In mid-March of this year, at the early stage of the global pandemic of the new crown pneumonia epidemic, China achieved a “flattening the curve.” At that time, the overall situation in the United States was far from clear at the beginning of the epidemic, but keen analysts have already sensed that important things are happening. Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell and Asian issues expert Rush Doshi published an article in the “Foreign Affairs” magazine on March 18, saying that the epidemic may become a “Suez moment” for the United States.
The “Suez Moment” refers to the iconic moment when the British Empire lost its leadership in global affairs and had to give way to the new world hegemon, the United States-in the winter of 1956, when an Anglo-French coalition army returned to the Suez Canal When military bases tried to prevent Nasser’s plan to nationalize the Suez Canal and maintain its traditional position in this strategic hub area, the United States used financial and public opinion methods to force Britain and France to unconditionally withdraw from Egypt, and took advantage of the trend to fill the power vacuum in this region. .
At that time, Britain was in a situation, as the then Chancellor of the Exchequer Harold Macmillan said, “either as a second world country or striding forward to the establishment of a third British empire.” In fact, after the “Suez Moment”, Britain has only the first choice left.
Kurt Campbell and Rush Doshi believe that for more than 70 years after World War II, the United States’ position as a global leader was not only based on its own wealth and power, but also on an equally important legitimacy. . This legitimacy stems from three major elements, namely, the United States’ domestic governance, the ability and willingness to provide global public goods, and convene and coordinate responses to global crises. However, the new crown pneumonia epidemic “is testing the three major elements of American leadership. So far, Washington has failed to pass the test.”
Who buried the British Empire
Looking back at history, the heyday of the British Empire was the decade before the First World War. In 1909, the total area of the British Empire accounted for a quarter of the world’s land area, and its ruling population was 440 million, which was also a quarter of the world’s population at that time. A popular saying in the Victorian era was that the queen ruled “1 continent, 100 peninsulas, 500 capes, 1,000 lakes, 2,000 rivers, and 10,000 islands.” Since this empire was built on the imperialist rule of overseas colonies, and three-quarters of the total population were colored people, the prophets took it for granted that it would be destroyed by the vigorous anti-imperialist revolution launched by colored people.
Winston Churchill is a witness to this history. He imagined the terrible scene of the collapse of the British Empire and his mission in it when he was in middle school. By the time he died in 1965, the most important territory in Britain had been lost. However, different from the reasons that people think, the main reason for the collapse of the British Empire is not the national liberation movement of the colonial people, nor the anti-imperialist movement of the “freedom fighters” from the Sinn Fein Party to the Indian National Congress. It is the successive rise of other powers.
The powers that have risen up and buried the British Empire together, including the Eurasian enemy countries that inflicted heavy losses on it during the two world wars and burdened it with heavy war debts, as well as the rapid rise and greatly squeezed the profitable space of its overseas colonies The United States, the ally of the United States, also includes the former ally of the Soviet Union, which attacked the world “seeking to destroy the British Empire” after the beginning of the Cold War. The joint attack from multiple parties resulted in the total cost of maintaining a vast colony in the British Empire inevitably higher than the total revenue.
It is undeniable that in the process of the collapse of the British Empire, the United States actually played a “pushing hand” role. The United States’ participation in the war after the “Pearl Harbor” incident in 1941 allowed Churchill to see the dawn of victory in the dark, but on the other hand it made him feel that the British Empire was “squeezed to the edge of the cliff” by the rise of the United States.
Like a suffocating and warm embrace, on the one hand, the United States passed the Lease Act to give Britain the money necessary to win the war, and on the other hand, it also drove the British Empire to the status of a “past power”.
The “powers of the past” can only withdraw from the colonies of the past. However, if the withdrawal policy can be converted into a long-term arrangement and profit from future opportunities, the British empire, a calculating veteran, will never let go of any opportunities.
Looking back at the time today, the British withdrawal from the Asian and African colonies was not a panic retreat, but followed several principles to ensure the maximization of benefits:
The first is to preserve the dignity and so-called moral superiority of the British as much as possible, because they think that the colonial policy of the British Empire is much more “benign” than France, Portugal, and Belgium. Therefore, even if it left huge chaos in the local area, or forced together incompatible races, tribes, and religious groups, let Britain complete its withdrawal arrangements in a way that reduced friction, so as not to get involved in France. Long-term wars like those in Algeria and Indochina. People have seen that in order to withdraw smoothly, Britain created the partition of India and Pakistan in the South Asian subcontinent and created a new country Israel in the Middle East.
The second is to keep some strategic bases as much as possible, such as the Suez Canal base in Egypt and the naval base in Sri Lanka, for future use.
The third is to ambush the political influence and commercial interests behind the scenes in advance so as to continue to control these countries or regions in the future, such as the former British African colony.
The withdrawal operations that followed these principles were generally successful. With the beginning of the Cold War and the formation of a bipolar structure, Britain, as a second-class country, can still maintain the influence of a world power, which has a lot to do with its “success” shrinkage.
The “Suez Moment” in 1956 was considered a turning point when the United States as a “future power” took over global affairs and the British Empire retreated into a second-class country as a “past empire”.
However, the United States is not another British empire, and even to some extent, it has risen as a new empire as the opposite of the British Empire.
In the latter part of World War II, it seemed that the United States and Britain were fighting side by side as allies, but President Franklin Delano Roosevelt called the colonies of the British Empire a “hole of hell” and firmly believed that “colonial system means war.”
This is a major difference between the United States and the British Empire. As Henry Kissinger analyzed, “American leaders always take their own ideals for granted, and rarely realize how deviant these values are to others”; “The empire has no intention of operating in an international system. Expect to build itself into an international system”.
Since the rise of the United States, it has been in the contradiction between idealism and realism for a long time, and has formed a unilateralist diplomatic style. It often goes to the other side of the earth to define its own national interests, and compromise and balance are late to be compromised. Written in the American international “political dictionary”.
However, after entering the 21st century, from the “preemptive strike” promoted by Bush Jr., to the “change” that Obama actually did nothing during his eight-year administration, and to the “America First” today, the United States has become less and less easy than Kissinger. And the America that was described and illustrated gracefully.
Similarities and Differences of “Suez Moment”
As of July 29, 2020, there were more than 4.34 million confirmed cases of new coronary pneumonia in the United States, and more than 140,000 deaths.
Thomas Friedman, the author of the book “The World Is Flat,” wrote in an article in early May: When we desperately need the most correct scientific guidance to get out of the predicament, the US leaders have lied and continued All the news he disliked was dismissed as “fake news”… When we needed global cooperation to fight the epidemic, the United States drove away all our allies.
The Atlantic Monthly of the United States is even more outspoken, saying that today’s Americans are living in a “failed country.” It seems that this point is to be further confirmed. A riot caused by the death of Black Freud spread to the entire United States at the peak of the epidemic.
A sudden new crown pneumonia epidemic caused the United States to lose the legitimacy of the global leadership that it had gained in the past from “domestic governance, the provision of global public goods, and the ability and willingness to convene and coordinate global crisis responses.”
The historian Toynbee once said, “The secret of the amazing achievements of the modern West lies in the ingenious combination of spiritual weapons and secular weapons.” The implication of this statement is that most of the empires that have appeared one after another in history have relied on force to establish and maintain their rule. Only the modern Western empires know how to use “spiritual weapons” to exercise global hegemony. This view is especially suitable for understanding the United States. Although the United States ranks first in the world in military strength, as the latest generation of Western empires, its global rule often relies on moral strengths, ideals, values, sense of responsibility, and the will and ability to lead the world. This is the special feature of the American Empire. Once these are lost, it is no different from the brutal and brutal empires in history.