“Potentially the most dangerous scenario would be a grand coalition of China, Russia and perhaps Iran, an ‘anti-hegemonic’ coalition, united not by ideology but by complementary grievances” —Zbigniew Brzezinski
Are we reaching the penultimate and petulant back-end of the American Empire’s Unipolar Moment, a denouement hastened by a raft of sanctions regimes as imperiously doled out as they are laden with unconsidered paradox?
Though the sun is prohibited from casting its light between them, Nation and Empire are not an organically indivisible formation. Indeed Americans, no less than others, should relish the prospect of a resumed, unalloyed nationhood after decades of Empire co-optation. Few Americans realize the skulking entity that looms in the shadows of their overrun and diminished formal institutions as being a separable imposition capable of (to use a Benjamin Netanyahu phrase) drying up and blowing away.
Empire overlay is an uninvited and usurping agent bent on hostile, world-conquering aims to which America plays safe harbor and unwitting hostage in equal parts. Though the mode of exploitation varies, no nation on the world stage is left untouched by transnational exploitation.
America, like all nations, is a boundaried fixity; whereas Empire despite travelling under the former’s name is a projective and extraterritorial expanse whose designs exceed the devise and interests of the nation-host itself. Invariably Empire doesn’t so much succumb to overreach as it overreaches the capacities of its nation-host; wrecking the balance sheet, debauching the currency, taxing the capacities of the deputized military and (most importantly as we shall see) sullying the conceptual coordinates so central to a nation’s actionable sense of self.
Post-Empire, the nation-host suffers the aftermath of ruinous inflation or worse. Empire, a continuous organism, bides its time before alighting elsewhere. Thus unipolarity is an Empire project in the same manner a tapeworm mimics the appetites of its host, the afflicted nation being little more than a body-snatched, debt-amassing hostage-vessel.
Daniel 2’s prophesied statue gives anthropic form (and thus systemic coherence) to Empire succession. Each empire ‘chapter’ pours into the next with corporeal fluidity, the respective statue material and animal totem befitting the situational needs of Empire in that historical moment. The anatomy suggests an eschatological continuum, hardly a severed procession of akimbo body parts. The purposeful succession of empires conducts human history to a terminus.
Usury is the arithmetically ordained travel-partner or Empire. Indeed the latter is more Babylonian mystery than secular-geopolitical formation. Through it, all earthly power and wealth is to be gathered under one aegis until no nation can lay claim to an autonomous storehouse. The whole purpose of human history is demonic consolidation by the God of this World.
In the same way, the events of the world prove less yielding to geopolitical analysis absent an explicit awareness of Paul’s Principalities or the slow-thighed onset of the Antichrist/Dajjal. As human history thins like gruel in the twilight, the spiritual backdrop moves inexorably to the fore.
(Understanding the present moment demands continual oscillation between the world-beyond and the world-at-hand. So be it.)
Sanctions negate the very notion of empiric expansion. Beneath all the bluster, continual recourse to a ‘remedy of retreat’ signals the exhaustion of Empire’s Pax Americana phase. Like medieval bleeding, the cure soon exceeds the lethality of the underlining disease.
For the moment, America’s economic activity, 25% of the world’s GDP, is a big party to be dis-invited from. Furthermore, 70% of that GDP is buffered from international trade disruptions as it consists of internal consumption. (In China, for example, the figure is closer to 40%). When push comes to shove the US economy is sufficiently self-contained such that a protracted period of inwardness is a viable course of action.
Joseph Micallef hardly overstate things trumpeting the arrival of American energy independence. One wonders how the Empire would coax the Nation to do its bidding absent the inducement of vulnerable overseas energy supplies. Of course this too argues for the end of the American phase of Empire:
“U.S. energy independence is going to be a game changer in international affairs and will have far-ranging consequences. It will drive a reorientation of U.S. foreign policy as profound as that driven by American dependence on foreign oil in the second half of the 20th century.”
While inconsistent with empiric expansion, sanctions and their threat can for a time inflict asymmetric damage on the sanctioned party –until some vague tipping point is reached.
Midwives to a nascent neo-nationalist era, President Trump and his formidable trade team have been leveraging (some would say weaponizing) America’s economic primacy in order to redirect product origination and trade flows.
For example the USMCA’s closing of the infamous NAFTA loophole or ‘trade toll’ will be a huge boon to US consumers and workers alike, not to mention an indirect trade assault on China which advantaged the loophole via finished goods assembly plants in Canada and Mexico. The so-called ‘regional vehicle content’ has been boosted from 62.5% to 75%.
What are the implications of this USMCA provision alone? Lexicology explains:
“Mexico and Canada are pushing for the smallest amount of North American parts in NAFTA automobile production. This means that Mexico and Canada can import the difference from China, Asia or Europe, finish the product with some basic assembly and then pass off the product to the American market- saving big money on tariffs for the original producing country in the process.”
The necessity of a resurgent manufacturing base is being characterized (correctly) as a national security (if not even a national dignity) issue with implications far beyond the usual econometric equilibrations.
What the world needs to understand is that the unacknowledged obverse of America First is Empire Never Again. America’s self-reclamation process on the trade front will be a boon for the planet. Re-nationalization is synonymous with ‘de-empirization’. As America reacquaints with nation-among-nations status, multipolar clusters will fill the void.
America the Empire routinely pulls the wool over America the Nation’s eyes. One deft bit of corporatist misdirection (articulated through that multinational stalking horse, the US Chamber of Commerce) has been to assure Americans they could thrive as a service-sector economy.
As nothing is gained alerting regular Americans to the divergent interests of Empire and Nation, the Empire is adept at posing as the Nation. (Besides, what people would knowingly seek empiric imprimatu anyway, a dubious appointment demanding more blood and treasure than it ever bestows?)
Globalists would have us favorably envision a world where the US holds the edge in 2030 Powerpoint presentations while China captures the high-performance medical device and industrial robotics markets. As Yogi Berra might say, “all left-handers over here to flip charts, all right-handers over there to flip burgers. The rest of you come with me.” Yes, but where to exactly, Yogi? The Argentine Paradox circa 1950?
The same can be said for Made in China 2025, from a Chinese perspective of course. Geopolitical hegemony is the goal, economic nationalism the rallying cry for respective domestic audiences. No wonder trade wars metastasize into shooting wars. No less than everything is at stake.
(Some expect that, with centuries of practice under its belt, the Chinese empire model, historically one of ebb-and-flow concentric flexibility, will improve upon the winner-take-all Western model. Time may tell.)
Parsimonious when it comes to sharing the planet’s ill-gotten gains with its erstwhile nation-host (American real incomes peaked in 1973), Empire is all too willing both to off-load the debt burden and share the vainglory of its overseas military exploits.
We seek evidence of the Heartland tiring of its conscription obligations, or that their nation’s subsidiary role has even dawned on the average American after nearly two decades of ruinously fruitless overseas campaigns. The enthusiastic reception afforded Clint Eastwood’s 2014 movie American Sniper —to belabor one cultural touchstone– is hardly a bullish indicator.
In fact, the Nation still wraps itself in the Empire’s exploits with a patriotic vigor that obliges it to insist, against all evidence, that Iraq and Afghanistan were missions of existential import to the safeguarding of American neighborhoods. That this misprision persists is a powerful testament to the Empire’s ability to enforce and sustain a narrative steeped in false consciousness to which clarifying epiphanies must forever be kept at bay. In recent months scores of alt-media sources have been exiled from Youtube in veiled recognition of their counter-narrative incursions. The Empire cannot relinquish narrative hegemony. The most decisive conflicts are conceptual.
Sartre famously called this insistent and externalized apparatus of persuasion America’s ‘implacable machine’. Eastwood, the Leni Riefenstahl of our time, fashions empire exploits into pastiches of Americana. This is pure propaganda. Empire is a rapaciously unnatural imposition. Rooted in no soil, it descends from above. Transnationalism sustains itself on grassroots alienation and collective misdirection.
The Vineyard’s Saker indirectly acknowledges this differentiated two-headedness when he says, “Russia does represent an existential threat, not for the United States as a country or for its people, but for the AngloZionist Empire, just as the latter represents an existential threat to Russia.” He might just as easily have extended the empire threat to America itself. Where Saker offers daylight, Eastwood extends the darkness of a confused nation.
It would surprise many Americans to know that their nation hosts one of the least democratically answerable national governments in the world (though far fewer would be surprised today than, say, two years ago). Trump, the exogenous usurper, is trying to reverse this expropriation of the country’s traditional Madisonian Institutions by the Security State’s Trumanite Network (what Michael Glennon calls our Double Government, the prior terminology being his).
How did the empire accomplish this parallel sovereignty?
The hijack occurred in two sizable chunks (the 1947 National Security Act and the USA Patriot Act of 2001). Yes, America has a divided government alright. Just not in the sense American civics classes define the concept.
Moreover this sovereignty split occurred without benefit of referendum or Constitutional Convention. The division was assented to –and furtively institutionalized– over the ensuing post-WW2 decades by the nation’s elected leadership, the latter bartering away democratic self-determination and their own discretionary power for more attractive post-public sector career vistas.
A further lubricant was mass fear, something the Security State excels at fanning. This is a toxic oroborus: fear rationalizes enhanced security measures, obliging it in turn to identify more threats and thus promulgate more fear.
America’s captured political system (captured, in the main, by treasonous greed) perennially offers no material recourse away from Empire objectives. Carroll Quigley exposed the degradation of choice mounted by the two-party charade decades ago. His protestations fell on deaf ears.
Then came Trump, arguably more detested by ‘Rino’ Republicans for helicoptering onto their half-acre of Quigleyan turf than the Democrats who openly shower their contempt upon him, aided by a not-so-secret confederation of Senior Executive Service (SES)personnel and an assorted Five Eyes gallery of International Men of Mystery.
That new attention is being drawn to this fissure is a function of the Trumanites’ open rebellion against Trump’s subversive (Madisonian revivalist) presidency. Trump has forced the Deep State to the surface, a process that compels an explicit –and never before attempted– referendum on globalism, something the movement cannot possibly prevail on as the closest thing it possesses to a natural constituency is a beholden media, George Soros’ checkbook and a traitorous ruling class.
These transnational Trumanites, the true empire-builders, seek geopolitical hegemony, (over)-employing trade sanctions as a tool towards that end. Whereas Trump, a businessman to his core, seeks only comparative advantage and level playing fields i.e. trade for its own sake. Trump has the inclinations of a competitor and possesses an abiding faith in the productive capacities of his fellow Americans. His America-first exertions are sincere.
Despite a near-daily (and 92% negative) onslaught of CIA-Mockingbird anti-Trump vitriol, there is a dawning realization that the current President is as close to an anti-Empire crusader as any POTUS can possibly be, given the powerful institutional constraints (and Trumanite presence) he must work within. (The latter qualification cannot be emphasized enough.)
Just this week in his essay ‘Trump Has Done More to Take On and Take Down the American Empire Than Any Other President’, Gareth Porter concedes, with the obligatory reluctance attending any favorable Trump assessment that, “…[despite] Trump’s multiple serious personal and political failings…[his] unorthodox approach has already emboldened him to challenge the essential logic of the US military empire more than any previous president.”
Creditably, Porter manages to overcome his early subjectively-derived aversions with dispassionate analysis. More thinkers will follow. Trump will never inspire great wellsprings of affection. Yet shouldn’t likability deficits fall within the rehabilitative purview of Oprah Winfrey and her top shelf of gauzy sofa lens? History books are replete with highly eccentric, yet transformative, leaders. Who but the most media-besotted automatons really care?
As for our beleaguered trading partners, the list of American pariahs (sanctioned and tariffed) grows by the month: China, Russia, Iran, Turkey come immediately to mind, obviously in varying modes and degrees. What happens should the EU (the world’s 2nd largest ‘economy’) continue to trade with Iran under a “special payments entity” arrangement despite US warnings? For the record, India has no plans to cease its Iranian oil purchases. This comes at the cost of American producers as will European demand absorbed by the onset of Nordstream 2.
The US Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) maintains a list of sanctioned nations and programs. It’s well worth a look.
Weapon system defections present a knottier dilemma as military and trade considerations commingle. The Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) of 2017 addresses punitive measures and waiver procedures; a bill opposed, it must be said, by President Trump. Turkey, a NATO member, is taking delivery of the Russian S400 missile defense system, playing havoc with weapons (F35) inter-operability, among other things.
Commenting on the likelihood that India will extract a waiver from the US for the purchase of a S400 system, Fort Russ’ Joaquin Flores suggests America’s quiet acquiescence may be the biggest news of all, indicative perhaps of a dawning realization in Washington that the sanction whip is losing its lash:
“But the real signal here is that the US is willing to publicly also disclose that a waiver is possible…that in its gambit to shore up the empire and force countries to choose Atlanticism over Multipolarity, it will not by way of hubris or over-playing, engender the very multipolarity [it] presently work[s] against.”
Flores surfaces the nub of the paradox: By waiving sanctions and allowing breakaways on a case-by-case basis, does unipolarity preserve itself by exception or compromise itself by non-inclusion? A contrary beast, this unipolarity.
First of all, absolute power is an unnatural configuration if it isn’t a fairy tale altogether. Kenneth Waltz, one of the 20th century’s leading scholars on International Relations, recognized unipolarity as being among the most tenuous of international power arrangements.
Fully consummated unipolarity contends with no nemesis at the gate, no rudely apparent countervailing force with which to remind itself that power consolidation is always an asymptotic function forever falling short of omnipotence. Whereas bipolarity increases overall system stability as each power has only the other to regard warily. A vigorous checkmate ensues. Like a two-headed Cerberus, power is affixed to one mode of action.
In short, power is a distributed resource requiring a corner of contested ground upon which to construct an antithetical lever. One can calibrate power only in the context of someone else existing beyond one’s own locus of control.
Until history fully resolves itself, the ascendant antithesis must germinate in a strange province that forever looms on the frontier of the prevailing thesis. In this way, ideas inhabit their own conceptually balkanized geographies.
Is internal contradiction the ultimate empire-killer? In his 2013 essay, ‘The Inevitable Has Happened in Egypt’, Alastair Crooke surfaces a dialectical reality, in the context of that particular moment’s crisis, the Muslim Brotherhood’s massacre at the hands of Egyptian President al-Sisi. Speaking to the larger demise of the USSR and the lessons drawn, in Sunni circles, from its collapse, he observed:
One has to think Crooke intended ‘omnipotence’ instead of ‘omniscience’. Beyond that, he captures the Hegelian primacy of ideas (as opposed to the brute accouterments of tanks, planes and automobiles) as being the first-order Empire battleground.
As Flores suggests, the unipolar moment does have an antithetical nemesis. It exists, not for the moment at least, in the guise of a discrete nation-contender, but rather from amidst the inchoate forces of over-extension, hubris and internal contradiction.
One way for unipolarity to hasten its own demise is to persist in the practice of briskly escorting bad actors out of the Big Tent. At some point a critical mass of delinquent nations finds itself on the outside-looking-in; to which a new inside and fresh synthesis are baptized. The formative institutions, structures and initiatives already exist: OBOR, BRI, BRICS, AIIB, SCO.
The evolving role of the Shanghai Cooperative Organization (SCO) for example is on vivid exhibit his week with rather self-conscious pronouncements of multilateral cooperation, due no doubt to American trade frictions with key members Russia, China and India. These are the formative orbits that can exert and accelerate gravitational tugs away from prevailing global governance models and power centers.
Left untended, yawning internal contradictions lead to a strange and strident logic rooted in self-injury and geopolitical masochism: By shooting myself in the foot, I promise you will bleed to death. A spiritual forebear? Bob Dylan with ‘it’s alright Ma, I’m only bleeding.’
Analyzed in myopic isolation, each sanction regime may indeed conform to a calculus of advantageously asymmetric bleeding. That is, Empire appears to crush each recalcitrant outlaw in serial procession.
Yet how fully considered is the cumulative effect of a dozen rocks being hurled simultaneously at a Goliath convinced of his insuperable size? Death ensues at the instigation of a thousand Davids. Perhaps the Empire’s quant-model betrays a methodological flaw in its singular regard for each battle to the exclusion of the cumulative toll of mounting departures.
Trumpism, the exuberant renewal of national self-confidence by a man who exudes it to the near-level of parody, obliquely acquiesces to the death of empire (without formally announcing it). Out of America’s re-acquaintance with itself springs a psychic reinvestment in the traditional facets of the American character, sublimated arguably since the Nixon Shock of 1970: enterprise, self-reliance, innovation and a can-do work ethic.
For those who doubt the powerful emotional and psychic ramifications of the Trump renationalization, watch this steel worker tear-up at the realization he’s been rescued from oblivion. Work is a moral calling that instills purposeful existence. Trade merely extends that calling beyond a nation’s borders. Fellow Glaswegian Adam Smith was not a Wall Street economist running balance-of-payment Excel spreadsheets for the ‘grand’ purpose of sector fund allocations. He was a moral philosopher.
The American people, most of them anyway, could have frankly gone to hell as far as the bankers were concerned. The enterprise costs (a productively idled and hollowed-out nation) proved fantastically exorbitant. No privilege accrued to the common man. Middle America became the Military Industrial Praetorian Guard hiring pool.
Recalling Major General Smedley Butler (the bold-face mine):
“War is a racket. It always has been.
It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.”
Sanctions betray the unipolar moment’s faltering grasp. They are the unacknowledged road back from Empire to Nation. The contracting enterprise puts the best face on what can only be deemed a mutually assented to rejection. For, equally, the sanctioned nation is declining its prescribed role within the Empire playbook. Thus sanctions better resemble a divorce stemming from mutually irreconcilable differences than a unilateral flash of Empire pique.
Trump, almost certainly, is accepting of these geopolitical normalizations, which ultimately will entail the cessation of the US Dollar as reserve currency.
Hegemony is succumbing to variegation. There are other globally-aware approaches. Pope Francis’ polyhedral globalism for example combines comparative advantage with the inherent dignity of each nation’s native culture. Monoculture is a Unipolar aim. Global economies-of-scale seek to arbitrage away –to flatten– indigenous human character. Uniqueness is the lumpy stew that bedevils rote, commodity pricing.
The sanctioned nation makes a calculation that its interests are better served relinquishing the benevolent gaze of Washington. In so doing, it embarks on a path alone.
But not so alone as to be lonely. Not anymore. Other diasporees have preceded it. As will a re-nationalized America in due course.