Just as nature abhors a vacuum, history is hostile to the concept of empire. Many have come, but all have disappeared, some sooner than others. The Romans endured, but finally degenerated into tolerating Emperor Caligula and an equine Senator. And fun and games at the Coliseum. Always bread and circuses, and sometimes the latter more than the former. That's when empires get in trouble. The Thousand Year Reich fell somewhat short in terms of longevity. The Hittites. Assyrians. Egyptians. The Mongols. The British. The Soviets. The Americans. The American Senate is filled with horses' asses, and Bush proved every bit as crazed and delusional and sadistic as Caligula.
Empires are the political equivalent of the Ponzi scheme. In order to survive, they must constantly grow. And as they are inherently racist, violent, and indifferent to the 'inferior' people they exploit and degrade, they sow the seeds of their own destruction with every new conquest, with each passing day of imperial occupation. Myopia accompanies hubris, and imperial nations always think they're doing favors in spreading their superior 'values' and fail to see that in the long term the cost of doing so becomes insupportable in terms of blood and treasure. The USSR could never have 'won' in Afghanistan, just as the British couldn't and the Americans (NATO) won't. (As if America is there to 'liberate' Afghan women and bring democracy to drug lords. Even American servicewomen aren't safe from brave American male fighters, and rape in Afghanistan and Iraq is rampant as the Generals turn blind eyes.) Neither France nor America could have 'won' in Vietnam, and the US can't 'win' in Iraq. That would be to acknowledge that the practice of mass imprisonment, torture, murder, the criminal use of hideous weapons such as DU and white phosphorous (which Israel is now using in Gaza), indulging in war crimes such as destroying water and power infrastructure and hospitals, employing snipers against civilians, all these things represent desirable 'higher values' which must be imparted to the ignorant masses. It's a strange sort of democracy that really doesn't mind killing you, in fact prefers it.
Empires always need myths to help justify and sustain the violence. Myths of moral superiority, racial superiority, religious purity, of largesse, of Exceptionalism. 'We are God's chosen! We're the Supermen! We need elbow room ('lebensraum')! We need to teach you our superior values!' Never 'We want your damn oil!' Over generations, unchallenged myths lead to collective madness. Japan in China. The Holocaust. Israel in Gaza. Hiroshima and Nagasaki. America in Iraq. America in Afghanistan. America in the world.
In order to promote mythical superiority and docility in a population, it is useful to avoid teaching history (or much else, for that matter). Thus Japanese children are still not taught that Japan was an aggressor in Worlds War II, or what Japan did in China. Israeli children are not taught that heir beloved nation has conducted a slow but sustained and sadistic holocaust against a people whose land they unequivocally stole, and continue to steal. American children are not told that their great nation was founded on a myth-inspired genocide against its original inhabitants that was so savage and sadistic that Native children were fed to dogs. They don't know that scalping was originally a purely Pilgrim pastime. Or that smallpox was deliberately spread to the native population through 'gift' blankets. 'Oh, you shouldn't have...'
Indeed there are American high school history teachers who think that Abraham Lincoln was a Founding Father, who couldn't tell you who H. R. Haldeman was, who couldn't identify a picture of President Gerald Ford. VP candidate Sarah Palin never heard of the Bush Doctrine. (Perhaps she thinks the Monroe Doctrine is something to do with Marilyn: 'Don't sleep with the President-you betcha, that's it.') President Bush didn't know that Iraq has two varieties of Muslims, Shia and Sunni. Yet he killed roughly half a million of each. His official spokesperson, Press Secretary Dana Perino, didn't know that there was such a thing as the Cuban Missile Crisis. 'The what?' Democracy depends upon an informed electorate. An ignorant population is easy to manipulate by disingenuous demagogues. Through lies, through fear, through disinformation. And then a Bush can happen. And inevitably does.
Empires have a way of crumbling. In 'good times' the Ponzi Scheme works; influence is pedaled, nations are bribed, or intimidated, or invaded, and the entity grows, albeit at considerable monetary cost and in terms of resentment on the part of those being exploited/dominated. Inevitably there occurs a tipping point at which empire can only be sustained at a direct cost to the Imperium's domestic population. Then cracks can begin to appear.
Regulated capitalism brings cycles of boom and bust, and responsible governments use fiscal and monetary policy to either slow or stimulate the economy as required. In recent times in the United States we saw a largely unregulated economy (or rather regulated for the rich) along with an irresponsible Federal government, with the result that there has ensued a financial crisis the likes of which has perhaps never been encountered, and which has spread and is still spreading around the world. It's not part of the normal economic cycle, like the recession of the '80's. Because of the purposely obscure machinations (hedge funds, credit default swaps, derivatives, obscure 'instruments' admittedly not even understood by the banksters) that happened on Wall Street, the full extent of the disaster might not be known for some time, and might be much worse than predicted. Millions of people could lose their homes. Millions of jobs have already been lost, and trillions of dollars. Some 20 million families face a credit default of some sort (homes, credit cards, car loans, etc.) There was a panic bank bailout amid threats of 'blood in the streets', but there's still no accountability, and no one knows where the money went, except for lavish parties executives threw for themselves, and of course, bonuses, bonuses, bonuses. The world economy is possibly facing its greatest crisis ever, one induced directly by American greed and hubris. The guy in charge of handing out the cash is a Wall Street insider himself, who 'earned' $500 million by doing nothing but pushing paper. The banksters were bailed, the little guy failed.
At the same time as America is conducting two illegal, immoral, unwinnable wars (whatever 'winnable' would be in the circumstances), even as it contemplates perhaps two more (Iran and Pakistan) it also maintains around seven hundred bases in foreign countries from Bulgaria to Kyrgyzstan, Djibouti to Japan. And everyplace in between: 130 countries. (Exception-Ecuador is expelling the US military from Manta, saying that it will reconsider when Ecuador is allowed a military base in Texas.)
That's a total of roughly1,378,014 military personnel. Probably a lot more.
The US military budget is unknown because so much of it is secret, the so-called 'Black Budget'. Plus components are 'hidden' elsewhere, such as the Department of energy ($23.4B), Department of State ($25.3B), Veterans' Affairs ($75.7B), Homeland Security ($45.4B), Department of Justice ($1.9B), Military Retirement Fund ($35.8B), NASA ($7.6B) Military Recruitment ($1.03B), etcetera. It's not clear if Blackwater $1222 per diem x 20,000) or other mercenary outfits are included, or Halliburton's cost-plus compensation for its valuable rebuilding efforts in Iraq (subsidiary KBR has so far managed to electrocute to death sixteen (16) service people in separate incidents, in separate showers over a long period of time. Bad wiring. It is unrepentant. Halliburton supplied untreated Euphrates water as drinking water to service people at exorbitant rates. They got sick. Halliburton got paid.)
The US spends roughly 54% of its global yearly budget on its military, although it tries to disguise that fact. American military spending accounts for approximately 47% of world military spending, or about $1.1 trillion dollars per annum. Plus the Black stuff, and lots of it, including the insane 'Star Wars' program.
Given the seriousness of the financial disaster at home, President elect Obama will face a difficult decision immediately upon taking office: maintain America's policy of 'Full Spectrum Dominance' worldwide on land, sea, air, space and cyberspace, or immediately abandon all Imperial ambitions, close down wars and military bases in order to attempt to maintain the economic well-being of the domestic population. He can choose diplomacy over domination, or risk facing increasing social unrest at home, with the prospect of the use of military force against the American people, for which plans are already in place. Halliburton Hiltons have been built throughout the nation and await the welcoming of up to two million 'guests' (Try to avoid showers, or drinking water.) New weapons have been devised by Raytheon and other evil weapons dealers for use against crowds. They can be used lethally. Using the military against civilians would be protracted, bloody and brutal. They would use snipers. They would target children, just as they have done in Iraq. They would use mass terror as a tool. But such aggression would represent yet another unwinnable encounter by the military, as the majority of people would have nothing left to lose. Americans would become the new Iraqis, the new 'insurgents' fighting for their rights and their lives and their land. They would take losses, but they couldn't lose over time, except that the nation would inevitably fracture in ways that are not predictable.
Farfetched? So eight years ago was the prospect of supremely arrogant and ignorant people such as George W. Bush and his crooked cronies wreaking perhaps irremediable havoc on the United States and the world. And just look what they've accomplished without even trying very hard! Compassionate conservatism? No. Sadistic kleptomania. Full Spectrum Delusion.
Stop the wars, no matter what the monger Generals say.
Close the bases. Create jobs for returning service people.
Stop threatening other nations.
Stop exploiting other nations and people.
End the insane and humiliating servility to Israel.
Stop nuclear weapons production and the production of all weapons of mass destruction.
Re-honor the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Geneva Conventions, and other treaties and agreements abrogated by the Bush Administration.
Cease being the world's largest purveyor of arms. Ban land mines, cluster bombs, and illegal, savage weapons such as napalm, and white phosphorous (both used on civilians in Iraq).
Put an absolute end to extraordinary rendition, torture, assassination. Don't just pretend to-really do it.
Close Guantanamo, Bagram, Camp Cropper, and every other foreign prison, including secret ones. No exceptions. Set free all prisoners held illegally.
Don't topple democratic governments or interfere in the affairs of sovereign states, except through acceptable diplomatic means.
Respectfully participate in the United Nations.
Recognize the World Court at The Hague.
Recognize food as a human right (The US is the only nation not to do so.)
Establish universal health care. It's sanity, not socialism.
Establish a meaningful and honest education system for everyone.
Re-establish banking and investment regulations beginning with the return of the Glass-Steagal Act.
Restructure the World Bank and IMF as constructive instruments rather than exploiters.
Remove all food and foodstuffs from commodity-trading.
Restore the division between Church and State.
End illegal spying activities and honor the Constitution.
Restore equilibrium amongst the three branches of government.
On behalf of America , apologize to the world for the past eight years, and promise measures to ensure it never happens again. Investigate and prosecute crimes, including death under torture.
Rejoin the family of civilized nations.
Mr. Obama has a unique opportunity to enact bold and audacious (and perhaps nation-saving) change that would astonish the world and begin to restore some of America's lost honor. Of course this would entail some risk. Or he can preside over the impending disintegration of the USA. In that case, Bush will forever have his place in history as the worst ever President, and Obama as the last.
Bread or circuses. Sometimes you have to decide.
John S. Hatch is a Vancouver writer and film-maker.