**DEBATE CLUB** America’s empire is bankrupt

When Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the US and its allies responded not with military force but with punitive economic sanctions, which were expected to cripple the Russian economy and force Russia to its knees. Apparently, nobody in Washington considered the possibility that other nations with an interest in undercutting the US empire might have something to say about that. Of course, that’s what happened. China, which has the largest economy on Earth in purchasing-power terms, extended a middle finger in the direction of Washington and upped its imports of Russian oil, gas, grain and other products. So did India, currently the third-largest economy on Earth in the same terms; as did more than 100 other countries.

Then there’s Iran, which most Americans are impressively stupid about. Iran is the 17th largest nation in the world, more than twice the size of Texas and even more richly stocked with oil and natural gas. It’s also a booming industrial power. It has a thriving automobile industry, for example, and builds and launches its own orbital satellites. It’s been dealing with severe US sanctions since not long after the Shah fell in 1978, so it’s a safe bet that the Iranian government and industrial sector know every imaginable trick for getting around those sanctions.

Right after the start of the Ukraine war, Russia and Iran suddenly started inking trade deals to Iran’s great benefit. Clearly, one part of the quid pro quo was that the Iranians passed on their hard-earned knowledge about how to dodge sanctions to an attentive audience of Russian officials. With a little help from China, India and most of the rest of humanity, the total failure of the sanctions followed in short order. Today, the sanctions are hurting the US and Europe, not Russia, but the US leadership has wedged itself into a position from which it can’t back down. This may go a long way towards explaining why the Russian campaign in Ukraine has been so leisurely. The Russians have no reason to hurry. They know that time is not on the side of the US.

For many decades now, the threat of being cut out of international trade by US sanctions was the big stick Washington used to threaten unruly nations that weren’t small enough for a US invasion or fragile enough for a CIA-backed regime-change operation. Over the last year, that big stick turned out to be made of balsa wood and snapped off in Joe Biden’s hand. As a result, all over the world, nations that thought they had no choice but to use dollars in their foreign trade are switching over to their own currencies, or to the currencies of rising powers. The US dollar’s day as the global medium of exchange is thus ending.

It’s been interesting to watch economic pundits reacting to this. As you might expect, quite a few of them simply deny that it’s happening — after all, economic statistics from previous years don’t show it yet, Some others have pointed out that no other currency is ready to take on the dollar’s role; this is true, but irrelevant. When the British pound lost a similar role in the early years of the Great Depression, no other currency was ready to take on its role either. It wasn’t until 1970 or so that the US dollar finished settling into place as the currency of global trade. In the interval, international trade lurched along awkwardly using whatever currencies or commodity swaps the trading partners could settle on: that is to say, the same situation that’s taking shape around us in the free-for-all of global trade that will define the post-dollar era.

QUESTION: Is America’s empire bankrupt?