It is hard to predict, especially the future. Nevertheless, there are some developments that seem to follow a pattern, so when a significant part of the pattern has played out, it is possible to predict that the rest will follow. One such pattern is that empires that rise also will fall.
The only ones denying this are the “exceptionalists“, those who claim that USA is exceptional, that it does not follow the pattern because it is absolutely unique in the history of the world. Their assertion of US exceptionalism should be exposed for what it is: A primitive psychological knee-jerk reaction to the speaker’s own sense of inadequacy and insecurity.
If you don’t respect yourself, you cannot respect others. To respect yourself requires self-confidence, to be secure in yourself. I believe that USA as a country is short on self-confidence, and then notably the conservatives in the US. In what appears to be a psychological compensation mechanism, they therefore engage in a discourse of American exceptionalism, in over-the-top self-confidence. Needless to say this makes them look utterly ridiculous to outside observers, so it doesn’t contribute to solving the underlying condition of insecurity. For others to deal with Americans they have to understand that they aren’t so self-confident as they appear, that they actually are much more full of fears than most other nations.
In international relations this lack of balls is compensated by creating an empire, the ultimate phallic symbol. USA is obsessed with being in control. The creation of the global empire, aimed at controlling every possible military adversary, compensates for the fundamental sense of insecurity. Once created, the empire has been used and abused also to control and manipulate other countries, which leads to resentment and undermines the goal of creating security.
Let me return to the issue and analyze what may happen at the fall of the US empire.
During the recent political turmoil in Washington about raising the debt ceiling, some called for cutting programs that benefit those of lower income, and others called for raising more taxes from the rich. But none of the major groups called for cutting the vast spending that goes for maintaining the Empire. That topic was apparently taboo.
The United States of America is a federal republic. However, the US of A is also an empire. It’s possible to be in favor of one and against the other.
USA has two faces overseas: The diplomatic force, and the military. The military is effectively acting as a parallel diplomatic mission in many countries. The military is spread out over much of the planet, with about 800 bases overseas, plus the navy with several fleets, each one a complete military force with navy, “air force” (aircraft carriers), and “army” (marines).
What typically happened to the predecessors in the role was that the expansion face was followed by a consolidation face, which turned out to be increasingly expensive and eventually drained the resources of the empire. The Roman Empire was ultimately defeated by some barbaric tribes, not by a larger empire, as its resources for defense were depleted. Which brings us back to the US’s debt crisis, and the fact that the Empire is off the table in the discussions.
A possible scenario is that the US economy deteriorates, perhaps by the Great Recession becoming a double-dipped recession and converting into the “Great Depression 2.0”, from the refusal to decrease the vast spending on the military that is required in order to maintain the Empire (about half the federal budget). Such a situation would force either a peaceful dismantling of the empire, by lowering the ambition level either in its geographical extent or in capabilities; or, it might trigger the use of the military in a new war in an effort to deflect attention from the real issue, and justify its existence.
If the enemies of the US build up their arsenals and create a convincing military threat, then a large war might result, which would save the empire for another few decades – provided of course that it wins the war and destroys the economies of its enemies more than it destroys its own economy. But isn’t the point of having an empire of this kind to avoid a war?
The only good way out of this situation seems to be to decrease the costs associated with the Empire. It requires some fundamental changes of attitude. USA must start dealing with other countries in such a way that shared security is created, and the empire becomes superfluous.
At the same time, other countries, including Latin America, should prepare for the new reality by treating the US as equal, and by contributing to changing the rhetoric. Responsible leaders of Latin America should maintain strict sovereignty visa-vi Washington, never falling on their knees no matter what is offered. How can Washington learn to treat Tegucigalpa as equal, if Tegucigalpa doesn’t treat Washington as equal? The responsibility for changing the nature of the relationship rests as heavily on the shoulders of Latin American leaders as it rests on US leaders. Needless to say, Latin American leaders should also steer well clear of Castro and Chávez, since they are populists and tyrants who only bring misery by trying to exploit the weakness of USA.