We are witnessing the demise of the “superpowers.”
Calm down fans of Marvel comics, I’m not channeling moody American director Martin Scorsese and his crass dismissal of the popular box-office-dominating film franchise as “not cinema,” though, I agree, it’s anti-art crap.
Instead, I am referring to the now obsolete term that has been a stubborn fixture of geopolitical nomenclature, particularly in the military context, since perhaps the end of World War II.
By “superpowers” I mean, of course, the “major” powers that became “superpowers” by virtue of building a vast arsenal of redundant nuclear weapons in addition to amassing a large number of conventional weapons.
Here is a small list of the fleeting superpowers in order, possibly, of their “superpower” status: the United States, China, Russia, and the United Kingdom. The quartet’s combined military spending in 2020 was more than $2.3 trillion, with the United States accounting for $1.93 trillion of that amount of money.
Let us leave China aside for the moment to consider the following question: since the beginning of the 21st century, what do the “superpowers” of the US, Britain and Russia have in common militarily?
That’s how it is. Despite widespread and boisterous opposition on the streets from millions of concerned citizens who are not part of a more demure group of experts and diplomats at the United Nations, including, at times, from the US, the UK Kingdom and Russia, the axis of the stupid invaded Iraq. , Afghanistan and Ukraine for invented family reasons.
After being repeatedly warned that their so-called “liberations” would turn into self-inflicted quagmires, the smug American, British, and Russian leaders charged forward with their imposing cavalry with the blessing and encouragement of much of the complicit national press.
Well, the “superpowers” and their high-profile gallery of reprimanded cheerleaders in pinstripes have backfired. The United States and the United Kingdom were not only defeated by patient and potent insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also forced to pack up their formidable “superpower” hardware and return home, beaten, humiliated, and sullied.
Former second-tier KGB agent and failing history student Vladimir Putin should have understood, given the insanity of George Bush Jr and Tony Blair, that what you think will happen when a “superpower” invades, by comparison, a minnow nation and what actually happens bear little resemblance to each other.
Being a “superpower” is no guarantee of victory.
Putin did not need to see Bush and Blair’s imperialist designs self-destruct to understand that “superpower” invasions are often unsuccessful.
All he had to remember was the disastrous nine-year misadventure launched by Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev in December 1979 to prop up a decrepit communist regime in Kabul in the determined face of indigenous guerrillas.
Somehow Putin forgot or dismissed that instructive error that resulted in the retreat and disgrace of a fading superpower. What is even more puzzling is that instead of rejecting the ruinous arrogance of his predecessor, the Russian president has embraced it by launching a useless war in Ukraine that has killed so many innocents.
The poignant images of liberated Ukrainians embracing their country’s soldiers in the jubilant streets of Kherson are poignant testimony to the power of stubborn resistance over the ephemeral power of the “superpower”.
Still, Putin clings to the comforting illusions of power and prestige associated with leading a long-lost superpower like a toddler clinging to a frayed security blanket.
It was the devout Cold War warrior, President John F. Kennedy, who realized, after his calamitous decision to allow the CIA to lead a failed invasion of Cuba in 1961, that remaining wedded to the “superpower” myth ” invites miscalculation and calamity.
“The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, artificial and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. […] We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought,” Kennedy said while delivering his commencement address at Yale University on June 11, 1962, a few months before the Cuban missile crisis.
Bush, Blair and Putin bought into myths at the expense of “thought malaise” and the world knows the litany of disfiguring consequences.
One measure of how thoughtless and impotent the Russian “superpower” has become is the lunatic talk of a “limited” nuclear attack on Ukraine.
The intention, I suppose, is to telegraph to Kyiv, London, Berlin, Paris and Washington that Moscow not only remains the undisputed “boss” of the region, but is prepared to use the A or H-bomb to save its faltering and incompetent country. army of more beatings.
I think that for all their choreographed bragging and training exercises, Putin and company recognize that attacking Ukraine with tactical nuclear missiles would constitute an unfathomable war crime. It would be an admission, too, of the defeat by the president of a spent and bankrupt “superpower” that, given the prevailing winds, would risk contaminating itself with lethal consequences for decades.
In all likelihood, such madness would trigger a similar response and then the proverbial dominoes would begin to fall rapidly, leading the rest of us into the abyss.
Meanwhile, in August, China was “outraged” that US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan’s president and warned the US that it was “playing with fire.”
Despite the predictable posturing and subsequent display of superficial force, “superpower” China recognizes the limits of its power. A recalcitrant invasion of Taiwan would mirror, in human costs and futility, the invasions of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Ukraine.
China’s calculating president, Xi Jinping, does not strike me as a man attracted or moved by the fiction of superpower invincibility.
China can bark. Unlike the US, UK, and Russia, it doesn’t bite.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.
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