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America’s Pride Goeth Before Its Fall

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America’s Foolish Pride

The inspiration for this essay is Proverbs 16:18-20:

Pride goes before destruction,
and a haughty spirit before a fall.
It is better to be of a lowly spirit among the poor
than to divide the spoil with the proud.
Those who are attentive to a matter will prosper,
and happy are those who trust in the Lord.

Foolish pride and a “haughty” spirit has infused the United States since even before its official founding during the American Revolution.  The US was conceived as a “shining city on a hill” by John Winthrop in 1630.  The US was always conceived of as a refuge, an exemplar, and the, at least moral, leader of the free world.  Indeed the US has been many of these things, particularly for the immigrants who came to its shores and found prosperity here.  Yet deep in that message was the attitude that the US could do no wrong, even in the face of the obviously horrid treatment of African slaves and Native North Americans.

This founding mythology was never self-reflective enough to look at the bad along with the good.  It was all good, blessed by God in fact.  The 19th. century gave birth to the hoary notion of a “Manifest Destiny”.  It was God’s will that the US dominate the continent and flatten all that was in its path.  Once the continent was tamed and brought under complete US dominance by about 1890 (either outright annexation, or neutralization as in the case of Mexico, and Canada) then the US turned outward.

First up was the US engineered overthrow of the sovereign nation of Hawaii in 1893.  Then the Spanish-American War saw the US extend the “blessing” of US defined freedom to Cuba, and the Philippines, which went from Spanish subjugation to US subjugation.  In the case of the Philippines it was at the cost of a savage war of suppression by the US.  The 20th century proved no less bloody as the US expended large amounts of blood and treasure to prevent even a regional hegemony from arising in Imperial Germany, Imperial Japan, and Nazi Germany.  The aftermath of WWII saw a temporary hold on US prideful ambitions as the Soviet Union emerged as a global competitor to the US.  However, after the USSR collapsed of its own internal economic contradictions the US emerged unchecked as the global hegemon.

Was US pride sated at this point?  Hell no, it was just ramping up.  The US exercised dominance over the Middle East in the first Iraq War, all while quickly pushing NATO to Russia’s borders.  9/11 gave the US all the “justification” it needed to launch the Global War on terror and spray violence all over the world. 

All along with this pulsing progressing global control was the newly minted “International Rules Based Order”.  Never mind that the rules had no morally binding effect on the US, they were only for others to adhere to.  What the “rules” meant was subordination to US control.  All in the name of being what Secretary of State Madeline Albright called the “indispensable nation”.  The better term for this is what I call “Global Messianic Manifest Destiny”.    This pride may be best reflected in Joe Biden’s answer to a question at the start of the Israel-Hamas war as to whether the US could handle the needs and expenses of supporting both Ukraine and Israel in their respective conflicts.  His answer:

No. We’re the United States of America for God’s sake, the most powerful nation in the history– not in the world, in the history of the world. The history of the world. We can take care of both of these and still maintain our overall international defense.

All of this represents arrogance in action.  It is also false.

The US Stumble Toward the Fall

All of these global commitments in addition to the domestic transfer payments that the government doles out to keep the populace docile (think of it as today’s bread and circuses) have severely damaged the economic ability of the US to generate wealth.  This wealth generation is the key source of US international power.

The basis of any empire is first its economy.  This was certainly the case with a then productive Rome, the British empire and of course the US.  The USSR is a special case, as the communist model was horribly inefficient.  The USSR had global scale, nuclear weapons, subsidies of US grain, and the favor the US did by obliterating two key rivals, Japan and Germany.  It is the economic decline that eroded the basis of all former empires, and it is this economic erosion that marks the current state of the US.

That the US is a fiscal train wreck cannot be gainsaid.  Total US publicly held debt is now over $31 trillion.  That is well over 100% of yearly GDP.  The key welfare programs of Medicare, and Social Security will be bankrupt within a decade.  The military budget is closing in on $1 trillion (already over that if you count VA, State Dept, foreign aid, etc.).  If the US raises taxes to cover this deficit and service the debt it will crumble an already shaky economic situation.  If they do nothing these programs will, by law, cut themselves 20%, or more.  In short, the US economy is collapsing under the weight of the welfare/warfare state. The evidence is mounting that all this government spending and debt is slowing the economy’s ability to generate wealth.  The chart below will serve to illustrate this:

fredgraph

This shows real family income (after inflation) flatlining after the year 2000.  It has been growing at only .62% per year.  Contrast this with the 2.38% growth rate from 1953 to 2000.  This is a clear indication that productivity is slowing, and the economy is grinding down.  Along with that grind down is the ability of an empire to project force across distance.  This is exactly what happened to Rome and to Britain, and in fact all the other empires that are no more.

In addition to this generalized economic decline there is the possibility of the US dollar losing its status as the “reserve currency”.   The Investopedia definition is:

A reserve currency is a large quantity of currency maintained by central banks and other major financial institutions to prepare for investments, transactions, and international debt obligations, or to influence their domestic exchange rate. A large percentage of commodities, such as gold and oil, are priced in the reserve currency, causing other countries to hold this currency to pay for these goods.

The main benefit of having your currency be the reserve currency is that you get to export inflation to other countries and to therefore live beyond your means.  I detailed this financial motivation for the US empire here.  The other benefit is the ability to sanction other countries for “misbehaving”.  We have seen this on display during the Russian war in Ukraine.    A reserve currency is ultimately backed up by an empire’s economic and thus military capacity.  A declining empire can and will lose this status as Britain did in the 1920s.

While the US dollar is not in imminent danger of losing its reserve currency status there are cracks beginning to show.  The  profligate nature of US fiscal policy has made the dollar less attractive to use as a reserve currency.  Ultimately there is a limit to how much inflation other nations will tolerate being put on their back before they push back.  Also, the US badly overplayed the sanctions card in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  Most of the world is not on board with US support for this corrupt regime and the existential risks it entails. The so-called “BRICS” (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) nations have led the way in pushing back.  There have been more settlements of international accounts in other currencies than recently.  Some oil sales are being settled using China’s currency, which is a clear threat to US dominance.  This chart shows the drop in the use of the US dollars held in reserve:

Global Reserve Currencies IMF COFER 2023 01 01 USD share short

This economic decline portends a US military decline, as military power flows directly from economic success. While the US is still likely the world’s most powerful military (I say likely because while no one was looking the US has not won a war of consequence since 1945), change and decline can occur much more quickly than many realize.  The US has begun to have a systemically difficult time in meeting its recruiting goals.  It has lowered the standards necessary, yet still the military falters in reaching it desired force levels.   

The US is getting increasingly less bang for its buck in terms of weapons purchases.  The sad life of littoral combat ships, some of which are already being decommissioned, serve as an excellent example of this problem.  Another example is the F-15EX fighter which has 40% of the longevity of the current model.  Increasingly the defense industry gets large paydays, and the US military gets cost overruns and underperforming systems.

As the US fiscal position deteriorates ever more quickly when Social Security and Medicare implode, the strain on maintaining an imperial sized military budget will become unbearable by a population buckling under the weight of government fiscal mismanagement.  This portends a precipitous decline in US military capabilities.

Along with the other areas of United States decline there is a notable and growing drop in US diplomatic influence.  Last year China brokered a rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran.  This has led to peace talks toward a formal end to the war in Yemen which finds these nations on opposite sides.  Both moves run counter to US interests in the region, which is heavily tilted toward isolating Iran at the behest of Israel.

Speaking of Israel, the unstinting US support for what the rest of the world sees as genocide, has cratered what little moral authority the US has left.

In the same region there is a move to end the ostracism of Syrian leader Assad.  He is being invited back to the Gulf Cooperation Council.  This also runs counter to US goals of keeping Iran backed Syria isolated, again at the behest of Israel.

Perhaps more concerning to the US is the rise of the Shanghai Cooperation Council, which is led by China and is the largest multilateral organization outside of the United Nations.  Besides China the SCO includes India, Russia, Pakistan, with Iran as an observer state.  The SCO is in dialogue with Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and is looking to such nations as Vietnam and Syria to have observer status.  Even Israel has applied for observer status.  This is an organization to keep an eye on as it is only going to grow and become more influential.

Waning US diplomatic influence can also be clearly seen in the world’s reaction to the US proxy war in Ukraine.  It is not highlighted by western media but most of the world is not on board with the US/NATO led response to Russia’s invasion.  They are largely ignoring or obviating sanctions and lending no diplomatic support to the US at the UN.  This includes not just China, but India, Brazil, and most of the Global South.  It might be shocking to US imperial sensibility, but most of the world simply does not care if their diplomatic stance pisses off the US.

There are even cracks emerging in the diplomatic stances taken by NATO members.  France and Germany are clearly chafing under the sanctions regime and the prospect of a years-long conflict in Ukraine.  A serious split among NATO members represents a true threat to US imperial dominance.

The Inevitable Fall

Given all the signs of the US imperial decline the question arises about how it may all end.  First, it is not going to end tomorrow.  Then again, the rapidity with which events may unfold can be stunning.  Who in January of 1989 thought that the Berlin Wall would come down that year, much less that the USSR had less than three years left.

If we are lucky the US empire can be dismantled relatively peacefully like the Soviet empire was.  Britain also offers an example of an empire that was intentionally, and mostly peacefully dismantled (albeit, after two massively violent world wars).

Or the US could go down in violent spasms of disintegration like Rome.  It could see a transformation to an outright authoritarian regime, or military dictatorship like Rome did.  It may see the US beset by wars, and/or starting those wars to maintain imperial hegemony.

There are multiple points that could spark such conflicts.  Much has been made of what Russia may do if they lose in Ukraine, but the more likely question to be answered is what the US response will be when Russia wins.  Then there is Taiwan as a flash point.  The US should not underestimate how important this is to the Chinese.  Xi will not be the Chinese leader to lose Taiwan.  Nor should the US underestimate the likelihood that they will lose such a war over Taiwan.

The hideous Sword of Damocles hanging over all these possible scenarios are nuclear weapons.  There is ever the possibility that a nuclear nation will use such weapons if they are losing in a key area.  This includes the possibility that a dying US empire thrashes about with nukes being deployed.  Then a multipolar world is irrelevant because human civilization is finished.

A More Rational Plan

The choice for rational people is clear.  It is the recognition that none of the areas the empire sees as “key” are in fact existential threats to the United States as a nation. This being the case, it is an easy leap for the US to dismantle its own empire in a peaceful manner.  Accept a multipolar world, with the US as a key player in it.  Get the US fiscal house in order and restore the economy to a growth path by the tried-and-true method of limiting the government and liberalizing markets. 

As a part of this economic rationality and dismantled empire the US can return the military to a size that is needed to legitimately defend the US.  This would involve maintaining its sovereignty, its territorial integrity, and its transit in international waters.  You do not need close to $1trillion of spending and 800+ bases overseas to do this.  All of this would then see a restoration of US diplomatic influence driven by economic strength and the moral clarity of a free nation acting as a nation among nations.  This would be in stark contrast to the authoritarian model of China that only looks good in comparison to a violently imperial US.

As always for people of faith the path must be peace and cooperation.  We must make our voices heard that it is time for the US to stand down its empire before it falls (most likely violently) and put the US on a path to peace and prosperity.  This, while not perfect, would put the world in a place that more closely honors what God wants for His children.  But it starts with faithful people standing up and stating with great clarity no more!  Peace now!

Praise Be to God

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