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Old 08-25-2005, 01:13 PM   #1
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USA, 2005 = Britain, 1905; or, The End of an Empire ...

Stagger on, weary Titan

The US is reeling, like imperial Britain after the Boer war - but don't gloat

Timothy Garton Ash in Stanford
Thursday August 25, 2005
The Guardian


If you want to know what London was like in 1905, come to Washington in 2005. Imperial gravitas and massive self-importance. That sense of being the centre of the world, and of needing to know what happens in every corner of the world because you might be called on - or at least feel called upon - to intervene there. Hyperpower. Top dog. And yet, gnawing away beneath the surface, the nagging fear that your global supremacy is not half so secure as you would wish. As Joseph Chamberlain, the British colonial secretary, put it in 1902: "The weary Titan staggers under the too vast orb of his fate."
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The United States is now that weary Titan. In the British case, the angst was a result of the unexpectedly protracted, bloody and costly Boer war, in which a small group of foreign insurgents defied the mightiest military the world had seen; concern about the rising economic power of Germany and the United States; and a combination of imperial overstretch with socio-economic problems at home. In the American case, it's a result of the unexpectedly protracted, bloody and costly Iraq war, in which a small group of foreign insurgents defies the mightiest military the world has seen; concern about the rising economic power of China and India; and a combination of imperial overstretch with socio-economic problems at home.

Iraq is America's Boer war. Remember that after the British had declared the end of major combat operations in the summer of 1900, the Boers launched a campaign of guerrilla warfare that kept British troops on the run for another two years. The British won only by a ruthlessness of which, I'm glad to say, the democratic, squeamish and still basically anti-colonialist United States appears incapable. In the end, the British had 450,000 British and colonial troops there (compared with some 150,000 US troops in Iraq), and herded roughly a quarter of the Boer population into concentration camps, where many died.

In a recent CNN/Gallup poll, 54% of those asked said it was a mistake to send American troops into Iraq, and 57% said the Iraq war has made the US less safe from terrorism. The protest camp outside President Bush's ranch in Crawford, which grew around the mother of a soldier who died in Iraq, exemplifies the pain. CNN last Sunday aired a documentary with top-level sources explaining in detail how the intelligence on Saddam's weapons of mass destruction was distorted, abused, sexed up and, as the programme was entitled, Dead Wrong. This will hardly be news for British or European readers, but the facts have not been so widely aired in the US. In another poll, the number of those who rated the president as "honest" fell below 50% for the first time. This week, he has again attempted to bolster support for his administration and his war. It doesn't seem to be working.

A recent article in the New York Times plausibly estimated the prospective long-term cost of the Iraq War at more than $1 trillion. If Iraqi politicians do finally agree a draft constitution for their country today, only the world's greatest optimist can believe that it will turn Iraq into a peaceful, stable, democratic federal republic. Increasingly, the Islamic Republic of Iran quietly calls the shots in the Shia south of Iraq. As the Washington joke goes: the war is over, and the Iranians won.

Meanwhile, oil prices of more than $60 a barrel put the price of petrol at American pumps up to nearly $3 a gallon for basic unleaded fuel. For someone from Europe this is still unbelievably cheap, but you should hear the shrieks of agony here. "Gas prices have changed my life," moaned a distressed Californian commuter. If higher energy prices persist, they threaten not just a still vibrant economy but a whole way of life, symbolised by the Hummer (in both its civilian and military versions). Besides instability in the Middle East, the main force pushing up oil prices is the relentless growth of demand for energy from the emerging economic giants of Asia. The Chinese go around the world quietly signing big oil supply deals with any oil-producing country they can find, however nasty its politics, including Sudan and Iran. When a Chinese concern tried to buy a big California energy company, that was too much - American politicians screamed and effectively blocked the deal.

China and India are to the United States today what Germany and America were to Britain a hundred years ago. China is now the world's second largest energy consumer, after the United States. It also has the world's second largest foreign currency reserves, after Japan and followed by Taiwan, South Korea and India. In the foreign reserve stakes, the US comes only ninth, after Singapore and just before Malaysia. According to some economists, the US has an effective net savings rate - taking account of all public spending and debt - of zero. Nil. Zilch. This country does not save; it spends. The television channels are still full of a maddening barrage of endless commercials, enticing you to spend, spend, spend - and then to "consolidate" your accumulated debt in one easy package.

None of this is to suggest that the United States will decline and fall tomorrow. Far from it. After all, the British empire lasted for another 40 years after 1905. In fact, it grew to its largest extent after 1918, before it signed its own death warrant by expending its blood and treasure to defeat Adolf Hitler (not the worst way to go). Similarly, one may anticipate that America's informal empire - its network of military bases and semi-protectorates - will continue to grow. The United States, like Edwardian Britain, still has formidable resources of economic, technological and military power, cultural attractiveness and, not least, the will to stay on top. As one British music hall ditty at that time proclaimed:

And we mean to be top dog still. Bow-wow.
Yes, we mean to be top dog still.

You don't have to go very far to hear that refrain in Washington today. The Bush administration's national security strategy makes no bones about the goal of maintaining military supremacy. But whether the "American century" that began in 1945 will last until 2045, 2035 or only 2025, its end can already be glimpsed on the horizon.

If you are, by any chance, of that persuasion that would instinctively find this a cause for rejoicing, pause for a moment to consider two things: first, that major shifts of power between rising and falling great powers have usually been accompanied by major wars; and second, that the next top dog could be a lot worse.

So this is no time for schadenfreude. It's a time for critical solidarity. A few far-sighted people in Washington are beginning to formulate a long-term American strategy of trying to create an international order that would protect the interests of liberal democracies even when American hyperpower has faded; and to encourage rising powers such as India and China to sign up to such an order. That is exactly what today's weary Titan should be doing, and we should help him do it.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/usa/story/...555820,00.html
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Old 08-25-2005, 01:44 PM   #2
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America still has the freest and most efficient capital markets in the world. This writer understates the importance of this factor.

New York is still the most important financial centre in the globe.

India is a rising power in the IT area, certainly, but it still apparently cannot provide a large sector of its population with a decent living standard.

Thus far, it has to be admitted that China has has confounded the sceptics in transitioning to a semi free market economy without putting democratic structures in place first.

However no economy can continue expanding indefinitely. It is certainly possible to hypothesize scenarios whereby if China is hit by a recession, social unrest and a clamour for democratic reforms rears its head again.

And the dogs in the street know that Russia is a basket case.
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Old 08-25-2005, 01:49 PM   #3
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It's not midnight for Cinderella yet, but there's a good deal of truth in that article, I'm afraid. And all this is going on while some of the main concerns for politicians in power are "Intelligent Design" and keeping tabs on what goes on in your bedroom.
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Old 08-25-2005, 02:46 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally posted by medmo
It's not midnight for Cinderella yet, but there's a good deal of truth in that article, I'm afraid. And all this is going on while some of the main concerns for politicians in power are "Intelligent Design" and keeping tabs on what goes on in your bedroom.


great point. at this point, we still have, easily, the best, most advanced, wealthiest university system on earth. but for how much longer?

in the 1960s, we wanted to put men on the moon.

today, the Republicans are concerned with how you have sex.

yet, we the people are to blame; if we weren't so succeptable to these claims of "moral values" -- just *whose* morals!?!?! -- and complete and total addicts to the ecstasy of sanctimony, then politicans wouldn't focus on that, Santorum wouldn't be a senator, and no one would notice when Pat Robertson calls for the assassination of democratically elected officials because no one would take him seriously.
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Old 08-25-2005, 03:34 PM   #5
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Midlife crisis point, maybe. We're driving that red corvette. Sometimes after a midlife crisis, redefinition of self begins.
Or sometimes we just pathetically hang on to what we once were.
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Old 08-25-2005, 03:40 PM   #6
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Yes, the Iraq occupation has the potential to weaken the US. Its effects probably won't be completely felt for a few years, until the American people have to pay back all that money Dubya borrowed for his shock and awe campaign. It's funny how the most right wing governments tend to be the biggest spenders....hmmm.....so much for neo con fiscal responsibility.....by then Dubya and his cronies will be long gone, and the people will be left holding the bag. Charming, innit?
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Old 08-25-2005, 04:41 PM   #7
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What the writer neglects to mention is that Britain's empire was in hock to the US from at least the end of the first world war (all that big spending), and by 1940 the empire was basically de facto bankrupt.

Still it's an interesting article, and worth thinking about this sort of stuff while also appreciating that nobody can predict the future - doesn't mean we shouldn't try.
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Old 08-25-2005, 04:53 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally posted by Kieran McConville
What the writer neglects to mention is that Britain's empire was in hock to the US from at least the end of the first world war (all that big spending), and by 1940 the empire was basically [i/]
Realize that the US government had to borrow billions to fight the war in Iraq, and there is no end in sight. How long can this last until the US goes bankrupt as well? Who did the US government borrow this money from? There are parallels here, and to ignore them is foolish.
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Old 08-25-2005, 04:59 PM   #9
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I do think that the more Bush pushes to keep us the "global hyperpower," the more incentive other nations have to become more self-sufficient and cast us off as unnecessary.

I'd say that in probably another generation or two, the idea of a "superpower" or "global police" will probably be as antiquated as the zeppelin.

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Old 08-25-2005, 05:03 PM   #10
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My English teacher often pointed out that Britain was the main world power in the 18 and 19th centuries. The United States was the main world power in the 20th century. And the 21st century could, and probably will be, the time of the Chinese and the Indians.

For us Americans living today, it's impossible to think of a point in our lives when America wasn't the "greatest country in the world". Meaning, economically, politically, socially, militarily, etc. These things may start changing soon, if they haven't already.
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Old 08-25-2005, 08:21 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally posted by starvinmarvin
[Bso much for neo con fiscal responsibility..... [/B]
Ah, but the neo-cons were never about fiscal responsibility.... foreign policy is their bag, baby.
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Old 08-25-2005, 08:33 PM   #12
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Yeah "neo" took all the conservative out of spending...
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Old 08-25-2005, 10:24 PM   #13
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Still, comparing the current US/ Iraq situation with the Boer wars, and the insurgents in Iraq with the Boers, is quite a stretch.

The Bushmen were the earliest inhabitants of South Africa. They and their former enemies, the Hottentots, who had come to Southern Africa in the 14th century, were both driven to the most arid areas by the Dutch (= "Boer") and Huguenot settlers of the Cape region (Cape Town founded by the Dutch 17c.), who killed 10,000 Bushmen between 1785 and 1795, for example; and by the Bantu Blacks, who founded several states between 1600 and 1850; the Xhosas, and especially the Zulus, an aggressive group of Bantu tribes, clashed with the Boers in their attempt to dominate the region.

In the 19th century, Boer "treks" (which had started in the 18th century) went inland to seek freedom from British rule, which also meant freedom to treat their slaves as harshly as they thought fit, whereas the British tried to preserve internal peace by protecting the natives. This opposition between the colonial government, whose function was to secure profits for the merchants residing in the European home-country, and the white settlers in the colony had existed before between the Dutch Boers and the Dutch East India Co., and later, the Dutch government (from whom the British took over in 1795 when the Netherlands became part of the French sphere of influence). Yet, the British ensured victory for the Boers fighting against Blacks when the latter were becoming too powerful.

After the famous expeditions of Dr. Livingstone and Henry M. Stanley, and after the discovery of gold and diamonds, British imperialism appeared in the energetic figure of Cecil Rhodes, who wanted to secure British supremacy in all East Africa, from Cairo to the Cape - and his own mining empire. The British waged two wars against the Boers, who had founded several independent republics in the interior (but even in the Orange Free State and in the Transvaal there were more "Uitlanders" than Boers, and the English owned most of the money). The Boers lost, and a federation of British colonies with Dominion status was established as a compromise. The Union of South Africa (1910) which was opposed by British and African Liberals (who, in 1853, had introduced "colour-blind" suffrage in the Cape), gave the Boers a share in politics again, without, however, soothing their racial hatred, which had not been fully developed until their "treks" and defeat by the British.

You see, racial discrimination had always been a fact in South Africa, but was legally established only by the Boer government, when the English lost their influence after World War II. The English part of the white population has always been less racialist than the Afrikaner, or Boer, part, because they were in trade rather than in farming, i.e., they were less interested in keeping most of the good land.
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Old 08-26-2005, 06:21 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally posted by medmo
And all this is going on while some of the main concerns for politicians in power are "Intelligent Design" and keeping tabs on what goes on in your bedroom.

What exactly is the goverment keeping tabs on concerning what happens in my bedroom?
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Old 08-26-2005, 06:26 AM   #15
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gay marriage comes to mind..
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