In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power

by Alfred W McCoy

Haymarket Books (2016)

Book Review

Prior to 2001 and the launch of the War on Terror, the US political elite adamantly denied (despite massive evidence to the contrary), that the United States was an empire rather than a republic. Because their sudden about face (ie acknowledgement and promotion of US imperialism) was so recent, there has been little opportunity for scholarly analysis of America’s effectiveness as an empire. It’s this void Alfred McCoy seeks to fill with In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power.

Competition for Control of the Eurasian Landmass

McCoy traces America’s serious global empire building to their defeat of Spain in the Spanish-American War in 1898, which won them Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Panama Canal Zone and the Philippines.* He maintains that us strategies for empire-building, like those of the former British empire, have mainly relied on seeking and maintaining control of the “World-Island.” This is a term coined by London School of Economics director Halford Mackinder’s World Island in 1904. Under this concept, the World Island consists of the vast European-Asian landmass that is home to 70% of the world’s population, 75% of its global energy resources and 60% of its current productivity.

How the US Maintains Military Control

After the US became the world’s preeminent superpower after World War II, they have used nine basic strategies to maintain military control of the Eurasian landmass: mass surveillance (based on a system of extensive personal data collection that began during their “pacification”** of the Philippines (1898-1907); CIA covert operations (involving electoral interference, military coups, installation of compliant puppet dictators, targeted assassinations, torture, advanced technological weaponry (electronic senors, satellite imagery, drones, etc) and, increasingly cyperwarfare and space-based weaponry (most information about the latter two is classified).

America Falling Behind China Economically and Militarily

For me the most interesting section of the book examines ways in which the US is rapidly falling behind China – not only economically but militarily. McCoy identifies Bush’s rash decision to invade Iraq as the start of the American empire’s steady decline. While the US has spent the last 16 years mired in unwinnable wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, China is busily building alliances and investing their trade surplus (from selling Americans cheap consumer goods) in Russia and other countries located in the World Island. In Afghanistan alone, they are responsible for 79% of foreign investment.

Meanwhile China is rapidly creating a single economic zone across the Eurasian landmass, with a vast network of high speed trains and pipelines following historical Silk Road and Tran-Siberian Railway routes – and soon a high speed Southeast Asian and Moscow-Beijing line.

Even the Pentagon-linked Rand Corporation predicts China’s will exceed that of the US by 2030 or sooner. In 2010, China became the world’s leading manufacturing nation. In 2014, it took the lead in the number of new patents it awards annually.

Even more concerning is the rapid decline of US educational standards compared to those of China, which has ominous implications for the development of high tech weaponry. Chinese students consistently score first in math, science and reading, while US students score 27th, 20th and 17th respectively.

By 2025, China is expected to have better long range cruise missiles than the US, better air defense aircraft, better electronic sensors, better digital communications capacity, better computer processing power and better cyber-security. At the same time, they have a significant strategic advantage because the US spreads its military resources so thin by fighting so many foreign wars simultaneously.

According to McCoy, they already have the ability to cripple critical US infrastructure (electrical and telecommunications grid and pipelines) via cyber warfare.

Collapse Predicted Between 2030-2040

McCoy predicts (and makes an excellent case for) the demise of the US empire some time between 2030-2040. It could happen gradually, as US economic and military prowess continues its steady decline – or suddenly, if the loss of its privileged status causes the US dollar to collapse. The impending implosion may be aggravated by climate change, especially if the Pentagon is drawn into wars over dwindling food and water resources or control of massive numbers of climate refugees.


*In a separate development, the Kingdom of Hawai’i was illegally overthrown by The Committee of Safety (a group of wealthy American/European businessmen) in 1998. The Committee of Safety used U.S. Marines to detain the Queen while they announced their takeover of Hawai’i.

**”Pacification” is a military euphemism for violently subjugating the indigenous population of an occupied country.

Originally published in Dissident Voice

 

 

Comments
  1. futuret says:

    THIS IS OF THE MANY REASONS WHY, AND I PERSONALLY STAND FIRMLY IN SUPPORT OF IT. WE AS AMERICANS ARE NOT PERFECT, AND NO OTHER PEOPLE ARE, BUT I DO FIRMLY STAND BY THE FACT THAT ME EVEN AS A WHITE PERSON WITH MIX BLOOD OF CHEROKEE HAVE GIVEN UP TOO MUCH TO OTHER PEOPLES THAT DO NOT EVEN GIVE A DAMN, NOR ARE GRATEFUL FOR ANYTHING THEY HAVE ATTAINED, OR EVEN COUNT THEIR BLESSINGS. I DO FIRMLY SUPPORT THE FOLLOWING POST IN EVERY WAY, SHAPE, AND FORM. WHAT OTHER PLACE ON EARTH OTHER THAN AMERICA HAS GIVEN UP SO MUCH TO SO MANY PEOPLE. EVEN AFTER THE EMANCIPATION, WHEN LINCOLN WAS IN POWER, HE OFFERED EVERY BLACK PERSON $400.00 IF THEY WANTED TO GO BACK TO AFRICA, IN THOSE DAYS, WAS A TERRIFIC BIG MONEY, AND NOT ONE OF THEM ACCEPTED. I SHALL STATE THIS, IF THE WHITE MAN GOES IN THIS COUNTRY, THAT FEED MILLIONS AROUND THE WORLD AND WE HAVE REMAINED THE BREAD BASKET OF THE ENTIRE WORLD, THEN THE REST OF THE PLANET SHALL MEET THEIR DEMISE AS WELL. PEOPLE IN RECENT TIMES AND RECENT DECADES CAME HERE WHO COULD GIVE A DAMN, JUST WANTING A LAND MASS TO TAKE OVER, BUT GUESS WHAT THEY ARE GOING TO DIE ALONG WITH US. YES, AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND DO NOT LIKE IMMIGRANTS OR OTHERS, BUT WE AS AMERICANS ARE TO HAVE THIS PUSHED DOWN OUR THROATS. ALL OTHER NATIONS ARE GUILTY OF THINGS AS WELL. YES, WE ARE GOING TO DIE, BUT TO THE SURPRISE OF OTHERS THE REST ARE GOING TO DIE AS WELL:

    https://mountainrepublic.net/2017/10/25/poll-majority-of-white-americans-say-whites-are-discriminated-against-in-america/

  2. The only problem I have with this article, futuret, is that it blames skin color for a problem that really has more to do with class exploitation. I believe (based on strong evidence) that working class white people suffer far more from class exploitation and oppression by wealthy elites than they do from people of color. The corporate media wants us to believe that our problems stem from people of color because they’re trying to hide the fact that they really stem from greedy fat cat Wall Street millionaires and billionaires who are squeezing us dry. This is a very old strategy – getting us to fight each other (white vs black, men vs women, gay vs straight, Christian vs non-Christian) – instead of uniting to fight the real culprits.

  3. Thanks for your book review, Dr. Bramhall. I’ve added it to my list of “Books to Read.”
    By the way, 2030 is just 12 years away – a mere blink in time.

  4. gerry campeau says:

    Alfred W McCoy has been top of game for long time and the Ugly Americans have never taken his advise, American universities graduate 200.0000 Engineers a year Russia with half population does 400,0000 China keeps their Grads a secret but most likely have more Grads then rest of worlds Total and i say good for them.

    • I myself have been following McCoy for eons. I especially enjoyed his introduction to this book, which describes how the CIA tried to block him from publishing his first book The Politics of Heroin and how Seymour Hersh helped him by publishing sections of the book in the New York Times – this would never happen now.

  5. Alan Scott says:

    Said it before: We’re watching the decline of the American Empire.

  6. auntyuta says:

    https://theintercept.com/staff/jeremy-scahill/

    I just looked up the above page. I think Jeremy Scahill is a very interesting writer.

    On July 23 2017 he published in The Intercept an article with the following heading:

    DONALD TRUMP AND THE COMING FALL OF AMERICAN EMPIRE

  7. Thanks for the link, Aunty. The headline bothers me know – as well as the slant of the interview. McCoy doesn’t blame Trump for the fall of the American Empire and the headline suggests he does. McCoy thinks Trump is making a big mistake on Iran, as promoting war there will actually lessen US influence in Eurasia. However he feels the decline started with George W Bush’s decision to invade Iraq and Afghanistan.

  8. rich meta says:

    Dear Stuart, This is significant, since geopolitics has been intensifying in specific regions of the planet. Thx for this post. 🙏🏼 Rich

    Sent from my iPhone

    Richard Ng

    >

  9. Thanks for the comment, Richard. Actually I found the book rather comforting. It explains a lot of stuff happening on the US political scene and also optimism for building a better alternative to the repressive US regime. I may not live to see it but my children and grandchildren will.

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