The Unz Review - Mobile
A Collection of Interesting, Important, and Controversial Perspectives Largely Excluded from the American Mainstream Media
 Tom Engelhardt ArchiveBlogview
The Superpower as Victim
It’s Safe to Be Paranoid in the U.S.
Email This Page to Someone

 Remember My Information



=>
Search Text Case Sensitive  Exact Words  Include Comments

Given the cluttered landscape of the last 14 years, can you even faintly remember the moment when the Berlin Wall came down, the Cold War ended in a stunned silence of shock and triumph in Washington, Eastern Europe was freed, Germany unified, and the Soviet Union vanished from the face of the Earth? At that epochal moment, six centuries of imperial rivalries ended. Only one mighty power was left.

There hadn’t been a moment like it in historical memory: a single “hyperpower” with a military force beyond compare looming over a planet without rivals. Under the circumstances, what couldn’t Washington hope for? The eternal domination of the Middle East and all that oil? A planetary Pax Americana for generations to come? Why not? After all, not even the Romans and the British at the height of their empires had experienced a world quite like this one.

Now, leap a quarter of a century to the present and note the rising tide of paranoia in this country and the litany of predictions of doom and disaster. Consider the extremity of fear and gloom in the party of Ronald “It’s Morning Again in America” Reagan in what are called “debates” among its presidential candidates, and it’s hard not to imagine that we aren’t at the precipice of the decline and fall of just about everything. The American Century? So much sawdust on the floor of history.

If, however, you look at the country that its top politicians can now hardly mention without defensively wielding the words “exceptional” or “indispensable,” the truly exceptional thing is this: as a great power, the United States still stands alone on planet Earth and Americans can exhibit all the paranoia they want in remarkable safety and security.

Here, then, are three exceptional facts of our moment.

Exceptional Fact #1: Failure Is Success, or the U.S. Remains the Sole Superpower

ORDER IT NOW

If you were to isolate the single most striking, if little discussed, aspect of American foreign policy in the first 15 years of this century, it might be that Washington’s inability to apply its power successfully just about anywhere confirms that very power; in other words, failure is a marker of success. Let me explain.

In the post-9/11 years, American power in various highly militarized forms has been let loose repeatedly across a vast swath of the planet from the Chinese border to deep in Africa — and nowhere in those 14 years, despite dreams of glory and global dominion, has the U.S. succeeded in any of its strategic goals. That should qualify as exceptional in itself. After all, what are the odds that, in all that time, nothing should turn out as planned or positively by Washington’s standards? It could not win its war in Afghanistan; nor its two wars, one ongoing, in Iraq; nor has it had success in its present one in Syria; it failed to cow Iran; its intervention in Libya proved catastrophic; its various special ops and drone campaigns in Yemen have led to chaos in that country; and so, as novelist Kurt Vonnegut used to say, it goes.

ORDER IT NOW

Though there was much talk in the early years of this century of “nation building” abroad, American power has been able to build nothing. Its effect everywhere has been purely disintegrative (unless you count the creation of a terror “caliphate” in parts of collapsed Syria and Iraq as a non-disintegrative act). Under the pressure of American power, there have been no victories, nor even in any traditional sense successes, while whole countries have collapsed, populations have been uprooted, and peoples put into flight by the millions. No matter how you measure it, American power has, in other words, been a tempest of failure.

Where, then, does success lie? The answer: despite 15 years bouncing from one militaristic disaster to another, can there be any question that, signs of decline or not, the United States remains the uncontested sole superpower of planet Earth? Consider that a testimony to the wealth and strength of the country. In many ways — certainly, in military terms (despite the hue and cry at the recent Republican debates) — there is no power that could or would contest it.

If you listen to the Republicans, Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, now seems to stand in almost alone for the former Soviet Union. He and his country are, so Republicans, neocons, and t op military figures agree, hands down the country’s greatest enemy, a genuine “existential threat” to the U.S. But looked at in a clear-eyed fashion, this monstrous (yet strangely familiar) enemy is in many ways a house of cards. Or put another way, Putin as a leader has managed to do a remarkable amount (much of it grim indeed, from Ukraine to Syria) with remarkably little. To compare him, no less his country, to the former Soviet Union in its heyday is, however, simply a bad joke (except perhaps when it comes to its still superpower-sized nuclear arsenal). He is, in fact, the head of a rickety, embattled energy state at a time when the price of oil seems to be headed for the sub-basement.

As for China, always assumed to be the coming superpower of the later twenty-first century,don’t count on it. As recent economic events there have reminded us, it’s a country on the edge. Despite more than four “to get rich is glorious” decades and remarkable economic growth, it remains a relatively poor land whose leadership doesn’t know what might happen if, as in any capitalist economy, bubbles were to burst, things went south, and the economy began to tank. Yes, its military budget, though still modest by Pentagon standards, is rising and it’s growing increasingly aggressive in the neighborhood, but its leaders still show no sign of wanting to garrison the planet or become a true military competitor to the U.S. in anything but the most local terms.

And China aside, a quarter-century after the Soviet Union imploded, there are still no other potential rivals anywhere on Earth, just strapped regional powers of various sorts and, of course, a set of interlinked extremist terror outfits, constantly morphing and growing under the pressure of U.S. bombing runs, special ops raids, and drone assassination campaigns.

No question about it, if you’re a big fan of Washington’s exceptional superpowerdom, the news isn’t exactly cheery. Nothing works the way it did, say, in Iran in 1953 when the CIA-instigated a coup that overthrew a democratically elected government and put its own man on the “Peacock Throne.” There, it took 26 years for blowback to occur and the Shah to flee. In 2015, it seems to take only 26 days or maybe 26 minutes.

Still, the good news is that, however crippled U.S. power may be in practice, like the cheese of nursery rhyme fame, it still stands alone. How exceptional is that?

Exceptional Fact #2: Americans Are Actually Safe and Secure

ORDER IT NOW

Think of exceptional fact two as the don’t-believe-your-ears one. In the post-9/11 era, a national security and global surveillance state of historic proportions has been built and funded on one proposition: that without its 17 intelligence agencies, the Homeland Security Department, and the military, as well as a spreading penumbra of secrecy and classification(that is, its ability not to let citizens know much of anything about what’s being done in their name), the American people would be in almost unimaginable danger from a single phenomenon, “terrorism” (with the adjective “Muslim” or “Islamic” implied if not tacked on).

With its talk over the years of sleeper cells, lone wolves, and plots to kill Americans, this message has been a constant of our world. As the handcuffing and arrest of a ninth grader in Irving, Texas, for bringing a clock he cobbled together to school shows, it’s now in the American bloodstream. It’s also provided the largely unquestioned rationale for the growth of secretive agencies of every sort, for the careers of a vast range of top officials, for the extraordinary powers granted to what is increasingly a secretive state within a state (as the U.S. military now has a secret military of ever expanding proportions in its midst). Were it to be put in doubt, that state and much else might be put in doubt, too. A great deal depends on news of and alarms about endless possible terror plots, which often turn out to have been promoted or instigated by FBI informants.

The message manifests itself in a kind of hysteria over possible future plots, claims (largely unsubstantiated or untrue) of past ones that were broken up by agencies of the national security state, and endless stories about how the Islamic State is using the Internet to rouse individuals in this country to commit mayhem here.

And yet — exceptional fact two — despite 9/11, the record clearly indicates that Americans are in next to no danger. If you’re living in Baghdad, the possibility of terror attacks couldn’t be more real or horrific. If you’re living in Irving, Texas, Toledo, Ohio, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, or even New York City, they are close to nil. A country bounded by two oceans and friendly neighbors remains a formula for security, with no credit whatsoever to the national security state. In few places on the planet is anyone likelier to be safer when it comes to Islamic terror attacks than this one. It is, of course, quite true that the U.S. has helped spread insecurity and fear in significant areas of the world. It is also true that even Europe is no longer untouched by that insecurity and by violence. In this way, too, it could be said that the United States stands alone (not that you would know it living inside the American terrordome).

Let me, then, offer anyone reading this a practical guarantee. You will not be killed in the continental United States by an Islamic terrorist or someone in sympathy with the Islamic State — or rather your chances of that happening are infinitesimally small. The odds of almost anything else disastrous happening to you, no matter how obscure, is at least as great, and in almost every case staggeringly greater, including being crushed beneath falling furniture, shot by a tot who has found a stray loaded weapon, murdered in a mass killing incident (not by a terrorist), struck by lightning (or done in by weather events of almost any sort), knocked off by food poisoning, or killed in your own car.

ORDER IT NOW

As has always been true — the British burning of Washington in 1814, Pearl Harbor in 1941, and 9/11 being the exceptions — the United States has been a remarkably protected place (except, of course, when it came to internal strife of various sorts). That sense of invulnerability explains why the 9/11 attacks had an impact beyond compare, and why it was so easy to build a vast structure meant to oversee the “homeland” in all sorts of historically intrusive ways.

The other side of this — consider it exceptional fact two-and-a-half — is that, at this point, American taxpayers have invested trillions of dollars in what can only be called a scam.

Exceptional Fact #3: A Culture of Victimhood Is Developing Among the Inhabitants of the Planet’s Sole Superpower

Given exceptional facts one and two, what could be more exceptional than significant numbers of Americans living in a fear-based culture of victimhood laced with paranoia and extremism that seems to have captured one of the two major political parties?

In it, Americans are always at the mercy of the evil doers everywhere, including those distinctly in our midst with mayhem in mind. Our military is an underfinanced wreck, our Navy practically a set of dinghies, a Muslim is even in the White House, a malign climate-change movement is eager to destroy capitalism as we know it, women’s bodies are enough of a danger to shut the government down, immigrants are potential terrorists or rapists, and so on and so forth through a litany of strangely woven fantasies and factoids.

This mood was highlighted in the media recently after a man at a Donald Trump rally in New Hampshire in the wake of the second Republican debate rose in a question period and said, “We have a problem in this country, it’s called Muslims. We know our current president is one — you know he’s not even an American. But anyway, we have training camps growing where they want to kill us. That’s my question, when can we get rid of them?” Media coverage generally focused on the presidential or “birther” part of the man’s statement, ignoring those fantasy “training camps” for terrorists assumedly here in the USA. Largely ignored as well were the two other audience members called on by Trump who were no less bizarre. The first, a man, said, “I applaud the gentleman who stood and said Obama is a Muslim born abroad and about the military camps, everyone knows that.” (“Right,” Trump responded and moved on.)

The second, a woman, according to the Hill, “told him that there is a ‘new holocaust’ in New Hampshire and that people are being loaded into boxcars and beheaded by members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. ‘I just wanted you to know that.’”

Consider it a small, off-center measure of the sense of fear, persecution, and fantasy now embedded in what’s often referred to as the Republican “base.” Such paranoia is, of course, nothing new in this country, particularly in moments of economic stress. Still, given the years of fear mongering since 9/11 and the building up of a right-wing media universe that’s both echo chamber and megaphone, this is dangerous stuff. And we’re not talking about just a weird set of fringe lunatics here. After all, as the Washington Post reported recently, “54 percent of Trump supporters and some 43 percent of Republicans believe that Obama is a Muslim.”

ORDER IT NOW

In this context, while the U.S. military pursues its failing wars, interventions, and raids abroad, while the national security state develops ever more mechanisms for snooping, surveilling, and controlling populaces at home (as in the recent essentially unprecedented security lockdowns of major American cities “for” the Pope), many of the country’s citizens are increasingly living inside a fact-challenged fantasy of a country, a victimized superpower. Boogiemen lurk around every corner, as do high crimes and dark conspiracies, and any sense of responsibility for what the U.S. has done in the world in these last years is missing in action.

In the meantime, we live on an increasingly disturbed planet in which the basics of drought,fire and flood, melting and freezing, are gaining new meaning, in which power seems not to be expressing or displaying itself in the normal, reasonably predictable ways. The sun may be setting, albeit slowly indeed, on American imperial power, but perhaps it is also setting on imperial power as we’ve known it. And if so, that would truly be exceptional.

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He is a fellow of the Nation Institute and runs TomDispatch.com. His latest book is Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

(Republished from TomDispatch by permission of author or representative)
 
Commenters to Ignore...to FollowEndorsed Only
    []
  1. MarkinLA says:

    The examples in your exceptions fact #3 are bunk. Islam is incompatible with western civilization. However clumsily people may express that doesn’t indicate it is some kind of irrational paranoia.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
    AgreeDisagreeLOLTroll
    These buttons register your public Agreement, Disagreement, Troll, or LOL with the selected comment. They are ONLY available to recent, frequent commenters who have saved their Name+Email using the 'Remember My Information' checkbox, and may also ONLY be used once per hour.
    Sharing Comment via Twitter
    /tengelhardt/the-superpower-as-victim/#comment-1165346
    More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  2. Priss Factor [AKA "The Priss Factory"] says: • Website

    US as superpower playing victim is nothing new.

    I recall in the 1980 election, TV ads made it seem as though USSR had all the missiles and tanks and troops while US and Europe were soooo vulnerable.

    And the Missile Gap fear-mongering by Kennedy was just a lot of crap.

    Perhaps, American victim-playing goes back to the origins of the Republic.

    The mighty kingdoms and empires loved to show off how powerful, grand, majestic, and invincible they were. They were about extolling their own glory and might. Playing at victim-hood was deemed unworthy of the great monarchs. Monarchs might argue that their kingdoms or empires had been wronged by others and some kind of retribution/revenge was in order. But they acted high-and-mighty instead of frightened, anxious, nervous, and flipping-out.

    Indeed, this may have been why the French Monarch, Russian Monarch, and Iranian Monarch fell so bad. They were so used to being so high-and-mighty that they couldn’t sound the alarm and go into no-holds-barred survival mode. They acted as if they were above such worries when, in fact, their political orders were being shaken to the core.
    When your house is on fire, you gotta yell HEP ME! HEP ME! like a crazy Negro. But the monarchs acted as if they were above all that and the troubles would just blow over in time.
    This also may have been why the Chinese were so slow to respond to the rising Western threat. Being so used to the Imperial Mode of Rule, Chinese rulers didn’t have the habit of sounding the alarm real loud and gearing into emergency mode like the Jets in WEST SIDE STORY:

    [MORE]

    In contrast, US came into being as a scrappy rebel-republic that took on the greatest empire in the world. So, the founding myth of the US is like the Rebel Narrative in STAR WARS. Underdog takes on top dog.
    It’s no wonder Reagan spoke of the Evil Empire. The USSR was like the new British Empire, and Americans under Reagan were doing the Yankee Doodle Dandy stuff all over again. Old habits are hard to break.

    And then, this victimological founding narrative of the US later got meshed with the Negro Victim Narrative and Jewish Victim Narrative and now the Homo Victim Narrative. This is especially problematic with Jews cuz they are now the supreme rulers of the US but act like they are weakest and most vulnerable people on the planet. White Americans used to love pulling the ‘we victim rebel narrative’, but they’ve been shamed by Jews for having been ‘racist oppressors’, ‘enslavers of blacks’, ‘genociders of Indians’, and etc. So, the only way whites can now share in the holy victim narrative is to cuck out for Jews, Negroes, and even homos. Homos are very powerful in the US due to support from Jews, but they can also play victim since many nations around the world are not too crazy about homos. Many nations don’t celebrate homosexuality and some even persecute homos. In the US, homos persecute those who won’t bend over to the homo agenda, but in other parts of the world(especially Africa), homos are sometimes whupped real bad. So, homo supremacism in the US invokes homo victim-ism in other parts of the world to justify its vicious power. It’s like how Nazi Germans invoked the problem of German minorities in other European nations(as German minorities were indeed mistreated by Czechs, Poles, and etc) to justify their ‘Aryan’ supremacism. It must be strange to have supremacist power in one place and inferiorist power in another place. Chinese must feel the same way as Chinese are part of a powerful nation in China but also aware of how Chinese minorities are sometimes mistreated and vulnerable in other nations, especially in Southeast Asia.

    In a way, Jews appropriated the American Victim Narrative. They spun their own variation of the underdog rebels fighting against all odds to defeat the greatest empire in the world so full of arrogance and contempt. So, even when the American Big Bully beat up small bullies in the present, American media spin it as ‘freedom loving’ Americans fighting some Great Evil Power.
    When highfalutin kingdoms and empires attacked others, the narrative was “we are so great and mighty, and we shall smite those insignificant worms.” But even when America attacks insignificant worms, the US media make the worms out to be these giant snakes, the serpents of satan.
    Jews appropriated this Narrative, but it’s also true that long before the existence of Anglo-America, Jews have had a similar narrative for over 1000 yrs. The Jewish David vs the Goliath narrative. Even though Jews were not a great power, they felt as the special Chosen of God. So, there was a strange blend of supremacism and victim-ism in the Jewish historical and moral narrative. (To be sure, this narrative sort of existed among the Brits too. Britain used to be a weak island nation separate from rest of Europe. So, the fact that it developed into the greatest power in the world made the Brits feel somewhat odd. It’s no wonder that they fretted endlessly about Europe uniting into one power bloc to challenge Britain. And it’s no wonder that the Brits could be overly nervous and even hysterical about Giant Russia. But then, Brits had also been ahead of the game in decreasing the power of the monarch and replacing it with the growing power of the business class, and businessmen tend to be a more hysterical and nervous bunch as their fortunes don’t have a long pedigree and may rise and fall so fast in contrast to power of kings and noblemen that were rooted in tradition.)

    Today, as Jews control America, the American Narrative has been doubled. There is the original narrative of US as the decent/humble underdog vs the Evil Empires around the world. This had been layered with the Jewish Narrative of the holy vulnerable Jews at the mercy of the New Nazis who seem to sprout all over the place. (Now, the media are saying that the president of Venezuela is acting like the new Hitler; he does look sort of like Saddam).

    http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/09/27/has-venezuelan-president-maduro-gone-insane.html

    And then, with homos also in the act, it’s getting really sickening. We have all these powerful homos throwing their weight around in the US but bitching about homos around the world don’t have the same ‘rights’ to destroy anyone who won’t bend over to the agenda and praise homo-ness to high heaven.

    But all said and done, the power of Jews is most important and worthy of our attention. Jews do rule America, and much of America’s foreign policy since the end of the Cold War has been geared along the lines of “Is it good for the Jews?” or more like “Is is GREAT for the Jews?” Good is no longer good enough for the Jews. After all, Putin has been nice to Jews, and Jews have it good in Russia. But that is not good enough. Jews want the same kind of power in Russia that they got in America. They want minority-supremacy domination of the entire nation.

    And of course, the Middle East has especially been a trouble spot cuz Israel is there. If Israel had never been created, would US foreign policy in the region been so nuts, contradictory, insane, and violent? Unlikely.

    Of course, it isn’t as if Jews all get together and plot things out. But Jews pick up each other’s signals, and they are agreed on the main principles and objectives of Jewish power. They know that since Jewish power doesn’t have a demographic foundation in the West(or elsewhere except in Israel), powerful Jews must always be picking up on each other’s signals and playing at the top of the game. To borrow a sports phrase, Jews lack ‘depth’. Russia had depth in WWII. Though pushed hard by the Nazis, Russia had depth in land and people. Russians could pull back and reorganize. They could also throw tons of Russians at Germans. Germans had better quality, but the Russian quantity was hard to beat. So, even though Russian war machine wasn’t top-notch, its great ‘depth’ ensured its victory. Russian power was like a team with lots of mediocre players: there were so many in reserve so that when players on the field got injured or tired, the Russian team could send in fresh players. So, Russia didn’t have to play best to win. As long as the game ground on and on, Russia would eventually defeat the Germans that had better players but not as big a bench.

    Because Jews are limited in their numbers, they lack ‘depth’, and therefore cannot take anything for granted or rest on their laurels. So, those on the field must play a top-notch game at all times. They cannot make too many mistakes. (And they must control the referee by bribe and blackmail and make him call favorably for Jews.)
    It’s like Ace Rothstein in CASINO leaves nothing to chance. He is a smart Jew surrounded by goomba thugs, and his one advantage is his brains, and he has to outsmart everyone else to remain the game.

    Jewish power is practiced like on a soccer field. For most of the game, players don’t have the option of getting together and discussing strategy. Each player must make his separate moves when the ball comes to him. Players cannot talk on the field, and the game is unpredictable calling for constant shift in strategem. Yet, those on the same team know what the game is about. They know they are on the same team, have the same objective, the same spirit, and same interest. Same can be said for Jews.
    The chances are that a Jewish media mogul, a Jewish law professor, a Jewish government official, a Jewish diplomat, a Jewish Wall Street exec, a Jewish film-maker, a Jewish publisher, and etc. won’t get together to discuss the Jewish Strategy. But they all send and pick up signals among each other even without communicating like players on the same soccer team. Even without huddling and even without talking to one another, they know what the overall game is about.
    They know they belong on the Jewish Team, and they know their actions must somehow score a goal for Jewish interest, and they know each must move and hustle and look for the opportunity to score the goooooooaaaaaaaaaaal. Sometimes, the goal is scored by a Jew in Wall Street, a Jew in Hollywood, a Jew in government, a Jew in Las Vegas, a Jew in Silicon Valley, and etc. Whoever scores, it’s been passed from one Jew to another even without some kind of grand plan behind closed doors. Indeed, much of power cannot be pre-planned, at least not in a free society and democracy. Power can be tightly controlled in a place like Cuba, North Korea, or Zimbabwe where the government holds everything. But in free societies, power is like a soccer ball that is kicked around. So, those who play the best(and the dirtiest without getting caught) have the most time with the power ball. Because of the nature of power in a democracy — fluid and transient — , Jews feel that unless they play extra-hard and hog it as much as possible, someone else will get it. This is why soccer is so hectic. It’s not like weightlifting where the athlete can prepare for the big lift. It’s not like a marathon where one can control the pace. In American Football, even if your side loses the ball, you can work together on defense and take your time. Football also has breaks. In contrast, soccer is non-stop. Unless your side has the ball, the other immediately grabs it and runs with it.

    The thing is, even without explicitly coming together to hammer out a Jewish plan, those in the game of Jewish Power know what it’s all about. And they know that they must pass the ball among themselves so that when the opportunity comes, one of them can score the gooooooaaaaaaal. Jewish power is more about coordination than conspiracy(though there is some of that among close-knit organizations). Even Jews who never meet or know each personally understand that they are playing for the same team, and that, despite their differences and internecine rivalries, they are all united by the need for the team to win. It’s like there are clash of egos on the same team, but all team members know they must work together to win the game.

    Read More
  3. The United States of America belongs to Whites. We can exclude anyone for any reason at all, including the way they part their hair, and we are not required to justify it to the likes of Mr. Engelhardt.

    Jews, negroes, Aztecs, Muslims, and all 3rd world scum do not belong here.

    Deal with it.

    Read More
Current Commenter says:

Leave a Reply - Comments on articles more than two weeks old will be judged much more strictly on quality and tone


 Remember My InformationWhy?
 Email Replies to my Comment
Submitted comments become the property of The Unz Review and may be republished elsewhere at the sole discretion of the latter
Subscribe to This Comment Thread via RSS Subscribe to All Tom Engelhardt Comments via RSS
Personal Classics
Eight Exceptional(ly Dumb) American Achievements of the Twenty-First Century
How the Security State’s Mania for Secrecy Will Create You
Delusional Thinking in the Age of the Single Superpower