Predicting a New Paradigm

In my seven plus years of blogging, I’ve never done year-end reviews or predictions and I don’t intend to start now.

But I do want to point to two pieces taking stock of this moment in history–the AJE piece on the decline of the American empire above (the transcript is here), and Juan Cole’s piece declaring the end to US hyperpower.

The AJE piece is generalized and describes a decline in both our economic and military hegemony. And while Cole includes this generalized framework,

The end of the Cold War, which had stretched from 1946 to 1991, had left the political elites of the United States and Western Europe without a bogeyman or security threat on which they could run for office and through which they could funnel resources to the military-industrial complex that largely pays for their political campaigns. With Russia in steep decline in the 1990s and China still run as a small, cautious power, the US emerged as what the French called a Hyperpower, the sole superpower. US hawks were impatient that Bill Clinton seemed not to realize that he had complete freedom of movement for a brief window of time. It was the new US status of hyperpower that allowed the G. W. Bush administration to respond to the September 11 terrorist attacks by launching two major wars and a host of smaller struggles, all against targets in the Muslim world.

As of 2011, the age of the US hyperpower is passing, along with the possibilities for American wars of choice, i.e., wars of aggression.

He situates it, not surprisingly, in the Middle East.

Some years are pivotal and serve to mark off eras of history. 2011 saw the end of American hyperpower, and it announced the end of a decade of US-Muslim conflict that began with 2001. It saw the killing of Usama Bin Laden, the virtual rolling up of al-Qaeda, the repudiation of al-Qaeda’s methods by the masses of the Arab world, and the US military withdrawal from Iraq. The upheavals of the Arab Spring and subsequent elections have led to Muslim fundamentalist parties being drawn into parliamentary politics on a Westminster model, rather than remaining sect-like corporate groups outside the body politic.

While I’m not certain that, fifty years from today, 2011–and specifically our withdrawal from Iraq–will mark the end of our hyperpower or empire (we might measure that date from the financial crisis in 2008; there might be some more spectacular loss in the future that will have that symbolism; or it could be something else entirely), I do generally agree that we’re at the twilight of the American mode of power that has dominated since the end of World War II.

I think that’s why predictions looking forward will be so hard to get right. Partly because there’s no telling how Americans–both those who run our domestic and foreign policy, and those average citizens facing a future without the self-importance derived from the country’s dominance–will react as this new state of affairs becomes evident. At both levels, we could just get a whole lot more violent.

But also because, as Tom Englehardt says in the AJE piece, I don’t think we’re seeing a simple matter of imperial succession, as happened when England passed the baton of world hegemon to us.

I don’t think it’s like the US is going down and you’re gonna get a Chinese empire rising. I think you’ve got a planet in crisis and we’re just barely beginning to feel it.

Rather, I think we’re going to see a new paradigm, one that not only robs average Americans of the arrogance of being the “best,” but also robs many around the world of their traditional means of understanding the world.

So while it may be interesting to think about President Obama dealing with a Republican Senate or President Mitt dealing with Speaker Pelosi, while it may be interesting to predict how many TBTF banks will fail over the next year, even while it may be interesting to start thinking about what Europe will look like after the Euro zone ends, I think all those exercises might be end up showing far too little imagination about what the future holds.

As I’ve said before, it’s fairly clear that 2011–like 1968 and 1989–was a year of great historical importance. But I’m not sure if we can even conceive of just how important it might be or why.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

22 replies
  1. MadDog says:

    “…it announced the end of a decade of US-Muslim conflict that began with 2001…”

    If Juan Cole’s point is that the US’s wars with Muslim countries are over, then I think he is being overly optimistic and misreading the dynamics at play. In reading his entire post, I find it extraordinarily strange that he makes no mention at all for the potential for, and the likelihood of, war with Iran.

    The conflicting parties’ positions (Israel, Iran, the US and its junior European partners, Britain and France) are entering that stance where they are adamantly unyielding, bellicose, and not subject to reason.

    While I too avoid making predictions, I feel like the odds at this moment of a war with Iran in 2012 to be better than 50-50.

  2. MadDog says:

    “…As I’ve said before, it’s fairly clear that 2011–like 1968 and 1989–was a year of great historical importance. But I’m not sure if we can even conceive of just how important it might be or why.”

    I’d agree with you about 2011, but I’m hesitant to rule out that 2012 might be even more significant.

  3. JohnLopresti says:

    In 2080 the Greenland ice sheet melt will have raised sea level 3-5 feet; Manhattan will have sea walls; Bangladesh will have many problems like those of the Low Countries with keeping the sea out. Desertification will increase as first world pirates clear cut third world forests. Deep Sea Horizon will be repeated. Courts will continue to shelter oil companies who spill and pollute parts of the world which have not passed environment laws. Republicans will continue to pursue ways to keep many people from voting. Democrats will prove again they cannot be as corrupt as Republicans. The economic systems around capital finance methods will re-trench and advance. The EU and its currency experiments will reconfigure based on quantifiable broadscale improvements in its impressive history, while German banks will continue to solidify their hold on the EU process. The middle classes of Europe will assure the EU gets only stronger. I would hope for some of professor Cole’s most desirable modernizations to develop in the aftermath of the turnovers of 2011 but there is more than 1,000 years of proof that those parts of the world will continue to take a slow approach to modern pecuniary liquidity and lifestyles. Iran, North Korea, Pakistan; these are some of the current political question zones. The information age will expand. Hopefully, the music will get better. We will be needing it.

  4. Bob Schacht says:

    I think you’re on the right path by highlighting the TBTF banks, but I’d reframe your outlook in this way: The big action in 2012 will be with the transnational entities: Banks and other “financial services” entities, the European Central Bank(s), Oil companies, the IMF, and other agents of globalization. This century will be one in which globalization comes into its own. The focus will shift from what are the great nations doing, but what are the Internationals doing.

    Bob in AZ

  5. geoschmidt says:


    “In 2080 the Greenland ice sheet melt will have raised sea level 3-5 feet; Manhattan will have sea walls; “


    So what about the other ice around the globe? Isn’t it going to melt too, and when it does, it will melt at an increasing rate… (exponential) 2080 is way too conservative I think, and the world might go up in smoke long before that, as the 1st WW was about a hunderd yrs ago, and they seem to be buckin’ for another.

    US is making enemies, someday they will send back the Karma. and ole mother earth too. Hey what happened to all that f*n ahl in the gulf? did it disapear or was it imaginary all along?

  6. Bay State Librul says:

    Predictions with a political bent

    Romney will not release his tax return, prompting a law suit by Occupy Wall Street

    Romney will release his birth certificate proving to Republicans that he was not born in Massachusetts.

    Due to uncertainty, all businesses will cease decision-making about pricing, marketing, and sales.

    Until taxes are reduced, all businesses will defer decisions on capital investments.

    Due to the above, no jobs will be created in 2012.

    Herman Cain will take a lie detector. Results will show that he tied Giovanni’s and Wilt Chamberlain’s record by sleeping with 2,063 women.

    Newt will be named Grandfather of the Year, and will appear in TV ad’s on Low T.

    Ron Paul will bolt the party, divorce his wife, and elope with the daughter of John Galt

    Rick Perry will lose his $10,000 bet to Mitt and transforms his Goodhairs to a Mohawk.

    All incumbents seeking re-election in 2012 will be defeated.

    Instead of finishing the kitchen, the Supreme Court will nullify the Health Care Bill in a 5-4 decision. This paves the way for a Republican win in 2012 (aka Bush v Gore).

    Romney defeats Obama in a nip and tuck race.

    Super Pacs spend $8 Trillion dollars on the campaign, proving that the Citizens United decision elevating corporations to people works

    Romney takes office and declares January 20th to be the “Great Gatsby Day.”

    Romney appoints Larry Kudlow to be his Secretary of Treasury where “Free-market capitalism is touted as the best path to prosperity”.

    Romney appoints Grover Norquist as Commissioner of the IRS where all employees will be forced to sign a “no tax collection pledge”

  7. greg brown says:

    @MadDog: It would be more accurate, I think, to call what you envision here as “an attack on Iran” not “a war with Iran.” The citizens of Iran will not initiate a war with the U.S.. Why would they? How could they? They will, God forbid, be the victim of another illegal, monstrous, mass-murder attack by the U.S.

    Nauseatingly familiar that, no?

  8. greg brown says:

    Prediction: the “Arab Spring” will be seen for what it is, not a change in policy, simply a change in managers.

  9. rugger9 says:

    I’d also say an attack on Iran is a better than 50-50 if for no other reason than it’s an election year. The fact that the various Foxbots from Bolton on down have been screaming for that [for them] blessed event means they can’t complain about it with any moral authority [though they will anyway]. So, the criticism from the RW Wurlitzer would be more ridiculous than usual. However, “limited” interventions have a tendency to expand through mission creep and the need to have “something” to show for the lives and treasure expended. I don’t see the discipline in the WH to stop that outcome.

    Endless war can be used to hide lots of stealing, just look at Iraq and Afghanistan and the contracts.

  10. JohnLopresti says:

    @5 geoschmidt
    @9 PJEvans
    The source for the Greenland ice sheet melt evidently is stored on a separate computer to which I do not have access at present, though there are ample reports in various kinds of media, some routine outlets others science trade journals. So 2080 is only by memory, for the moment. I liked PJ’s suggestion of biocontrols and a new kind of ice which exists at the bottom of the sea, however. The article I was recalling actually had theorized that a substantial contribution to the the Greenland melting volume of fresh water being measured in fact is at a subsurface interface between ocean currents and thick ice sheets above, and is in addition to the studies on Greenland surface runoff. In looking back for the article I was remembering, I happened upon the 2010+2011 data curves for arctic sea ice extent, which also was setting another record for distance of retreat in summer 2011.

    And the post @3 omitted mentioning a fourth nation on the list of worry spots, albeit a polity not described as currently unstable or taking excessive high risk public stances.

    Instead I kind of support EW’s over-riding interest in the subsequent posts, rather than predictions, looking at the US D appropriation alongside its current new signing statement, which people on Times Sq. may access on their iPad while awaiting the advent of the New Year.

  11. Heitzso says:

    I appreciate your challenging us to broaden how we think of what is happening. I recommend “Collapse” by Jared Diamond. Specifically, the factors that lead to a society’s collapse. Also “Limits to Growth, 30 Year Update” (LtG) which suggests that we will face a crisis of crises over the next few generations. I want to read studies of how cultures react under stress (typically polarize and radicalize, Jungian shadow gets ugly); how power inequalities play out; under what conditions people ack their major mistakes (studies say if the stakes are high enough, people don’t ack their errors). In other words, instead of trying to analyze one individual or political party or gov reg, study how human social psych plays out. Instead of focusing on TBTF regulations, study social psych (behavioral psych?) mechanisms that generated that (and other) problems that we’re facing. Coming back to “Collapse” … the cultures he studied that collapsed all were populated by modern man.

  12. geoschmidt says:

    @11 JohnLopresti/12Hitzso
    The Jared Diamond book, is germain… visavise Greenland… and E.G.s… IE: Easter IS. But it won’t be pretty, nest time, cause there is not any place to go… no fudge factor, no place to go live off the land like used to be.

    The whole world is now… Greenland. A perposturous thing, with a short life/game plan. Greenland, existed while the Veekings were able to farm, and catch fish, but those egomaniacs would not eat seals/etc. and that would have saved em, but they were too good, and so they failed.

  13. emptywheel says:

    @Heitzso: Agree. Thanks to both you and @JohnLopresti for bringing up climate change. I had it in mind, but as I said, I’m not trying to predict, I’m trying to point out we’re working on a whole new scale.

    And how we respond (if) to climate change is a big factor there.

  14. scribe says:

    Anyone else notice the transcriber of the al Jazeera article wrote it as “pox Americana”, rather than (the un-ironic, “correct” Latin) “pax Americana“?

  15. thatvisionthing says:

    @scribe: I just listened — he pronounces it that way, though perhaps that’s the way you pronounce “pax”? But I’m enjoying comparing the transcript to what I hear, watching how standard English is changing. “Gonna” instead of “going to”? It’s British English usage too — “defence” instead of “defense,” “learnt” instead of “learned,” “industrialisation” instead of “industrialization.” So correctness is going to “gonna”? For Nicholas Burns? :-)

    They need a proofreader though — Tom (not Stephen, as he is addressed), says “de-industrialization”:

    I think we’ve had an enormous stimulus package abroad. We’ve been spending money like crazy, we put about 1.2 trillion a year, maybe that’s conservative. I think it’s proved to be a kind of squandering of resources and I think if you look at the United States and you look at, I mean you’ve got several things, you’ve got a kind of industrialisation, you had the financialization that led to 2007/2008 and you had this third thing which is our urge to kind of take the world, to create a pox Americana and I think it too, has been a factor that’s squandered American treasure.

    Look at this panel! I’m loving Al-Jazeera, even though my computer connection is not.

  16. thatvisionthing says:

    ew: Rather, I think we’re going to see a new paradigm, one that not only robs average Americans of the arrogance of being the “best,” but also robs many around the world of their traditional means of understanding the world.

    Robbed? Or awakened? We’re not the best anymore — we suck! At least what our government is doing does. So does this mean we get to start living in truth now instead of lies — your Vaclav Havel quote?

    It can be said, therefore, that ideology, as that instrument of internal communication which assures the power structure of inner cohesion is, in the post-totalitarian system, something that transcends the physical aspects of power, something that dominates it to a considerable degree, and therefore, tends to assure its continuity as well. It is one of the pillars of the system’s external stability. This pillar, however, is built on a very unstable foundation. It is built on lies. It works only as long as people are willing to live within the lie. –Václav Havel, “Power of the Powerless“

    I can’t wait. We suck, we suck, we suck, and there’s your three branches of government now and what they have done to the Constitution, dispensing with reality and humanity checks and balances as they perfect the sucktophony of their sucktitude. Sucktopalypse now, please. Though in a way it doesn’t seem to matter — Washington — Sucktopolis — has so delegitimized itself as to be irrelevant. It’s unreal. It’s fake. It’s not where it’s at.

    But the moment someone breaks through in one place, when one person cries out, “the emperor is naked!”–when a single person breaks the rules of the game, thus exposing it as a game–everything suddenly appears in another light and the whole crust seems then to be made of a tissue on the point of tearing and disintegrating uncontrollably.

    I don’t know. I think this could be fun.

  17. geoschmidt says:

    @ and to emptywheel: Thank you so much for making this forum, a place where there is reality talk…. !
    I really appreciate that you let the likes of me to put in some of my little “off the cuff remarks” and I will continue to read your really great blogg.

  18. vector56 says:

    A few days after Osama was shot in the face I walked into a Dunkin Donuts where I over herd a group of old White guys gleefully going over the details of how “our boys” got him. One could almost hear the pride in their voices as they speculated on how our highly trained group of “stone-cold-killers” (SEAL team 6) put a bullet in the face of this old man(without a trial). Strange, because even the Nazi’s who killed millions got trials. You said that the Arabs were with us in our “War on Terror” keep in mind as Chomsky said, “we have the support of the elite in the Arab world, not the streets (the people). Your average Arab is full aware that we kill more innocent men, women and children (by the train load) than all the so-called terrorist combined.

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