Ian Welsh talks of the end of an empire:

The Players

The old male stands massive in the middle of the circling wolves. Blood stains his teeth, and under one massive paw a victim writhes. The old alpha is huge still, but his tendons stand out in clear relief, his limbs tremble and his eyes are mad with pain and rage. Old, weakened, he is still a dangerous foe, but his day as leader of the pack will soon be done.
And the other wolves smell blood.
It is the end of empire. The end of not just the Pax Americana - but the end of a dominion stretching from 1812 to the modern day - the Anglo American era. Oh, there were challengers, but for two centuries one of those two nations stood astride the world, a colossus.
But all empires end. Almost all empires rot from within. The British rotted from the 1880’s on, as money rushed out of the industrial center into industrializing other countries, or extracting "easy" wealth from the empire. In the end, the wayward son, America stepped and picked up the reigns of empire, ruling it with a lighter hand and a lighter touch. Today America, driven power mad, sure that it is in the right, bleeding red ink in a gusher, is tottering. Its’ finances are in disarray, its’ armed forces overextended and in large part, pinned down in a land war. Its’ leaders are making a play for the most strategic of all world regions - the middle east, with all its’ oil. It is a grand plan, an audacious gambit - it is a play in the Game of Empire - and the other great powers are playing the game as well.
Russia - dreaming of Empire lost, Russia looks to their neighbours in Asia - their old possessions - and it sees strings of US bases. It sees that the leaders it favours, as in the Ukraine, are opposed or even toppled by floods of western money and advisors. It watches as the play is made for black gold in one of the last great untapped regions. Russia is not happy. Putin is not happy. In 2003 they gathered detailed intelligence information on US forces during the invasion of Iraq. In 2004 they did what they could to keep the mad boy emperor in power. Today they arm Venezuela and Syria openly, use the excuse of the "war on terror" to crack down on rebellious regions, and place the key resource - oil - back under state control. The lesson of Afghanistan is not lost on Russia - that you can bleed your enemy white, and that when your enemy is making a mistake, you help them along. And so they smile, they tell George he’s doing the right thing, they arm George’s enemies and they watch, and smile, as America weakens day by day.
China - having industrialized through old style mercantilism with a first world nation, the US, China finds itself with a domestic market which is now larger than that of the US. Though their military is weaker, their economy grows faster and though they face huge internal problems, including famine, dust storms, plague and rebellion - they burn with the vitality of a nation on the rise. Throughout the world they are buying up and locking down energy reserves - anywhere there is oil or oil fields to be bought, there you will find the Chinese. Nor are they fussy - China has always stood firm behind a country’s right to do internally whatever it wants - and in Darfur as elsewhere they stick to extracting the oil, paying their hosts, and staying out of local business.
China finds themselves in a position to destroy the US dollar and take the world off the dollar as reserve currency. As one of the two main central banks propping up the US dollar (the other is Japan) they can easily bring the dollar low any time they choose. Now with an internal market the moment of decision approaches, and only the timing and the phase in is in question.
In the middle east China has stepped into one of America’s voids. The problem with refusing to do business with Iran - is that others haven’t. And so Iran has found an ally willing to support it and which feels no need to comment on its’ internal politics. Having invested in Iran, having found a source of oil they so desperately need, China is not about to step aside and let the US take Iran for themselves - nor will they look casually on disruptions of Iranian oil. In an ideal world it would be in China’s interest to try and arrange a soft landing for the US dollar and economy - to have US demand for Chinese goods taper off. In the world as it exists - the choice may be between letting the US take out Iran - or having the US be able to buy Chinese goods.

Japan - perhaps America’s most faithful ally after Britain, Japan has desperately, for twenty years now, tried to prop up the US. Faithful to the end, their intervention in the dollar has kept the dollar from a precipitous slide. But Japan too is finding that the new Asian ecnomies are possible trade partners. And while no Japanese can look with equanimity on falling into China’s sphere of influence (the Rape of Nanking is not that long ago for some people) Japan has been quietly rearming even as its politicians lay the groundwork to rewrite the constitution to allow more money to be spent on the military. Japan too sees the end of American Empire. It quakes at the idea, it fights against the night, but mighty as Japan is, they cannot support a giant determined to destroy itself.
Iran - Persia was mighty once and Persia seeks to be mighty once again. Alongside Egypt Persia is a natural great power in its part of the world. And though they play a dangerous game so far it has gone well for them. The Sunni fanatics in charge of Afghanistan have been displaced and their influence expands into near Afghanistan. The hated secular government of Iraq has been destroyed and the new government is largely under the control of Iran’s allied mullahs in Iraq while the US grinds the boot in the face of the minority who once dared invade Iran. American saber rattling against Iran has quieted internal dissidents and strengthened the hand of the current rulers.
But powerful men in America have openly announced they want the Mullahs destroyed and Iran finds itself in a race against time - to create nukes in time to stop the US from attacking. Meanwhile they have joined with Syria to create a strategic alliance outflanking US forces in Iraq and threatening them with a two front war.
Al-Q’Aeda - weak and battered by losses, hiding in the mountains between Pakistan and Afghanistan al-Q’aeda finds itself both on the defensive, and victorious. Bin Laden had always wanted to bring the US into a ground war, grind them down, destroy their economy and prove they could be defeated. And if it was not Afghanistan that proved the stone against which the US sword would smash - if it was Iraq instead, well Allah’s will moves in ways men can only marvel at. For al-Q’aeda there are two pieces to flip - Pakistan, with its’ sweet nukes, and Saudi Arabia - holy of holies and mother of oil. With the nuclear sword in one hand, and Allah’s gift of back gold flowing through the other Al-Q’aeda can send Mujahadeen through muslim countries from Pakistan to Morrocco and rebuild the great Caliphate. With Allah on their side, with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia ruled alternately by a foreign supported dictator, and a corrupt and venal family of spoiled royals - things are looking good.
France - the US is ruled by buffoons and fools, but France will use the situation as it sees fit to advance France. Clearly the days of the dollar are done - so be it, the Euro will make a fine replacement. In the meantime if US forces can be used to advance French interests in Lebanon, or to resolve the Palestinian mess - France will be happy to so use them. If not - c’est la vie. France looks after France - and French gratitude has worn thin amongst freedom fries and incessant lectures. France, and Europe, gain nothing from the death bet - not only is the Euro rising in value, but most of the money in the world is flooding to America anyway - so they’re getting the costs of a rising currency without the advantage of the money that should come with it. France gets little from the continuation of the American Empire and France, in the end, may end the American Empire even as it midwifed the Republic.
England - Ah England. They handed the Americans an Empire they held for most of a hundred and fifty years and in a little over 50, it is falling apart before their eyes. The Sun does set… but England will not be the one to pull the trigger, though if the day comes that they walk away from their child and heir, then truly, the Empire is finished.
The wolves - once there was a pack. America led the pack, flanked by England, Germany, Japan, Canada, Australia and lesser pack members. They ruled half of the world and faced off against the other great Alpha, Russia, and its’ pack. For decades they sparred and in the end they emerged victorious and America decided it didn’t need the rest of its pack. It gorged itself, grew fat, told others that their opinions were not welcome, stopped exercising and then one day it called the pack to hunt again.

And only the most faithful of the pack, England and Australia, answered. The others either did not come, or they did little more than growl at the prey. Today the pack is broken, and the Alpha stands, weakened, amongst circling wolves - on either side it is flanked by Australia and England. Its’ wife, Japan, brings it food. The other wolves circle. Some pretend to be friends, some are open in their hatred, but all smell blood.
It is the end of Empire - but the Game of Empire is eternal.

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by Ian Welsh