Pakistan Observer

Decline of the US and West

News & Views

Mohammad Jamil

Tuesday, August 23, 2011 - Many a civilization has emerged and waned. Like any other organism, birth, growth, breakdown and disintegration is the cycle of all civilizations, said Toynbee. It appears that after burgeoning national debt of more than its Gross Domestic Product, American policy of invading other countries with a view to controlling world’s resources, could lead to America’s fall. The other reason for America’s economic malaise is that over the years, the US government and Americans have been earning less and spending more, producing less and consuming more, with the result that both America and Americans have become technically bankrupt. In these circumstances, America and Europe are forced to reduce their spending on social sector, which will have adverse impact on their citizens that could give rise to unrest and turmoil in their societies. Instead of focusing on the Arab spring they should worry for their autumn.

In view of recession coupled with fiscal crisis, the entire balance of global economic power is shifting. Of course,, former president George W Bush was responsible for having brought America on the verge of economic collapse by overstretching US army and invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. It is perhaps in this backdrop that two prominent authors Nick Turse and Tom Engelhardt wrote an article a few months ago under the caption ‘A fight against the odds’ published in Asia Time Online. The concluding sentence of the article read: “The fact is: Al Qaeda is not an apocalyptic threat. Its partisans can cause damage, but only Americans can bring down this country”. They gave details of America’s military might - its troops, reserves and intelligence personnel, well trained special operations and its arsenal comprising tanks, planes, missiles, aircraft carriers and a stock of nukes. That said, America spends on defence more than the total expenditure on defence by all the countries of the world.

The authors ridiculed America’s military might in these words: “After the better part of a decade of conflict, the US has spent trillions of taxpayer dollars on bullets and bombs, soldiers and drones. It has waged wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that have yet to end; launched strikes in Pakistan’s FATA region, Yemen and Somalia; dispatched special ops troops to those nations and others, like the Philippines, and built or expanded hundreds of new bases all over the world”. Great Power ascendancy correlates strongly to available resources and economic durability. On the other hand, military overstretch and a concomitant relative decline are the consistent threat facing powers whose ambitions and security requirements are greater than their resource base can provide for. Since America’s economy is in dire straits, it therefore cannot help salvage European economies, as it did after the Second World War through the Marshall Plan.

That said, there are inherent contradictions in the system of capitalism; and fact remains that any failure in one developed economy could adversely impact the other one, which could engulf the entire world. In 2008, failure of a large US bank Lehman Brothers and the largest insurance company did send shock waves and its effect was felt in the bourses throughout the world. Markets were assailed by doubt and stock prices remained under pressure. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, the architect of the enormous scheme to transfer bad debt from the banks to the government had at that time said the economy was being hit by a sub-prime home loan “chain reaction”. Efforts for revival of their economies through sweeping rescue packages for troubled banks have so far failed to produce desirable results. There is a perception that global economy is headed for the kind of crash of 1929, and present situation may lead to another world war, as 1930s great depression had led to the 2nd World War.

After going though the Middle Ages, a part of which was Dark Ages, European countries had seen Reformation and Renaissance. In seventeenth century England, the trading community had forged unity against absolute powers of the king and influence of the clergy. The country was ready for the English Revolution - the precursor and midwife of the Industrial Revolution. With industrialization and new development of new weapons, European countries – Britain, France, Spain, Portugal etc., had colonized Asian, African and Latin American countries, and as a result of ruthless exploitation of their colonies, they could sustain their empires. Of course, there are causes behind the rise and fall of nations. European countries have passed through various stages of development. They have seen dark ages, medieval ages and French and Industrial revolutions. With inventions and discoveries, they had edge over the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin Africa, and it was on the basis of their superior technology that they made them their colonies and exploited them ruthlessly.

British, Portuguese, Spanish etc had gone to America and made the entire continent their colony. Earlier, they had fought one another over the booty in American continent. In Europe also, there were wars between the European countries ranging from few years to spanning over decades and at least one 100-year war. In twentieth century, two world wars had weakened European countries and their economies were crippled, therefore they could not control their colonies, especially in the face of struggle for independence waged by the people in the colonies. America was the main beneficiary of these wars because it did not become the theatre of war. And later, it filled the void in the colonies left by the European countries through neo-colonialism. Though America has great past; its traditions of freedom, democracy, human rights and human values date back to American founding fathers, when they fought war of independence, but most successors negated the principles upheld by them. In the past, the US had resorted to unilateral use of force ostensibly to promote democracy in Haiti, Nicaragua and in Latin America.

It had intervened forcibly to change regimes, restore order and preach democracy. However, on becoming President in 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt abandoned the policy pursued by his predecessor President Woodrow Wilson. He treated his neighbours with respect, acknowledged past American blunders, and saw that constitutions alone did not guarantee a democratic outcome. It is true that President has to look after the global interests of the super power but it was expected that he would not be as ruthless as his predecessor was. However, there seems to be a difference in degree only. Yet if President Obama following in the footsteps of Franklin D. Roosevelt treats its allies especially Pakistan with respect, and stops wasting energies in making India as a regional and world power, he can steer the crisis by changing the course.

—The writer is Lahore-based senior journalist.
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