By the beginning of the 20th century many of the children of this country's Robber Barons had traded hands-on control of the industrial empires their progenitors built for money. In the words of the American economist Thorstein Veblen, they had become 'absentee owners' - their money parked in Wall Street and its banks; their agents, the bankers and financiers scouring the globe for new opportunities to invest it profitably. Their main competitors were the descendents of European and particularly English 'Old Money'. With the American Frontier now closing and the task of industrializing the economy nearing completion, more and more new opportunities for the profitable investment lay beyond the country's borders.
Previously preoccupied with developing a continent they had plundered from its indigenous inhabitants, the focus of the country's ruling class increasingly shifted to 'Great Games' of economic and political dominance beyond its borders. They had competitors in Old Europe among whom the game became increasing violent, ultimately culminating in WWI. The United States came late to the game. But it was beginning to experience the same economic pressures that motivated Europe's ruling classes to look beyond their borders to protect the source their privileges and power -- their money. Having divested themselves of hands-on control of the industrial empires they inherited, the only remaining source of power, privilege and even sustenance was their money -- and specifically its ability to earn more money.
WWI offered the American ruling class a breather. It could have shared more of the wealth the country's workers were creating with them. This was, in fact, an approach with which it experimented following the Great Depression and WWII, with the New Deal and an American lifestyle of planned obsolescence and conspicuous consumption that rapidly devoured the nation's remaining natural resources, particularly its cheap oil. But WWI allowed the United States to postpone that experiment while it sold the weapons with which to destroy themselves to its competitors in Great Game for world domination.
Make no mistake. If it comes to pass, a Syrian war will be all about the Great Game -- NOT highly dubious claims about the Syrian government's use of poison gas against its own people. In fact, U.S. Middle Eastern foreign policy since the end of WWII has been ALL ABOUT the Great Game. And that Game is increasingly less optional for the country. Having burned through its once vast oil reserves in an orgy of waste and war, having off-shored its industrial preeminence in an ill-advised quest for short-term gains and financial liquidity, increasingly all the country has left is its money.
As events since the 1971 demise of the Bretton Woods International Monetary System - requiring the United States to back the money it created with gold - and more recently the 2008 financial crisis have shown, that money can be created easily enough. What the United States increasingly lacks is something the rest of the world wants and needs to buy with it.
So, having reduced itself to a nation with nothing to export except debt - money IS debt, an obligation of the entity that creates it to at some future time supply real wealth for it to purchase - the country is increasingly reliant upon the willingness of the rest of the world to continue accepting its money. But even the most creative accounting and financial engineering can not forever hide the fact that, increasingly, the country no longer has anything to offer for the money it creates. So what began as an optional contest to acquire and control outlets for real wealth has now become a struggle to insure the continued acceptance of its debt, i.e. its money.
It isn't just the control of the production and distribution of oil that is at stake in the Middle East chess game. And Syria is just one move in that game. Having lost its monopoly over the production of things the world wants to buy, it is increasingly critical for it to maintain its monopoly over things the world NEEDS, principally energy, i.e. oil, natural gas, etc. If Russia, China or even the country in which oil or some other vital natural resource resides controls access to that resource, the rest of the world no longer needs the United States or its money.
This is all the logical outcome of a half-century or more in which the United States has been allowed to become the "consumer of last resort'; in which its Congressional-military-industrial complex has been allowed to devour increasingly large portions of the country's wealth, in which those entrusted with the nation's security have been forced to accept weapons they neither want nor need so the country's politicians can continue to dispense jobs and patronage unchallenged -- all of this to avoid allowing its citizens to at last realize the promise of a "leisure society'; and perhaps above all so the wealthy - not just in this country but around the world -- can continue to maintain the fiction they and their money are still needed.
If the world doesn't at least see through this fiction of money as wealth -- and soon -- it shows every promise of destroying what 8000 years of human civilization have built.