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You Can’t Project Power When The World Knows You Are Weak

Above photo: Illustration by Calvin Shen from Salon.com.

Every empire falls and the fantasy of American exceptionalism doesn’t exempt the U.S. from inevitable decline.

Yet the failing hegemon behaves as though it still controls events, and in so doing creates dangers for the whole world.

“We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

Karl Rove, advisor to George W. Bush – 2004

By most accounts, Karl Rove was correct about the United States empire.  Nineteen years ago, the U.S. had the strongest military in the world, but the economy was showing signs of weakness. Back in March of 2000, the stock market bubble burst, resulting in the NASDAQ or “dot com bubble” crash. Still at that time, most of the country believed Reagan as he referred to the country as, “…the shining city upon a hill…”  Due to its military might the U.S. was able to project its power and impose its will upon the world.

Rove’s arrogant assertion that “…when we act, we create our own reality…” is a major part of the problem that the U.S. empire is facing today. What gets lost in this assessment is the historic reality that all empires run their course.  An examination of the European, Greek, Roman and British empires tell the stories of tragic endings. A common and significant factor in their demise was arrogance.  Instead of recognizing the changing of global dynamics, the geopolitical landscape and making the requisite adjustments, they believed they could manage the world by sheer force, power projection and will.

The United States is blinded by its arrogance and cannot properly assess the realities before it, still believing it is the unitary hegemon and many of its recent actions are exacerbating its demise. In 1991, President George H. W. Bush announced a “new world order” that he believed would replace the bipolar politics of the Cold War era with a US driven unipolar order.  While still Governor of Texas but running for president, George W. Bush outlined the foreign policy principles that would guide his presidency, promising a “distinctly American internationalism”, again, not so subtle code language for a unipolar order.  Recently, Secretary of State Blinken and other Biden administration officials continue to discuss a “rules-based order.”  They seem to be the only ones who know what the rules are.

This country continues to assert itself as a unitary power in what is emerging as a multipolar world. In The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway’s Bill Gorton asks Mike Campbell, “How did you go bankrupt?” Mike replies, “Two ways…Gradually and then suddenly.” The unipolar hegemonic dominance of the U.S. is bankrupt and coming to an end.

In October of 2020 I published a piece entitled “The Non-Aligned Nations Realign ” wherein I wrote, “As the US has emerged from the post-Cold War era as the unitary global hegemon, it became increasingly more difficult for countries to maintain their sovereignty and battle the inequities of the “new world” economic order imposed upon them by the United States. The U.S. “maximum pressure” campaign of sanctions and regime change has been applied as a weapon of economic warfare against US “enemies” such as China, Cuba, Iran and Venezuela. Except for China, these tactics have crippled economies and wreaked havoc on societies.”

We can see the demise of the U.S. Empire happening in real time.  According to Alexander Mercouris, host of The Duran , “the great period of danger in any international system is when the overarching empire declines, when it starts to lose control. Whether they (the leaders of the empire) understand that their empire is in decline and try to manage that decline in a way that preserves the international system or whether alternatively they try to go for broke and they try to preserve their position by managing conflicts that they believe that they can win.”

Even though the empire is in decline, it is far from over. It is important to understand that America is a nuclear power and still maintains military dominance over most of the world. According to The Soldiers Project , the U.S. has roughly 750 US foreign military bases spread across 80 nations. Russia (a nuclear power) has about 3 dozen bases, and China (a nuclear threat) has just five. This implies that the U.S has three times as many bases as all other countries combined.  One of the major challenges facing the US is nuclear deterrence and the concept of mutually assured destruction. A nuclear attack by one superpower would be met with an overwhelming nuclear counterattack such that both the attacker and the defender would be annihilated.

With that reality being understood the issue shifts to one of economics. Until recently, the US has been able to assert its will via its economic leverage and a sanctions regime combined with the threat of military action. That’s not working any more.  The non-aligned nations have realigned.

In response to the US sanctions regime, China and Russia were forced to reassess their interests and differences. They came to understand that US hegemony and imperialism was a common threat. The US proxy war in Ukraine has proven to be a major threat to Russia and the US involvement in Taiwan threatens to start a war with China. Russia and China now enjoy the best relations they have had since the late 1950s. There is a “new world order” on the horizon but it’s not the same order Bush 41 spoke about.

There are other examples of global realignment. On March 10, 2023 Saudi Arabia and Iran announced a normalization of ties which was brokered by China. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has invited 67 country leaders and 20 representatives of international organizations to the upcoming BRICS summit . Even though it’s not on the immediate agenda, BRICS is moving towards a new currency that will be based on a basket of the currencies of the initial five-nation bloc. Kenyan President, William Ruto, has called on African nations to shift away from using the US dollar for intra-continental trade and opt for the use of local currencies. In response to US sanctions, the non-aligned nations are realigning, making it increasingly more difficult for the US to project its power as nations seek to assert more control over their country’s resources and governance.

It is important to realize that in spite of US sanctions, well-stocked Iranian supermarkets have opened in Venezuela and Iran is exporting oil to Venezuela. China and Iran have entered a 25-year strategic partnership in trade, politics, culture, and security. In spite of US pressure, a British Court of Appeal set aside a decision by the High Court giving President Maduro of Venezuela access to $2 billion of gold stored at the Bank of England.

Remember when President Biden told the world that US sanctions against Russia would cripple its economy? “As a result of these unprecedented sanctions, the ruble almost is immediately reduced to rubble…”, Biden infamously said. According to World Bank data , Russia was among the world’s five largest economies and the largest in Europe in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP) as of the end of 2022, despite Western sanctions.  China topped the list as the world’s biggest economy ($31 trillion), followed by the US, India, and Japan.  So much for US sanctions.

Even as the US is trying to protect its drone base and France’s access to uranium by attempting to exert its power in Niger, the current leaders of that government would not take a meeting with America’s coup plotter extraordinaire, Acting Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland.  They would also not allow her to meet with deposed President Mohamed Bazoum. They are ignoring the “rules-based order.” As Algeria, Mali and Burkina Faso continue to back the junta in Niger, the US’ ability to control the dynamics is in question.  It becomes increasingly more difficult to project power when the world sees that you are weak and alternative alliances become available.

Americans see their country in the romantic context of Reagan’s “Shining City on a Hill” while the Global South sees the US as a monster, in which the taints, the sickness, colonialism/neo-colonialism and the inhumanity of Europe have grown to appalling dimensions. The “non-aligned” nations are in realignment. The US should be as Killens says, about “free people” not “free enterprise.”

It is said that a dying mule can manage to engage in some kicks. These kicks may be dangerous, but they don’t last long. Progressively, they become weaker and weaker until the mule finally gives up. We know the US empire won’t go quietly into the night. That’s when it is proving to be its most dangerous.  As Antonio Gramsci wrote, “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”

Dr. Wilmer Leon is the author of Politics Another Perspective and a nationally and internationally broadcast radio talk show host. Go to www.wilmerleon.com or email: wjl3us@yahoo.com www.twitter.com/drwleon and Dr. Leon’s Prescription at Facebook.com

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