By John Michael Greer
The Archdruid Report
Over the course of this year, my posts here on The Archdruid Report have tried to outline the trajectory of America’s global empire and explore the reasons why that trajectory will likely come to a sudden stop in the near future. To bring the issue down out of the realm of abstraction and put them in the context of history as lived, I’ve returned to the toolkit of narrative fiction, and this and the next four posts will sketch out a scenario of American imperial defeat and collapse. The narrative takes place at some unspecified point in the next two decades; it’s probably necessary to say outright that is not how I think the end of America’s empire will happen, simply one way that it could happen—and thus a model that may help expose some of the vulnerabilities of the self-proclaimed hyperpower currently tottering toward history’s compost bin.
The news of the latest Tanzanian deepwater oil discovery broke on an otherwise sleepy Saturday in March. Thirty years before, a find of the same size might have gotten two column inches somewhere in the back pages of a few newspapers of record, but this was not thirty years ago. In a world starved for oil, what might once have been considered a modest find earned banner headlines.
It certainly loomed large in the East Wing of the White House, where the president and his advisers held a hastily called meeting that evening. “The Chinese already have it wrapped up,” said the Secretary of Energy. “Tanzania’s in their pocket, and there are CNOOC people—” CNOOC was the Chinese National Overseas Oil Corporation, the state-owned firm that spearheaded China’s quest for foreign oil. “—all over the place on site and in Dar es Salaam.”
“Is it close enough to Kenyan waters—”
“Not a chance, Mr. President. It’s 200 nautical miles away from the disputed zone, and that last clash with the Tanzanians isn’t something Nairobi wants to repeat.”
“Dammit, we need that oil.” The president turned and walked over to the window.
He was right, of course, and “we” didn’t just refer to the United States. Jameson Weed won the White House the previous November with a campaign focused with laser intensity on getting the US out of its long and worsening economic slump. Winning the country a bigger share of imported oil was the key to making good on that promise, but that was easier said than done; behind what was left of the polite fiction of a free market in petroleum, most oil that crossed national borders did so according to political deals between producer countries and those consuming countries strong and wealthy enough to compete. These days, more often than not, the US lost out—and the impact of that reality on Weed’s upcoming reelection campaign was very much on the minds of everyone in the room.
“There’s one option,” said the president’s national security adviser. “Regime change.”
President Weed turned back from the window to face the others. The Secretary of Defense cleared his throat. “Sooner or later,” he said, “the Chinese are going to stand and fight.”
The national security adviser gave him a contemptuous look. “They don’t dare,” she said. “They know who’s boss, and it’s too far from their borders for their force projection capacity, anyway. They’ll back down the way they did in Gabon.”
The president glanced from one to the other. “It’s an option,” he said. “I want a detailed plan on my desk in two weeks.”
* * *
Regime change wasn’t as simple as it used to be. That was the sum of scores of conversations in meeting rooms in the Pentagon and the CIA headquarters in Langley as the plan came together. Gone were the easy days of the “color revolutions,” when a few billion dollars funneled through Company-owned NGOs could buy a mass uprising and panic an unprepared government into collapse. The second generation strategies that worked so well in Libya and half a dozen other places—backing the manufactured uprising with mercenaries, special forces, and a no-fly zone—stopped working in turn once target governments figured out how to fight it effectively. Now it usually took ground troops backed up by air power to finish the job of replacing an unfriendly government with a compliant one.