October 24, 2006

The Empire at Evening

Werther (which is the pseudonym "of a Northern Virginia-based defense analyst") writes about the nonsensical hubris of the administration's "National Space Policy." He notes that most commentary missed the most revealing and significant point:
The space policy document is not so much a blueprint as a symptom. But of what?--of fiendish Machiavells, plotting to storm the very heavens? Perhaps that is the intent of these laptop Flash Gordons, but between the desire and the fulfillment falls the shadow: the shadow of utter incompetence.

What is to be said about an administration which dreams of policing outer space, when for three and a half years its legions have been stalemated in their occupation of a broken-down country with a pre-war GDP less than that of Fairfax County, Virginia? The Iraq war has been such a riot of fecklessness as to take one's breath away.

One is hard put to find a more badly fought war in our history. The United States, remember, entered the war with its defense expenditure already nearly equal to that of the rest of the world combined. Vastly increasing the regular military budget since then, as well as piling on the $100+ billion annually for Iraq supplemental spending that "doesn't count" against fictitious Congressional spending limits, has not improved matters.


The soldiers are now paying the price. Scanning the casualty lists, one is struck by the number of enlisted reservists over the age of 50. In a past war such hexagenarians would, for example, be cannon fodder for the Volkssturm's last-ditch defense of Berlin. One also hears of a veteran of one Iraq deployment, who had been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and placed on suicide watch, being ordered back to Iraq.

If this is an imperial army, it smacks of late imperial Rome, plugging the gaps in its vast, ramshackle conquests with too few troops to stem the barbarian hordes. As if on [cue], the Post's op-ed page saw fit to air a solution to the troop dilemma on the day after its space policy story: neocon fanatic Max Boot and Establishment weathervane Michael O'Hanlon teamed up to advocate recruiting foreigners (including undocumented aliens) into the military as a step to citizenship. Shades of the Germanic volunteers in the Legions of Rome!


Seen in the historical perspective of an Edward Gibbon or a Winwood Reade, the Bush administration's National Space Policy bears out neither the vain hopes of its authors nor the nagging fears of its critics. Rather, it is a gesture of bravado characteristic of empires in the evening of their existence. Logic might suggest that such empires would hive to the status quo, and avoid adventures that could drain their power. Logic, however, can be deceiving.

Just as the Emperor Valens embarked on a disastrous campaign against the Goths in 376, the Austro-Hungarian Empire rolled the dice in 1914, and the British embarked on the feckless Suez campaign of 1956 (significantly, when their finances were in terrible shape), so the American Empire doubles its bets at the casino of history. It would vault the firmament to bring its purported enemies to heel, when the very basis of its power is ebbing away.

It is the expression of late imperial hubris, not just of a mad emperor, but of a whole governing system.
With the enactment of the Military Commissions Act, we feel only the vanishing warmth of the final traces of the sun's distant rays, and the shadows lengthen and grow darker. We will not see noon again, or even late afternoon, in our lifetimes.

And all this is not because of George W. Bush, although he has hastened events. How could it be remotely conceivable that such an utterly ridiculous figure would bring down the most powerful nation in the world, even with the aid of his corrupt cabal? He, and they, could not; he, too, is a symptom of the rot that has been eroding the country's foundations for at least a century. Do you think so little of the United States that you truly believe the country you imagine still exists could be destroyed by this?

But Bush is the perfect embodiment of what has brought us here: he captures the arrogance, the determined anti-intellectualism and embarrassing incoherence, the insatiable greed for power and the predilection for violence, and the absolute conviction that fortune and God smile upon him and us as upon no other peoples in the entire span of history, in a single, pathetic, laughable imitation of a genuine human being.

George W. Bush is our fate, and our reward. We have earned him.