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Unfiled July 15, 2005
America the Irrelevant
By Kirill Pankratov Browse author

A recent session of the International Olympic Committee decided to drop baseball and softball-quintessential American sports-from the 2012 Summer Games, which were just awarded to London. It was an unexpected comeuppance-it may be helpful to recall that there is very little "world" in the World Series-the game is played only by the US and a few banana republics in the Caribbean, from which America imports its best players.

I find it pointless to argue which sport is better than the other. It is totally subjective, visceral, something you grow up with-the first bumps and scratches, the first collective battle cries that define the behavior of human tribes, the first hard-on one gets from looking at a giggly, preening cheerleader. This is not the point. However small this whole episode, it was almost impossible to imagine just a few years ago that the US would not get its way in the major international powwow.

Every empire passes through several stages, slouching inexorably towards its expiration date. There are many variations, but generally it moves according to the following stages: rape and pillage, freshness and dynamism, power and might, arrogance, stupidity, decline and collapse. Today's Bushlandia is not near collapse yet. It is past arrogance, and well into the stupidity domain.

Two years ago the war in Iraq seemed almost miraculous in its quick ending and the little resistance that followed in its immediate aftermath. A year ago things were much worse, but its outcome still very unclear. Today it is clear that the war is lost. It is not just specific bombings or the bodycount of insurgents and the "coalition" forces. It is the big picture-the direction where things are moving, and the total lack of anything credible Bushies can offer there in the long term.

Remember the not-too-distant past when the neocons waxed on about how the Iranians would greet US marines with flowers after such a great success in Iraq? Well, those Iranians just gave them a big purple middle finger. They had genuine (which does not mean strictly following a western canon) democratic elections, with a real campaign, massive participation and unexpected results. And they voted for the candidate who promised to get toughest on America. The elections were incomparably more democratic and honest than the sham vote in occupied Iraq or Afghanistan, not to mention in the US-allied kleptocracies of Saudi Arabia, Egypt or Kuwait. Iranian politics proved more modern and sophisticated than in Lebanon (which the Bushies like so much to throw around as an example), where it is dominated by tribes and warlords-the son of Jumblatt, the son of Hariri, the ancient fossil Aoun and the likes.

A few months ago it seemed that the Bushies were prepared to attack Iran. It was a very bad idea back then and is still now, but today it is much less likely to happen. Then it seemed that stupidity was going to prevail. Today-not that the stupidity has diminished-things are getting so much worse in Iraq (and, increasingly, Afghanistan, where even a tenuous US control over a few urban centers is slipping), that pure cowardice and resource shortage now decide what can and can't be done.

In the obsessive desire to surround Russia with hostile regimes, Washington has probably overexerted itself already, with quite modest results. Georgia's Saakashvili proved who he really is-a buffoon with a Napoleonic complex but without Napoleonic talents or resources. The economy is in shambles just like two years ago, while the El Presidente is busy rousing "revolutions" abroad. The Prime Minister-and the only politician with a modicum of independence-was found dead in suspicious circumstances. In Putin's Russia a rare plutocratic privilege means a mansion near the Rublyovka highway. In Georgia-once one of the richest republics in Soviet era-it means living through the winter with heat and electricity most of the time.

Ukraine's Yushchenko and Timoshenko already made a bigger mess than was expected of them. Now the reality has dawned on them-that Europe is not waiting for them (oh, your Orange Revolution was so cute, but:), the economy is stalling, and accommodation with Russia is a necessity, whether they like it or not.

The Kyrgyzstan revolution was a farce from the beginning-the mob broke a lot of windows, kicked out some corrupt officials just to bring new ones, who for all purposes are indistinguishable from the old. And in Uzbekistan they simply shot the nascent revolutionaries in cold blood, which seemed to quiet things down very quickly-a bloody affair, but hundreds of times less bloody than what American-supported Guatemala and Salvador needed to put down their rebellions during the Reagan era. And -guess what-now the Central Asian countries are joining Russia and China in calling for the USA, ever so politely, to begin withdrawing its imperial forts from the region.

One can recall that in the last years of Brezhnev's senility the Soviet Union scored some of its biggest successes in America's "near abroad": the Sandinista revolution swept away the thuggish Somoza dictatorship. Almost all regimes in Central America tottered under leftist insurgencies: Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras all seemed on the verge of joining Nicaragua and Cuba. Panama forcefully negotiated return of the canal to its control, expelling American domain from its soil. Afghanistan was successfully invaded by the Soviets. Iran-the most important power in the Middle East-exploded in anti-American revolution. And yet all this was not important-the USSR collapsed anyway, from its internal problems and weaknesses.

Obsessed with Russia and its reach near the Soviet Union, the US completely lost the whole American continent right under its nose. Today, pleasing Washington is the last thing on Latin American minds. One after another in the last three years several LatAm countries-Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Chili, Bolivia (and Mexico seems to be on the way) elected presidents who are not inclined to toe Washington's line. The policies which America promoted there, and often forced on them, for nearly two decades, are totally discredited. The Washington Consensus-almost unquestionable orthodoxy just a few years ago-is relegated to the dustbin of history (see my earlier article "The Collapse" on more detailed description of the Argentinean debacle). Venezuelan President Chaves survived a CIA-inspired coup and returned to power to mock the Bush clique, confident as ever. And this is not some penniless Saakashvili-a big ego with barely anything to pay for it. I wouldn't trade Venezuela-the biggest oil exporter in the Western hemisphere - for a dozen Georgias.

Remember Alan Greenspan, Robert Rubin, Larry Summers? They graced so many covers of the Time and Fortune magazines in the 90's as saviors of the world economy, curing multiple ills and misfortunes that only America could quickly resolve, throwing its money around at leisure. No more. Is Greenspan even alive today? Does anybody care a slightest bit about his mystical pronouncements, the way they used to catch his every word, endlessly pontificating its oracular meaning.

Arnold Toynbee-one of the greatest 20th century historians-made a very astute observation about a common feature of a last stage of civilization's development. A civilization on the way to a terminal decline develops escapism that splits into two temporal directions. Toynbee called them "archaism" and "futurism." This is evidently present, and growing, in the body of the Western civilization today. The split also has a geographic component. Western Europe (and the American ivory tower, sympathizing with it) pursues a bland, post-national, postindustrial eurofaggish dream, which is now crashing down on them. And Middle America steadily marches into the Bible-thumping obscurantism and ancient stupidities. Increasingly a larger portion of its populace is unable to accept the most important discoveries of the 19th century (forget the 20th ones)-such as Darwin's theory and geological history of the Earth-that other peoples have long taken for granted. And it is only getting worse.

It was not so just ten years ago. America was in the middle of dazzling, creative renovation, brought by the Internet revolution. It seemed boundless and endless, brimming with fantastic possibilities. A lot of wonderful things came to fruition, but the game was done already by 1996 or 97. Afterwards innovation was displaced by hype, by the dot-com bubble, hustle and swindle, which produced some billionaires, much ruination, and very little in enduring value. It got worse after the bubble popped. Compared to the five years from 1990-95, the last five years have seen very little innovation or genuinely interesting technological development.

America's biggest, most powerful corporations are dinosaurs, even when sitting on giant hoards of cash. Remember when Microsoft was a hungry, inventive underdog, beating every time the clumsy, lumbering giants which still dominated the software landscape. Now it is a clumsy, lumbering giant, much worse than even IBM. Tens of millions of lines of code that it boasts inside its operating system is a pitiful argument-they are no more sign of a real innovation than that tens of millions tons of steel was the sign of economic strength of the later-day Soviet Union. Microsoft has barely produced anything remotely innovative in the last ten years (and neither have other behemoths like Intel or Cisco). All it can do is sit on its enormous bag of monopoly money and buy, destroy and stifle any emerging competition. Technology is stagnating in all these fields, irrespective of the ever growing gigahertz and gigabytes of technical specs.

But the "dark satanic mills" of the information revolution was not Microsoft or other software or internet companies. It was the Wal-Mart, and the likes of it, chewing the American backbone, making the new, retail proletariat, pauperizing its small-town communities. It is still aggressive and hungry, getting fatter and plodding ahead. But it is already stagnating in its core, unable to learn any new tricks. It can continue to destroy, but is hardly able to create anything new anymore-just shove larger portions of cheap junk at the consumer in its ever bigger caverns.

The world will still need to be wary of America. Most likely not as a fast, big shark lurking around, but a giant sick whale left on the beach and beginning to stink. What the hell to do with it will give us all enough thoughts and troubles in the days to come.

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