After Sept. 11, there was a moment where one could imagine an intelligent response: Instead of bombs and belligerence, the United States could have used discussions and development to address the root causes of terrorism. But that was too much to expect of the American Empire.

To the Bush administration, the dead of Sept. 11 represented a unique opportunity to remake the world through war.

It took mere hours for Rumsfeld to direct his underlings to find intelligence that could serve as a casus belli against Iraq. It took nine days for Bush to impose a with-us-or-against-us mentality upon the world. And it took barely six weeks for the structures of a police state to come into being with the Patriot Act.

There was little doubt at the time that the eagle was soaring. Few opposed the power grab at home, the Taliban were scattered in a few weeks, and nations rushed to enlist in the “war on terror.” It was no longer just cranky Marxists who talked of imperialism; liberals and conservatives alike hailed a reinvigorated Pax Americana.

Five years later, however, the Bush administration has dragged the world into three wars – Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon – that have diminished U.S. power dramatically. The U.S. military is being ground down by guerrilla warfare in Iraq, reviving fears of post- Vietnam impotence. With a civil war, of U.S. making, raging in Iraq, troop levels are on the rise and GIs are having to conquer Baghdad once more, leading to a surge in combat deaths in the last half of August. White House plans to draw down troops to influence the November elections have been dashed.

The cost in treasure is enormous, adding to huge budget deficits that burden the U.S. economy. Diplomatically, the Bush administration has lost credibility because of the weapons of mass destruction fable, constraining its attempts to attack Iran under similar pretexts. Russia, most visibly, has signaled that it will not back economic sanctions against Iran.

In Lebanon, the Bush administration hoped that Israel could bomb Hezbollah into submission and check an increasingly confident political Shi’ism. Instead, Sunni Arab regimes in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan were exposed as U.S. tools by lining up with their patron against Hezbollah. The American Empire’s desperation for allies is so great that the paper of record describes Saudi Arabia’s hand-chopping theocracy as a “moderate.” U.S. leverage in the region is at a low. Israel is suffering an existential crisis from its historic defeat, and Iran, Syria and Shi’ite parties in Iraq have been strengthened. Most of all, the Arab world has found a new hero in Hezbollah and Hassan Nasrallah.

Yet this only hints at the global chaos that has been unleashed. Historians will define the post-Sept. 11 era as one of geopolitical instability, as the Atlantic Alliance fragmented and new power centers and regional blocs took shape. It’s also marked by state-sponsored barbarism that has swept away any pretense of international law, the accelerating shift of power from West to East, wars fought and governments toppled for access to energy reserves, and the triumph of neoliberal economics. For more, click here