Is the American Empire Facing Collapse?
By John W. Whitehead
“The Titanic sails at dawn.”—Bob Dylan
On January 1, 1791, our national debt (the total amount of money owed by the U. S. government) totaled $75 million. Today, it rises by that amount every hour or so.
According to the National Debt Clock, the U.S. national debt is now a whopping $8.9 trillion. Since September 29, 2006, it has increased an average of $1.45 billion per day! And by 2010, the debt is estimated to reach $11.2 trillion.
It is difficult to get one’s head around such a large figure, so think of it this way: if the nation’s debt were divvied up among Americans, every man, woman and child in the United States would owe approximately $38,000 (that only includes the national debt, not any personal debt). Yet the government keeps ratcheting up the national debt, spending money it does not have on ill-advised schemes and far-flung wars.
Since 2001, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have cost the American taxpayer hundreds of billions of dollars. For instance, by May 2007, Congress had approved roughly $610 billion for the three military operations initiated since the 9/11 attacks: Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and other counter terror operations; Operation Noble Eagle, providing enhanced security at military bases; and Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that total funding for Iraq, Afghanistan and the “Global War on Terror” alone could reach $1.45 trillion by 2017.
Add to this the fact that billions are spent on luxury military installations. For example, the new U.S. Embassy being built in Iraq, dubbed “Fortress Baghdad,” covers 104 acres and boasts a “city within a city” that includes six apartment buildings, a Marine barracks, swimming pool, shops and 15-foot-thick walls. Camp Anaconda in Iraq, like many U.S. military bases scattered across the globe, has been structured to resemble a mini-city with pools, fast food restaurants, miniature golf courses and movie theaters.
Thus, it’s clear that American taxpayers’ dollars are not being used wisely or well. For example, earlier this year, it was revealed that although the U.S. had transported nearly $12 billion in shrink-wrapped $100 bills into Iraq, we have no proper accounting of who received it and how it was spent. And it was recently reported that the Pentagon had paid out about $20.5 million over six years to a small South Carolina parts supplier, much of it for fraudulent shipping costs. Included in this exorbitant bill was a line item for $998,798 for shipping two 19-cent washers to an Army base in Texas. Incredibly, the invoice was paid.
Furthermore, our burgeoning military empire—funded by taxpayer dollars—is not limited to Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2005, the U.S. had 737 military bases in other countries. Historian Chalmers Johnson notes that there are “more than 2,500,000 U.S. personnel serving across the planet and military bases spread across each continent.”
Indeed, much like the Romans who faced the challenge of raising sufficient funds to support their over-extended military, America is facing the consequences of financing a global military presence. In fact, David Walker, comptroller general of the U.S., believes there are “striking similarities” between America’s current situation and the factors that contributed to the fall of Rome, including “declining moral values and political civility at home, an over-confident and over-extended military in foreign lands and fiscal irresponsibility by the central government.”
At the height of its power, even the mighty Roman Empire could not stare down a collapsing economy and a burgeoning military. In fact, it was largely prolonged periods of war and false economic prosperity that led to its demise. And it is feared that America, by repeating Rome’s mistakes, is headed toward collapse. As Johnson predicts, “the United States will within a very short time face financial or even political collapse at home and a significantly diminished ability to project force abroad.”
To sustain their empire, the Romans raped the world and heavily taxed those subject to its power. However, as Henry Kissinger recognizes, “Hegemonic empires almost always elicit universal resistance, which is why all such claimants have sooner or later exhausted themselves.” The Romans faced revolt. And the American Empire is now facing its own rebellions, at home and abroad, in the form of terrorism and insurgency.
But we can no longer ignore the cold, hard reality that despite the fact that politicians may say otherwise, America is going broke.
Indeed, President Bush recently patted himself on the back for reducing the deficit to $239 billion. However, as Ed Hall observes on the Debt Clock’s website, “Politicians love to crow ‘The deficit is down! The deficit is down!’ like it’s a great accomplishment. Don’t be fooled. Reducing the deficit just means we’re adding less to the Debt this year than we did last year. Big deal—we’re still adding to the Debt.”
Thus, there are two choices that remain to us: we can continue to pour our resources into building a military empire or we can focus on shoring up our democracy. The Romans chose the military route, and history shows how that ended. Will we make the same mistake?