A smaller America could be a stronger America

By Nader Mousavizadeh
August 25, 2011

By Nader Mousavizadeh
The opinions expressed are his own.

Last week, China quietly launched the aircraft carrier Varyag from the port of Dalian. The ship is expected to be deployed to Hainan province in close proximity to the strategic regions of Taiwan and the South China Sea. Amidst an atmosphere of existential gloom triggered by the debt-ceiling debacle and the deeper economic crisis, the reaction in the United States was dominated by the fear of a rising, militarist China challenging America’s global superiority. What few in the United States bothered to mention, however, is that the new Chinese carrier was built from an unfinished Ukrainian hull purchased in 1998 – and is the first and only aircraft carrier China has ever had. The United States, meanwhile, has eleven.

The real problem with the U.S. response was not, however, that it exaggerated the Chinese threat. It is that it greatly overestimates the benefits, to America, of the country’s continuing quest for global supremacy – politically, economically and militarily. To lament America’s decline from a dominant position of unaffordable and unsustainable strategic burdens is, in fact, to mistake an opportunity for a threat. For all of the past decade’s concerns around the world about the reach and military assertiveness of U.S. unilateralism, it seems increasingly clear that its principal casualty has been the U.S. itself. America is choking on the edifice of empire and the sooner it’s dismantled, the easier will be America’s return to a leading – not the leading – position as a dynamic, innovative economy.

Consider briefly what the past decade’s economic policies, military interventions and strategic priorities have brought the country: a Great Recession, debts that are fundamentally irrecoverable, a credit crisis, a housing collapse, and two wars with immense costs in lives and treasure. A country that employs more than one million people within its intelligence community, and still is surprised by the Arab Spring, is not being efficient with its resources. Waste and corruption are endemic to any enterprise of this size – and the U.S. military-industrial complex has been no exception.

Six numbers tell the story of empire’s price in stark terms: federal deficits, gross debt, military spending, infrastructure investment, income inequality and now endemic joblessness:

  • Seen over a ten-year span, federal revenue has largely stayed constant, rising from $2.02 trillion in 2001 to $2.17 trillion in FY 2011. Expenditures, meanwhile, more than doubled from $1.85 trillion to $3.82 trillion producing a deficit this year of $1.65 trillion.
  • Over the same period, gross U.S. debt has ballooned to over $14 trillion (roughly 100% of GDP) with net debt standing today at $9 trillion (of which 50% is held by non-U.S. entities).
  • Defense expenditure over the same period has risen from approximately $300 billion in the year prior to 9/11 to $700 billion in FY 2011, and the figure is hundreds of billions higher if military spending outside the Defense Department is included. The total costs (estimated and very likely low-balled) of the Wars of 9/11 in Afghanistan and Iraq now stands at some $1.5 trillion, financed of course entirely by deficit spending.  The result is that the U.S. now spends more on its defense budget than all other countries combined.
  • The U.S., which once led the world in infrastructure development, now spends just 2.0% of GDP in such investments, as opposed to 5% in the EU and 9% in China. Of the 30 largest infrastructure projects globally, half are in developing economies and just five are in the U.S.  A single Chinese project (the $150 billion North-South water diversion plan) involves more than double in total investment ($65 billion) of all five current U.S. projects.
  • Looking at the U.S. gini coefficient, the most commonly used measure of inequality, no country in the developed world today has a greater gap between rich and poor.  U.S. inequality is currently at levels not seen since the first decade of the 20th century – and greater even than in 1929.
  • Finally, last week’s payroll report for July showed that nearly fourteen million Americans are now out of work, and more than six million of them have been jobless for more than six months. For more than two years, the unemployment rate has been close to or above nine per cent – and if you include those people who’ve given up looking for work it’s nearly double that.

If this is what global dominance looks like, who needs it?

Not that such a recognition appears anywhere on the horizon when listening to U.S. politicians or policy-makers – from either side of the political spectrum. Instead, reactions appear divided between those on the far right who appear to wish for perpetual hegemony while blithely defaulting on the full faith and credit of the U.S.; and those on the left who are hoping that the present crisis could trigger a second “Sputnik moment” – one that will shock America into redoubling its efforts to achieve global leadership through responsible policy-making. What this hope – fanciful as it seems today – assumes is that restoring the country to its pre-eminent global position is actually a good thing for America. It isn’t.

A nation that thinks it can do anything will do everything – deploy its military to wars of questionable strategic value at a vast cost in lives and treasure; issue IOUs in the trillions to finance consumption; turn the advantage of international reserve currency status into a curse by spending far beyond what creditors are likely to tolerate in the long term; and sustain the fiction of entitlements that no serious observer thinks will be honored.

A victim of strategic gluttony, America has gorged itself for the past two decades on unbridled consumption and military expenditure. And now, like an aging prize-fighter mounting the scales in advance of a major bout only to find that he’s disqualified on grounds of weight, the U.S. will need go on a crash diet.

None of this is to ignore the unique threats and responsibilities that the United States faces today – largely, though not completely, as a consequence of its hegemonic status. 9/11 was an attack on the country that required a strong and sustained global response. Nor is it to discount the future need for the U.S. to help provide essential global public goods – in trade, economy, and security.  It is rather to say that even those challenges will be met more successfully by a rebooted and re-sized America that engages with the world as a strategic partner, and not as patron.

From Brazil to Indonesia, Turkey to South Africa, the rising pivotal powers are not looking to replace U.S. hegemony with Chinese dependency.  In fact, as they focus on strategies of inclusive growth that sustain accountability and legitimacy, the mobile networked younger generations of these countries will continue to look to America as a model in many respects.  A new partnership with a right-sized America disciplined by limitations and constraints is there to be forged – if only U.S. political leaders are willing to rethink the value of empire.

In an Archipelago World defined by the fragmentation of power, capital and ideas where the winners will be those states able to vertically integrate public and private interests, America’s present global posture is more a curse than a blessing. Competitiveness, growth, innovation, and influence are today more a function of intellectual capital and a high-tech infrastructure built to navigate a resource-constrained future. And if you’re asking yourself who will stand up for the victims of aggression and human rights abuses around the world, an exhausted, over-extended, deeply indebted America “leading from behind” it is not.

Rid of the burdens of empire, mentally and physically, the United States will remain a singular country in the world – with its openness, ingenuity, diversity, rule of law, moral purpose and ability to renew itself. An object lesson in the paradox of power, the decline of the American Empire may well be the best thing that can happen to the American Republic – and the sooner the better.


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

great article… this country was founded against imperialism but look where we are… a failing arrogant nation… no more wars… we do not want to fight other people’s wars including Israel…

Posted by Ocala123456789 | Report as abusive

Excellent commentary. We can start by disengaging militarily in Europe and Asia. Stop subsidizing Israel. Get out of Iraq and Afghanistan as soon as possible. Become more fiscally transparent: get the wars ON the books, and start disclosing the obscene payments to mercenary companies. Scrap “black” budget concepts. Get McDonalds and Starbucks OUT of military bases. Cancel the F-35. Means test for Social Security and Medicare. Reinstitute a Civilian Conservation Corps. Cancel the Bush tax cuts. Drastically reduce corporate farm subsidies. Institute tax penalties for offshoring skilled technical work.

Posted by Quatermass | Report as abusive

Sounds to me like you need to transfer to Russia or better yet find quaint little country ruled by a dictator. The first respondent has it right. America needs desperately to return to its roots and be reminded that our great country was built on collective individual desire to be the best and succeed! Instead, we have chosen a path of demanding more and more be given to our citizens. Why are there over 44 million people on food stamps? Because our illustrious leaders have conditioned a large percentage of our Nation that it’s OK to underachieve and that Uncle Sam will always be there with a handout and a hug for those who are lazy, unpatriotic leeches. Wake up America and let’s take back our Nation! This can be achieved by simply electing individuals to office who want a much smaller and less intrusive government.

Posted by RSDallas | Report as abusive

Well written commentary…

But what are the chances of the US elites buying into the premise that empire is no longer an option? We have a one party oligarchy running the the government. Their constituencies are the ultra-rich, stateless global corporations, Wall Street banksters and the Likud bloc. Whether “demopublicans” or “republicrats” our so-called leaders respond only to the highest bidders.

The corporate media plays along with the charade, providing the illusion of some great debate raging in Washington, while the elite carry on business as usual. The elections of 2008 and 2010 only confirm this — all sorts of talk about change, but business as usual.

Unfortunately it will take some sort of catastrophe or collapse to wake up the American public and “throw the bums out”.

Posted by upstater | Report as abusive

Wow! A journalist who has his eyes open and can think critically! Very rare indeed. Of course, you’ll never succeed. You probably can’t take illogical orders or say stupid things to get more readers like your bosses want. Oh well, a great flash in the pan you were!

Posted by possibilianP | Report as abusive

Sorry, pardon my ignorance. I see you are not a journalist. That explains everything. And you worked for Goldman so you’ve seen some very bad behavior.

Posted by possibilianP | Report as abusive

Have you lost your mind? Not a single recognition of any of the salient points of history and political evolution from the past 100 years. This reminds me of the old quote from Shakespeare about a …”tale told by an idiot, full of sound and furry, signifying nothing.” And this passes for some form of intellectual discourse?

Posted by Thucydides | Report as abusive

All Mr M does is stir the pot without coming up with solutions. We know these things, everyone does, but greed and power blind people

A better article would be:

America getting back to it’s core beliefs. Beliefs that it was founded on. All men are equal and created under God. Reinstitute core faith hope and love, and love of neighbor and all these problems will go away. Turn off the TV. Get off the internet. Go for a walk and figure out what is important.

Posted by cmhmp10sd | Report as abusive

Brilliantly stated, Mr. Mousavizadeh. I note your detractors complained, but failed to explain the bases for those complaints. That said, these points have been made by very many people, very many times. But they DO need to be re-stated at every turn.

I doubt that as elegant, simple and reasoned as this analysis is, the political/financial/industrial sectors can or will heed it. Color me a cynic, but I see no realistic possibility that America will do what it needs to do when it needs to do it. Rather, I believe the absurdity of our direction will continue until it all collapses catastrophically. We WILL experience a re-set, but I am skeptical it will be accomplished rationally and purposefully.

Your effort to steer the readjustment in this way is noble, good, and “ought” to be made. I would love to have my skepticism shown to be unfounded. That can only be accomplished with discourse such as yours here. So thank you.

Posted by BowMtnSpirit | Report as abusive

It is too costly to act as world police even for United State. Now it’s time to let United Nation take care of international affairs. Give United Nation resources and power to do this.

Posted by Anthony1223 | Report as abusive

Wait a minute! You don’t mean we should stop giving a couple billion each year to Israel and Egypt so they won’t shoot at each other do you? How absurd!

Or that we should cut out the billions we give Afghanistan for the meritorious cause of nation building – have you lost your mind? Then there are the extorted billions we give Pakistan lest they fail to keep a close rein on their nukes, surely you are not saying we should cut that spending back. Are you some kind of journalistic heretic?

Or you just might be a journalist with a brain. Now if you’ll go a step further and tell all those that think and sleep “green” the only way to make a difference on our environmental peril is worldwide population control, you could be a genius! But frankly I doubt you have the courage to espouse an idea that really could save spaceship earth. It’s not part of your ilk or politicians either for that matter. Oh well, so much for the wild life habitat and polar ice caps and the human species that caused it all… The sad thing is that the animals are innocent.

Posted by Truth_Teller | Report as abusive

I think this is a great article. We do need to redeploy spending from world domination efforts to domestic strengthening efforts.

Posted by M.C.McBride | Report as abusive

It is too costly to act as world police even for United State. Now it’s time to let United Nation take care of international affairs. Give United Nation resources and power to do this.

Posted by Anthony1223 | Report as abusive

Well, it all sounds good on paper however when you start comparing the numbers and facts to that of other countries they really aren’t that out of whack. And we all know how numbers can be skewed for a cause. Yeah, America’s a little off course but do you want a world without an America? I really like the way the UK is handling things and check out China! How about China for a disparity comparison? There’s no perfect answer but I’ll take my chances in the good ole US of A.

Posted by Jenesequa | Report as abusive

Not a journalist ?? I’m not a fireman but I would know if my house was ablaze. “Journalists” and “Generals” and “Politicians” are NOT the engines of change – they are the mouthpieces of status. Engines of change are the ordinary “folks”. I hope the (so called) planetary leaders are taking stock of what is happening in the middle-east. Contrary to popular belief – it’s NOT the United States of Earth. Societies are important in that they all have a CONTRIBUTION to make toward the greater good of the planet. I’m grateful that it’s not only firebrands that get a chance to speak from the pulpit. Thanks for a well done article.

Posted by SGinOR | Report as abusive

It is a crying shame that Mr. Mousavizadeh’s piece comes off as a uniquely insightful, coherent and intelligent assessment when it should be the norm, if we were not so distracted from the larger picture. It is where we are headed anyway whether we like it or not, and to the extent that we resist the new reality we will only do more damage to ourselves getting there than necessary. How long will it take us to appreciate that we can be leaner, meaner and way more agile in a downsized and reconfigured relationship with the rest of our global neighbors? Bravo for breakthrough journalism!

Posted by marimba | Report as abusive

United States of America were created by gangs and so will no longr be . The Blood of those who has been killed by American Gangs still in usa desert. America is going to end for so many reasons Hurricane,Volcanoes,Earthquake,
and chinese.
We Still remember the Indian

Posted by Million_Friends | Report as abusive

Great commentary. I agree all the way around. I’m the first of Gen X.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive

U.S. leaders are NOT going to take the author’s advice for the simple reason that once you give up the ghost, as it were, on being and remaining the world’s pre-eminent superpower, you give up far, far too much in the way of military superiority, financial and economic superiority and respect and confidence, and geopolitical superiority and influence.

True, true, all these things are already slipping through the U.S.’s fingers. But as most intellectuals do, the author misses the point that the world doesn’t work by idealism, but rather by greed – hence, we’re talking about a disorderly loss of power if U.S. leaders try to give it up in an orderly fashion as the author suggests.

U.S. leaders will rather cling to power and hope they may prevent the loss of global position that is already in process. They understand that to willingly begin to give it up will only cause a cascade of loss of power as America’s decline goes out of anyone’s control and its rivals rush in to fill the vacuum.

Posted by NukerDoggie | Report as abusive

Let’s take a quick survey of other empires:

First they became strong due to domestic innovations. Then they run around the world, exploited or warred on weaker states, plundered and imported all kinds of goodies to make them empires. Finally, they spent all the good stuff they stole but can’t stop the imperial habit, and fall into ruin.

Now let’s take a look at the American empire:

First it won WW2, which left much of the world in ruin except the USA. Global exploitation came naturally, in the name of reconstruction, and America became a world power. The world’s best people arrived in USA and propelled the country to amazing heights just about all areas of human endeavors.

But then Americans started to explain this gain of power in the form of 19th century ideology of Manifest Destiny – which was used to justify invasion and plunder of the west, conquest of the native people, extermination of natural resources, because God has given the new immigrants special destiny to do so.

Renamed Exceptionism in the 20th century, which basically said America is God’s chosen country just because it won a great war, the American people therefore deserves exceptional powers. That it’s global role should be that of an all-wise director, an all-powerful policeman, that its system of government and ideals should be adopted by the whole world.

The other winners of WW2 – USSR, UK, Canada, Australia & NZ, India, China – proclaimed no such fantasy.

By the 80′s, the American self-appointed fantasy turned into delusion as Reagan, who believed America is God’s country, became president. He put what was a hard won prosperity after WW2 into imperial auto-pilot, where it cannot be challenged.

So you see there is a giant difference between other empires and the American empires. Others are founded on the raw calculus of technological & military power, exploitation, economics and trade, all designed to produce a substantial net benefit to the empire. But in order to achieve the great net benefit, no amount of brutality is too much.

America of the past quarter century of imperial rise, strangely, does not know how to do empire in a sound way. It spend, spend more, kick, bully, invade, but don’t know how to kill (i.e. kill by the millions) and plunder (i.e. steal whole country). In short, America is just too inept to be a real empire, and too dumb not to realize it. This is what you get when your grand imperial ambition is founded on glorious self-delusion and self-worship.

Posted by TomKi | Report as abusive

The root-cause of all the 6 perils are rooted starting with Reagan administration and continued to current times with ** wrongful doctrine ** of –

– no tax increases
– no regulations (another name: no big government)
– unregulated-free-trade with duty-free imports
– un-necessary wars
– 3-way job drain: offshoring, bringing H1B cheap labor, and illegals
– impede education funds (pell grants, education dept.)
– impede innovation (to replace inefficient resource use)
– political manipulation made easy

Addressing the above corrupt practices head-on paves the way to the underlying beauty of this system in the form of -

– innovation of great caliber
– most stable democratic system around the globe
– self-correcting system
– world-class education system

The choice is ours – think, speak and act in the greater interest of the future of our next generation and this great country.

Posted by Mott | Report as abusive

The Chinese work for $1.00 and hour no benes. That’s it. They will come up a little to our standard of living, and we will sink a lot to theirs. Short of war, this is it. Get used to the new normal. This is the beginning of a great national gnashing of teeth. The fight for a sliver of the pie has just begun. Social safety nets, tax cuts, military spending – all will be history soon. Make sure your kids like you. That’s who you will be living with in retirement.

Posted by urownexperience | Report as abusive

Congratulations Nader for the expertise and courage of writing such a precise analysis.

Please send a copy of it to our President, in case he is not reading it here.

Thank u, sincerely!

Posted by robb1 | Report as abusive

America has needed a downsizing anyways.

Posted by KyuuAL | Report as abusive

Great responses and a big THANKS for the civil discourse. Blog trolls and zealot lunatics should not be the only representation of internet opinion.

This point in human history is so important. We’ve had plenty of opportunity to see what happens when a society or monarchy or oligarchy decides it’s view is the only view.

I think the author’s point was well represented. We – all of us (not just Americans) – have allowed our individual missions to be completely corrupted. We’re so concerned with being number one (I got mine – sucks to be you) and staying alive that we have completely neglected the “crop in the field”, ie those that we intend to replace us (again – not just Americans). I take the unpopular view that each individual is not really that important. Our primary mission is to prepare the next crew to take the helm and that applies without regard to christian, agnostic, or Darwinian beliefs. And your time to be a viable contributor may end tomorrow. We (America) WILL take a hit on global influence while we get our house in order but, in the overall, we have a chance RIGHT NOW to regroup and be a better – a MUCH better participant and contributor with regard to global issues. That means not necessarily being “Top Dog” for awhile. The driver of change will be the individual members of humanity and not the Pentagon or Congress or Parliament or al-Qaeda.

Posted by SGinOR | Report as abusive

what the dear author should also heed is the fact that all good things come to an end one day. As seen over and over again in the course of the history, great powers reach a pinnacle where people start getting too pampered to work hard and too greedy for the system to sustain. The american dream, once the driving force of the development and enterprise of the american society, is now perceived to be an inborn right of every single american: two cars, a well-paid job, fancy hollidays…, these used to be affordable when Chinese and Indians were not as ambitious as they are now. the rules of the game have changed: rude awakening from “american dream”

Posted by yooni | Report as abusive

Moss-GR wote: “There is a better way. What? By returning to the U.S. Constitution as written? By returning to Traditional American Ideals? Yes those two and one more . . . by advancing towards Science. Without employing Science to reconfigure the four cornerstones of society . . . government, law, education, and medical delivery . . . the adverse consequences are inescapable.”

“Returning to the US Constitution as written?” The US is and has been throughout its history governed by the Constitution, except arguably during the Civil War. Since the Constitution is how the government in this country operates, such comments as these belie a fundmental problem in understanding what the Constitution says and how our constitutional government operates. Usually such comments from from right wingers; I don’t have any idea whether such is the case with Moss_GR. The right wing agenda tends to pick and choose which parts of the Constitution it likes and ignores the rest.

“Returning to traditional American Ideals?” Which American’s ideals are those? Who gets to arbitrate which ideals are traditionally American and which are not? This sort of fuzzy thinking also tends to be part of the right wing- about which, again, I don’t know where Moss_GR stands politically. Slavery and indentured service were a part of the traditional American Ideals for well over a century in our history. So was genocide and the deliberate destruction of indigenous cultures. “We’re all in this together” is anAmerican Ideal as is “everybody should fend for themselves and not depend on others.” Many of our “traditional American Ideals” stand in opposition to each others.

What these conversations usually implicitly include is the assumption that *my* values are the ones that should be followed, and if you don’t then you are a commie/Nazi/tree hugger/right wing whacko/etc.

As for science, on this I must agree. Observable, repeatable facts and the laws of nature that govern them must be accepted in public policy. But science is viewed with deep suspicion by the right wing who do not like having their beliefs challenged by pesky facts (the left wing, sometimes, too but less likely to be so).

Mr. Mousavizadeh overlooks some of the elephants in the living room, which he must given the brevity of the piece and the enormity of the situation. But one of them is the fundamental problem underlying much of our problems economically: the stunning gap between rich and poor, and the gigantic transfer of wealth from the poor and middle classes to the rich especially in the past 30 years. 1% of the population controls 43% of the wealth while 80% of the population control 7% of the wealth. The 19% in between hold 50% of the wealth. This is a top-heavy unsustainable situation and it will ultimately collapse with or without reference to the national debt. The collapse started in 2007 and was slightly arrested by various government interventions such as TARP and other stimulus packages, but the fundamental economic imbalances- and the lies and manipulations that protect them- remain.

Posted by Cunamara | Report as abusive

Great article.

I voted for Obama, but now realize he is the wrong man to stand up to the military.

We need a Roosevelt or a Truman — a president that doesn’t kow-tow to the military, but rather commands them. Obama is not even in that league.

Posted by AdamSmith | Report as abusive

Yes. Let us hope Empire fades quickly, and that those of us who simply want to live in freedom push the imperialists out. They are our greatest enemy.

Posted by txgadfly | Report as abusive

As the economy is the basis of power the U.S. – as Japan before it – will see some relative loss of influence due to its intractable problems with that economy. This is not a new thing, but with the increase of the emerging economies gathering momentum, we might actually start seeing some sort of discussion in the international community instead of unilateral and divisive actions. America has done remarkable things in the past and we are not about to forget its role in the second world war, but times have changed and the world would now be best served by a United States giving a more mature and credible performance than what we have been seeing the last 30 or 40 years. A more cohesive society, for example, should help.

Posted by Lambick | Report as abusive

Who says these fifteen million long-term unemployed people have given up looking for work? All that’s happened is that they are no longer counted in the official unemployment rate reported by the United States Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Of course, in their “unofficial” employment rate, the BLS reports about thirty million unemployed including under-employed and long-term unemployed. I wonder why they have these two statistics?

Posted by ptiffany | Report as abusive

Brilliant and right on target.

I like the phrase that America needs a “reboot”. Not only do we need a reboot but we need a new operating system and a new administrator to run it.

We have a bloated, slow moving, resource wasting, corrupted and non-effective core of over paid bureaucrats and ordinary citizens who feed off of the few remaining hard working taxpayers. As more and more Americans move from the private sector payroll to the public sector payroll our society will remain in a downward spiral. There is a point at which the spiral decline will end. It is a called a system crash. No longer sustainable.

It is time we install a new operating system on a lean and mean machine.

Our current system is nothing like our founding fathers envisioned. We have over 40 million Americans on food stamps, millions drawing unemployment, millions in federal housing plus millions more receiving some type of subsidy.

The time has come to clean House. The House of Representatives.

Posted by Bretfox | Report as abusive

Because of our bad judgements and poor policies in government, it may be time for us to pull back. It also shows how ineffective the American people have been in selecting our government leadership.

Posted by primal | Report as abusive

Wonderful essay Mr. Mousavizadeh. I agree with TomKi for the most part, except we are like every other empire, but can’t agree with Moss_GR because after all, Imperialism is a Traditional American Ideal:

Imperialism gave us many of our western states, by stealing them from Mexico (Mexican-American War); it gave us Hawaii (coup), Puerto Rico and The Philippines (Spanish American War) all the American protectorates in the Pacific (Samoa, Palau, Guam, etc.) after taking them from the Germans and Japanese, and provides us with 702 overseas bases in about 130 countries (DoD Base Structure Report 2003).

I would certainly call the acquisition of the above territories exploiting the weak. Also, we were one of the first nations to benefit from the Industrial Revolution in part because of our “unlimited” natural resources.

So, unless TomKi was being sarcastic, there isn’t a very big difference between the U.S. empire and many others. The U.K. (lording over the great unwashed), China (the Middle Kingdom [re]acquired quite a bit of its empire in the 20th century (Manchuria, Tibet, Inner Mongolia, and Xinjiang)and the U.S.S.R. all thought of themselves as a special, exceptional nation above all others.

Posted by Andvari | Report as abusive

I still believe that the rebel, freedom seeking spirit will sustain this country that has defeated a few expantionist tyrants. It is so simple to analize and critisize while benefitting from the gift horse. Give me a break.

Posted by mdblitz | Report as abusive

Hi there, my global citizen friends,

It has been a really bad one year or so with the global financial crisis dragged on for more than 3 years now, the unrelenting natural disasters and rioting in certain parts of the world, it is time for all of us to really stop, reflect and think profoundly what have happened, what human being has done so far. One of the causes that I immediately strike me is Greed. Greed for power and money. Human being is self destructive when this element comes in play. By arriving at this conclusion, I have also noted the current government system and financial system are fundamentally based on this greed for power and money element. Government is the only organisation that is big enough and has the power to build a nation or equally right destroy a nation. May be a more accountable and responsible government system is overdue. I guess to make the government more accountable and responsible, the people should be able to have a more effective and timely say. This would include voting out bad eggs more easily. Each and every citizen should be able to vote electronically on a regular basis based on the performance of their government not just in the general election. The current financial system especially the banking system is also fundamentally flawed as it basically encourages people to take on debts and using other people money(OPM) in irresponsible way. I guess we human being tend to be outsmarting itself and become the victim of its own making. The sad part is nobody really bother to even think along this line let along bothering the consequences.

Posted by myglobalvoice | Report as abusive

Truly brilliant. Elegant and insightful analysis of the cost and benefits (or lack thereof) of American “power”. We waste trillions on an illusion, while millions go without the basic healthcare that the rest of the world takes for granted. Forget the thousand page studies, congressional debates, and all the rest. This opinion lays out the problem (and the solution) in a nutshell. If only we had a government with the brains to realize it.

Posted by Jehosephat | Report as abusive

We are following in the same path that lead Russia into bankruptcy, Trying to run the world, and neglecting our own needs. While we spend trillions chasing oil supplies, China and others are becoming self sufficient through investments in fuel free renewable energy. While we neglect our infrastructure and our people, we spend too much money improving the infrastructure in Iraq and Afghanistan, because we blew it all up. For the cost of one patriot missile, we can buy one 2MW wind turbine. One produces safe fuel free electricity for 30 years, the other is gone in seconds and destruction that needs repair is the result. Multi-national corporations get hand outs but have allegiance to no country. Their profits are sent overseas and hidden in tax shelters. We give capital gains tax breaks under the guise of spurring investments, but with no requirement to invest in our country.

What are our dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan doing for our needs? How well are our efforts at policing the world being appreciated by others? http://www.thenation.com/blog/161378/aro und-globe-us-military-bases-generate-res entment-not-security

We have been told that the terrorist hate us for what we have, but actually they hate us for what we do. Bombing civilians is no way to win friends and influence enemies. Bribing warlords just provides money for them to buy the knives they use to stab us in the back. We need some real analysis of military effectiveness and some real accounting of our modern military needs.

One point in this article struck a cord; referring to the rule of law and traditional ideals, where have those ideals gone? Where is the respect for the rule of law? That seems to be in effect only for the “little people”.

Posted by aligatorhardt | Report as abusive

Hubris brings down so many empires. Rather than regroup and rebuild the nation we engaged in massive over reach. Holding onto an empire voraciously consumes lives and treasure. We can no longer control the world. That time has past. We can however thrive in it.

Posted by neruda1 | Report as abusive

Yes, but not likely any time soon – and certainly, not as a result of policy from the top.

The elites of both parties will work hard to keep this terminal patient alive. For a while, they’ll try to fund military empire on the backs of the poor, the old, the sick, the young – not to mention the country’s physical infrastructure.

Inevitably, however, reality will force their hand.

Posted by jrpardinas | Report as abusive

These United States intellectual and academic institutions are why we go to war. Not to solve other peoples quandaries yet to invest into a collective of people who are more diverse, efficient and intelligent. We the people who created the idea of a nation not bound by worldly laws and desires

Posted by coreyspofford | Report as abusive

In general, I think this is a pretty clear-eyed assessment of the situation. We are building schools, roads, infrastructure on the other side of the planet while our own infrastructure at home falls into disrepair. All in the name of “opening markets” and keeping the great pyramid scheme going (some call it progress or globalization). Like a junkie who has to get worse before he gets better, maybe a major breakdown is good for us in the long run. Doesn’t feel great right now, but in the end, I agree, a smaller America might be a better America. It’s a position that could be called isolationist, or even defeatist, but sometimes less is more.

Posted by Nullcorp | Report as abusive


Anybody who knows a bit of US history, like you, would detect a good dose of sarcasm in my piece.

The facts speak to the bottomline: As an empire in the classical sense, America has failed. The country loves the idea of superpower but denies any imperial ambition. I call this the America Oxymoron. It acted as world conqueror but does not have the necessary intellectual and executive competence. The Bush 2 era brought this absurdity to new height – a bunch of 19th century cowboys from Texas running around the Middle East with guns blazing, expecting a Hollywood movie finish. They and their money cronies just about bankrupted the country. The imperial net benefit is most negative and has trickled down to the middle class. Do not expect solutions from these kind of people.

Posted by TomKi | Report as abusive

We need to reshape our whole society, but not in the Dominionist way, but through a Third Constitutional Convention. Our world is thoroughly upside down. People who claim to know the necessity of their deadly activities. Psychopathy and Sociopathy are rewarded in our society, but Honor, Integrity, Productivity and Safety are always expected, but these people do not get a break on the Inflation upon Food, Medical, and Utilities (Monopolies). Even without a Third Constitution, we each can behave not to exploit but to creatively participate. Machiavillianism is lauded, but it does not create a beautiful world, but one of constant war and fretting. Love is the answer, for now.

Posted by WillElectrician | Report as abusive

Man you guys are all idiots. You slap the Imperial label on the U.S. as a simplistic way to win an argument and look smartish at the same time. Stop being so intellectually lazy.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”

That is what America seeks to bring to the world, and that is why no benefits of Empire are immediately apparent; because America seeks no Empire, merely freedom and liberty for all mankind.

Is it America’s right or obligation to do so (unilaterally or otherwise)? That point can be fairly argued by either side, but don’t pretend that the U.S. is conquering nations in order to pillage their economies, China currently does a far better job of that simply with money. And the next time there is a crisis in the world, notice which country everyone else immediately turns to with demands that the wrong be righted.

America’s altruism is enormously expensive for America, and 11 aircraft carriers is not enough to do the job everyone expects of it. From an isolationist point of view, the U.S. could eliminate its defense budget and be much better off economically and it is economies that win wars and cold wars.

The far right in the U.S. makes the mistake of thinking that Ronald Reagan ‘defeated’ the Soviet Union. Nothing could be further from the truth. It was 50 years of economic competition that defeated the Soviet (that and the courage of Gorbachev). Now we face the same competition with communist China, only this time without the advantage of containment policy. Another aircraft carrier group won’t defeat communism in China, only a strong economy will.

And “Empire?” Puhlease!

Posted by PapaDisco | Report as abusive

There’s always Empires Anonymous

Posted by toca-aqua | Report as abusive

I can accept much of what the author has to say, but there are some notable exceptions.

First, it doesn’t matter that America has a 11 to 1 advantage in aircraft carriers when specifically considering the Taiwan/Formosa problem due to the proximity of the island to China and the fact the neither China or America wants to go to war over this issue. In the short term, the new Chinese aircraft carrier simply adds an exclamation point to China’s claim on that island and it will be even more useful in adding an exclamation point to China’s claim that the oil beneath the South China Sea is not in international waters.

Second, America’s surprise over the Arab Spring was feigned. As Mr. Mousavizadeh inadvertently points out, the converse is unlikely.

Something akin to the Arab Spring was a major consideration in the neo-con reasoning behind the most recent invasion of Iraq. When we were not welcomed as liberators as the neo-cons had hoped and the war dragged on for several years, the fomenting and/or aiding and abetting of the Arab Spring was delayed but not completely abandoned. Because the regime in Iran has thus far survived and has not moved away from its tipping point, America’s efforts in that region have surely not drawn to a close.

Third, if Iran develops nuclear weapons, the current regime will be emboldened to exert control over the Strait of Hormuz not just for profit, but as part of an overtly stated goal to weaken and subdue the West. The consequences of that strategy would be catastrophic.

There is also a genuine possibility that Pakistan’s nuclear weaponry could suddenly fall under the control of Jihadists. It seems to me that America has a legitimate interest in preventing these situations. If not America, then who? Though I’m not at all certain that we are proceeding in a best possible manner, neither am I certain that I have a better plan.

As the author points out, many of the rest of America’s problems can indeed be attributed to the avarice and hubris of a too powerful America.

Posted by breezinthru | Report as abusive

Excellent article quantifying things which clarifies why empires fail. The US is repeating the history of overreach going back to the Macedonians, Romans, French, British, Germans, Japanese, Soviets and many in between. If we can pull back before imploding, we may again be the first in history to succeed in a great experiment. Can America redirect its values so that the good of the many again outweighs the wants of a few, as our founders envisioned?

Posted by kolea | Report as abusive

Thanks breezinthru for those salient points. However why are these problems just the US’s? Doesn’t Iran and Pakistan pose a threat to others? And why does Israel need to find a solution to their legitimate concerns when the US ensures that business as usual will suffice for now? I’m sorry, but if those are reasons to have the world’s police force, why aren’t we in all the conflicts of the world? The answer is usually oil (with Pakistan and Afghanistan being a notable exceptions). But while our crusade in Iraq toppled Saddam and freed the oil for the private sector, it did nothing for the American people. Rather than continue to build up our military for protecting our “interests” (read “oil” for the private sector), we should be using our resources to build us up internally and extend our hand diplomatically through nation building. It’s far cheaper, threatening, and more successful.

Posted by LEEDAP | Report as abusive

Brilliant!! China, Russia, India, Brasil, Iran , the SCO. ect.. are the answer!

Posted by boldie | Report as abusive