Sunday, January 01, 2012

The US in the world: discussion on "The decline of the American empire"

This Aljazeera English segment of the regular program Empire, The decline of the American empire first aired on 12/29/2011, has a good panel discussion with four American participants of the general question of the US military role in today's world. There is an accompanying article, The decline of the American empire 01/01/2012 and a Transcript: Decline of the American empire 12/30/2011.

At just after 41:00 in the video, panel participant Susan Glasser, editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy, refers to the current situation as "a global crisis of capitalism". It's an accurate phrase, and one that I'm happy to see edging its way into "respectable" discussion.

The problem with many of these decline-of-American-empire analysis is that they often put emphasis on a conservative argument, that the current level of US national debt is unsustainable and threatens the health of the economy. This is just not the case.

We do hear that argument in this Empire special. But it also discusses the economic strength of the US and the role of the dollar as the world's reserve currency.

One person in the special also mentions that the US military budget, large as it is, represents about 3% of the GDP.

Neither debt nor "entitlements" nor crowding out of civilian investment is going to force the reduction of US commitments. But the level of military commitments the US has now does face resistance from other countries. Military spending is public spending, and it does compete in priority with other spending. We may not have a militarized economy in terms of percentage of GDP. But we do have a militarized political culture which risks unnecessary wars and corrupts our democratic institutions.

It's astonishing and disturbing that the Democratic President of the United States, with the now-explicit support of Congress, claims the right to assassinate anyone, including American citizens, anywhere in the world that the Executive Branch designates as a "terrorist" without the requirement for any legal charges or due process of law. And the courts, with some exceptions (that are minor in light of the seriousness of the problem), have refused to stand up against the Constitutional violations that have become an integral part of the War On Terror. And even though the suffering of American soldiers makes limit intrusion into public consciousness, it is substantial and consequential. The possibility and reality of "blowback" is also inherent in our current highly interventionist foreign policy.

We live in a national security state predicated on the existence of an imaginary worldwide state of war. It's an amazing state of affairs. And it will continue to corrupt and diminish democracy in the United States until that fantasy is dispelled and the level of military commitment significantly reduced.

Militarism isn't the only problem for democracy and freedom in the US. (See Bush v. Gore, Citizen's United.) But it is a major problem that the American public can't afford to ignore if we're serious about keeping a democratic government.


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