The US is in retreat on all fronts, and its incompetent politicians are incapable of reversing the decline
Article by Allister Heath for the Telegraph 18 August 2021
No empire is eternal: all eventually fall amid hubris and humiliation. The heart-wrenching, humanitarian calamity that is the botched Afghan retreat is merely the latest sign that the American era is ending: Washington is no longer the world’s policeman, and an unsettling future of clashes between expansionist, authoritarian regional powers beckons.
It is a far cry from the late 1980s-early 1990s, when America’s global clout peaked. The Reagan rebirth, the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, the termination of communism and its gulags, the rise of Silicon Valley and the invention of the internet, the liberation of Kuwait: these were the anni mirabiles of the US hegemon, the glory days of Pax Americana, bookending humanity’s most turbulent century.
Hollywood held its head high, and everybody wanted to be like America, vote like America and consume like America, or so it seemed. The creation of the single market in 1992 was Europe’s attempt at imitating the US; the same year, China’s Jiang Zemin announced his epoch-defining “socialist market economy”.
Yet all of this, far from representing a settled consensus on the meaning of the good life and how to achieve it, was a cruel aberration, the high watermark of the American idea. Everything went wrong after that. Paradoxically, 9/11 itself didn’t take down the American empire: it awoke a sleeping giant and triggered a groundswell of patriotism, and a different branching history might have seen a massive but relatively short retaliation, with the prompt killing of Bin Laden. Instead, we had to wait a decade until OBL’s execution in Pakistan (his harbouring by a supposed ally itself proof of America’s waning power) and the world suffered a long-term, half-hearted and ultimately catastrophically counter-productive attempt at remodelling the Middle East.
Twenty years on, America’s global plan lies in ruins, its elites confounded on almost every issue, the stupidity and incompetence on display over the Afghan withdrawal confirming that they don’t understand the rest of the world, and aren’t fit to govern their own country, let alone the globe. Blinded by a simplistic universalism, they no longer understand religion, tribalism, history, national differences or why countries want to govern themselves.
Wherever one looks, America’s blueprint has failed. Take Washington’s support for a United States of Europe with its army, constitution and “eurodollar”. Brexit signalled the beginning of the end of that dystopian construct: others will leave the EU, because of the coming migration crisis – tens of millions will seek to move from Africa and the Middle East, and there will be toxic attempts at “distributing” migrants across the bloc – or because of a populist uprising or economic implosion.
In the Middle East, every country or territory touched by America is in chaos. Afghanistan is back in the hands of the Taliban. Iraq is a nightmare, Syria was the scene of monstrous killings as the West looked on and Libya is a calamity. The Clinton-backed Israel-Palestine peace plan failed: the Gaza withdrawal merely emboldened anti-Semitic Hamas terrorists. Biden’s administration is still sucking up to Iran’s two-faced regime. Does it not see that it is intent on going nuclear and destroying Israel? As for the Gulf States, largely US protectorates, what will their fate be when demand for oil collapses as a result of net zero? The Middle East’s woes have only just begun.
America’s retreat is equally spectacular in Asia. China has become rich and powerful thanks to capitalism, in itself one of the great triumphs of American ideological expansionism. But its population is not clamouring for democracy. Beijing’s crackdown on entrepreneurs and other sources of independent power demonstrates its lethal seriousness, and its intent to return to its own imperial past.
China can no longer be contained: it has grabbed Hong Kong, and will eventually turn to Taiwan. What then? Will America be dragged into a nuclear World War III, also involving another of America’s few imperial success stories, Japan? Will that be how everything comes tumbling down? Or will Washington walk away? And what about India and Pakistan?
It’s a mess: Pax Americana has achieved nothing of any significance bar saving Kuwait and ending conflicts in Yugoslavia over the past 30 years. America’s internal problems are immense: its constitution is broken, its predilection for second-rate gerontocrats such as Biden unrivalled. Racked with self-doubt, its elites in the grip of a bizarre “awakening” centred around a nihilistic, ungrateful self-loathing, it no longer has values to sell, neither capitalism nor democracy nor the American dream. How can people who live in terror of “micro-aggressions” find it in themselves to defeat real evils? As to the public, it doesn’t want to know about the rest of the world: how, under such circumstances, can the US empire not be in terminal decline?
Could America’s interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq have succeeded? As a Hayekian who believes it is a Fatal Conceit that governments can successfully centrally plan the world, I used to rightly be a sceptic. But the shock of 9/11 led me, wrongly, to believe that, just for once, a full-on imperialistic invasion might work, and liberal democracy and capitalism would spread across the region. The argument was simple: America did it in Japan with General MacArthur, turning a very different society into a democracy, and in Germany, so why not in Iraq? It would have required a massive number of ground troops, far more than were ever deployed, a total takeover of society, and decades of occupation and would probably have failed anyway.
I have learnt my lesson: in practice, America should never attempt state building. Change must be spontaneous and organic, or it is unsustainable. Yes, threats such as Al-Qaeda or now Iran should be tackled vigorously, and humanitarian interventions to prevent genocides are a must, but full-on liberal imperialism inevitably backfires.
The West has lost control: there will be mass population movements, currency wars and battles over natural resources. The American empire at least believed in freedom and democracy; what replaces it won’t even pretend to be liberal.
As an addendum to this article I am attaching an article on UK politics dated 19th August 2021 in pdf by Paul Goodman for ConservativeHome entitled:
Tugendhat and Baron. One well known, the other less. But it’s Baron who speaks for more voters on intervention.
Here is the link to Tom Tugendhat's memorable speech to the House of Commons on
BBC News - Tom Tugendhat on UK and Afghanistan: Anger, grief, rage
US soldiers (Getty)