Nobody’s Century: The American prospect in post-imperial times

In a speech given at The National Press Club in Washington DC on Tuesday, Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. (USFS, Ret.), said: In 1941, as the United States sat out the wars then raging in both the Atlantic and Pacific, Henry Luce argued that our destiny demanded that we, “the most powerful and vital nation in the world,” step up to the international stage and assume the position of global leader. “The 20th Century must be to a significant degree an American Century,” he declared.

And so it proved to be, as America entered the war and led the world to victory over fascism, then created a new world order that promoted the rule of law and parliamentary institutions as the basis of global governance. Americans altered the human condition with a dazzling array of new technologies, fostered global opening and reform, contained and outlasted communism, and saw the apparent triumph of democratic ideals over their alternatives. But that era came to an end in 1989, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of the Cold War, and the establishment of the United States as the only global power.

Americans then indulged in a dozen intercalary years of narcissistic confusion. We celebrated our unrivaled military power and proclaimed ourselves “the indispensable nation,” but failed to define a coherent vision of a post-Cold War order or an inspiring role for our country within it. These essential tasks were deferred to the 21st Century, which finally began eleven years ago, with the shock and awe of 9/11. In the panic and rage of that moment, we made the choices about our world role we had earlier declined to make.

Since 9/11, Americans have chosen to stake our domestic tranquility on our ability – under our commander-in-chief – to rule the world by force of arms rather than to lead, as we had in the past, by the force of our example or our arguments. And we appear to have decided in the process that it is necessary to destroy our civil liberties in order to save them and that abandoning the checks and balances of our Constitution will make us more secure. Meanwhile, our military-industrial complex and its flourishing antiterrorist sidekick have been working hard to invent a credible existential challenge to match that of the Cold War. This has produced constantly escalating spending on military and antiterrorist projects, but it has not overcome the reality that Americans now face no threat from abroad comparable to Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, or the USSR. The only real menace to our freedoms is our own willingness to supplant the rule of law with ever more elements of a garrison state.

The so-called “global war on terror” or “militant Islam,” as so many now openly describe it, has become an endless run in a military squirrel cage that is generating no light but a lot of future anti-American terrorism. It turns out that all that is required to be hated is to do hateful things. Ironically, as we “search abroad for monsters to destroy,” we are creating them – transforming our foreign detractors into terrorists, multiplying their numbers, intensifying their militancy, and fortifying their hatred of us. The sons and brothers of those we have slain know where we are. They do not forget. No quarter is given in wars of religion. We are generating the very menace that entered our imaginations on 9/11. [Continue reading…]

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