Moscow Mitch and the American empire


It all started as innocent fun…

Lisa Wright

I’ve been quiet lately for the good of the mental health of the group and I feel like I have earned a bonus in the form of a beer coozie (and other assorted Mitch Merch) for all of the late summer mudruns out here in Trump Country.

Moscow Mitch

Brian Angliss

Someone needs to come up with a Moscow Mitch cocktail too.

Jennie Ver Steeg

Moscow Mitch recipe

Cat White

And here I am in a tent for the weekend without access to our bar supplies. . . .

Dan Ryan

This Moskva Meech cocktail needs to have some borscht in there, or at least a slice of pickled red beet for garnish.


I don’t disagree with the distaste for Russian meddling with American acquiescence. But it needs repeating over and over and over again that what’s happening to us now is the exact playbook we’ve employed on the rest of the world for the last 70 years (and the Western Hemisphere for another 50 before that). And while we need to take steps to stop it happening to us, we’ll forever be two steps behind the effort in this digital age unless we make a conscious decision to stop doing it to others.

Nobody cares that this is happening to us because the rest of the world knows we deserve it. A good portion of the world likely finds a lot of dark humor in watching us become what we made the rest of the world. Americans may not believe in history, but we’re an outlier in that. Paybacks are a bitch. Or a Mitch if you will.

And I’ve said this before, but it’s worth saying it again. Putin’s goal was to give us our Yeltsin and he succeeded with almost the same means we employed then. Which brings me to a recent article that posited we just need to wait for Russia to collapse post Putin. The same could be said for how our adversaries should strategically approach the US empire. Thanks to Putin and the GOP the signs of fractured collapse in the US are every bit as evident as they are in Russia.

Gavin Chait

No dark humour, unless we’re Russians or Syrians or Chinese. The old adage that when the US catches cold the rest of us get Ebola still holds.

The US as a raving monstrous savage stomping around the planet is hardly the stuff of wry amusement. We’d like it to stop, and for you all to go away.

Michael Smith

A fair number of us Americans would like to see the empire end as well. I’m with the late Chalmers Johnson – all empires come to an end, sooner or later. All things being equal, I hope we can have the relative grace to go the England route, but we’ll probably end more like Rome.


The England route? You mean brutal massacres and pogroms against rising anti-colonialist movements, and continuous messing with the ex-colonies through a Commonwealth organisation ruled by the Queen? And then throwing a hissy fit when you can’t completely dominate the EU?

I don’t think there’s ever been an empire that went gracefully.


Good point. Um … no, not that. I guess I was thinking more in terms of giving autonomy back to countries in a way that gave the countries time to reestablish self-governance rather than Rome’s method that left much of Europe locked in the Dark Ages for centuries because of the resultant power vacuum.


Maybe the Dutch empire went out almost gracefully … maybe.

Fair enough on less dark humor and more abject terror. At the level of political decision making, I expect more of the dark humor since oligarchs the world over will be more alright than the rest of us.


A gentle reminder that South Africa was a Dutch colony and inherited much of its racist policies from them … plus Zwarte Piet is still thought a wonderful local mascot.


Okay, so the question becomes is it possible for an empire to fade…gracefully? History isn’t providing much in the way of examples.


I’ve been to Maputo, or I’d suggest the Portuguese, but … no … I don’t think there’s any empire that ever built politely and left gracefully …

Frank Balsinger

FWIW, all the talk of empire leaves me feeling like it only contemplates “empire” beyond US borders. When I think of our empire collapsing under its own weight, I see the tremendous problem/opportunity of 50 disparate wannabe nations no longer constrained by their own federally imposed borders, bickering, perhaps violently, over where new borders should be drawn, and breaking up into well more than 50 disparate little nation states far more on par with the typical nation sizes found around the globe, then forming their own blocs and alliances while jostling for some combination of self-sufficiency or dominance.

Meanwhile, climate changes and humans are gonna human, meaning migrate, except it won’t be a southern border wall in the way, but a ratty tangle of new boundary lines, some walled in the interior, some not.

Given my druthers, we’d fragment into walled city-states surrounded by gigantic autonomous zones, because I see no reason to believe the center is going to hold for more than another few generations given the backdrop of climate change all the other changes will be reacting to.

Denny Wilkins

I’ve been worried about this since 1981 when I read Joel Garreau’s book, The Nine Nations of North America


I don’t think it will be 50, but I get your point. No reason for places like ‘Bama, Mississippi, GA, SC and N Fla to separate. And why are there two Dakotas anyway? The issues are going to be where very blue cities exist within very red states. Which is going to include the Atlantas and KCs of the world. Hell, most any decent-sized city is going to be blue. I mean, Clinton won six counties in feckin’ Montana.

Also, what about the resources? Who gets the oil and nukes?

Not that it set the world afire, but I did a whole THREE-PART SERIES® on the breakup question, with the one about the practicalities being the toughest to think about. Now, that was more assuming a semi-rational divorce as opposed to an everything-done-gone-to-hell trailer-park shootout, but many of the issues are the same.


The history of government is a slow move away from entropy towards ever larger organization. From clans to Attila the Hun, their form of organization couldn’t compete with the nascent city-states. City-states were then subsequently absorbed by nations. It’s Istanbul, not Constantinople … or Byzantium before that. The rise of the United States represented the first fairly stable federation of what are 50 individual nations. The E.U. came about because individual European nations couldn’t compete with the bargaining power of the U.S. and Soviet Union. If the U.S. were to surrender its empire, aside from the resultant mess, there’d be no power vacuum this time around. You’ve already got China consolidating power outside its borders. Karl Marx had a lot of really interesting ideas but the thought that the world’s political structure would ultimately become a form of cooperative anarchy was pretty naive. If Americans were allowed to be similarly naive about the future, I would think most of us would be hoping for something like Star Trek.


I hope for Star Trek. I expect Mad Max. I plan locally.


Like Russia, the US is first and foremost and “internal” empire. Neither went out and conquered/truly occupied many “foreign” lands. Unlike say Rome or Britain. The collapse of the US empire will almost certainly mean the internal empire. Look at the difficulty Russia had in maintaining what the soviets inherited from the Romanovs, and that’s where some see Russia’s long-term weakness still. The US has the same weakness.

Jim Booth

I keep reading all this talk of empire…and I don’t buy it – at least not in traditional empire terms. My country is not smart in the sense that it cannot think critically about itself – especially about its complex relationship with democratic republicanism and capitalism. Its ideas of empire come from Astor, Rockefeller, and Gates. Many if not most Americans think about the world in terms of money. We’re the best country because we have the highest GDP, standard of living, personal income, yadda, yadda, yadda. America is all about the Benjamins.

Remember the one memorable line from one of many lousy POTUSES, Calvin Coolidge: “The business of America is business.”

After WW II, America was led to see itself as the world’s policeman – and to see itself as the bulwark against communism and the shining city on the hill, the role model for the world.

This was all bullshit, of course. The real power in America was the loose association of millionaires and billionaires that Eisenhower, a POTUS celebrated like a Roosevelt but really more akin to Coolidge, Truman, or Reagan, called the military- industrial complex in his farewell speech. And they saw the postwar America as world cop meme as a business opportunity on a breathtaking scale – and they had proof of profitability from their participation in the Marshall Plan.

Everything has devolved from that – American capital’s realization that they could make immense profits from American illusions of keeping the world safe for democracy which they knew would really be making the world accept American predatory capitalism – and using force as needed to that end. And American capitalism’s insistence that its foreign policy serve capitalism’s ends has been its only consistent line of thought.

All of this is tied to Republican capitalism of the Hoover stripe – which is what the Kochs and their ilk are about. To use a religion allusion, Hoover Republicans fail to see the irony in Christ’s observation about the poor always being with us. All the current Republican stances on topics, from religion to xenophobia to racism, are a sideshow for the suckers… there’s one born every minute as a great American capitalist once observed.

Laugh – as I know some of you will. But no one ever explained how to understand America’s tragedy better than Deep Throat in his advice to Woodward and Bernstein: Follow the money….


Laugh? You must mean weep, because that’s spot on.


Well said, Jim.


Thanks, Denny. I’m not sure whether all these whippersnappers will see in this explanation what you, Wufnikand I likely do. Of course, we’ve lived through that entire post WWII period, so my yammering triggers lots of associations.


But you guys do have an empire, and it’s not particularly different from that of the British. It’s based on cultural superiority. Your cultural exports dominate the world. I remember – even in Apartheid South Africa – being overwhelmed by the scale of your culture, the perfection of your ideal values, the beauty of your people.

The reality is somewhat different. And when you lose that cultural dominance, then you’ll know what it means to lose an empire.


We do have an empire by a couple of different means, but we certainly have it in the traditional sense. When we defeat a country, we leave bases there. There are hundreds of American military bases in Germany alone. The aforementioned Chalmers Johnson wrote of his experiences in Okinawa and the way the Japanese quietly loathed the Americans there. We have bases throughout the Pacific. We now have bases in Iraq that I imagine will remain permanent. Drone warfare and sanctions have allowed us to assert our empire over other nations as well.

It’s been argued that what precipitated the second Iraq war was Saddam Hussein’s decision to flush American dollars out of Iraqi banks and begin trading oil in Euros. Nixon’s move to take the dollar off the gold standard was as much about asserting our empire as it was about convenience.


I would counter, Gavin, that the cultural hegemony you mention is a direct result of the economic hegemony imposed on the world by American capitalism. One doesn’t have to look very hard on the internet to find pictures of African kids wearing the “champion” t-shirts of Super Bowl or World Series or Stanley Cup losers. Losses were cut and some money recouped. American foreign policy in practice….


I don’t disagree, Jim. In many, perhaps most, ways the American empire does not resemble what we’re taught is “empire”. We think of empire as foreign conquest for direct political control of another nation. That’s never been exactly true as a definition going all the way back to Rome. It certainly wasn’t fully true of the British Empire, which in many cases was as economic in the service of English capitalism as any of America’s outposts.

And we’ve always down a good job of dressing our economic imperialism up as freedom and democracy. You’re absolutely right that those have been hollow words in service of capitalism designed to benefit American companies (see, Central America).

But the impetus of empire is always economic. Conquering the Gauls made Rome, and Caesar, rich. Controlling Egypt gave Rome wealth and access to grain. The taxation of those imperial holdings were bid out as capitalist undertakings so the state and the equestrian class made money on them.

We Americans have internalized our empire as not really empire. But remember that no sooner was the ink dry on the constitution than we gunned up a war in the “west” to ignore treaties with the British and native tribes to expand US holdings. This of course we’re not for a bulging population to settle as free holders of soil in the Jeffersonian ideal but rather a means for the founding oligarchs to speculate in vast tracts of land. And much like the East Indian company or even the American colonies, our earliest “foreign” conquests were mostly for the benefit of corporations to produce and export raw material.

The British were fine with a certain amount of self-regulation of the America as colonies, so long as it didn’t include manufacturing our raw materials into finished textiles. That was the role of the British manufacturers.

My argument would be that we’ve so narrowly defined empire – against any realistic, historical record of it – that we manage to exclude ourselves from inclusion.


Great convo. Makes me wish I tuned in more while camping. I spent most of the weekend reading history. The Wars of the Roses is oddly comforting.

Here’s my 2 cents:

The US was a latecomer to international imperialism (I would argue that our first 250 years were spent on our internal imperialism, Manifest Destiny and all that). By the time we got sufficiently over the Civil War to look outwards, most of the world was already spoken for by countries more powerful historically than we were. We had to settle for picking a fight with a Spain in decline and then pilfering some of its crumbs. TR was the first president to declare the US the world’s policeman, but it was mostly bluster at the time (most notable exceptions was his little adventure in Colombia/Panama). We had to wait for the distraction of World War I to be able to start really throwing our weight around Latin America (Mexico, Nicaragua, Honduras). That was all aided by the opening of the Panama Canal, which, of course, also required protecting.

The irony is that now the Venter-in-Chief rants about the very countries over which the US practiced hegemony, right down to backing coups and invading when necessary to protect our “interests.” We broke them and now we don’t want to deal with the human consequences of the twentieth century. Our attempts to bully Guatemala into being a “Safe Third Party” reek of a last grasp at our old power and way of doing things.

There are glimmers of hope amid all of the horrors. One of them is, ironically, in Mitch McConnell’s backyard. Coal miners working for Blackjewel have been without pay since June. In fact their last paycheck was issued and then pulled back out of their bank accounts. For over a week they’ve been blocking a coal train and some are now heading to a federal court hearing in hopes of getting their pay issue resolved as part of Blackjewel’s bankruptcy case. I hope, somewhere out there, we have a new Mother Jones who will be able to rally and lead blue collar workers, “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.”

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