All empires come to an end, and the American one is no exception


By Carlton Joseph

John Boyd Orr: “Empires won by conquest have always fallen either by revolt within or by defeat by a rival.” 

Carlton Joseph

The American empire is experiencing revolt from within and a geopolitical, technological and economic challenge from China. Is this the unravelling of the American Empire?  Will racism and conservative ideology destroy the American Empire from within? Or will the Chinese Empire replace it?

I remember the 50’s, Trinidadian and Caribbean school children singing praises to the British Empire – songs like “Land of hope and glory mother of the free”, and always being reminded that “the sun never sets on the British empire”, and being indoctrinated with the idea that “England was our mother country”.  Little did we know that the Empire had started to crumble because of its extensive military undertakings.

World War II was extraordinarily costly for Britain and her empire, from 1939 to 1942, the British Empire and Commonwealth were critical to the Allied war-effort. They led the Allied efforts in multiple global military theatres and supplied materiel and close to 15 million troops across Europe, Africa, and Asia.  The catastrophic British defeats in Europe and Asia between 1940 and 1942 destroyed its financial and economic independence, and by 1945 the country was devastated; many cities were destroyed and there were major shortages of goods and labor for rebuilding the country.  America and the Soviet Union emerged as the new Super Powers.

The American Empire spent the last sixty years fighting in Vietnam, Libya, Syria and Afghanistan.  The last twenty has been focused on the Middle East in an attempt to gain absolute access to oil and dominate the area. The loss of Afghanistan to the Taliban has undermined Americas’ economic and geopolitical goals, but as important, it has severely reduced its prestige and authority in the world.  A summit of European Union officials, after the fall of Kabul, declared that the time had come to stop depending on American decisions and called for the creation of a European army.

While America has been focused on trying to dominate the world, China used its new wealth to challenge Americas’ global dominance.  The Asian super power has invested $1.2 trillion through the Belt Road Initiative (BRI) designed to integrate the Eurasian landmass into a single market, linked by infrastructure, so that trade and power would flow toward Beijing.

Interestingly, China’s $4 trillion wealth comes from its integration into the US economic supply chain.  The two economies are intertwined and account for about 40 percent of world trade, with China dependent on its exports to America and American consumers dependent on China’s factories.  America’s war engagements have propelled China’s ascendency because the need for weapons has caused US factories to switch from making consumer goods to military goods.

This is America’s dilemma: President Biden views China as the most important geopolitical threat facing the US and the CIA has setup a new mission center focused solely on China thereby reorienting itself around competition with China.  Some in the American Congress, military companies, some journalists and intellectuals have embraced the confrontational message created around China, but the recent war games conducted by the Pentagon between China and the US over Taiwan revealed that America would lose in every war scenario.

Tension has been rising between the two nations, leaving some to think that a new cold war is developing.  China’s president Xi Jinping warned Biden that supporting Taiwanese independence would be “playing with fire”, and criticized the US for building new alliances to counter China’s rise.  Biden raised concerns about China’s human rights record and its “unfair trade and economic policies.” 

Xi has committed himself to the reunification of Taiwan with China, and Biden has stated that the US was committed to the defense of Taiwan, two leaders taking positions over Taiwan, which, if they chose to fully pursued, will lead to war. A war that the Pentagon fears the US would lose.

In a show of strength, Chinese combat aircraft made real-life crossings of the median line in the Taiwan Strait 40 times, conducted beach landing and assault drills in the province across from Taiwan, and four days after President Biden took office in January, a large force of Chinese bombers and fighters flew past Taiwan and launched simulated missile attacks on the USS Roosevelt in the South China Sea. 

China itself is not a threat to the United States, China has no military bases in America’s backyard, and no alliances with Canada and Mexico.  America, however, has many of its closest allies and partners and much of its military power located in a ring along China’s periphery- Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, Australia, and Guam.  Why then is China perceived as a threat?  Is China a challenge to US continued world economic and military supremacy?

Basic economic principles indicate that eventually China’s economy will overtake the US economy.  The country has four times the population of the US, it has not involved itself in wars, instead it has built its economy on exporting consumer goods to the world.  China has 400 million people considered to middleclass and has lifted 800 million out of poverty.  This means that China’s middleclass is larger than population of the US. 

By contrast, the US middleclass, once the envy of the world, has been shrinking and has 175 million people.  The decline in the wealth share of the middle class has resulted in a decline of consumption and savings, and the rise of income inequality has created an adverse climate for economic growth.  Based on these facts, America must stop trying to contain something which cannot be contained- China’s economic and political influence.

The American Empire can continue for a while, but America has to fundamentally change how it deals with other countries outside the G7.  Ninety percent of the world is non-white so maintaining old racists ideas about people of color is detrimental to the existence of the Empire.  To survive she must view the 90 percent non-white population not as people to be exploited and made into charity cases, but as partners in economic and world development.

Wealth inequality must be addressed and the majority of people must share in the wealth that is created.  It is ridiculous that the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans control 35.6 percent of the total wealth of the country, and unconscionable that the top 1 percent of the world now owns 50.1 percent of the world’s wealth.

Empires live and die by their illusions.  Illusions of omnipotence can send overextended empires crashing into oblivion.  I witness the crash of Great Britain in the 1950s, there was no loud noise indicating her demise, she just stopped being powerful, and so it may be with the United States today.  A quote from Robert Kiyosaki comes to mind – “All empires come to an end, and the American one is no exception.”

(Trinidad-born Carlton Joseph who lives in Washington DC, is a close observer of political developments in the United States.)