Donald Trump and the coming fall of the American Empire.
September 13, 2017 11:46 AM   Subscribe

In july Jerermy Scahill interviewed Alfred McCoy, Harrington professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of “The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade.
In a wide-ranging interview, they discuss Trump and Russia, the history of CIA interference in elections around the world, the Iran-Contra scandal, the CIA and the crack-cocaine epidemic, U.S. proxy wars, narcotrafficking in Afghanistan, and much more.
Transcript and podcast.
The Collapse of Empire is also acknowleged by the Pentagon but not by others.
posted by adamvasco (41 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
 
Turning and turning in the widening gyre...
posted by Sphinx at 12:27 PM on September 13 [4 favorites]


This article is not only fascinating for the historical information but also the dude's ATTITUDE -- He is totally unapologetic empire fanboy! And I get it, on one level, and yet on another level ... Really? The British Empire was benign?? There seems to be some fucking weird brain thinking gap with super smart at politics people where they view the misbehavior of their side as like, unfortunate yet somehow inevitable, and they seem to just not give a fuck about everyday people. Like this isnt fucken RISK man! I get where one would have to think this way but My God.
posted by nixon's meatloaf at 12:49 PM on September 13 [20 favorites]


For all its faults, and I'm going to be saying that a lot, for all it's faults, if the alternative futures for my little girl are a world dominated by Chinese or Russian authoritarianism or descending into raw chaos, I'll take another generation of American empire. At least, well, for all its faults, and it's hard not to notice those when Donald Trump is in the White House, America has institutions in place that are at least supposed to make it possible for this country to live up to the better angels of its nature.
posted by Naberius at 12:54 PM on September 13 [17 favorites]


I put the odds of the second half of my life being lived in a significantly different world than the first half was lived in at approximately 50%. Reading this article makes me think I should up it to around 75%
posted by Keith Talent at 1:08 PM on September 13 [3 favorites]


A really great interview/article with a hell of a sting in the tail:
Moreover, there are going to be implications for the United States. Most visibly, I think that when the dollar is no longer the world’s unchallenged, pre-eminent, global reserve currency, the grand imperial game will be over. Look, what we’ve been able to do for the last 20 years is we send the world our brightly colored, our nicely printed paper, T-notes, and they give us oil and automobiles and computers and technology. We get real goods and they get brightly colored paper. Because of the position of the dollar. When the dollar is no longer the global reserve currency, the cost of goods in the United States is going to skyrocket.

We will not be able to travel the world as we do now. We won’t be able to enjoy the standard of living we do now. There will be lots of tensions that are going to occur in the society from what will be a major rewriting of the American social contract. This will not be pleasant. And arguably, I think it’s possible if we look back, we could see Trump’s election and all the problems of the Trump administration as one manifestation of this imperial decline.
posted by jamjam at 1:16 PM on September 13 [18 favorites]


Top on the list of forces that have knocked the U.S. off its position of global “pre-eminence”, says the report, are the role of competing powers — major rivals like Russia and China, as well as smaller players like Iran and North Korea.

The document is particularly candid in setting out why the U.S. sees these countries as threats — not so much because of tangible military or security issues, but mainly because their pursuit of their own legitimate national interests is, in itself, seen as undermining American dominance.


Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
posted by djeo at 1:16 PM on September 13


"The British Empire was benign?? "

No. That's not what he said. He said that the British Empire was relatively benign. Meaning that it was more benign than other European Empires. Which is undoubtably true.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:21 PM on September 13 [2 favorites]


Only because we made sure to destroy the evidence. No, really.
posted by Grangousier at 1:22 PM on September 13 [18 favorites]


I don't think the future will be appreciably different than the present. Most people just don't realize where they've been for their entire lives.
posted by blue_beetle at 1:28 PM on September 13 [3 favorites]


We were less cruel than those beastly French and Spaniards. Also, by the same token: we, as a nation, weren't rampant syphilitics, perverts and/or aficionados of disgusting cuisine like our awful neighbours.
posted by acb at 1:33 PM on September 13 [3 favorites]


I guess calling the empire that did its thing across Africa, India, the transatlantic slave trade etc "relatively benign" bespeaks a weird, inhumane definition of "benign". I am not particularly interested in litigating the relative damages of this or that empire so much as struck by the interviewee's comparisons. The Nazi empire the most brutal? Really? More brutal than the Belgian Congo? To whom? Clearly all the entities referred to have committed hideous atrocities but it is so interesting to me that he points to the WWII Axis powers as uniquely brutal.
posted by nixon's meatloaf at 1:33 PM on September 13 [4 favorites]


tldr Wow people sure are uncomfortable with the idea that American or European imperial powers may not hold any particular moral high ground, even if they are literally devoting their life to uncover the excesses of such an empire
posted by nixon's meatloaf at 1:34 PM on September 13 [4 favorites]


nixon's meatloaf, you're fixating on the "benign" term used in a single paragraph and ignoring both the context in which it is being used, and what it was responding to. He was not expounding on the glory of empire, or the glory and moral virtue of American and Britain in particular. He was answering whether he thought the fall of US dominance that he predicts is a bad thing. He answered that some powers have been worse than others, and that while all have done terrible things, it's possible to say some are relatively more benign. Again, in the context of the question asked, he notes that for all of America's faults:
We’ve stood for labor rights and environmental protection. Our successor powers, China and Russia, are authoritarian regimes. Russia’s autocratic, China’s a former communist regime. They stand for none of these liberal principles.
Unless you disagree with the idea that it's possible to say one empire is worse or more brutal than another, you're ignoring what he's actually saying.

This is a man who, as the article notes:
during the Vietnam War...was ambushed by CIA-backed paramilitaries as he investigated the swelling heroin trade. The CIA tried to stop the publication of his now classic book, “The Politics of Heroin.” His phone was tapped, he was audited by the IRS, and he was investigated and spied on by the FBI. McCoy also wrote one of the earliest and most prescient books on the post-9/11 CIA torture program and he is one of the world’s foremost experts on U.S. covert action.
This is no "totally unapologetic empire fanboy", and the piece as a whole makes that clear. That's not just wrong, you're almost willfully misconstruing what McCoy is saying.
posted by Sangermaine at 2:04 PM on September 13 [25 favorites]


We’ve stood for labor rights and environmental protection. Our successor powers, China and Russia, are authoritarian regimes. Russia’s autocratic, China’s a former communist regime. They stand for none of these liberal principles.

We have? It kind of seems like most American imperial power in the last 100 years has been used to attack labor rights and environmental protections. Our track record overseas is incredibly dismal. Does anyone have any success stories about labor rights protected by American intervention? I'm not even sure it's possible for Russia and China to do worse on that front given the sheer number of right-wing dictators the US has propped up and let plunder and oppress the middle and lower classes. At least the Chinese government is all-in on solar and other forms of renewable energy. Where are we on that?

I mean, sure, I can accept that some empires might be better or worse than others (and, hey, we've probably killed fewer people directly than the British, so good job, US), but the idea that the US has specifically stood up for workers in other countries and the environment is baffling to me.
posted by Copronymus at 2:44 PM on September 13 [9 favorites]


Note for further reading:
Chiva: A Village Takes on the Global Heroin Trade Paperback – February 1, 2005 by Chellis Glendinning
posted by Mesaverdian at 2:47 PM on September 13 [1 favorite]


Like the British Empire, the American Empire has moved ugly things elsewhere when the home constituents would no longer tolerate them.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:49 PM on September 13 [4 favorites]


(My earlier comment was a reference to Operation Legacy, in case there was any doubt. As detailed in The History Thieves by Ian Cobain.)

I'm surprised that he gives U.S. hegemony until 2030, to be honest. That seems quite optimistic. It's only the lack of a viable contender that's keeping them in pole position: at this point, they do seem to be a lame duck hegemon.
posted by Grangousier at 2:58 PM on September 13 [2 favorites]


Does anyone have any success stories about labor rights protected by American intervention?

I was sure I'd be able to find reports of US companies making working conditions better in their overseas vendors' factories. I am sad to report that my search seemed to show almost nothing of the sort. (I discount Apple et. al. tooting their own horns.)
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:17 PM on September 13 [2 favorites]


So they're basically saying that the US Experiment, barring something turning it around, will collapse around the time I should retire.

Of course I can't think about having a good life anymore. I mean, someone told me about ten years ago that I deserved to be lynched from a lamp-post and was entirely serious about it, because of my then-employer, but I had hoped that, at some point, I might not have people wanting me dead.
posted by mephron at 3:24 PM on September 13


It kind of seems like most American imperial power in the last 100 years has been used to attack labor rights and environmental protections.

Most labor rights, and environmental protections didn't even exist 100 years ago.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 3:25 PM on September 13 [5 favorites]


And we did play a major historical role in establishing labor rights and protections as norms originally, while that lasted... Though that was mainly our anarchists and mass populist movements in the progressive era pushing the legislative process in those directions, not something that arose effortlessly from our formal political processes. But we have done a lot of good, too, at times, if often in direct conflict with more secret authoritarian aims of our leaders and political representatives.
posted by saulgoodman at 3:30 PM on September 13 [6 favorites]


I uh, am kinda related to Alfred McCoy. He's really nice. (I don't have anything else to add, it's just weird to see him on the blue.)
posted by lumpenprole at 3:34 PM on September 13 [8 favorites]


For all its faults, and I'm going to be saying that a lot, for all it's faults, if the alternative futures for my little girl are a world dominated by Chinese or Russian authoritarianism or descending into raw chaos, I'll take another generation of American empire.

There are probably parents of children in China and Russia thinking the same thing, except they're glad that there's a Chinese or Russian government to challenge the American empire. (And they may even like Americans and/or maybe not even really like their own governments all that much either.)

And even taken at face value that the US has stood for labor rights and environmental protections I am sure there are things that other citizens of other countries can point to and say, "At least we have stood for X and not crossed the line like those in the US."

So, I guess I'm saying I'm not sure about American empire. But I am completely sure that if the American empire is ending, then the US should do everything in it's power to ensure a peaceful transition.
posted by FJT at 4:04 PM on September 13 [3 favorites]


Most labor rights, and environmental protections didn't even exist 100 years ago.

This.

One can focus on the individuals and collective forces that are in opposition to those things, and I think it's wise to pay attention to that opposition -- and understand it well enough to know why it is never going away in any society as long as human nature is what it is.

We'd do well to remember America isn't absolutely unique and there are other societies that do some things better, and we're stronger if we can honestly examine our sins and figure out a way to leave them behind.

But the fact is that there's a lot to celebrate about what's been accomplished in American society. When things go south here, not many of you are thinking "hey, maybe I should emigrate to Russia or China."
posted by wildblueyonder at 4:29 PM on September 13 [3 favorites]


We judge ourselves by intentions, and others by actions.

The Soviet constitution and founding ideals were excellent. Everyone guaranteed jobs, education, healthcare, food. Full equality of races and sexes. Similar with the Chinese but I am not as clear on the details there.

And yeah, spend some time elsewhere in the world and start comparing the fear of living in an "authoritarian" state (where the police are focused on public order and generally do not kill people) vs. living in the militarized police regime in the US.
posted by Meatbomb at 4:42 PM on September 13 [5 favorites]


Most labor rights, and environmental protections didn't even exist 100 years ago.

This is actually the argument made by McCoy at the end. He thinks the collapse of the US economy (and therefore the dollar) will not be great for the world.
posted by lumpenprole at 4:58 PM on September 13


Talk about the Kremlin becoming top shit seems to me hyperbolic, driven by wounded nationalism - they've got a smaller GDP than Texas and have to devote a huge percentage of that to military spending just for their current efforts.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 5:02 PM on September 13 [4 favorites]


The Greatest Self-Defeating Force in History? Incessant warfare represents the end of democracy
posted by adamvasco at 5:11 PM on September 13 [1 favorite]


The end of the American empire will mean about a 70% fall in the standard of living for those in the US, as the dollar no longer has the threat of the US Military to keep people using it to buy Oil instead of other options.

Are you ready for that shift?
posted by MikeWarot at 5:25 PM on September 13 [1 favorite]


At least one influential clique of future historians will date the Fall to the year the barbarians sacked Washington in the 2030's. The role of the barbarians will be played by a hurricane.
posted by sfenders at 5:30 PM on September 13 [2 favorites]


This was interesting and sobering. As if we all weren't all-too sober already. (Seriously, though - pass the bottle.)

Surely some part of the relatively positive view of the British empire is that it came last in the succession of European colonial empires and so we still have a good amount of its self-written history, especially in the canonical view of the progress of 'Western Civilization.' That and the American empire has found it useful to maintain selected parts of Britannia's legacy as its predecessor (and the contemporary UK and commonwealth as its core allies).
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:50 PM on September 13


Surely some part of the relatively positive view of the British empire is that it came last in the succession of European colonial empires and so we still have a good amount of its self-written history, especially in the canonical view of the progress of 'Western Civilization.

A lot of it also comes from the careful empirical work done in the past decade from political scientists, economists, and sociologists as well.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:09 PM on September 13


The end of the American empire will mean about a 70% fall in the standard of living for those in the US, as the dollar no longer has the threat of the US Military to keep people using it to buy Oil instead of other options.

Are you ready for that shift?


You mean as the US ramps up continues to ramp up aggressive military action around the world, futilely trying to prop up a rapidly failing empire and maintain a hegemony it only really enjoyed as an artifact of geography and the last world war, likely culminating in another world war?

I guess I'd have to say, not really, no.
posted by mrgoat at 6:33 PM on September 13 [1 favorite]


It's a fairly egregious bit of chutzpah to claim that "we’ve stood for labor rights and environmental protection" when gaining those rights and protections had been a fight to the death against the same empire that now claims it as its accomplishment.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:55 AM on September 14 [5 favorites]


And yeah, spend some time elsewhere in the world and start comparing the fear of living in an "authoritarian" state (where the police are focused on public order and generally do not kill people) vs. living in the militarized police regime in the US.

I'm homosexual and I'm a woman who is a feminist. Please, tell me which of these peaceful authoritarian states would be better for me. I'll wait.
posted by schadenfrau at 5:24 AM on September 14 [12 favorites]


And yeah, spend some time elsewhere in the world and start comparing the fear of living in an "authoritarian" state (where the police are focused on public order and generally do not kill people) vs. living in the militarized police regime in the US.

I'd like to see some specific examples of authoritarian regimes with police forces that are not militarized, and where the authoritarian regime isn't killing people in some other, non-police manner.
posted by craniac at 7:57 AM on September 14 [2 favorites]


Nothing annoys me more than somebody publishing an expose of a document but not providing a copy, link or even name of the document they're exposing. It's a clear sign they want to be a gatekeeper, a mediator between me & the information in the document. So here's the Army War College paper At Our Own Peril: DoD Risk Assessment in a Post-Primacy World.
posted by scalefree at 9:01 AM on September 14 [5 favorites]


At Our Own Peril: DoD Risk Assessment in a Post-Primacy World is linked in the third paragraph of the Insurge Intelligence article. May I suggest reading before shooting from the hip. Thank you.
posted by adamvasco at 10:05 AM on September 14 [3 favorites]


At Our Own Peril: DoD Risk Assessment in a Post-Primacy World is linked in the third paragraph of the Insurge Intelligence article. May I suggest reading before shooting from the hip. Thank you.

I read it through several times in my search for the original. After I'd found it on my own I even did a search on words from the title to make sure I hadn't missed it. But you're right, there was a link, even if the style & link text didn't make it exactly visible, & I did miss it. But it wasn't for lack of trying.
posted by scalefree at 10:42 AM on September 14 [2 favorites]


The coming fall? Are you all serious. The empire has fucking fallen.
posted by leonard horner at 5:57 PM on September 17 [2 favorites]




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