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Imperial Overextension, Part 1
Was 9/11 a Turning Point or an Accelerant?
Imagine traveling to the past and showing somebody with a decent knowledge of current events on September 10, 2001 these two Tweets. Never mind explaining what a Tweet was. Just consider the contextual shift and logical leaps they’d need to make to take a guess as to what America’s future circumstances were.
The response would probably sound like, “Wait, what? Russian aggression? Out-competing China? Replenishing America’s arsenal? Strategic adversaries? Russia and China are basically allies and we’re worried? What the hell happened?”
They’d be right to be confused.
After all, September 10th, 2001, was about as ordinary a day as could be (minus a little speech by Donald Rumsfeld). I don’t remember any personal specifics from it. Unless you had a life-changing event that day, odds are you probably don’t either. But if you’re anywhere over 30 and, especially, American, you can remember exactly where you were on September 11, 2001, when you heard the news.
To say it was traumatic is an understatement, in no small part because it seemed to come out of nowhere. Things certainly looked peaceful in the leadup to the fall of 2001. Having slain the dragon of the USSR 10 years prior, the US was the sole, uncontested world power. Such a unipolar moment is a rare thing in history, but it felt quite normal at the time. America ascendant made perfect sense to anyone living in it.
But then September 11 officially marked a major turning point in the country’s history, and indeed the world’s history to date. If you’re at all a believer in the Mandela Effect, it was a radical change of timeline to a much darker one.
Note that the word officially is doing a lot of heavy lifting in that previous sentence. In reality, the seeds of today’s towering forest of problems had already been sown by the time the 9/11 attacks happened, and 9/11 was a trigger event that pushed already-likely events and extant trends forward.
Consider that prior to 9/11, just as examples:
Cheap debt was fueling ever-greater speculative bubbles, while inflation never stopped.
Dragon-slaying foreign policy ideology was dominating and bullying any potential transition to a full-time peace economy.
Power was being concentrated into ever-fewer entities in many corporate sectors, which further allowed for greater influence on government.
Communications technology was undergoing a revolution that’s still not finished playing out.
Party politics was becoming increasingly nasty and tribal, while government influence in daily life was growing.
US manufacturing was being shipped overseas, largely to China, at never-before-seen rates,
And a Faustian bargain that traded a nation’s soul for short-term profit had been sealed, its ramifications snaking its way through the culture.
So, consider: 9/11 sure seemed like a turning point, but it acted far more like an accelerant on an already-set course than a pivot. It was plenty bewildering at the time, sure. But essentially, it caused the Great Driver of History to stomp on the gas.
As it stands now, the US is in a period of imperial overextension that cannot last much longer. It’s past its high water mark, though exactly how far past is up for debate. The country has been hollowed out in many ways, and its geopolitical standing is imperiled and appearing increasingly shaky.
A New Format for a New Era
I’m going to try a new format in this blog: A series of short posts covering specific topics under a broad umbrella. Part of this is to give readers easier tidbits to chew, and part of it is to prevent myself from trying to connect every dot in the world in one article. I’m curious how this will go, so am happy to hear feedback on this new direction.
So, consider this the inaugural post for a series on Imperial Overextension. I’ll talk about the economic, political, military, and social aspects that have brought us to this weird and critical juncture of history. We are treading on unique ground, so before we aim to propose any solutions, getting a clear picture of the context is a must.
A tentative article posting plan for the next few weeks looks something like this, in no particular order:
The Great Inflation Lie: From Bubble to Bubble
Dragon Slayers: Neoconservatives and the Quest for Eurasia
America’s High Water Mark
Monopoly: The Consolidation of American Corporate Power
The Left and Right Are Obsolete
Cancer in DC: The Runaway Security State
Industry for Sale: The Hollowing of American Industry
America’s Cultural Faustian Bargain
Each topic could be a full book, but I’ll do my damndest to keep each under 2,000 words. Most importantly, I don’t want to write a full book on each. So, feel free to admonish me should articles run too long.
It’s fitting, I believe, to use 9/11 as a kick-off date for this series, since the date itself was really the inauguration of the new and unpleasant era we find ourselves in.
I wish it were true that what the United States does from here were relegated to one corner of the globe. Unfortunately, it is not. As the leader of the self-proclaimed Rules Based International Order (or The Empire, to many), what the United States chooses to do will indeed affect the whole world. That’s why it’s crucial for all people to understand our current situation, and not just Americans.
I hope readers will enjoy this series and am happy to hear feedback or suggestions along the way. May the wind be ever at your back.