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On the Abyss Awaiting Uncle Sam

Writing for TomDispatch, historian Alfred McCoy offers a disturbing prognosis (see here as well) of America’s near-term future:

A soft landing for America 40 years from now? Don’t bet on it. The demise of the United States as the global superpower could come far more quickly than anyone imagines. If Washington is dreaming of 2040 or 2050 as the end of the American Century, a more realistic assessment of domestic and global trends suggests that in 2025, just 15 years from now, it could all be over except for the shouting.

Despite the aura of omnipotence most empires project, a look at their history should remind us that they are fragile organisms. So delicate is their ecology of power that, when things start to go truly bad, empires regularly unravel with unholy speed: just a year for Portugal, two years for the Soviet Union, eight years for France, 11 years for the Ottomans, 17 years for Great Britain, and, in all likelihood, 22 years for the United States, counting from the crucial year 2003.

Future historians are likely to identify the Bush administration’s rash invasion of Iraq in that year as the start of America’s downfall. However, instead of the bloodshed that marked the end of so many past empires, with cities burning and civilians slaughtered, this twenty-first century imperial collapse could come relatively quietly through the invisible tendrils of economic collapse or cyberwarfare.

But have no doubt: when Washington’s global dominion finally ends, there will be painful daily reminders of what such a loss of power means for Americans in every walk of life. As a half-dozen European nations have discovered, imperial decline tends to have a remarkably demoralizing impact on a society, regularly bringing at least a generation of economic privation. As the economy cools, political temperatures rise, often sparking serious domestic unrest.

McCoy’s essay is a long one, and the whole of it is worth reading if for no other reason than for the interested reader to experience the clarity, realism and good sense present within his analysis, an experience which contrasts nicely with the shock commonly produced by the talk and deeds performed by the arrogant madmen and women who make up America’s ‘natural aristocracy’. Empires, to be sure, are seldom happy, and not one has proven to be eternal. They tend to end unhappily, usually as a result of a war. The City on the Hill — God’s Country — will share in that common fate, and McCoy’s essay only depicts a feasible future that would render that fate actual.

As for myself, I mostly wonder about (fear!) the kind of political system our natural aristocrats, conceited as we know them to be, will produce once they realize they are global anachronisms and worthless in their homeland. I bet the next polity will not be a democracy!

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