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A CounterPunch Special Report: Reflections on the Wages of “Immoderate Greatness"

The Ukraine Imbroglio and the Decline of the American Empire

by ARNO J. MAYER

When discussing the Ukraine-Crimea “crisis” it might be hygienic for Americans, including their political class, think-tank pundits, and talking heads, to recall two striking moments in “the dawn’s early light” of the U. S. Empire: in 1903, in the wake of the Spanish-American War, under President Theodore Roosevelt America seized control of the southern part of Guantanamo Bay by way of a Cuban-American Treaty which recognizes Cuba’s ultimate sovereignty over this base; a year after the Bolshevik Revolution, in 1918, President Woodrow Wilson dispatched 5,000 U. S. troops to Arkhangelsk in Northern Russia to participate in the Allied intervention in Russia’s Civil  War, which raised the curtain on the First Cold War.  Incidentally, in 1903 there was no Fidel Castro in Havana and in 1918 no Joseph Stalin in the Kremlin.

It might also be salutary to note that this standoff on Ukraine-Crimea is taking place in the unending afterglow of the Second Cold War and at a time when the sun is beginning to set on the American Empire as a new international system of multiple great powers emerges.

Of course, empires have ways of not only rising and thriving but of declining and expiring.  It is one of Edward Gibbon’s insightful and challenging questions about the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire that is of particular relevance today.  Gibbon eventually concluded that while the causes for Rome’s decline and ruin were being successfully probed and explicated, there remained the great puzzle as to why “it had subsisted for so long.”  Indeed, the internal and external causes for this persistence are many and complex.  But one aspect deserves special attention: the reliance on violence and war to slow down and delay the inevitable.  In modern and contemporary times the European empires kept fighting not only among themselves, but also against the “new-caught, sullen peoples, half-devil and half-child,” once these dared to resist and eventually rise up against their imperial-colonial overlords.  After 1945 in India and Kenya; in Indochina and Algeria; in Iran and Suez; in Congo.  Needless to say, to this day the still-vigorous

U. S. empire and the fallen European empires lock arms in efforts to save what can be saved in the ex-colonial lands throughout the Greater Middle East, Africa, and Asia.

There is no denying that America’s uniquely informal empire, without settler colonies, expanded headlong across the globe during and following World War Two.  It did so thanks to having been spared the enormous and horrid loss of life, material devastation, and economic ruin which befell all the other major belligerents, Allied and Axis.  To boot, America’s mushrooming “military-industrial complex” overnight fired the Pax Americana’s momentarily unique martial, economic, and soft power.

By now the peculiar American Empire is past...

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