Without wishing to relieve the idiot of responsibility for his actions, I have been trolling the past to see whether this is always how empires come to an end: troops garrisoned around the globe, the top 1% cashing in at the eleventh hour, rude bellicose (mis)leaders strutting about, knocking everything off the shelves — and then the end.
It was the idiot’s notorious New Year’s Pakistan tweet that got me thinking along these lines.
Irrespective of the merits of the idiot’s claims, a rising power holds the information it enjoys close to its chest; in Teddy Roosevelt’s words, a rising power “walks softly and carries a big stick.” A waning power, by contrast, stumbles, crashes into everything in reach, bellows and then complains loudly as allies scramble for more secure ground.
Pakistan is not the only ally abandoning ship. Turkey’s deal for Russia to supply it with a sophisticated antimissile system is further evidence that former — and even current — allies are growing wary of the US ship of state. All across eastern Europe, the peace dividend squandered since 1989 has yielded no returns. No surprise then that from the Baltics to the Balkans, parties across the region are turning to Russia and to China for arms, development, and trade.
This is how empire ends. Consider how Nicholas II, at the very moment Russia needed to assist its peasants, empower its educated bourgeoisie, and grant organizing rights to workers, instead threw the lion’s share of its wealth into the bank accounts of its aristocracy and into the fantastic strategic plans of its military elite. Or take the pompous Edward VII, whose efforts to make the UK great again included opening the royal pageantry and political theater to public viewing, largely ignoring the military’s open seizure of diplomacy and policy making.
Arguments could be made, in 1902 as in 1905, that, when they reach their zenith, as they enter decline, empires need to find graceful means of shedding the allies they have accumulated during their rise. After it made a mess of the world, the UK needed to retreat and needed to do so without war. In 1905, the Tsar should have recognized where the Russian future lay; not in its military, but in its own rising fledgling democratic and socialist communities.
Even further back, we need to purge ourselves (and our classrooms) of that noxious lie that Rome fell because it was overrun by Goths, Vandals, and Visigoths. Long before its neighbors descended on her to pick apart her carcass, Rome’s far-flung outposts had “gone native” so to speak, abandoned by a Roman elite too busy snapping up cheap real estate and impounding the labor of its former owners to worry itself over the fates of garrisoned troops abroad. Roads, bridges, and aqueducts had long ago fallen into disrepair upon the argument that “every denarius spent on public goods is a denarius stolen from the wealth of Rome’s nobility.” Soldiers stationed in Spain, France, and England were not even given the choice of return, but only the command to make their keep where they were stationed. Which is precisely what they did. They married, built families, and, even before Rome disintegrated, they got on with their lives.
To be sure, the idiot is making the United States’ end of empire far worse than it needs to be. He is scouring the planet for the worst of the worst — Israel’s far right wing, Filipino neo-fascists, extremists in every nation around the world.
But perhaps this is how empires always end, including our own.