Wednesday, April 18, 2012


The ‘New York Times’ yesterday published an Opinion piece by one Kwasi Kwarteng entitled “Echoes of the End of the Raj”. [L1]

The gist of it is that the US is entering a period of the decline of its ‘imperial’ reach, of its “raj” – the old British term for the vast swath of the world over which its direct influence extended, including India and all the lands of Asia and Africa and the Caribbean and so on and so forth.

Yes, but mostly No.

When the British “Raj” declined – a long process beginning immediately after WW2 that really didn’t end until in 1967 the Brits couldn’t afford to keep garrisons “east of Suez” and left Aden, that great Yemeni port on the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden – the Brits had a ‘successor raj’ already in place and running: the US, embarking cockily on ‘the American century’.

Thus A) the Brits could vacate their throne-seat presiding over ‘the world order’ without actually condemning that order to the previous reign of Great Power politics as they existed before WW1.

And B) the Brits could continue tastefully to present themselves as one of the remaining Great Powers, financed and militarily ‘allied’ to the new Greatest Power. US money and partnership (not of equals) continued to provide the coat-tails upon which Great Britain could ride.

Things proceeded much as they had gone on for in the past, and only the flag and the color of the uniforms changed.

That was then.

It is not so now. While the US has now stunningly lost its pre-eminence and the throne of the Raj, there is no successor state ready to take its place.

So A) there will indeed be a return (arguably a regression or arguably not) to some new Great Power variant (or – arguably – mutation). The powers of the world now – including strong regional hegemons like China and Russia – and perhaps even Iran (with its vital geostrategic location athwart the great Eurasian land-routes of yore) are going to be moving to fill in that vacuum, especially since that vacuum exists in their own backyards and in their own regions of the world.

Of course, the now highly-developed role of commerce planet-wide makes it even more complex. The Brits had a world-wide commercial matrix as well, but the movement of capital as well as products is now so instantaneous that everything is ratcheted up to hair-trigger levels of immediacy.

And that means that the US – with whatever power it retains (and let nobody forget that while some Bubbles are now deflating, the two remaining Bubbles are the most lethal: US sovereign solvency and the Dollar as the world’s reserve currency) will perversely be required to exercise even more influence.

That will mean diplomacy, but the skills of operating diplomatically in a Great-Power setting are not well-preserved in the State Department’s (or the Beltway’s) institutional memory, to the extent that the US was ever tempermentally predisposed to exercise such skills. And a country without a lot of money isn’t going to really come to the table with a lot of clout.

Thus enter the Military. This, I think, was behind Bush’s 2002 assertion that the US would henceforth consider just about every place on the planet as within the purview of its national-interest. And nowadays such brassy blowhards as one finds especially among neocon armchair hawks insist that as long as We control the world’s most pre-eminent military, then We will always have a seat at the Table.

But such a military is going to be, perversely, expensive. It can’t simply be nuclear because you can’t credibly insist or imply that if you don’t get what you want there will be a mushroom cloud forthwith.

Boots on the ground isn’t going to be the answer (nor even the entire remaining force of the Marine Corps stationed in Australia, for example) because We can’t win land-wars anywhere on the Eurasian landmass, especially deep within it, far removed from sea-lines of communication and supply.

That leaves the Navy. But We can’t afford the type and number of ships required to perform the tasks that the Royal Navy performed in the age of fighting sail. Nor can it be forgotten that i) the US won the war in the Pacific in 1942-45 because the Japanese provided no air threat (after a while) and no major submarine threat – US fleets could operate unhindered and with increasing levels of (legitimate)impunity. See here , for example.*

And that ii) ‘the natives’ are now equipped with the latest weaponry (nor are all those ‘natives’ sovereign governments). Amphibious ships even more than ‘shooters’ (warships with offensive weapons capability) are lethally vulnerable precisely in those close inshore (20-30 miles) venues where they must operate.

Nor is it enough to claim that while We don’t have a whole lot of ships, the ones We have are really technological doozies. Barring the development of a Galaxy-class battle-cruiser like Picard’s starship ‘Enterprise’ in low-planetary orbit there is simply no way of getting around the fact that a modern Naval vessel can’t be in two places on the planet at once and that to maintain Naval supremacy or even operational efficacy you are going to need more than one in any contested area. And We are going to have trouble replacing these technical marvels quickly enough when (not 'if') they are sunk or damaged. (For an astute discussion of the lethal fiscal dynamics now gripping the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex see Franklin Spinney’s excellent discussion here.

Nor dare We adopt the German solution of WW1 and WW2: hit very hard very quickly (preventively, even) and use terror to make sure you aren’t resisted by civilian populations and maquisards or ‘freedom-fighters’ (who – pace Bush and Cheney – may very well not be ‘terrorists’ but patriots like the guys at Concord and Lexington).

In any setting now, We are not going occupy the moral high-ground that ‘London’ and the Western Allies occupied in WW2; We will be seen as invaders and occupiers and - alas - grabbers.

And this is especially so because there is an increasing (and hardly unpredictable) scarcity of vital resources on the planet. Great Powers who don’t already own a lot of them are going to have to Go Out And Grab (GOAG) them or perhaps claim to Go Out And Liberate And Grab them (GOALAG). If anybody in the Beltway thinks We can pull that off while still appearing to be the nation of the Framers and of Washington and Adams and Lincoln, then the Kool-Aid has become not merely intoxicating in there but lethally poisonous. **

But the pressure to do so will now be great. We will now be caught up in the maelstrom so acutely and pithily appreciated by the Romans: sera venientibus ossa – the latecomers will only get the bones. Which would probably be the shoulder-patch motto of hyenas everywhere, if they had patch-capable shoulders.

Nor will Teddy Roosevelt or Wilson save Us. TR was profoundly deranged by a) his generation’s abiding sense of being inferior in adult efficacy to the immediately preceding adult generation that had fought the Civil War and b) by sitting on top of a powerful US industrial and economic potential that was largely untapped in those days before it was gleefully ‘deconstructed’. Wilson tried to assume that Good Intentions and Ultimate Goodness would suffice to lard-over the inevitable and ineluctable darknesses of trying to make History and the rest of the world do what you wanted them to do.***

Nor – it is now almost a truism to say it – will the Bush/Cheney approach save Us.

Nor, lastly, is there any established Great-Power successor-state upon whose coat-tails We might tastefully and politely be allowed to continue something of Our old existence. We were the New World. And We blew it.

In a savage irony, Our lifestyle and even Our civilization as well as Our polity is going the way of the buffalo. Yes, many have heard it from the mouths of this and that celluloid Indian chief looking out over the marvelous landscape, now dotted with the smoke-columns of settlements and the dust-clouds of cavalry columns.

But – as was so marvelously said in Lawrence Olivier’s narrative script of the 1970s Brit WW2 documentary series ‘The World at War’: “To the Japanese, bombing was something that happened to other people” (about Jimmy Doolittle’s April ’42 raid on Tokyo).

Our buffalo-world is going now. And We are the chiefs, watching the clouds and columns reach into the skies that were once Ours.

Nearer, my God, to Thee. And let Us brace Ourselves to Our duties and so bear Ourselves … that We might still, in albeit reduced circumstances, do all in Our power to effect “a just and a lasting peace, among ourselves and with all nations”.

History is here. We have this rendezvous with it.****


*Presuming that the past decades of ‘de-masculinizing’ the military and the Navy, haven’t wound up yielding officers and crews unable to face the awesome dangers of combat ships damaged and hit at sea (start interviewing great-grandpa chop-chop about his days in the Pacific). And presuming that US naval vessels haven’t been built to ‘commercial specs’ rather than the more robust and rigorous ‘military specs’ (meaning that in the latter case you build a ship specifically to withstand hits by offensive weapons and that in the former case you merely build them to withstand the usual rigors of sailing the sea and encountering the occasional storms and big waves).

**And – as I always do – I will not refrain from pointing out the fatal fatuity of the Beltway embracing the Far Left insistence (bolstered by the importation of Marxist-Leninist principles and ‘philosophy’) that the Framing Vision is merely a compact with Dominance-Oppression-and-Hegemony and has to be rejected forthwith. What was purchased (with so much treasure) as a slyly strategized gambit to achieve dominance of Correctness in domestic political affairs has migrated toxically to foreign affairs and to the most profound levels of the nation’s integrity and civic competence.

***Who can forget the cri-de-coeur of Porfirio Diaz, one of those Mexican leaders who was intervened-against by Wilson: ‘My poor Mexico – so far from God, so near to the United States!’?

****In the closing sequence of the 1975 Universal Pictures film “The Hindenburg”, a lifelike model of the airship approaches you (ostensibly behind the camera lens) out of a clear blue sky, glides by majestically, and then continues on, followed by the lingering camera shot, and is swallowed up slowly but surely by clouds and mist until she finally disappears. Strange to think that even back then there might have been some preconscious sense of what was happening.
For that matter, from the year before, there was "The Towering Inferno", in which the world's tallest building, constructed in San Francisco, is done in by the hubris and callow lack of integrity of its well-heeled and well-connected and well-funded builders.

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