Saturday, June 2, 2018
Sailing off the World Stage
Wikipedia defines the “American Century” as the period since the middle of the twentieth century when the United States rose to global dominance based on its economic, military, and cultural power. No where near an official hundred-year period but when you figure the European nations could still be considered major powers up until the 1960's, I see that unknown Wikipedia editor's point.
One of my college history teachers defined the American century from our active participation into the First World War, roughly 1916. His idea being that had the United States not entered the European conflict on the side of the Allied powers of Britain and France circumstances would have been much better for Germany. With Russia out of the war and dissolving into Bolshevik-inspired chaos, the German kaiser could have redirected all his forces to the western front. In short, we saved the butts of Britain and France forcing them to realize the growing power of the United States could not be ignored.
Whatever the case, up until George W. Bush plunged the United States into a trillion-dollar Iraqi quagmire, we Americans were riding high on the global hog. Our system of post-WW2 alliances around the world had at first contained an expansionist Soviet Union and then insured its constructive demise as it imploded. The American policy of international free trade allowed an unprecedented expansion of wealth that allowed possibly billions of human beings to rise above a poverty level existence. The same goes for science and technology, the human race has gained more knowledge in the last fifty years than any time in our history. We've walked the surface of the moon, sent unmanned rovers and probes to Mars and the planets of the outer solar system. Medical knowledge has grown so fast we now casually tinker with DNA, the foundation of all life. And as far as computers are concerned, the exponential growth in that technology means we may live to see an actual sentient artificial intelligence supersede humans in a couple of decades.
Yeah, huge mistakes have been made over the decades, but we're talking humans here not all perfect and wise gods. Hell, if you want to know the truth, I'm still surprised that we got through the Cold War without nuking ourselves into a new stone age, if not extinction itself. All good news, although I'm still not sure about a recent supposition I read about that suggests that while humans have polluted the hell out of the planet, we're still ahead of the game since that knowledge will eventually force us to clean up the place. The idea being that other, less aware alien civilizations in the galaxy have gone extinct because they couldn't connect the dots as to why polluted water, air, and soil was bad for them. Frankly, given the forces of human greed and total willful ignorance, I'm not sure if we will decide to clean up the planet it time.
With the “American Empire” roughly keeping the peace and allowing most everyone on the planet to prosper you would think politicians would work extremely hard not to frak it up, which might cause a disastrous regional conflict, if not another world war. Well George W. already screwed the pooch with his stupid war to bring democracy to the Middle East. No, I have not forgotten about his ravings over nonexistent Iraqi WMD's, but that's a whole other piece of bullshit not important to my central point.
The success of American global leadership since the end of WW2 has rested on the twin pillars of free trade and military alliances. NO! It's not a perfect system, especially since the vast majority of the newly created wealth is controlled by an incredibly small percentage of rich elites that do not hesitate to throw their weight around. But when the alternative was a planetary scale nuclear wasteland, I'll go with what we have and try to reform it.
Well if George W. wasn't bad enough we now have a narcissistic A-hole occupying the White House hell bent on not only wrecking the relatively successful global trading system but totally alienating our long time allies. Right from the get-go Trump said during the 2016 presidential campaign that he was going to throw out all the trade deals that have been made. His reasoning was that the United States was being taken advantage of by our allies. That the poor hapless Americans were the fools of the world. A really hard thing for anyone with any knowledge of modern history and a smidgen of economics to believe since the United States created the game and wrote the rules.
True, a lot of old technology jobs went overseas causing a great deal of economic troubles for those working in the affected industries here in the United States. But anyone with just a few extra grams of intelligence and ability to look beyond self imposed blinders would understand millions of American jobs depend on selling products to the wider world. Yes, free trade hurts but in the long run that is how you continue to promote overall economic growth. Yes, trade treaties can be structured better on a number of fronts like supporting organized labor and protecting the environment.
All Trump supporters hear is that bastard promising to bring back all the nifty lifetime factory jobs their granddaddies and fathers worked. The trouble though is if you want to worship the religion of capitalism you have to follow its tenets. Which in this case means businesses are going to search out the cheapest labor to maximize their profits. The funny thing above all the empty promises of bring back those factory jobs is that automation will eventually remove most if not all human labor from the equation.
Unbeknownst to Trump supporters, and the bastard himself, economic issues translates directly into security considerations. Namely that no single nation can secure international peace all by itself, no matter how much egotistical nonsense permeates right-wing media. This is where overturning the international system wiser men and women created becomes a form of suicide.
China, the rising superpower out to remake the world in its image, just launched its first home built aircraft carrier. Its first carrier, a piece of Russian made junk that they bought from Ukraine and totally rebuilt gives them a fleet of two. No big deal you might say, Britain has two aircraft carriers as does India. And several other countries all possess single aircraft carriers, with most of them nothing more than token symbols of national sovereignty. And honestly, if you combined all those different aircraft carriers from those other nations they probably couldn't scratch the paint of the U.S. Navy.
But China is different, their ultimate goal is to take control of Asia and the western Pacific. The current Chinese government is an often brutal authoritarian regime still carrying a grudge over how the Western powers abused them from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries. China is already a great power with the will and ability to become a superpower. And no superpower wants the navy of another country cruising around in what the perceive as their backyard. So they will continue to build and refine their aircraft carrier program to achieve that goal. Now the Chinese don't necessarily want a giant rerun of the Battle of Midway, in this day and age that would cause more problems than it solves.
No, the Chinese have come to believe that they will inherit Asia and the Pacific as the United States withdraws because we can't hack the cost anymore. One recent report on economic growth has that by 2030 the Chinese economy will be worth $42 trillion while the United States will be at the $24 trillion level. So keeping up with the Chinese will become impossible for the United States to do alone. What's worse is that wrecking the international trade system for stupid and destructive reasons will only make it harder for long term economic growth that will enable the West in general and the United States specifically to keep up with China. That doesn't even begin to take into consideration how damaged economic ties will make it difficult to get the Western nations to rally together militarily should China decide to use their growing navy to forcibly take control of the regions they want.
This is where aircraft carriers are the most useful. See first of all they are offensive weapons of the highest order. You do not maintain a such a fleet to defend coastal waters. You possess carriers to project military power and national influence far from home.
Despite all the moronic level rhetoric about “Making America Great Again” the Republican party and Trump are on the verge of gravely damaging the long term future of the United States. Since the end of WW2, every member of the United States government, both Democrat and Republican, has understood our own national security is tied to that of our allies. Remember the great Ben Franklin is quoted to have said to the other Founding Fathers that would either all hang together or we will hang separately. Pissing on your allies and economic partners just to score cheap points with the MAGA Marching Morons is not the actions of a nation with a future.
Measuring the beginning of the American Century is subject of historical debate. However it is quite possible that future generations will measure the end of our global dominance as Election Day November 2016.
Source material: Foreign Policy-April 25, 2018 “China's New Aircraft Carrier is Already Obsolete” http://foreignpolicy.com/2018/04/25/chinas-new-carrier-is-already-obsolete/