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Is the U.S. in Decline?

Steven Jonas
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In The New York Times Sunday Book Review of April 8, 2012, Jonathan Freedland considered two recent books on the above subject (1).   One book is Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power, by Zbigniew Brzezinski.   The other is The World America Made, by Robert Kagan.   Interestingly enough, in the past both authors have had major roles to play in the United States' current "Crisis of Global Power" and in creating "The World America Made" (which is not so fun).


Brzezinski was, among other things, Pres. Jimmy Carter's National Security Advisor.   His major claim to fame in that role was that he persuaded Pres. Carter to authorize the setting of the "Afghanistan Trap" for the Soviet Union.   He has boasted, correctly, that he set out to create the "Soviet Union's Viet Nam," and indeed he did.   In 1978 a pro-Communist, pro-Soviet government was elected in Afghanistan.   There followed a complicated series of assassinations and coups among the leftists themselves.   Eventually in 1979, one of their number called in Soviet troops to protect his government. At this point (or perhaps earlier) the United States began organizing and arming various right-wing rebels of various ethnicities among the number that form the non-homogeneous population of Afghanistan against the government.  


One of the many foreign CIA trainees was a young man from Saudi Arabia named Osama bin Laden.   He was a son of a powerful building contractor in that country, who happened to be a long-time friend and business partner of George H.W. Bush.   At any rate, with persistent US supply and training, the rebels were eventually able to force the Soviets to withdraw, an event connected with subsequent break-up of that country in 1991-92.   After a subsequent civil war among various warlords, the Pashtun-based "Taliban" eventually came to power.   Of course, bin Laden went on to form al-Qaeda, "9/11" occurred, the US invaded the "Graveyard of Empires" (going back to that of Alexander the Great), and now is caught in the same kind of quagmire that the Soviet Union was in.   Ah yes, the blow-back from this Brzezinski policy has a major role to play in creating the "Crisis of Global Power," that is the U.S. global power that presently concerns the man.


Then there is Robert Kagan.   Going back to the 1990s, he was one of the original post-Gulf War architects of the invasion of Iraq.   In a book edited by himself and Bill Kristol (2), one of their close associates, Richard Perle, laid out the case for invading Iraq and overthrowing the regime of Saddam Hussein. He even went so far as to mention by name one long-time Iraqi exile, Ahmed Chalabi, as a really good choice for future leader of the country once Saddam was gotten rid of.   Funny how Chalabi turned to be a likely Iranian agent. (How ironic too but that's another story.)   Iraq and blow-back again.   Oh my.   Anyway, so here we are in a world made in part by major U.S. Presidential decisions made in major part on the recommendations of these two authors.   And we are having the two "authorities" tell us just what needs to be done to make things right, for the United States, of course.


According to Freedland, Brzezinski does recognize the present parlous state of U.S. world power. Kagan is apparently sunnier, although he does recognize that certain "things need to be done" if the U.S. is to maintain its hegemony, or at least what Kagan imagines as its hegemony.   For Brzezinski a central element is fixing the "dysfunctional, paralyzed political system," in order (in part) to deal with the "ever-widening inequality" between the very rich and the rest of us.   For Kagan, it's returning to/maintaining the "liberal economic order," yes indeed, that marvelous G.W. Bush era of environmental and finance de-regulation and unfettered finance capitalism that brought on both the ever-widening income/wealth gap in the U.S. and the current U.S./world economic crisis in the first place.


Both men have blinders on.   Kagan doesn't recognize the connection between the current economic crisis and the "neoliberal economics" of which he was such a strong salesman.   Brzezinski doesn't recognize that the U.S. political system that he describes as "dysfunctional and paralyzed" is hardly either, for those who own it.   With an occasional hiccup caused by Obama-"centrism," the political system is working very well for them to achieve their primary goals: the ever-widening income/wealth gap and as much financial and environmental deregulation as possible.  


What both men miss is a much more important point.   It is the political economics of capitalism that has brought the United States to its present precarious over-militarized, over-extended, deeply-in-debt position on the world stage.   The "good old days" of manufacturing-based American capitalism are gone forever (overseas).   They will not return, the best suggestions of folks like Thom Hartmann and Ed Schultz to the contrary notwithstanding.   T he single goal of capitalism is to make the highest possible profits for the owners of the means of production.   But, capital perpetually experiences a falling rate of profit and then is perpetually transferred elsewhere.   This pattern was established in this country back in the 19th century when the owners of the textile industry abandoned the rapidly unionizing New England mills for greener pastures (for themselves) in U.S. South.   Now, as that industry has fled to even lower wages in China and elsewhere, the South is littered with abandoned mills, just as New England still is, as well as, of course, abandoned workers.


And so, what does capital do domestically to get higher rates of profit than it can from manufacturing?   It gets into trading pieces of financial paper, exploiting the non-renewable sources of energy, and, when the real estate market is good, developing as much available land as possible, then selling and re-selling what is put on it.   The first and third are what a now-obscure Russian political economist named Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov a century ago called finance capitalism and the second is a form of exploitation of the Earth's natural resources that even he could not imagine.   All three are unstable, as has been and is being clearly demonstrated.   That the U.S. now stands on this economic base is the reason why it faces its "Crisis of Global Power."   Indeed the U.S. is in decline, hoist by its own petard, in part created by the recommendations of our two authors, in one way or another.   Its present "parlous state" as a world power will not, indeed cannot, be fixed by straightening out its "dysfunctional, paralyzed political system," which indeed, to repeat, has come into being to protect its present economic form, not reform it.   Nor will more of the same "neo-liberal" economic policy, which, to repeat, happens to underlie the current economic form do the trick.   What will?   Stay tuned.   One of these days we may get back to that one.





1.        Freedland, J., "The Big Bang," The New York Times Sunday Book Review, April 8, 2012, p. 1.


2.        Kagan, R. and Kristol, W., Present Dangers: Crisis and Opportunity in America's Foreign and Defense Policy, 2000.

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Steven Jonas, MD, MPH, MS is a Professor Emeritus of Preventive Medicine at StonyBrookMedicine (NY). As well as having been a regular political columnist on several national websites for over 20 years, he is the author/co-author/editor/co-editor of 37 books Currently, on the columns side, in addition to his position on OpEdNews as a Trusted Author, he is a regular contributor to From The G-Man.  In the past he has been a contributor to, among other publications, The Greanville PostThe Planetary Movement, and Buzzflash.com.  He was also a triathlete for 37 seasons, doing over 250 multi-sport races.  Among his 37 books (from the late 1970s, mainly in the health, sports, and health care organization fields) are, on politics: The 15% Solution: How the Republican Religious Right Took Control of the U.S., 1981-2022; A Futuristic Novel (originally published 1996; the 3rd version was published by Trepper & Katz Impact Books, Punto Press Publishing, 2013, Brewster, NY, sadly beginning to come true, advertised on OpEdNews and available on  (more...)

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