Superpowers have options. A panicked or discouraged superpower is a pathetic sight–bad as things may be, imagine how bad they would be for a regular country! With a conventional military force equal to the whole rest of mankind put together, continental-sized resources, a still fairly well educated population, and no serious state enemies, American options are vast. So why are we, the fairly free American people, tearing ourselves apart?
Before rushing ahead, the premise that we the American people actually are tearing ourselves apart perhaps deserves defense. We chose to redesign our financial system into essentially a national casino operated by the super-rich, who became so greedy that they had to crawl on bent knee to the taxpayers they were defrauding for a bailout and then chose to keep that system in place, setting the U.S. up for further, larger financial crises. We chose to transform a terrorist attack by a tiny band of extremists into an excuse for a “war against terrorism” that we chose to conduct as a war against Islam. We further chose to fight that war as a profit-making business…and profitable it was (see Stiglitz’ analysis of the Three Trillion Dollar War). We further chose not to prosecute those American politicians guilty of launching either that war against the middle class or that war against Islam. And now we are conducting a nationwide debate over…not the war policy or the financial mess but the degree to which we should continue to shift resources out of the pockets of the man in the street and into the pockets of the super-rich who personally profited so greatly from the wars against the middle class and against Islam in the first place. Rather than uniting to fix the problems we chose to inflict upon ourselves, we the people are indulging in a near civil war over an issue that is completely beside the point! Regardless of which side emerges victorious in the arguments over fiscal cliffs and national debt, the real problems–the two wars–will continue, as Americans needlessly tear their society apart, impoverish themselves, undermine their security, and cede their freedom into the loving care of CEO’s who see the GDP as their personal gold mine.
And that brings us to the second assertion: that America has options. First, we do not need to retain the kind of extreme capitalist system that currently exists. Indeed, our current capitalist system is really a post-Reagan invention designed to overthrow the New Deal by eliminating conservative banking; conservative mortgage rules; government regulation over Wall St. financial behavior; progressive income taxes; a capital gains tax rate roughly equivalent to the income tax rate for labor; and the utterly bizarre idea that a corporation should legally be considered a “person,” with the further bizarre twist that equates a dollar to a vote. All of these changes have been carefully designed since Reagan entered office for the purpose of transferring wealth from the middle class to the corporate elite.
Second, we do not need to continue the war of choice against politically active Islam. The proper battle is against extremism–i.e., the idea that force should be the core of foreign policy strategy. Nuclear threats, wars of choice, terrorism, state terrorism, torture, wars against cities, wars against religions, colonialism, imperialism, corporate destruction of the environment, the murder of demonstrators, ethnic cleansing, campaigns to exterminate groups opposed to a regime, and “collateral damage” are all just alternative tactical forms that a foreign policy based on force assumes. A proper foreign policy would be based on the careful selection of the appropriate method, with a strong bias in favor of the least lethal approach–not just on moral grounds but because the greater the lethality, the more likely is a counter-productive backlash.
An American society united in an effort to solve its problems by debating the fundamental and highly questionable assumptions that we must have an uncontrolled system of raw capitalism and that we must make war on all Islamic political forces that question Washington’s right to rule the world would be a society well on the way to rejuvenating the U.S. superpower. And then we might well awaken to a third option: actually, we do not need to make all the rules and shove them down the throats of everyone else in the world at all. The U.S. has more than enough superiority of power to be able to afford a third option: leadership by example and government by consensus.