Opinion: How America’s Empire Works
In order to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the current US world order and the strategy and tactics employed to maintain that world order (which include but are not limited to “color revolutions”, covert or overt military action, economic pressure, and of course information warfare), one has to understand the structure of and relationships within that world order.
I frequently encounter arguments to the effect that the EU/Ukraine/Japan/Germany/Iraq/any other country you’d care to name is basically a feudal fiefdom of the United States. That’s fine as far as it goes, and there is merit to framing the argument in these terms, however, one should also examine its implications. Because, historically, the lord-vassal relationship is not and has never been one of unconditional obedience. It is rather a social contract with mutual duties and responsibilities. The vassal’s loyalty is conditional on a variety of services, starting with protection and ending with opportunities for enrichment. In other words, the vassals have interests too and you, the sovereign, must facilitate the fulfillment of these economic and security interests. If you, as the sovereign, fail to provide one or both, your vassals are liable to abandon you. Therefore a strategy that targets the lord’s capacity for delivering rewards to the vassals happens to strike at that realm’s Achilles heel.
America’s relationship with its “allies” can in fact be characterized as a collection of feudal relationships, with the nature of the relationship being very much dependent on the power of the vassals. There are in fact several categories of vassals. Category I includes countries like UK and Israel which actually enjoy a pretty privileged relationship. The existence of AIPAC does not change it–it’s a major component of Israel’s power which enables this tiny country to enjoy the privileged relationship it does, really, Category I with perks–but it’s still a vassal because on issues which really matter to the US, the US calls the shots, not Israel. Consider, for example, how Israel has timed campaigns against Gaza in order to avoid embarrassing US presidents–in other words, it knows its (privileged but subordinate) place. Likewise Israel is not going to attack Iran without obtaining the green light from Washington, Netanyahu’s strutting and preening notwithstanding. But as a Category I vassal you are still in a very privileged position. Thus, for example, UK intel services are practically an extension of the NSA (on equal rights), the US doesn’t read the British PM’s emails, and it does not set up CIA “black sites” on its soil. Category II: Germany, France, Italy, etc. Here the sovereign gets to hold the vassals’ intel services at arms length, read their leaders’ email, but you still won’t build black sites on their territory and you will go to war to protect them. Category III: Poland, Ukraine, and lots and lots of others. Here the vassal is treated like dirt, its leaders are spied on, black sites are liable to be built on its territory, and it’s not even at all clear whether the sovereign would come to the vassal’s defense. Because once your country is in that category, you are basically part of the fodder for Cat I and II vassals. Your primary mission, accomplished through elite cooptation or, if that fails, outright bribery and intimidation, is to furnish economic benefits to vassals higher in the empire’s food chain. There’s also a Category IV (which, frankly, Ukraine is on the brink of joining), where the US basically takes sides in a civil war raging on that country’s territory. But in any event, it’s clear that the more powerful vassals can establish lines that the lord can’t cross.
Furthermore, the more important the vassal, the greater the amount of spoils the lord has to have fall off his table. So UK gets the F-35 source codes, Israel gets billions of dollars of US weapons, Germany gets to cooperate with the US in advanced weapon development, Poland gets some used F-16s. This inequality of treatment is, incidentally, a source of considerable chagrin among Poland’s elites who aspire to Category I treatment, but don’t know how to make that “civilizational jump.” I get a distinct impression Ukraine’s post-Maidan elite is…disappointed…with the lowly Category III vassal status it was assigned. I suspect they were thinking “we’re gonna be just like Israel!”, forgetting for a moment that Israel, aside from having an ability to directly influence domestic US political process, is also genuinely useful as an ally to the US. The combination of these two factors accounts for Israel’s “favorite son” status. Ukraine has neither of these factors going for it, so it’s relegated to the doghouse.
Speaking of Ukraine and Russia’s strategy to address the Ukraine problem. Whether it likes it or not, consistent with Category III vassal role as fodder to states higher on the food chain, Ukraine was supposed to be part of the feudal reward scheme. Ukrainian railroads, Ukrainian coalmines, seaports, infrastructure, and prize real estate were supposed to be taken over by US and/or German interests. Well, that ship not only has sailed, it was blown up by a Russian torpedo and is now resting in a very deep part of the ocean. Because ultimately the most effective means of dealing with a feudal empire is to attack the basis of the sovereign-vassal relationship. The effects are already visible. For example, what is Germany to do now that it has been deprived of its Ukrainian spoils? One thing it can do is cannibalize another lower category vassal which is not as important to the US as Germany itself is. So now it’s Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal and, yes, even Poland on the chopping block. It’s as strategy similar to that employed in the Second Punic War by Fabius Maximus Cunctator who simply deprived Hannibal of his ability to achieve more conquests by preserving his own army intact. Hannibal’s armies, unable to despoil Roman provinces, were reduced to despoiling the provinces of its allies who were attracted by the prospect of a victorious march on Rome, just as the US and its better-off vassals are turning on their own weaker allies. What’s worse, Hannibal’s allies are actually starting with one another, so that he now has his hands full trying to keep various components of his vast army from killing one another. In the final account, what happened to Hannibal’s diverse and ally-heavy army as a result of this turn of events is a lot like what is happening in the relationship that America has with its lesser and greater vassals as well as in the relationship among the vassals. Notice the rather futile US effort to get Germany to go easy on Greece.
How does the feudal lord and/or the more powerful of its vassals respond? There are many options. You can always do something desperate (and lose, because “something desperate” usually means fighting under unfavorable conditions). You can seek accommodation with your adversary. You can look for an easier source of spoils. Or you can simply abdicate your feudal lord’s obligations since you can no longer meet them. US foreign policy is right now at a crossroads. It’s clear that whatever Obama Administration thought it was doing, that policy had failed. No matter where he tried to advance, he met resolute resistance or scorched-earth delaying tactics, so much so that none of the prospective conquests (Libya, Syria, Ukraine…) have yielded any tangible results and have only provoked discontent among the vassals who are not only not reaping the economic benefits, they are being flooded by waves of refugees that resulted from these failed contests.
But it also means that the US is now in a position where it might really be tempted to do something desperate. There are still areas of the planet into which Hannibal can advance. One of them is the Arctic. the confrontation that is shaping up in that part of the world will be the subject of a separate article.