Is the US Global Empire Actually in Decline? Part 2

By Stansfield Smith and Roger D. Harris  –  Sep 25, 2021

PART 2: MILITARY AND IDEOLOGICAL FORMS OF DOMINATION

The US regards as its Manifest Destiny to rule the world. The US bosses equate their national security interests with global security interests; no place or issue is insignificant. The US sees its role as defending the world capitalist order even if narrow US interests are not immediately and practically involved.

The Question of a US Military Decline
The second central element of the waning US empire argument is based on the US armed forces failures in the Middle East wars. However, they overlook that the US rulers suffered more stinging defeats in Korea 70 years ago and Vietnam 50 years ago, when the US was considered at the height of its supremacy. While over 7000 US soldiers and 8000 “contractors,” a code word for mercenaries, have been killed in Afghanistan and Iraq, this is much smaller than the 41,300 troops killed in Korea, or the 58,000 in Vietnam. Although in wars against Iraq, Somalia, Libya, Syria, and Afghanistan, the US ruling class could not achieve its aims, these peoples’ anti-imperial struggles were derailed, a US key objective. To the extent the peoples of these countries “won,” they inherited a country in ruins.

Likewise, the rising British empire suffered defeats at the hands of the US in 1783 and 1814, but this had little impact on 19th century British global ascendancy. 

Save Iraq in 1991, the US has not won a war since World War II. Yet even in its heyday, the US military did not take on and defeat another major power without considerable outside aid. Spain was mostly defeated in Cuba and the Philippines before the US attacked. The US entered World War I after the other fighting forces were reaching exhaustion. In World War II, the Soviet Red Army broke the back of the German Wehrmacht, not the US. Only against Japan did the US military play a key role in crushing an imperial rival, though even here, the bulk of Japanese troops were tied down fighting the Chinese.

While today, the US military is reluctant about engaging in a full-scale land war, this has been mostly the case for the whole 20th century before any alleged imperial deterioration. Previously, the US rulers proved adept at not entering a war until it could emerge on top once the wars ended. 

The “Vietnam syndrome,” code word for the US people’s opposition to fighting wars to defend the corporate world order, continues to haunt and impede the US rulers when they consider new military aggressions. This “syndrome,” which Bush Sr boasted had been overcome, has only deepened as result of the Afghanistan and Iraq debacles. Yet the corporate class took advantage of these wars to loot trillions from public funds, with working people to pay the bill.

RELATED CONTENT: Is the US Global Empire Actually in Decline? Part 1

The US is spending over a trillion dollars to “upgrade” a nuclear capacity which could wipe out life on the planet.  Even if US military capacity were diminishing in some areas, this is immaterial so long as the US still can, with a push of the button, annihilate all it considers opponents, even if this means a likely mutually assured destruction. The US also possesses similarly dangerous arsenals of biological and chemical weapons. It is not rational to think the US rulers spend mind-boggling sums of money on this weaponry but will not use them again when considered necessary to preserve their supremacy.

The US empire’s military dominion remains firmly in place around the world. Peoples struggles to close US military bases have met with little success. US ruling class de facto military occupations overseas continue through its over 800 bases in over 160 countries. These constitute 95% of the world’s total foreign military bases.

To date, if there has been any lessening of US military destructive capacity, no new armed forces or uprisings have dared to take advantage of this. If some national force considered it possible to break out of the US world jailhouse, we would be seeing that.

Hybrid Warfare: US Regime-Change Tools Besides Military Intervention
Military victory is not necessary for the US rulers to keep “insubordinate” countries in line. It suffices for the US to leave in ruins their attempts to build political and economic systems that prioritize national sovereignty over US dictates.

When incapable of overturning a potential “threat of a good example” through military invasion, the US may engineer palace coups. Since 2000, it has succeeded in engineering coups in Honduras, Bolivia, Georgia, and Haiti, to name a few.

Alternatives to fomenting a military coup include the US conducting lawfare to overturn governments, as seen in Paraguay and Brazil. The US ruling class also skillfully co-opts “color revolutions,” as seen in the Arab Spring and in the implosion of the Soviet bloc. Worldwide, the US regularly violates the sovereignty of nations through its regime-change agencies such as the CIA, USAID, and NED. 

Besides invasions, coups, lawfare, election interference, and color revolutions, the US relies on its command over the global financial system and the subservience of other imperialist nations. This enables the US overlords to impose crippling sanctions and blockades on countries that assert their national sovereignty. The blockades on Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, North Korea, and Syria constitute a boot on their neck, which have only become more severe the more these peoples valiantly defend their independence. 

Condemnation of these blockades by working people and nations worldwide has yet to have material effect in constraining this imperial cruelty against whole peoples. Rather than a decline of the US empire’s ability to thwart another country’s right to determine their own future, there have been changes in method, from overtly militaristic to more covert hybrid warfare. Both are brutal and effective means of regime change.  

US-First World Ideological Hegemony
The corporate leaders of the West wield world dominion over the international media, including news services, social media, and advertising. Their Coke and Disney characters, for instance, have penetrated even the remotest corners of the world. Today most of the world’s viewers of the news are fed a version of the news through media stage-managed by the US and its subordinate allies. In addition, there are almost 4 billion social media users in the world, with six social media companies having more than one billion users. China owns just one of these. Only the US and its subordinates have world reach in their control of news and social media, while China does not. 

Ramon Labanino, one of the Cuban 5, illustrated how the US rulers use their media to foment the July 12 regime change operation in Cuba:

“We are in the presence of an international media dictatorship, the big media are in the hands of imperialism and now the social networks and the alternative media also use them in a masterful way. They have the capacity, through data engineering, bots, to replicate a tweet millions of times, which is what they have done against Cuba. A ruthless attack on social networks and in the media to show a Cuba that is not real. On the other hand, we have an invasion in our networks to disarticulate our computer systems so that even we cannot respond to the lies. The interesting thing is the double purpose, not only that they attack us, but then we cannot defend ourselves because the media belong to them… Within the CIA, for example, they have a special operations group that is in charge of cyber attacks of this type and there is a group called the Political Action Group that organizes, structures and directs this type of attack.

Worldwide use of media disinformation and news spin plays a central role in preserving US primacy and acceptance of its propaganda. As Covert Action Magazine reported:

United States warmakers have become so skilled at propaganda that not only can they wage a war of aggression without arousing protest; they can also compel liberals to denounce peace activists using language reminiscent of the McCarthy era. Take the case of Syria. The people and groups one would normally count on to oppose wars have been the ones largely defending it. They have also often been the ones to label war opponents as “Assad apologists” or “genocide deniers”—causing them to be blacklisted.

The ruling class media’s effective massaging of what is called “news” has penetrated and disoriented many anti-war forces. This illustrates the appalling collapse of a world anti-war opposition that almost 20 years ago had been called “the new superpower,” not some decline of the US as world cop. Corporate media operations play a role comparable to military might in perpetuating US global control.

PART 3: THE THREAT US RULERS PERCEIVE IN CHINA

Secretary of State Blinken spelled it out:

China is the only country with the economic, diplomatic, military and technological power to seriously challenge the stable and open international system, all the rules, values and relationships that make the world work the way we want it to, because it ultimately serves the interests and reflects the values of the American people.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin responded to Washington’s view that the international system operates primarily to advance US corporate interests: “The ‘rules-based order’ claimed by the US…refers to rules set by the US alone, then it cannot be called international rules, but rather ‘hegemonic rules,’ which will only be rejected by the whole world.”

RELATED CONTENT: China’s Growing Influence in Central Asia and the Middle East Will Lead to Further US Decline

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov recently said:

The United States has declared limiting the advance of technology in Russia and China as its goal…They are promoting their ideology-driven agenda aimed at preserving their dominance by holding back progress in other countries. 

The Challenge China Presents to US Rulers Differs from that of the Soviet Union
China’s development poses a threat to imperialist hegemony different from the former Soviet bloc. China competes in the world markets run by the Western nations, slowly supplanting their control. China’s economic performance, 70 years after its revolution, has been unprecedented in world history, even compared to the First World countries. In contrast, the Soviet economy after 70 years was faltering.

China does not provide the economic and military protection for nations striving to build a new society the way the Soviet Union had. The importance of the Communist bloc as a force constraining the US was immense and is underappreciated. The Communist bloc generally allied itself with anti-imperialist forces, encouraging Third World national liberation struggles as well as the Non-Aligned Movement. The Communist bloc’s exemplary social programs also prompted the rise of social-democratic welfare state regimes (e.g., Sweden) in the capitalist West to circumvent possible socialist revolution. 

Now, with no Soviet Union and its allies to extend international solidarity assistance to oppressed peoples and nations, countries such as Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea are much more on their own to defend themselves against US military maneuvers and blockades.

As John Ross points out, China is capable of slowly supplanting US-First World power over a long period of time, but in no position to replace these imperial states as world hegemon, nor does it desire to do so. US products are being driven out by China’s cheaper high-quality products and China’s more equitable “win-win” business arrangements with other countries, offering the opportunity for Third World countries to develop. However, China cannot displace the US in the world financial system, where the US and its allies retain overwhelming control. 

The US has proven incapable of impeding China from becoming an independent world force. No matter the tariffs and sanctions placed on China, they have had little impact. Yet, the US has caused China to digress from its socialist planned economy, through US corporations and consumerist values penetrating the Chinese system. 

 

 

Featured image: US map hanging on a lifesaver in the middle of the sea. File photo.

SS/RH/OT

Stansfield Smith
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Stansfield Smith is a Chicago based anti-imperialist activist. He was active for over a decade in the Chicago Committee to Free the Cuban 5. His work is now on ChicagoALBASolidarity.wordpress.com. He has written on Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador for the Council on Hemispheric Affairs and on North Korea for Counterpunch and others.

Roger D. Harris
+ posts

Roger Harris from Corte Madera, California, has a special interest in Venezuela and Cuba. He is on the central committee of the Peace and Freedom Party and is involved with the Niebyl-Proctor Marxist Library. He is also a Certified Wildlife Biologist and conservationist, leading whale watching trips for the Oceanic Society and birding for the Marin Audubon Society. He is on the Marin County Parks and Open Space Commission. He is retired from an employee-owned environmental consulting firm, where he specialized in endangered species, wetlands, and native habitat restoration.