Diminishing Powers seem to grasp reality in phases. Past self images lurch to synchronize painfully with events. Just ask the Romans, Ottomans, the Chinese Emperors, Sovs or Brits and Dutch et al.
There’s little reason America should be different. It may be even harder for us. We generally are oblivious to America as metropole. Until 2008 we took the fringe benefits for granted. We should expect our flashes of recognitions to surprise. Like a baseball bat in a dark room. If how a Power rides the adjustment curve says as much as its Noontide reign? We have massively surreal moments ahead. Just ask
Clement Atlee Obama in three or eight years.
We’ve all discussed at length (and seemingly agreed) that the British should have known the Empire was over in 1940, their actual bankruptcy. American financing and willingness to at least pretend to a quasi-subordinate role after May 1945 cushioned matters. Americans got a longer ride from Japan and then China from 1980s till Fall 2008.
Hindsight brutally reveals that the 1947 Greek Crisis and the Marshall Plan pulled the mask on British feebleness. Psyches are a tricky thing, though. Just a year later, in 1948, the British — still embued with imperial self image — sought to ‘guarantee’ Western European defense with the Treaty of Brussels. The prostrate Europeans saw more clearly than British delusions. In 1949 the Western Europeans demanded Americans handcuffed to them all, keeping the Germans down and the Russians out – hence NATO.
Suez was a shock in London no doubt. It still took 20 years after 1947 and a Chancellor of the Exchequer, Roy Jenkins, to jam financial reality to the fore and force British withdrawal from military footprints East of the Suez (Singapore, Malaysia and the Persian Gulf). George Lazenby’s fiasco in 1969 served as exclamation point. America unfortunately likely will not have until 2029 to adjust.
Where does the collapse of the American civilian space program fit? Do Americans really care about it? Few deny it’s a hangover imperial luxury. Shouldn’t we just let it go?
Landing on the Moon remains perhaps the last truly astonishing triumph of the American idea (beyond wearing out the Sovs). But in terms of the popular culture, it’s about as relevant as a Woodstock reminiscence clip. Americans only seem to care about space when it’s well done on a movie screen. (American military reliance on space deserves a separate topic (but then the American people have almost no familiarity with military – again unless on TV or a movie screen)).
Bush launched an absurdly ambitious boondoggle for American contractors to return to the Moon and Mars. A Mars Mission is a long running fantasy among certain Movement demographics for various biological, philosophical and spiritual reasons. You may recall Movement types in the 1980s — including a back bencher named weirdly ‘Newt’ pushing for Mars. Under Bush 41, Bill Kristol/Dan Quayle’s office served as the campfire around which the various constituencies gathered. Newt then picked up the Mars torch in 1995-96. After 8 years of exile under Bubba — presto! The Warlord eventually is manipulated to make it happen. (Remember Dave Chappelle’s now hoary ‘Mars, bitches !!’)
Like the Warlord’s other schemes it falls apart. Obama appointed a NASA Review Panel to find cheaper ways to get into space. Today his Panel reports NASA can’t go anywhere even on $80 billion through 2020. Not even the Moon. Meanwhile, nefarious *ferriners*, the Indians, Japanese, Chinese and even the Germans have or are planning on sending probes to the Moon. American public reaction? Yawn.
So shoot the horse. It’s time to put down the civilian space program as a grossly unjustifiable self-perpetuating government-industrial sector. Closing out this consortium of interests seeking handouts and subsidies to find a reason to get more money is overdue. Billions spent and to be spent on a rocket engine (Ares) even Obama’s Review Panel excludes from 3 of its 4 castrated scenarios. As some totem of uplifting nationalism the program is useless as even Sally Ride and others on the Review Panel concede. Who really believes seeing more pictures from the Moon would restore faltering legitimacy to a federal government? More than a functional jobs program? That wad has been shot. NASA (as currently configured) is the poster child of past tense Imperial self imagery and indulgence.
Obama by all accounts set up the Review Panel look for budget efficiencies. Upon receipt of the Panel’s Report he may even pretend that he has options. The always formidable Norm Augustine noted “Our view is that it will be difficult with the current budget to do anything that’s terribly inspiring in the human spaceflight area.”
Squandering control of national destiny has consequences. The Warlord was too stupid to realize it. Your job, Mr. Obama, is to ease the American people into the truth. Before your own East of Eden moment is forced upon you. You don’t have 20 years.