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The US as a Failed State

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The concept and phenomenon of “failed state” is — somewhat ironically — intimately bound to the United States. On the one hand, the term is ambiguous and politically subjective: qualitatively diverse cases ranging from Somalia to Russia are selectively called “failed states” whenever such fits the narrative of Washington’s foreign policy. A growing number of Western political scientists have accordingly come to admit that the “failed state” label is inherently about cui bono: it is often a pretext for destabilization, not a concern for stability. On the other hand, it is abundantly clear to many Americans that US foreign policy has scarred our world with a disastrous track record of “failed states” from Libya to Ukraine. These and other countries that have been subject to Washington’s “democracy and human rights” were rapidly transformed into bloody conflict zones with little to no rule of law and no sovereign future for their populations. All of this has happened, of course, with Americans footing the moral and tax bills for such imperial adventures while an enormous portion of Americans at home are left with living standards that leave much to be desired. To understand this injustice, and in order to realize its trajectory in context, I think that it is time for Americans to start seeing the United States of America for what it truly is: a failed civilization.

It must not be forgotten that the United States of America has a short history of only several hundred years, which has been inflated with such profound exceptionalist tones that it is more often than not internalized, thus distorting sober views of the US’ position today.

The United States was climactically founded as, in Francis Bacon’s vision, the “New Atlantis” and, in John Winthrop’s words, the “city upon a hill.” The exceptionalism of the statehood project on the American continent was part and parcel from the very beginning, when the first English colonists stepped ashore, and was a guiding religious principle when the indigenous inhabitants of North America were systematically decimated in the name of this “exceptional civilization.” The costs of the 17th and 18th century New Atlantis mission were heavy: average estimates suppose several million Native Americans killed in what is increasingly called genocide that lasted up to the 20th century; millions of Africans were displaced and subjected to slavery; European colonists risked and, in the beginning frequently lost, their lives in attempts to settle American lands, some of them giving into indentured servitude; and the political-economic aspirations of the Northeastern colonies and their expansion culminated in a war for independence which would be one of the most defining political events in modern history, lighting the spark for series of revolutions that are arguably responsible for the arrangement that has been conducive to many of the conflicts of the modern world. The 1776 Declaration of Independence was written and claimed to be universal for all humans, promising democracy, Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness to all men as equals with unalienable Rights, of which the United States of America were to be the prime paradigm. The US has since been at war for 95% of its 242 years of existence. Fresh into the 19th century, Manifest Destiny and the Frontier were tooted to drive this project westward, exterminating the indigenous populations in its wake and asserting control over a vast landmass which within mere decades did not prove satisfying enough. The Mexican-American War of 1848-1846 would be followed by the Civil War of 1861-1865, which killed many birds (not to mention Americans) with one stone - slavery was nominally abolished, but so were states’ rights, and southern and westward expansion amidst these dynamics saw the rise of a US which was aggressive, expansionist, centralized, and sought to uniformly subjugate the territories of the North American continent to its hyper ideal. The history of the rise of US imperialism and the Atlanticist project with the US at its head in the 20th century is well known. In the 1990’s, the American liberal model, after two centuries of warfare, declared itself the “End of History.” Now this model is nearly universally recognized to be in decline, as is the US itself.

It is curious to look back at all the dreams, visions, promises, and possibilities that have been lost along the turbulent push of the United States of America’s short, whirlwind history. Where is the “American dream” promised to the generations who fought the US’ foreign wars for domination over the Old World? At the bottom line, the living standards of the majority of Americans are not impressive, and in fact have not changed significantly in nearly half a century. Moreover, the hollow touchstones of ephemeral commodities by which such are measured, such as television sets, smartphones, or cars, are hardly uniquely indicative. In terms of the poverty rate, food security and nutrition, healthcare, life expectancy, education, infrastructure, etc., the US plainly “doesn’t look like a developed country.” Meanwhile, the US is a global leader in statistics such as prison population, income inequality, etc., and comes in only average or below average in spheres such as education. Where is the futuristic utopia promised in 1960’s pop-culture or the technological hyper-progress portrayed in the 1990’s? Is a few dozen million Americans owning iPhone’s, which are instruments for Washington’s ubiquitous surveillance system anyway, it? Now it is increasingly abundantly obvious that the US is on the decline, a fact which Washington’s “intelligence agencies” evoked as unquestionably authoritative in recent anti-Trump headlines themselves know: every National Intelligence Council report since 2008 has essentially rung the same tone: the question is no longer of the US winning, but of losing as little as possible in view of a rising multipolar world. What’s more, the possibility of a new American civil war is already being discussed loud and clear, and state secession movements are back on the agenda with a vengeance with Calexit and Texit.

This far from exhaustive panorama serves the purpose of illustrating an unavoidable fact: the US has failed at its civilizational ambition, and is in decline.

Now the latest bout is out: Trump promises to Make America Great Again, but a portion of the US establishment won’t even let that be seen through. Perhaps it is time to recognize that the US’ 50 years of fame is over, and it is time to rethink what North America has been, is, and could be without the prejudices of liberal idealism and civilizational ambitions. North America and the Western Hemisphere are a massive space with endless possibilities. The past accelerated 200-odd years are just a speck on the historical record. The sooner that Americans wake up to this, the greater chances they have at determining a sovereign future before the failing US project takes them down with it.

Author: Jafe Arnold