Tomgram: Engelhardt, The Last Empire? And Then There Was One.
It stretched from the Caspian to the Baltic Sea, from the middle of Europe to the Kurile Islands in the Pacific, from Siberia to Central Asia. Its nuclear arsenal held 45,000 warheads, and its military had five million troops under arms. There had been nothing like it in Eurasia since the Mongols conquered China, took parts of Central Asia and the Iranian plateau, and rode into the Middle East, looting Baghdad. Yet when the Soviet Union collapsed in December 1991, by far the poorer, weaker imperial power disappeared. And then there was one. There had never been such a moment: a single nation astride the globe without a competitor in sight. There wasn't even a name for such a state, or state of mind. Superpower had already been used when there were two of them. Hyper-power was tried briefly but didn't stick. Sole superpower stood in for a while but didn't satisfy. Great Power, once the zenith of appellations, was by then a lesser phrase, left over the zenith of appellations, was by then a lesser phrase, left over from the centuries, when various European nations and Japan were expanding their Empires. Some started speaking about a unipolar world in which all roads led, well, to Washington. To this day, we have never quite taken in that moment, when Soviet imperial rot unexpectedly above all, to Washington, became imperial crash and burn. Left standing, the Cold War's victor seemed, then, like an empire of everything under the sun. It was as if humanity had always been traveling toward this spot. It seemed like the end of the line. The Last Empire? After the rise and fall of the Assyrians and the Romans, the Persians, the Chinese, the Mongols, the Spanish, the Portuguese, the Dutch, the French, the English, the Germans, and the Japanese, some process seemed over. The United States was dominant in a previously unimaginable way - except in Hollywood films, where villains cackled about their evil plans to dominate the world. As a start, the US was an empire of global capital. With the fall of Soviet style communism, and the transformation of a communist regime in China, into a crew of authoritarian capitalist "roaders", there was no other model for how to do anything, economically speaking. There was Washington's way, and that of the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank, both controlled by Washington, or there was the highway, and the Soviet Union had already made it all too clear where that led: to obsolescence and ruin.