The Decline of American Empire: A Kübler-Ross Cycle Analysis

How will the United States react domestically should she be dislodged from her role of global top-dog power by China? As well as the obvious economic and strategic ramifications of an end to American imperium, there will be profound emotional and psychological effects on a society that has taken its hegemony for granted for more than three-quarters of a century.

The via dolorosa presently stretched before the United States will likely encompass the replacement of the dollar as the global currency of last resort, the recognition that the South China Seas are no longer navigable by the US Navy, the understanding that Africa has been effectively colonized by China, and the possible swallowing of Ukraine by Russia and Taiwan by China. If the United States maintains its present course, Americans should prepare themselves for a century of humiliating retreats. So, how are these developments likely to play out in an already deeply divided polity and society?

An analogy can be drawn with the British Empire, and the prolonged grieving process experienced by Britons in the three-and-a-half decades after India became independent in 1947. Within a generation and a half, the largest empire in the history of Mankind was reduced to struggling with Argentina over the Falkland Islands. Empires tend to rise and fall faster in modern than in ancient history, so what can Britain’s loss of Empire teach us about the possible decline and fall of America’s?

A useful means of understanding how Britons slowly accommodated themselves to their postwar loss of power and prestige is provided by the Kübler-Ross Grief Cycle—the five-stage process by which individuals deal with tragedy, bereavement, and a dawning knowledge of imminent demise. The British people’s journey through those five stages of grief has profound implications for America, assuming she continues down her chosen path of impotence and retreat.

The first stage of the Kübler-Ross Cycle is Denial, which was the initial response of the British government after the loss of the jewel in Britain’s imperial crown. Notwithstanding the ideological anti-imperialism of Clement Attlee’s Labour government, it insisted that India would remain part of the British Commonwealth (as it was still then designated) and attached to the Western anti-Communist bloc. Indeed, the whole concept of the Commonwealth—founded in December 1931 but not taken seriously until 1947—can be seen as a sop to a people in denial about the loss of Empire.

America is already in the Denial stage of appreciating the loss of power overseas. President Biden’s speeches and press conferences at the time of the coalition’s over-hasty and humiliating scuttle from Afghanistan betray a psychology symptomatic of the first stage of the Kübler-Ross cycle. “Last night in Kabul,” Biden announced in the White House State Dining Room on August 31st, “the United States ended 20 years of war in Afghanistan—the longest war in American history. We completed one of the biggest airlifts in history, with more than 120,000 people evacuated to safety. … No nation has ever done anything like it in all of history. Only the United States had the capacity and the will and the ability to do it, and we did it today.”

In fact, plenty of nations have the capacity, will, and ability to lose wars, but the United States had not done it since Vietnam. And as Biden’s speeches and actions have subsequently shown, his administration is in denial about the message that defeat at the hands of the Taliban sends to vacillating allies and jubilant antagonists alike.

Britain was shaken out of her Denial stage by the Suez Crisis of 1956, which arrived less than a decade after the loss of India. The second stage of the Kübler-Ross Cycle is Anger, and the fury that greeted Anthony Eden over his invasion of—and subsequent withdrawal from—the Canal Zone was symptomatic of a deeper anger about Britain’s dwindling position on the world stage. The role of the United States in forcing Britain’s humiliating retreat after a successful military operation further underlined the new world order, and sent a large number of Conservatives such as Enoch Powell into the barren cul-de-sac of lifelong anti-Americanism. The anger in British politics was also evident in the activities of the League of Empire Loyalists, which disrupted political meetings in the early 1960s. Its members were furious that after Suez and the independence of Sudan, the Conservatives no longer considered itself the party of Empire.

The capacity for anger in modern American politics hardly needs emphasising since the appalling scenes at the Capitol on January 6th, 2021. The mid-term elections in November 2022 may see at least some outpouring of anger over American loss of hegemony. It will be the first time that large sections of the American electorate have gone to the polls since the Afghan catastrophe. Anger with the Democrats will likely result in their loss of the House of Representatives and the relegation of Biden to lame-duckery.

Britain entered the third stage of the Kübler-Ross Cycle—Negotiation—in the 1960s when she made the rational choice to cleave to the United States; in Harold Macmillan’s revealing phrase, to try to become Greece to America’s Rome. His relationship with President Kennedy and support during the Cuban Missile Crisis were the foundations of a new post-Churchill Special Relationship. This was a logical response to the Suez debacle, and it could not even be weakened by Harold Wilson’s and Edward Heath’s refusal to be drawn into Vietnam.

It remains to be seen what the United States will do in her Negotiation stage. Certainly, she starts at a disadvantage because President Biden is not as good a diplomatic negotiator as President Xi of China or Russian President Putin, both of whom seem to outmanoeuvre him repeatedly. It is therefore doubtful that the United States can negotiate with her opponents and rivals successfully in an effort to defend a rules-based world order once she is eclipsed as the world’s pre-eminent superpower.

When Britain entered the Depression stage of Kübler-Ross in the 1970s, she did so with a total bipartisan commitment to national decline. She experienced depression in both its metaphysical and material senses. Economically and in prestige, she risked slipping into the third rank of world powers thanks to socialism and the pathos-laden Heathite Conservative response to it. In that doleful decade, Britain experienced the OPEC oil price trebling; IRA violence and internment in Northern Ireland; a miners’ strike that led to power cuts and a three-day week, stagflation, price and income caps; and trade union militancy that threatened the primacy of Parliament. The worst (because longest-lasting) of that decade’s developments came when Britain turned her back on the Commonwealth and joined the EEC in 1973. Only a country in the grip of severe depression, self-doubt, and historical amnesia could have done such a thing.

When the United States recognizes that it no longer matters in the world as it once did, that key allies are distancing themselves and flirting with China, that the global organizations erected by Bretton Woods and Dumbarton Oaks no longer guarantee her primacy, and that there is little she can do about it, then depression will hit America. It will leave her confused, morose, and liable to turn in on herself politically. It will be an ugly time.

In the 1980s, Britain embraced the fifth and final stage of the Cycle—Acceptance. This was almost entirely down to one person, Margaret Thatcher. The Falklands War seemed to arrest the lamentable drift and surrender since Suez, and the spectacular victory in the Cold War, in part due to her close alliance with Ronald Reagan, finally provided closure after the loss of Empire. Although she could never again be top-dog power, Britain’s replacement by her close ally was palatable because the Special Relationship had been shown to work well for both countries and also for the wider world in ridding the world of Soviet Communism.

For modern America, however, acceptance of decline cannot have any sense of closure because the successor-state is totalitarian. Every precept of National Socialist China is entirely antithetical to American values. Britain’s successor-state shared her language, common law, liberal principles, free market, and outlook. The United States can take no such comfort when peering into her post-imperial future. So, America’s final Acceptance stage is fraught with far greater dangers than the other four put together. The Free World really will have met its “time when the locusts feed.”

Is all this inevitable? Not if the United States can grasp the leadership of the West once more instead of wallowing in self-destructive and profoundly decadent obsessions with its own faults, real and imagined. The United States ought to heed the words of Winston Churchill during the Munich Debate of October 5th, 1938. The people, he said, should be told that “we have sustained a defeat without a war, the consequences of which will travel far with us along our road; they should know that we have passed an awful milestone in our history … And do not suppose that this is the end. This is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year unless by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigour, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.”

President Biden has already made it clear that he does not understand those words or appreciate their present importance. For now, Americans remain preoccupied with naval-gazing about Critical Race Theory and endlessly revisiting slavery 158 years after its abolition. Hopefully sometime before China takes Taiwan, Putin takes Ukraine, and Iran develops the Bomb, the United States will reject Acceptance of her eclipse and embrace her own supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigour.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://quillette.com/2021/12/04/the-decline-of-american-empire-a-kubler-ross-cycle-analysis/
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Honestly, I don’t believe that Anger over the end of the Afghan adventure will be a major factor inn the mid-term elections. Anger over everything, especially domestic factors, will be the first, second, third and fourth most important issues, even before worrying too much about the position of China and the threats it poses. Unless Chairman Xi could provoke a conflict in 2022, but I doubt that it would be in his interest to be too aggressive too soon.

But yes, certainly most American are at the anger stage, even if the Biden administration is very deliberately constructed to be in denial of the immigration crisis, the education crisis, the crime crisis, and a few others. If you can point me to a single member of the Cabinet whose main task is not denial, it will be because that person’s task is active aggravation of problems.

But assuming that we are currently at Anger, and that Negotiation would be the next step… With whom do we negotiate, and over what? The power and force which is most immediately threatening life-as-we-know-it, the American position in the world, is not China. It is the Global Elite Technocratic Class, who are, in effect, already negotiating with China over how they will work together in fascist partnership to control both the physical resources of the world, and the media and thought processes. The Global Elites grew up and were educated in the West, but, for monetary gain, and even more for plain old power and status and glory, they happily sell out the Western Enlightenment considerations for ‘freedom of thought’, and ‘freedom of expression.’

So, the mid-term elections will likely produce quite a wave, as the ‘common people’ turn against the Elites of the Democratic Party, and make Joe Biden a lame duck. But then what? Is it already too late for the people to recover effective control of the country and its government, to take it back from corporate governance?

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I suspect they are in for a big surprise!

As to the larger point. If China runs Asia and Africa, Germany and Russia run Europe, and we get left with Central and South America maybe it just makes more sense that way.

It’s not like the average American wakes up on any given day and says to himself “ I’m King a da world!” We just get about our daily lives like everybody else.

It’s not like it’s written in the gospels “Thou shalt carry water for every other country on the fucking planet” If the rest of the world doesn’t see the benefit of living under the umbrella of western civilization then fine, hope they like the new boss. We’ll just be over here growing our own food and using our own natural gas for power, and stuff, kind of like we did before the world wars. But y’all be sure to let us know if you need anything, ya hear!

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I think the premise of this article is misfounded. Unlike the English Empire, the USA never intended to establish extra-domestic territories.

Instead, most of the USA’s de facto influence was established after Europe fought itself to a political standstill in WW2.

After German Fascism was defeated, then detente with the great Eastern European communist experiment began. The cold War in all its glory.

All of America’s Asian exploits - Korea, Vietnam were just part of that detente.

However, the USA was sure that it was on the right side of history, and empirically it was for the common person, until a few planes flew into some rather large buildings in the USA.

Suddenly the communist detente, which had been eliminated by natural progression of time and the exposure of the true idiocy of Marx, had been apparently further exposed by a handful of bronze age religious fanatics.

America never wanted to colonize Afghanistan or Iraq except through ideas.

Like the early western colonists who sent quasi-scientific religious fanatics first (southern Africa is still Christian), America sent in special forces first, devoid of any ideology except tactical acumen.

Unlike China, who is playing a very long Shintoist game, America had nothing but tactics and 30-word social media bubble.

You do not establish a global ideology on the average idiocy of millions. You need some ethics at least.

Here is where the USA is weakest. Woke ideology will not satisfy even the weakest of human appetites. Likes, which are just dopamine fuel, are no substitute to the older forms of social hierarchy, easy as they are to accumulate.

It’s no surprise that the American lords face mutiny from their subjects - it’s quite clear that they have nothing to offer after just being the opposition to other shit all their lives.

It’s much harder to rule than to protest. If you cannot provide a reason to rule that is useful to most of your subjects and to their society as a whole, then society will disintegrate.

You cannot allow people to live and defecate and steal on the streets without recourse.

America as “the nice guy” has always been in opposition to truly worse opponents - Fascism, communism and more recently Islamic fundamentalism.

Opposition does not a society make. What is America pro, rather than con.

It has nothing to do with loss of empire; it has everything to do with loss of obvious opponents.

China and India are playing much smarter games in this regard.

(Africa is not, on the whole. We are still subject to Marxist idiocy every day by our new “liberated” rulers. At least we still breed effectively)

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I am sick to death of people from the entire political spectrum calling it an American empire? What empire??
An empire by definition involves conquest of other countries. the last time I checked the world map, the US borders had not changed.
This is typical of the rape of the English language that is taking place on a daily basis.

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Nevertheless, we did, particularly after the Spanish-American War:

I don’t think the attacks of 9/11 caused Americans to lose confidence in the virtue of its foreign policy. The endless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were the main drivers of the surge in non-interventionism.

And yet, we occupied both for many years. We apparently have a tendency to do things we never wanted or intended to do!

Pedantic correction: Shinto is Japanese, not Chinese. You may be thinking of Confucianism.

I agree that those opponents were far worse than the U.S., but it’s appropriate that you put “the nice guy” in scare quotes – our foreign policy is littered with hypocrisy and atrocity.

Agreed. China wields economic and diplomatic influence without maintaining a global military presence and engaging in near-constant warfare.

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Anyone there read these things?

But the woke elite care little about America’s stature in the world. Churchill had a grasp of history and could see the dangers in the future and be powerless to avert them. None of our potential leader appreciate either history or its implications.

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I agree with your pedantry, but this is pure BS. It is 在翻譯中迷失.

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Interesting. I’m an outsider and was far more attentive to Apartheid locally.

But @Schopenhauer do you honestly think that Korea and Vietnam were different in any meaningful way to Afghanistan and Iraq?

Perhaps yes in the sense that the USA really thought that liberal democracy would just “stick”. In that sense it was not a war of obvious aggression or clear opposition but a war of true love.

LOL.

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Decline is not just about the endgame, as if it is just a potential glitch that can be fixed with a change of attitude. Decline is structural across all platforms and has long antecedents.

Britain’s industrial global dominance started to ebb away from around 1885, but it would have only been noticeable at the time in patent offices in Germany and the US. Patents are the leading edge of that dominance.

Britain hedged this weakness using imperial preferences and interlocking alliances, particularly at the expense of Germany, that eventually tired of the game. The First World War was a pyrrhic victory that left Britain effectively ruined, albeit still presiding over a large empire; i.e., large and weak in the same way as the Austro Hungarian empire pre-1914, waiting uneasily for its bluff to be called.by any opportunist that ill luck inevitably would throw up eventually. Britain was in no position to go to war again in the thirties and it really showed.

The US has been in decline since the 'Vietnam War, where it proved itself to be every bit as much a paper tiger that Mao said it was against a really determined foe. The Vietnamese Communists were able to absorb somewhere around a million military deaths. The decadent Americans, who’s ideological ‘leading edge’ couldn’t tell the difference between defeat and ‘peace’ were not able to withstand fifty to sixty thousand.

The 1960s saw the roll out of a decadent and indulgent form of capitalism which subsumed an economy and culture of disciplined needs and wants with ones of fantasies of desire and their urgently immediate satiation, General Motors ceased to technologically innovate as it increasingly consciously became a purveyor of fantasies…which was not enough as Japanese competition started to grab market share on the basis of better and more efficient vehicles. And eventually, Asian production became too efficient for American continental production to compete…Decline.

After Vietnam, holding the American imperium in place became progressively more difficult, dirtier and problematic as its power diminished. The Iranians were able to rub its nose in the dirt. The US had to rely on their Iraqi satrap to counter it, but that empowered the satrap, not them, as they found when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. They needed help from Arab allies to take him out, but it was a bad trade, as while it ensured his military defeat, it left him in place and a continuingly defiant thorn in their side. By the time they eventually got to Baghdad, the place was ungovernable.

Ominous signs like the turn of century dot com bubble and then the 2008 financial disaster revealed an economic elite that had lost perspective on reality, whose corrupt easy money delusions were exported back into academia in the form of postmodernism, where anything goes because anything does in relativist subjective worlds that have abandoned objective reality checks.

What Andrew is tapping into is an end game where the society has degenerated into sectarian factions that have only the awful truth about the other guy, but a blithe blindness to the awful truth about themselves. All sides are part of the same decline, as faith and reason part company and make war on each other. They need each other because without reason, faith becomes blind and without faith, reason is anybody’s. One can see it everywhere.

The wokes can see the environmental wreckage and skewing of wealth as a result of unrestrained economic excess, but they can’t see their own mismanagement of the cultural commons through an equally damaging culture of unrestrained excess and indulgence, that has left the social commons as wrecked as the economic/ecological one.

All the regime ruling constituencies are equally implicated in the decline that has accompanied consumer capitalism, and they are as we speak preparing for enormous struggle to attach blame to the other for the soggy mess that America Inc has become.

Luther's Last Laugh: Indulgermania - Writing.Com.

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No, they had a similar effect on public opinion. But Americans almost always believe that our foreign interventions are motivated by admirable values – at worst, they’re misguided and mismanaged. of course, this isn’t actually true. The U.S. behaved abominably during the Cold War, albeit not as badly as our Soviet adversaries.

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This is generally true, and it’s a very important angle as far as understanding the premise of the article. If ‘we’ didn’t want an empire in the first place, then a Kubler-Ross analysis of what happens when the empire is lost may be very different. It could come very quickly to acceptance of “thank God we don’t have to get into petty quarrels among heathens.” As @Schopenhauer notes, of course the US did take a few colonies from Spain, back when it was fashionable to define empire thru colonies. But Post-Versailles, the American people did not want foreign entanglements, and @rolandpj is quite right that Post WWII the ‘people’ would have been quite happy to isolate, if the mantle had not been thrown onto them.

Somewhere along the way, the ideology of the Elites had been detached from any real morality, but had become Hegelian Progressivism, asserting that the Arc of History pushes ever toward Justice, and that the duty of the individual is to be on the right side of History. Not much strategy besides waving the Rainbow Flag.

But somewhere in there, sometime after Osama Bin Laden escaped on horseback at night thru a mountain pass, and the American forces were left in Afghanistan to preserve its freedom against a faceless foe, the military industrial complex concluded there might be good money to be made in chasing after another renegade Bad Guy, Saddam Hussein, and by god, they got their man. But never achieved much else. How could they achieve anything, without some worthwhile objective.

Indeed! What part of ‘we’ is unclear? This ‘we’ definitely has two aspects. And meanwhile, the Elites did try to expand their empire. They even brought Georgia into NATO, and how well did that work out? And they wanted to bring Ukraine in, and in retrospect it’s clear it was always all about corrupt money, with no moral purpose in the distinction between Russian and Ukrainian.

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which translates as “Lost in Translation.” Well-said. (我会说一点中文 )

I trust there will be many essays of this sort over the coming years. The “Death of the American Empire”… This author is British and understandably correlates this period in American history with the

loss of the British Empire. He then equates the period after the independence of India with Britain going through Kubler-Ross’s stages of grieving: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and finally Acceptance. I suppose there is some truth to this since obviously civilizations are made up of individuals.

Such a period existed previously in the 1980s in the US. At that time Japan would take over the world. There are some differences when Samuel Huntington argued for American Renewal rather than decline in 1988 (Foreign Affairs). We are further in debt and suffering from an ennui which is deeper than the 1980s. Samuel Huntington also wrote The Clash of Civilizations around the same time. He predicted that future great struggles would involve conflicts between civilizations. I think he was spot on.

The problems America faces today are the result of failed leadership. Having experienced the downfall of the Russian Empire our leadership embarked on a change of policies which essentially failed miserably. The first was unleashing Wall Street. The second was not investing in the United States (so much easier to send manufacturing overseas). The third was the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Well over $6 trillion dollars for absolutely nothing. The fourth was naive and driven by greed and failed leadership (and very much a part of “2”) with investments in a civilization whose elite never had the intention of adopting to the rules based order established by the US after WW2.

So now we have a large disaffected segment of the population betrayed by the Clinton faction of the Democratic Party; a GOP which appeals to that disaffected segment of American society, is aligned with fossil fuels and various reactionary elements; and a Democratic Party which pretends to be interested in social justice but which will protect its status quo interests at all costs.

This is not just the United States but rather Western Civilization and the “rules” based order handed down from the Enlightenment. So is the world to be led by autocratic civilizations? A civilization which, ancient though it may be, nevertheless brooks no dissent, and for which the only law is that dictated by its Power Elite. I may consider the US/Western elites as venal and craven; however, I suspect the power elite of China is much worse.

At this moment the future is unclear; however, I’ll trust in Gandhi’s observations:

“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it–always.”

Eventually, there will be an American renewal. This will occur because America was never an empire dependent upon its colonies for its economy. We may have used foreign lands for cheap labor and have certainly made considerable corporate profits all the while turning China into the world’s factory. However, we really don’t need an antagonistic and authoritarian China anymore than we need an antagonistic and authoritarian Russia.

The leadership needs to change dramatically and that means defeating the failed Democratic elite. Oh, not in favor of the crazy train that is the GOP but rather in a future oriented party that will reign in the worst behaviors of Wall Street and recognize this important observation from Samuel Huntington when he spoke of American renewal: “…economic power is the central element of a nation’s strength, and hence a decline in economic power eventually affects the other dimensions of national power.”

Spend money on creating the best tools and manufacturing processes. The capital and intellectual ability remains in Western civilization to do very well in the future. China is recognized as a bully in Asia and doubtless the world. The citizenry of the United States has be profoundly suspicious of the elites of both the Democratic and Republican parties. They don’t share the interests of the majority of Americans. The citizenry of the United States needs to behave once again like citizens.

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[quote=“ericwlewis, post:15, topic:38123”]
I may consider the US/Western elites as venal and craven; however, I suspect the power elite of China is much worse… At this moment the future is unclear; however, I’ll trust in Gandhi’s observations: “When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it–always.”
[/quote]’’

Indeed. That is what I want to believe.

And the question, in this matter of civilizations and history, is the depth and the strength of the ‘common people’ of the US, well enough educated to understand how government is ‘supposed to work,’, smart enough to detect phonies, and at times choose the lesser of weevils, and angry enough to act, but act constructively.

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A basic premise of this article is that the American people care about America’s status in the world. That is probably not true. Ordinary American probably don’t care much either way. Conversely, elites appear to care a lot. For them future changes in America’s status in the world may be a big deal. For regular Americans, not so much.

In some respects the transition from ‘global power’ to ‘ordinary, if large, country’ is already complete. Bush (43) was probably the apogee of global power delusions for the US. Obama resisted intervening in Syria (but did get into Libya). Hillary lost to Trump in part because of her lust for permanent war. Trump showed no inclination towards policing the world. Nor does Biden.

A deeper point is that the article is mostly written in the future tense. This is an error. China is already far ahead of the US in many respects (coal, steel, Aluminum, Copper, Nickel, electric power, etc.). Note that China is well (far) ahead of the US in exports (roughly double the US level) and manufacturing value added (roughly double the US level).

How the world (including the USA) will respond to the rise of China is mostly dependent on what China does, not US foreign policy. If China abuses its neighbors, then an anti-China coalition that will eventually have adverse consequences for China is inevitable. Conversely, if China peruses friendly policies with it’s neighbors than the reverse is likely to be true. History provides no clear guidance as to which outcome is more likely.

A useful point is that China (unlike the UK or the USA) lives in a bad neighborhood. All of China’s land neighbors are either already hostile or could be hostile in the future. By contrast, the UK has the channel and the US has two vast oceans on either side. Worse, China faces inexorable separatism in Tibet and in Western China. Of course, China can resist separatist pressures for now. Can it resist them forever?

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In this context, where much depends on contention over physical, natural resources, rather than moral ideas or 'intellectual capital", I offer this suggestion that the US is not really in a bad position, but a pretty good one with respect to energy and natural gas in particular. If North America can stand by its position. But of course, the call is to what is best for the whole globe.

This is from American Affairs, which I believe has a paywall with one free hit, so the reader in QC should be able to get a look.

The strategic weakness of the Chinese is very much in the matter of energy.

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A map from 1903 should not impress anyone. The Philippines became independent in 1946. Hawaii became a state in 1959. With the exception of Puerto Rico, the rest of America’s ‘empire’ consists of small islands with tiny populations. Several plebiscites in Puerto Rico have shown that larger majorities favor either the status quo or statehood.

Not trying to “impress anyone,” just making the point that the U.S. went through an imperial phase.

I disagree. Both factors are important.

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