauging American Decline
With such lessons in mind, it is useful to look at what is highlighted in the major journals of policy and opinion today. Let us keep to the most prestigious of the establishment journals, Foreign Affairs. The headline blaring on the cover of the December 2011 issue reads in bold face: "Is America Over?"
The title article calls for "retrenchment" in the "humanitarian missions" abroad that are consuming the country's wealth, so as to arrest the American decline that is a major theme of international affairs discourse, usually accompanied by the corollary that power is shifting to the East, to China and (maybe) India.
The lead articles are on Israel-Palestine. The first, by two high Israeli officials, is entitled "The Problem is Palestinian Rejection": the conflict cannot be resolved because Palestinians refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state -- thereby conforming to standard diplomatic practice: states are recognized, but not privileged sectors within them. The demand is hardly more than a new device to deter the threat of political settlement that would undermine Israel's expansionist goals.
The opposing position, defended by an American professor, is entitled "The Problem Is the Occupation." The subtitle reads "How the Occupation is Destroying the Nation." Which nation? Israel, of course. The paired articles appear under the heading "Israel under Siege."
The January 2012 issue features yet another call to bomb Iran now, before it is too late. Warning of "the dangers of deterrence," the author suggests that "skeptics of military action fail to appreciate the true danger that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose to U.S. interests in the Middle East and beyond. And their grim forecasts assume that the cure would be worse than the disease -- that is, that the consequences of a U.S. assault on Iran would be as bad as or worse than those of Iran achieving its nuclear ambitions. But that is a faulty assumption. The truth is that a military strike intended to destroy Iran's nuclear program, if managed carefully, could spare the region and the world a very real threat and dramatically improve the long-term national security of the United States."
Others argue that the costs would be too high, and at the extremes some even point out that an attack would violate international law -- as does the stand of the moderates, who regularly deliver threats of violence, in violation of the U.N. Charter.
Let us review these dominant concerns in turn.
American decline is real, though the apocalyptic vision reflects the familiar ruling class perception that anything short of total control amounts to total disaster. Despite the piteous laments, the U.S. remains the world dominant power by a large margin, and no competitor is in sight, not only in the military dimension, in which of course the U.S. reigns supreme.
China and India have recorded rapid (though highly inegalitarian) growth, but remain very poor countries, with enormous internal problems not faced by the West. China is the world's major manufacturing center, but largely as an assembly plant for the advanced industrial powers on its periphery and for western multinationals. That is likely to change over time. Manufacturing regularly provides the basis for innovation, often breakthroughs, as is now sometimes happening in China. One example that has impressed western specialists is China's takeover of the growing global solar panel market, not on the basis of cheap labor but by coordinated planning and, increasingly, innovation.
But the problems China faces are serious. Some are demographic, reviewed in Science, the leading U.S. science weekly. The study shows that mortality sharply decreased in China during the Maoist years, "mainly a result of economic development and improvements in education and health services, especially the public hygiene movement that resulted in a sharp drop in mortality from infectious diseases." This progress ended with the initiation of the capitalist reforms 30 years ago, and the death rate has since increased.
Furthermore, China's recent economic growth has relied substantially on a "demographic bonus," a very large working-age population. "But the window for harvesting this bonus may close soon," with a "profound impact on development": "Excess cheap labor supply, which is one of the major factors driving China's economic miracle, will no longer be available."
Demography is only one of many serious problems ahead. For India, the problems are far more severe.
Not all prominent voices foresee American decline. Among international media, there is none more serious and responsible than the London Financial Times. It recently devoted a full page to the optimistic expectation that new technology for extracting North American fossil fuels might allow the U.S. to become energy independent, hence to retain its global hegemony for a century. There is no mention of the kind of world the U.S. would rule in this happy event, but not for lack of evidence.
At about the same time, the International Energy Agency reported that, with rapidly increasing carbon emissions from fossil fuel use, the limit of safety will be reached by 2017 if the world continues on its present course. "The door is closing," the IEA chief economist said, and very soon it "will be closed forever."