The rising demonstrations in Egypt and Yemen, following the overthrow of the Tunisian government and tensions in Jordan and Lebanon is extremely serious, amounting to a region-wide insurrection. In Turkey, fortunately, the generals have allowed the accession to power of a genuine nationalist government, so the conflagration is unlikely to extend there. But Iraqis could very easily decide that now is the time to end American hegemony in that country. The troops in-country are no longer front line combat troops and, even if they were, it’s unclear what they could do. As I posted when it happened, “The prolonged wars that the United States has engaged in have shaken the very foundations of its power.”
Civ III, which is in many ways a laughably simplistic game employing racial stereotyping and reducing complex issues of international relations to simple bribes, nevertheless manages to capture this effect reasonably accurately. Genuine democracies are more productive than more authoritarian governments so, as long as they are militarily strong enough to deter threats of war, they tend to outperform authoritarians. However, when they engage in prolonged wars, democracy breaks down, the society becomes less productive with the rise of authoritarianism, and eventually–if they don’t end the wars–they decay into anarchy.
The US has been engaged in war really since 1941. After the World War, the Cold War started immediately, and had within it wars in Vietnam and Korea as well as dozens of interventions worldwide. Then, when the Cold War ended came the Gulf War. There was a brief lull in which there was still the Bosnian conflict, and then 911 with subsequent wars that have raged longer than any other American conflict. Of the 70 years since World War II began, only about 30 years have been even nominally free of open conflict.
At every stage since the end of World War II, the United States has alienated allies and made enemies around the world. It has done so by installing and sustaining dictatorships, by calling nations with shady elections, an unfree press, and brutal police states “democratic”, and by failing to deliver to the populations of many countries the prosperity that they see on television… even if most Americans live much more humbly. It has refused to lead on issues of vital interest to most of humanity, the refusal to do anything about global warming being the most recent and conspicuous. Instead, it has come up with an unbelievable number of means to make life more desperate for people, ranging from the austerity regimes of the IMF to its support for privatization of water, electricity, and other vital public services. And, of course, it has sold weapons like tear gas and armored vehicles, weapons that are used not for defense but for repression, to dictatorships like Honduras and Egypt.
The release of some documents by Wikileaks–certainly a consequence of lies and unjust wars, but also perhaps of the maltreatment of gays in the military, if Bradley Manning did the leaking–hasn’t done anything except validate what many of us have said all along. The US government is not acting as an honest broker. It is serving corporate interests, even when those interests endanger the national security.
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