The colossal project to re-colonialize the world started with United States President Ronald Reagan eagerly backed by United Kingdom Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1981 and over the next 20 years seemed to sweep all before it.
But we can now see that the creation of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the 9/11 attacks in 2001 marked the turn of the tide.
Since then one super-ambitious project of nation destruction and rebuilding after another generated by Washington and eagerly embraced by its main Western European allies has collapsed spectacularly.
As if living out one of Aesop’s Fables, the hammer of US kinetic power so eagerly embraced at the urging of neo-conservatives and neoliberals alike following the collapse of communism exhausted the Western welders of the weapon instead of their targets.
The reckless resort to indiscriminate military power in the US-dominated invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the following campaigns to topple the governments of Syria and Libya created unexpected consequences comparable to Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion – Every Action has an Equal and Opposite Reaction.
Nevertheless, US and Western confidence in the triumph of liberal, free trade and democratic ideals around the world has remained almost totally impervious to the sobering lessons of recalcitrant global realities. The great reawakening of Western imperial and capitalist resolve heralded by Reagan and championed by his loyal spear carriers, Thatcher and her successors as prime ministers of the United Kingdom continued unabated: Until 2016.
Two epochal events happened that year:
The British people, to the astonishment most of all of their own leaders, pundits and self-selected Platonic guides and “betters’ voted for Brexit: They opted by a narrow but decisive vote of 48 percent to 52 percent to leave the 28-nation European Union. The disruptions and chaos set in motion by that fateful outcome have still only begun to work their way through the political and economic systems of Europe.
Second, Donald Trump, even more amazingly was elected president of the United States to the limitless fury of the American “Deep State” which continues unabated in its relentless and frantic efforts to topple him.
However, the motives of the scores of millions of Americans who voted for Trump were perfectly clear: They were opting for American nationalism instead of American Empire. They were sickened by the clear results of 70 years of post-World War II global imperium that had arrogantly and casually allowed US domestic industry and society to wither on the vine for the supposed Greater Good of Global Leadership.
A decade and a half of endless, fruitless, ultra-expensive global wars entered into by the feckless and stupid George W. Bush and continued by the complacent and superficial Barack Obama advanced this process of weariness and rejection.
Two years after the election of Trump and the British people’s vote for Brexit, the great surge of the West that outlasted the Soviet Union is clearly on the ebb: Now the United States is exhausted, the EU is falling apart and NATO is an empty shell – a paper tiger if you will. Why is this happening and can it be reversed?
Free Trade was never the universal panacea it has been ludicrously claimed to be now for more than 240 years since Adam Smith published his Wealth of Nations. On the contrary, the cold, remorseless facts of economic history clearly show that protective tariffs to safeguard domestic manufactures and advantageous export-driven balance of payment surpluses are the true path to economic growth and sustainable, lasting national power and wealth.
The idea that democracy – at least in the narrow, highly structured, manipulative and patchy form practiced in the United States is some sort of universal guarantee for happiness, national stability and growth has also been repeatedly confounded.
Instead, the Western democratic states have fallen into exactly the same intellectual pit that trapped and eventually wrecked the Soviet Union. They have launched a worldwide ideological crusade and poured wealth and resources into it to ignoring the well-being and advancement of their own domestic economies and populations.
Far from bringing eternal and universal world peace – the alluring Holy Grail of every dangerous idealistic idiot since Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Immanuel Kant – these policies only brought failure, frustration and rising military death lists for the countries that pursued them instead.
This year, new hammer blows are following on the Reagan-Thatcher-spawned era of revived Anglo-American global leadership and domination.
The British themselves have palpably failed to cave out any secure or even plausible economic prospects for themselves in the world once they leave the EU. Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Libya all remain wrecked societies shattered by the repeated air strikes that Western compassion and reverence for human rights and democracy have visited upon them.
Now India and Pakistan – two English-speaking democracies and members of the once British-led Commonwealth of Nations, still so dear to Queen Elizabeth II’s aging heart – have opted to bury their existential rivalry and jointly join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization – confirming it as the premier and by far the most powerful security alliance on the planet.
These developments, to echo US President Thomas Jefferson’s telling phrase nearly 200 years ago, are grave warnings. They are firebells in the night. They serve notice to Washington and London that their facilely optimistic “ever onward and upwards” drive to reshape the entire human race in their own image must be abandoned.
Neither the United States nor the United Kingdom is a remotely united society any more. Both of them need to turn inward to resolve their own problems and abandon the fantastic quest to reassert global dominance that Reagan and Thatcher launched nearly 40 years ago.
And they had better move fast. Jefferson’s firebell is tolling and the sands of time are running out.