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Former reporter predicts decline of American ‘empire’

By Staff | Feb 5, 2009

“The American ’empire’ is in decline,” Jim McCartney told his audience at the Boca Grande Community Center last week.
A reporter and columnist in Washington for more than 35 years, McCartney specialized in national security and politics and worked extensively in the Middle East. After retiring, he taught courses in foreign affairs and politics at Georgetown University and now teaches at the Pierian Spring Academy, the University of South Florida and Longboat Key Education Center.
America may emerge from the current economic collapse as a different nation, McCartney said. In the future, America may still have a prominent role in the world, “but not a dominant role.”
In the seminars that followed the opening lecture of last week’s two-day course on The American Empire, McCartney said, “I will argue that the evidence of American overstretch is before our eyes.”
The title of the course, part of the Lifelong Learning series at the Boca Grande Community Center, has a premise, he said in the opening lecture, “that premise is that there is an American ’empire.'”
“When I retired and began teaching at Georgetown,” McCartney said, “although the mainstream media never suggested that America was an empire, I was surprised to learn that it had long been debated by the academic world.”
He believes it is accurate to use the term “empire” — or “world leader” — to describe America, and illustrated his point with a map that shows the United States currently has more than 730 military installations and bases in more than 50 countries in the world and military personnel on active duty in dozens of other countries.
McCartney quoted President Barack Obama who, in his inaugural address, said, “We are ready to lead once more.”
“The real question is, what does ‘lead’ mean?” McCartney asked. “Who are we leading? Where are we going? What if nobody follows?”
America needs to make up its mind, he said, whether to rule by force or rule by example.
In the past, America has gone beyond defending democracy to protecting its economic interests abroad, he said. In his 1980 State of the Union Address, then President Jimmy Carter stated the U.S. will control the Persian Gulf “to safeguard our vital interests.”
“We presumed to dictate who should rule other nations,” McCartney said.
In 2003, then President George W. Bush said the calling of the country “is the advancement of freedom.”
“We’re not sure at this time,” McCartney said, “If President Obama buys into that or not.”
“The importance of oil right now is of central importance,” he said. “You cannot examine American foreign policy without considering this equation — five of the top six countries with oil reserves are in the Middle East. That’s the basic reason why we’re in Iraq.”
Obama has said he will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon and wants to open negotiations with Iran, McCartney said.
But because Iran has the capability of closing off access to the Persian Gulf, and access to oil supplies in that region, “I don’t believe any ideologist doesn’t believe it would be catastrophic to use military force against Iran,” he said.
“I don’t believe anyone in this room will ever live to see a time when there is not a substantial American military presence in Iraq and the Persian Gulf,” McCartney said.
The professional military, he continued, has a vested interest in war.
“No war, no promotions, no glory,” he said.
The so-called think tanks in Washington, which television networks often call on for their experts, he said, represent the interests of big corporations — the same corporations that build military weapons, planes, tanks, ships and submarines.
“If terrorism is the enemy,” McCartney asked, “how exactly do you bomb terrorism? How do you use a submarine against terrorism?”
He went on to ask the question, “What is America’s role in the world?”
He quoted former President John F. Kennedy who, in the first year of his presidency said, “The United States is neither omnipotent nor omniscient … We cannot right every wrong … There cannot be an American solution to every world problem.”
“Our role in the world is under challenge by an entire civilization,” McCartney said. “The entire Muslim world and some of our closest allies refuse to support our invasion of Iraq.
“We should have learned in Vietnam that we cannot dominate the world,” McCartney said. “We have alienated much of the world. Anti-American sentiment is at an all-time high.”
America’s image has been further tarnished, he said, by the current economic crisis.
“The economic collapse that threatens to engulf the world started in the United States,” he said.
“In the seminars,” McCartney said, “I will make the point that the American Empire is in decline. I will argue that the evidence of American overstretch is before our eyes.”