Tuesday, May 21, 2019
A Hegemon Checkmated
First, let’s look at this bit of evidence. In my view, the sight of US aircraft carriers anywhere near a well-armed potential adversary such as Iran, or China, or Russia, is a crystal-clear indication that there isn’t going to be any sort of military escalation. The math here is simple. In order to be effective in action, a US aircraft carrier has to be within 500 km of the targets its aircraft are going to bomb. That’s the typical round-trip range of the aircraft without mid-air refueling. But if said aircraft carrier approaches any closer than 1000 km of said potential adversary, it can be sunk using an entire array of modern weapons against which it has no defenses. Obviously, under such circumstances, the command of the carrier will avoid doing anything at all provocative while doing all it can to telegraph its complete lack of hostile intent.
Some claim (based on no evidence at all) that the US would actually want to have one of its aircraft carriers sunk, to use as an excuse for an escalation. But how exactly would it escalate? By having some more of its aircraft carriers sunk? Add to this the fact that the US no longer seems to build aircraft carriers. Its last effort, the Gerald R. Ford, aptly named after the “dim bulb” president, is undergoing endless repairs in the hopes that it will some day become useful for something. Add to this the fact that the US no longer has the money to build such gigantic war toys: the way things have been going, in just a few years the entire federal budget is going to be swallowed up by interest payments on the federal debt.
Apparently, it is extremely difficult for Americans to face the fact that there is a long and growing list of things they can no longer get done:
• The US can no longer get color revolutions right. The Ukraine is an out-of-control embarrassment where half the population is ready to vote for Putin while some very nasty Jewish oligarchs have pretty much bought themselves a Jewish president. And if the example of the Ukraine is tragic—it is now the poorest country in Europe—the example of Venezuela is a bit of a farce. There, a US-trained stooge by the name of Juan Guaidó has been parading around pretending to be president since April Fool’s day. These days, US talk of “regime change” only causes eye-rolls and groans.
• The US can no longer stage false flag attacks and make them stick. The fake chemical weapons attack in Syria’s Douma, which served as an excuse for Donald Trump’s last useless bombing of Syria (in which a bunch of Tomahawk cruise missiles got dropped in the sea and a bunch more got shot down by Syrian air defenses) was definitely proven to have been a fake. And the last such attempt, at causing a bit of damage to oil tankers in the Persian Gulf and attempting to blame it on the Iranians, didn’t get much traction at all, being too preposterous.
• The US can no longer pull out troops. Its troops are stuck in Afghanistan, where they no longer have any sort of mission at all now that the Taliban are once again victorious. In order to pull out they have to come up with some sort of face-saving agreement, but here there are two problems: first, they don’t know how to negotiate such an agreement; second, nobody wants to negotiate with them. And so their strategy is “fester in place.” This is very bad, because there is a chance of it evolving into “abandon in place”—stop resupplying the troops when the money runs out. Other than saving face and making the retreat look anything other than a shameful rout, there are some practical considerations to pulling out all of the equipment. There is too much of it to pull out by air. It got there via Russia, but begging Russia for help again would be too humiliating. It could perhaps be retrieved via Pakistan, but US-Pakistani relations are in terrible shape. But leaving all of the equipment in place would produce a rather shockingly well-equipped Taliban, causing an international scandal. Last, best choice is to destroy all of the equipment in place, but this would produce terrible optics both at home and abroad. But Afghanistan is just the tip of the iceberg: there are over 1000 US military bases around the world that have to be dismantled and abandoned because, as I already mentioned, in just a few short years the US will have a national defense budget of exactly $0, the entire federal budget having been swallowed up by interest payments on the national debt.
• The US can no longer fight trade wars. The one with China has gone spectacularly badly. All along, the Chinese strategy has been to bide for time, never agreeing to any sort of deal, while feverishly figuring out how to replace the US in its truly massive international trade. At every step of the way, the US has been there to help China while hurting its own interests. There is too much here to dig into, so here are just three highlights. First, US farmers are driven into bankruptcy because their GMO-contaminated soya is being replaced by ecologically clean Russian soya (GMOs are illegal in Russia) with major health benefits for the Chinese. Second, the sanctions against Huawei, which makes half the smartphones and much else, have cut off the US from the next major advance in network technology. And since Google’s recent decision not to support future versions of Huawei phones or to provide updates to current ones, smartphones will no longer run Android, cutting the US out of most of the smartphone market. Third, the next batch of Chinese countersanctions—a ban on rare earths exports—will put paid to US hopes for being able to maintain production for alternative energy technologies, electric cars, semiconductors and much else. Finally, Americans will end up paying for their folly in thinking that they can still stand up to the Chinese economically through much higher interest rates: China will continue to sell from its hoard of over $1 trillion in US federal debt, driving up the interest rate the US has to pay in order to continue to borrow more and more all the time (which it has to in order to avoid defaulting on its existing debt).
So, what can the US still do? The answer, I think, is obvious: the US is still perfectly capable of causing humanitarian disasters. Yemen, where a civil war is being perpetuated using US weapons and with the participation of US military advisers, is perhaps the worst case. There is also the Rukhban refugee camp in Syria, near the US military base at At Tanf, where US-supported Islamist radicals are using displaced Syrians as a human shield. There are the economic sanctions against Venezuela, which are causing considerable discomfort for the people there. To be fair, the US is causing humanitarian disasters on its own territory as well: if you look at the burgeoning homeless populations in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and elsewhere in the US, or explore the statistics on suicide, drug addiction and overdose deaths, or take on board the fact that over 100 million working-age people in the US are out of work, it becomes clear that the US isn’t just failing around the world but also hemorrhaging internally.
This may all sound depressing, but in fact there is something here to celebrate. It has happened numerous times throughout history that major military conflicts erupted when empires collapsed, causing horrific loss of life. But what we are observing now is something quite different: for the US, major military conflict has become unthinkable while none of the other major world powers is particularly eager to start a war and is all about economic development and cooperation. This is something for us to be quietly happy about: the erstwhile global hegemon is going down without much of a fight at all as the rest of the world moves on. Of course, you might still feel depressed about the way things within the US are going from bad to worse, but here a bit of attitude adjustment can be of great help. It’s a very special technique that people have employed for ages whenever they faced such circumstances. It’s called “not giving a shit.”