…The future of American power …


Why the end of America’s empire won’t be peaceful

This By-invitation commentary is part of a series by global thinkers on the future of American power—examining the forces shaping the country’s global standing,

from the rise of China to the withdrawal from Afghanistan.

 

As it leaves Afghanistan in chaos, America’s decline mirrors Britain’s a century ago.

It may also invite wider conflict, warns a historian

“THE MULTITUDES remained plunged in ignorance… and their leaders, seeking their votes, did not dare to undeceive them.”

So wrote Winston Churchill of the victors of the first world war in “The Gathering Storm.”

 

He bitterly recalled a “refusal to face unpleasant facts, desire for popularity and electoral success irrespective of the vital interests of the state.”

American readers watching their government’s ignominious departure from Afghanistan, and listening to President Joe Biden’s strained effort to justify the unholy mess he has made,

may find at least some of Churchill’s critique of interwar Britain uncomfortably familiar.

Britain’s state of mind was the product of a combination of national exhaustion and “imperial overstretch”, to borrow a phrase from Paul Kennedy, a historian at Yale.

Since 1914, the nation had endured war, financial crisis and in 1918-19 a terrible pandemic, the Spanish influenza.

The economic landscape was overshadowed by a mountain of debt.

Though the country remained the issuer of the dominant global currency, it was no longer unrivalled in that role.

A highly unequal society inspired politicians on the left to demand redistribution if not outright socialism.

A significant proportion of the intelligentsia went further, embracing communism or fascism.

Meanwhile the established political class preferred to ignore a deteriorating international situation.

Britain’s global dominance was menaced in Europe, in Asia and in the Middle East.

The system of collective security—based on the League of Nations, which had been established in 1920 as part of the post-war peace settlement—was crumbling,

leaving only the possibility of alliances to supplement thinly spread imperial resources.

The result was a disastrous failure to acknowledge the scale of the totalitarian threat and to amass the means to deter the dictators.

Does Britain’s experience help us understand the future of American power?

Americans prefer to draw lessons from the United States’ history, but it may be more illuminating to compare the country to its predecessor as an Anglophone global hegemon,

for America today in many ways resembles Britain in the interwar period.

Like all such historical analogies, this one is not perfect.

The vast amalgam of colonies and other dependencies that Britain ruled over in the 1930s has no real American counterpart today.

This allows Americans to reassure themselves that they do not have an empire, even when withdrawing their soldiers and civilians from Afghanistan after a 20-year presence.

 

 

 

 

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…. is   it warm? … is anyone warm? … Oh well ….. 

 

 

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