A decade ago, Oldsmobile went. Last year, Pontiac. Saturn, Saab and Hummer were discontinued. A thousand GM dealerships shut down.
To those who grew up in a "GM family," where buying a Chrysler was like converting to Islam, what happened to GM was deeply saddening.
Yet the amputations had to be done -- or GM would die.
And the same may be about to happen to the American Imperium.
Its birth can be traced to World War II, when America put 16 million men in uniform and sent millions across the seas to crush Nazi Germany and Japan. After V-E and V-J Day, the boys came home.
But with the Stalinization of half of Europe, the fall of China, and war in Korea came NATO and alliances with Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand, Pakistan and Australia that lasted through the Cold War.
In 1989, however, the Cold War ended dramatically with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the retirement of the Red Army from Europe, the break-up of the Soviet Union and Beijing's abandonment of world communist revolution.
Overnight, our world changed. But America did not change.
As Russia shed her alliances and China set out to capture America's markets, Uncle Sam soldiered on.
We clung to the old alliances and began to add new allies. NATO war guarantees were distributed like credit cards to member states of the old Warsaw Pact and former republics of the Soviet Union.
We invaded Panama and Haiti, smashed Iraq, liberated Kuwait, intervened in Somalia and Bosnia, bombed Serbia, and invaded Iraq again -- and Afghanistan. Now we prepare for a new war -- on Iran.
Author Lawrence Vance has inventoried America's warfare state.
We spend more on defense than the next 10 nations combined.
Our Navy exceeds in firepower the next 13 navies combined. We have 100,000 troops in Iraq, 100,000 in Afghanistan or headed there, 28,000 in Korea, over 35,000 in Japan and 50,000 in Germany. By the Department of Defense's "Base Structure Report," there are 716 U.S. bases in 38 countries.
Chalmers Johnson, who has written books on this subject, claims DOD is minimizing the empire. He discovered some 1,000 U.S. facilities, many of them secret and sensitive. And according to DOD's "Active Duty Military Personnel Strengths by Regional Area and by Country," U.S. troops are now stationed in 148 countries and 11 territories.
Estimated combined budgets for the Pentagon, two wars, foreign aid to allies, 16 intelligence agencies, scores of thousands of contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, and our new castle-embassies: $1 trillion a year.
While this worldwide archipelago of bases may have been necessary when we confronted a Sino-Soviet bloc spanning Eurasia from the Elbe to East China Sea, armed with thousands of nuclear weapons and driven by imperial ambition and ideological hatred of us, that is history now.
It is preposterous to argue that all these bases are essential to our security. Indeed, our military presence, our endless wars and our support of despotic regimes have made America, once the most admired of nations, almost everywhere resented and even hated.
Liquidation of this empire should have begun with the end of the Cold War. Now it is being forced upon us by the deficit-debt crisis. Like GM, we can't kick this can up the road any more, because we have come to the end of the road.
Republicans will fight new taxes. Democrats will fight to save social programs. Which leaves the American empire as the logical lead cow for the butcher's knife.
Indeed, how do conservatives justify borrowing hundreds of billions yearly from Europe, Japan and the Gulf states -- to defend Europe, Japan and the Arab Gulf states? Is it not absurd to borrow hundreds of billion annually from China -- to defend Asia from China? Is it not a symptom of senility to borrow from all over the world in order to defend that world?
In their Mount Vernon declaration of principles, conservatives called the Constitution their guiding star. But did not the author of that constitution, James Madison, warn us that wars are the death of republics?
Under Bush II, conservatives, spurning the wisdom of their fathers, let themselves be seduced, neo-conned into enlisting in a Wilsonian crusade that had as its declared utopian goal "ending tyranny in our world."
How could conservatives whose defining virtue is prudence and who pride themselves on following the lamp of experience have been taken into camp by the hustlers and hucksters of empire?
Yet, now that Barack Obama has embraced neo-socialism, Republicans are about to be given a second chance. And just as Rahm Emanuel said liberal Democrats should not let a financial crisis go to waste, but exploit it to ram through their agenda, the right should use the opportunity of the fiscal crisis to take an axe to the warfare state.
Ron Paul's victory at CPAC may be a sign the prodigal sons of the right are casting off the heresy of neoconservatism and coming home to first principles.