Are Americans really so imperial?
November 28, 2002 2:47 AM   Subscribe

A Funny Sort of Empire: Are Americans really so imperial?
posted by hama7 (31 comments total)

 
Not if you ignore all the negatives as this article does. The article compares what the US does not do with regard to imperialism that happened in the Roman and British empires without any consideration of the different ways that the US is able to exert power over other nations through the use of its economic and military muscle. Its war victories since Vietnam are held up as admirable, (though without mention of Somalia) and with seemingly no sense of irony regarding the US willingness to invade sovereign states.
No mention is made of repeated US interference in the democratic processes of other nations over the last few decades.
The lack of interest of the average american in the outside world is held up as evidence of the US lack of interest in hegemony where it might also be perceived as an abrogation of responsibility and a willingness to let political leaders continue with foreign policy as long as they can keep cheap oil coming in to keep the AC running in citizens 'monster homes'.
The article alleges that it is Americans who bear the criticism of the outside world whilst it is Europeans who have been labelled anti-semitic by elements of the american press for daring to suggest that the Palestinians have a right to their own land. Chancellor Schroder is portrayed as sulking over snubs simply for having the nerve to represent the views of his electorate that war with Iraq might not be as desirable as the American right.

A lot of rubbish is spoken about the evils of the US, when the reality is that the US acts in the interests of its own citizens as every other nation does. The US _is _the only superpower though and that means that its actions impact more on the world than the actions of other nations. Perhaps one of the things that rankles with non-US citizens is the sometime hypocrisy of pretending to act for the interests of all when this is clearly not the case. There are both positives and negatives of US global dominance but the articles weak efforts to gloss over the negatives does no-one any good.
posted by biffa at 3:32 AM on November 28, 2002


biffa: "the US acts in the interests of its own citizens as every other nation does."
I'd amend that to: "the US acts in the interests of its own elites as every other nation does."

As for the piece linked: hyperbole, straw-man arguments, false analogies and eclectic recollection of historical facts, combined with an irrelevant major point about similarities between the Roman empire and modern day US, leave me wishing that the author heeded his own words:
"real knowledge of past empires that might allow judicious analogies is beyond the grasp of popular pundits"
posted by talos at 4:34 AM on November 28, 2002


USA: Everything is great!

USA: Everything is ev-ul!

Ahhh, FAQ it!
posted by i_cola at 4:43 AM on November 28, 2002


this guy is a hack: We do not see any profits in Korea, but instead accept the risk of losing almost 40,000 of our youth to ensure that Kias can flood our shores and that shaggy students can protest outside our embassy in Seoul.
The U.S. military is not in Asia to protect Asians, surely he must be aware of that.
posted by planetkyoto at 4:55 AM on November 28, 2002


I loathe op-ed FPPs, but this one seemed exceptional in its scope and relatively subdued breadth.
posted by hama7 at 5:06 AM on November 28, 2002


planetkyoto: The U.S. military is not in Asia to protect Asians, surely he must be aware of that.

...oh, really? And how would the South Koreans feel about us pulling our troops out of South Korea?

C'mon, you know the answer. A generation ago, the North would have simply overrun the south, with an uncertain outcome. Today, with the North so weak, and their one-time sponsors on better terms with the US, they would almost surely lose, and might not attack at all. However, their leadership is so unpredictable, they might, and if they did, it would still cause great hardship and destruction and immense loss of life, and the South knows that.

Of course we have interests there, but our presence is always desired by the locals. When it isn't, we do pull out: for example, when the Philippines no longer wanted us at Subic Bay, we pulled out.

hama7, I thought it was a good article; as others have pointed out, it's one-sided, but it should be read as a gloss on the usual Guardian-type articles that are linked on MeFi, which are equally one-sided, in the opposite political direction. It's just unfortunate that it hit in the middle of a spike of political FPP's.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 5:40 AM on November 28, 2002


I loathe op-ed FPPs, but

I'm no racist, but
posted by Armitage Shanks at 6:08 AM on November 28, 2002


Wow, that's deeply unimpressive. Cod readings of classical history for hoi polloi, combined with an impressive shoehorning of both slightly distant and recent history. (Simon Schama's programme 'The Wrong Empire' should put to bed his thoughts on the parliamentary enthusiasm for British empire, at least for a century.) He does pick his straw men to produce the maximum outrage, though: 'American suburbanites, inner-city residents, and rural townspeople all will fret because a French opportunist or a Saudi autocrat says that we are acting inappropriately.' Very Two Minutes' Hate: 'People Of Peoria, Gather Round To Throw Things At Image Of Frenchman! Look, He Has A Beret! Yes, Black People Can Join In Too!'

And so on: In contrast, retired American diplomats, CIA operatives, or generals are lucky if they can melt away in anonymity to the Virginia suburbs without a subpoena, media exposé, or lawsuit....or well-paid positions in private industry, to which they bring the expertise gathered in service of the state, often as well-paid subcontractors; or may even receive a recall to public service by a president who thinks it's Nixon time again. Hello, John Poindexter! Hello, Henry Kissinger!

Empires create a culture of pride and pomp, and foster a rhetoric of superiority. Pericles, Virgil, and Kipling all talked and wrote of the grandeur of imperial domain.

One laughs out loud; is Kipling and his 'fuzzy-wuzzies' to be included in the triumverate with Pericles and Virgil? Oh, cor blimey sir: arma virunque cano et the bleedin' white man's burden. Please, hand me a tissue.

How odd then that what America's literary pantheon — Norman Mailer, Gore Vidal, Susan Sontag, and Alice Walker — said about 9/11 would either nauseate or bewilder most Americans.

VDH hasn't read any Juvenal, has he: or does he want his audience, batting its collective eyelashes at his erudition like dumbstruck debutantes, to think that the only literary product of empire is imperialist propaganda like his own? Et cetera, ad nauseam. I've wasted too much time on this piece of disingenuous piece of shit already. Others have pointed it out, but the supporters of empire always think theirs is different, theirs will last, just as investors in bubbles have always thought that this time the economy has changed, rather than human caprice being the same as ever.
posted by riviera at 7:13 AM on November 28, 2002


I was under the impression that the troops in South Korea were there ultimately to protect Japan from Soviet (and later, Chinese) invasion, and to prevent the need for Japan to form its own, independent military to defend itself. This is basically a self-interested U.S. position: a Japan without weapons is a docile and easily controlled Japan; we all remember the last time Japan had a strong military, and it didn't work out well for the United States. Same thing with Germany: the United States could have installed a puppet regime in Bonn and let it rearm to counter the Soviets, but that would have meant an independent German military that could easily slip out of Washington's control. This calculus has not changed. I'm not saying these strategies were necessarily wrong; I'm just saying that they were devised, and continue to be followed, out of a sense of national self-interest, not out of some altruistic desire to protect South Koreans.

Victor Davis Hanson is a sophist. He not only chooses only to highlight American hegemony's differences with previous empires, but twists those differences around so that the United States always comes out looking good, but at the expense of consistency, and sometimes accuracy. For one thing, the Spanish-American War was not the last occasion when the U.S. annexed land; the United States (with UN approval)established protectorates all over the Pacific Ocean after World War II. Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa are still under U.S suzerainty.

A couple of Hanson's arguments in favor of empire are pretty funny - the American Empire has no serious external rivals or contraints, and that's a good thing. Crushing provincial revolts hardly costs any money at all. This is supposed to make us feel better? I guess I'm not in the target audience (cutthroat pragmatists) for those particular points.

A more serious error is Hanson's claim of American innocence of any grand imperial aims or global ambitions other than keeping goods flowing in and out of Japan; Hanson himself undermines this assertion three paragraphs later by his own invocation of America's (public) global ambition - overthrowing dictators ("Noriega, Milosevic, Mullah Omar") to spread freedom and democracy. Of course it sounds good; how else would the U.S. government get the American people to support empire, and the thousands of deaths that its maintenance occasionally requires? I especially like how he mentions Manuel Noriega, but leaves out the years when Noriega was being paid by the CIA while running drugs through Panama.

His attempts to distinguish American imperialism from British colonialism is also strained at several points. For example, he makes much of the U.S. tendency to gain military bases through treaties (while failing to mention the wars that often precede them, or that the governments that sign them are often autocratic at best, tyrannical at worst - cf. Saudi Arabia), and its roadbuilding activities in Afghanistan. However, the British Empire gained much of its territory in India through treaties with local princes who retained nominal authority, and built railroads all across India. In fact, the Roman Empire is also famous for its well-built roads. This does not change the fact that they were empires, and run for the interests of the center, not the whole. Why was the first Gulf War fought? Because there's oil in Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and the United States didn't want it all under the control of a single country. Naked self-interest, with full public support.

Women aren't allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, you say? People are routinely jailed and tortured just for preaching the Gospel? Whatever, dude, as long as the crude keeps flowing. This is what empire is all about - propping up governments - including dictatorships - that give influential Americans higher profits, and denouncing the ones that stray from the fold.

One last point: the quality of an article should not just depend on how much it contrasts with what surrounds it, but whether it can stand on its own, and this cannot.

On preview: what riviera said.
posted by skoosh at 8:13 AM on November 28, 2002


And anyway, guys, give us a break. We're still fairly new at this empire game. But don't worry.We'll get there.
posted by donfactor at 8:19 AM on November 28, 2002


overthrowing dictators

Like Pinochet--with Henry Kissinger's assisting hand up his muppet butt--Mr. Gen. Match Plus Points to our constant commentator's favorite strawman example Arafat in war criminality? Yeah, we overthrow dictators democratically elected leaders real good.
posted by y2karl at 9:36 AM on November 28, 2002


hama7: You neglected to take into account that Hanson is actually critiquing the MeFi readership. Or maybe you did take that into account...

I'd like a t-shirt that says "Metafilter: post-heroic and bored elites, intellectuals, and coffeehouse hacks, whose freedom and security are a given, but whose rarified tastes are apparently unshared and endangered." :-)
posted by rusty at 9:39 AM on November 28, 2002


Huh. I guess avoiding partisan political stuff at MeFi is no longer a good idea.
posted by mediareport at 10:01 AM on November 28, 2002


Sorry, no t-shirt, rusty, but we currently do have the Humorless Angry Young White Men's CD Stickin' it to Them Locksteppin' Liberals With More Tired-Ass Right Wing Lies & Cliche's featuring the #1-with-a-bullet hit of

--to the stirring patriotic melody of Bernard Hermann's pizzicato violin theme to the Psycho shower scene--

Freep!     Freep!     Freep!     Freep     Freep!     Freep!
posted by y2karl at 10:22 AM on November 28, 2002


Also available by the HalfBaked Tom Clancy Wannabe Armchair Generals Warblogger Chorus in Stirring March and Young Country formats
posted by y2karl at 10:52 AM on November 28, 2002


*rolls eyes*
posted by dhoyt at 10:58 AM on November 28, 2002


Oh well, it wouldn't be Thanksgiving without a tiresome and pointless argument.

Oh well, enjoy your Turkey, Tofurkey, Foturkey, Bisurkey, and beef jerky, y'all!!
posted by jonmc at 11:16 AM on November 28, 2002


Oh well, it wouldn't be Thanksgiving without a tiresome and pointless argument.

What!? My mom's coming over!?
posted by elwoodwiles at 2:37 PM on November 28, 2002


It's not Thanksgiving out on the fringes of the American Empire, Jon.

In any sense.

Heh.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:59 PM on November 28, 2002


I know you all will enjoy Jonah Goldgerg's excellent Not Getting America.

An excerpt:

"Now, the fact that we are not an empire, but could be one if we wanted to, confuses the dickens of all sorts of people. Indeed, some people find the idea so confusing they willfully refuse to believe it and just go on insisting we are an empire the way the guy in the Monty Python skit just kept insisting the parrot wasn't dead. Other folks don't use the word "empire" but they are just as confused about America's behavior. Marxists, for example, have a hard time fathoming that America doesn't behave according to their straight-line predictions about how a capitalistic "hegemon" should behave. So they mine the data. They ignore the inconvenient and misinterpret the unignorable. "
posted by hama7 at 10:06 PM on November 28, 2002


Goldberg.
posted by hama7 at 11:38 PM on November 28, 2002


Are Americans really so imperial?

Not the general population. The current leadership, yes, definitely imperialist. Hey, look! Lucianne had an entitled little brat and named him Jonah. And he tells one whale of a story!

Thanks for the great humor y2karl!!
posted by nofundy at 5:00 AM on November 29, 2002


I suppose it's redundant to point out that that Jonah Goldberg did actually write something, regardless of "Lucianne" or "entitlement", as if that discredits his opinion.

But to fomenting Marxists, 'entitlement' equals 'bourgeois'.

I wonder why you stand behind the most thoroughly discredited and brutally murderous doctrines of the twentieth century?
posted by hama7 at 5:41 AM on November 29, 2002


I tell you, this empire thing sure isn't worth it, if all the lilliputians do is whine. Don't step there! No, not there either, there's a sewer! Well, grandma needed a new garage anyway. Say, there's a fire! Why don't you, you know, make water -- if you don't mind?
posted by dhartung at 7:38 AM on November 29, 2002


Hama7 - I have to assume that you haven't read "Rebuilding America's Defenses" - initially begun by Wolfowitz and Lewis Libby at the bequest of Dick Cheney, as Sec. of Defense in '91 or so - and Refined at the "Project For a New American Century"; the document has the endorsement of the core group of neoconservatives which currently dominates the debate on US geopolitical strategy (list of PNAC "Statement of Principles" signatories)

From "Rebuilding America's Defenses" - "The United States is the world’s only superpower, combining
preeminent military power, global technological leadership, and the world’s largest economy. Moreover, America stands
at the head of a system of alliances which includes the world’s other leading democratic powers. At present the United States faces no global rival. America’s grand strategy should aim to preserve and extend this advantageous position as far into the future as possible."


I don't really understand denials of US imperial ambitions in light of the fact that the architects of the new US foreign policies employ terms such as "Pax Americana" and call for complete (and global) US military supremacy. Or in light of the recent upsurge in American exemptionalism - as in the US refusal to be subject to any significant conventions of international law (which the US nonetheless supports when advantageous) such as international laws regarding War Crimes: another charactoristic of imperial hubris. So International laws are for everyone else, for lesser mortals. US lives by it's own self defined rules.

The PNAC "Statement of Principles" talks of US global "Leadership" and "Responsibilities". The British Empire viewed things in a very similar way. "Empire" is always viewed by the imperial rulers as the benign exercise of power.

Empire? You can deny it till the cows come home, and we can quibble over it in Blog world till hair grows out of our ears - but the rest of the World - in light of the US project to enforce a "Pax Americana" (from "Rebuilding America's Defenses") through complete, Global military supremacy is coming to see it that way: as Empire.
posted by troutfishing at 8:30 AM on November 29, 2002


And for the record - I don't this imperial project is stupid. It's not. But I think it's immoral and (more to the point?) unwise. The only other coherent choice, I believe, for US foreign policy to take would be for the US to aggressively support international law, agreements, conventions and governing bodies. But hey - why should we do that? We're the biggest and toughest kids on the block:

"Cops of the World"

By Phil Ochs

E A E    A
Come, get out of the way, boys
E A E E7
Quick, get out of the way
G C G C
You'd better watch what you say, boys
G C B7
Better watch what you say
E A
We've rammed in your harbor and tied to your port
E A
And our pistols are hungry and our tempers are short
E B7 E A G#m A
So bring your daughters around to the port
B7 E
'Cause we're the Cops of the World, boys
B7 E
We're the Cops of the World

We pick and choose as please, boys
Pick and choose as please
You'd best get down on your knees, boys
Best get down on your knees
We're hairy and horny and ready to shack
We don't care if you're yellow or black
Just take off your clothes and lie down on your back
'Cause we're the Cops of the World, boys
We're the Cops of the World

Our boots are needing a shine, boys
Boots are needing a shine
But our Coca-cola is fine, boys
Coca-cola is fine
We've got to protect all our citizens fair
So we'll send a battalion for everyone there
And maybe we'll leave in a couple of years
'Cause we're the Cops of the World, boys
We're the Cops of the World

Dump the reds in a pile, boys
Dump the reds in a pile
You'd better wipe of that smile, boys
Better wipe off that smile
We'll spit through the streets of the cities we wreck
We'll find you a leader that you can't elect
Those treaties we signed were a pain in the neck
'Cause we're the Cops of the World, boys
We're the Cops of the World

Clean the johns with a rag, boys
Clean the johns with a rag
If you like you can use your flag, boys
If you like you can use your flag
We've got too much money we're looking for toys
And guns will be guns and boys will be boys
But we'll gladly pay for all we destroy
'Cause we're the Cops of the World, boys
We're the Cops of the World

Please stay off of the grass, boys
Please stay off of the grass
Here's a kick in the ass, boys
Here's a kick in the ass
We'll smash down your doors, we don't bother to knock
We've done it before, so why all the shock?
We're the biggest and toughest kids on the block
'Cause we're the Cops of the World, boys
We're the Cops of the World

When we butchered your son, boys
When we butchered your son
Have a stick of our gum, boys
Have a stick of our buble-gum
We own half the world, oh say can you see
The name for our profits is democracy
So, like it or not, you will have to be free
'Cause we're the Cops of the World, boys
We're the Cops of the World
posted by troutfishing at 8:41 AM on November 29, 2002


hama7, you could, you know, at least *try* to address *one* of the specific rebuttals biffa, riviera skoosh and now troutfishing have offered. Like, you know, the historical facts the op-ed - the one you offered to the community as worthy of intelligent discussion - completely ignored?

Once again, we see your well-established pattern of somehow overlooking the many reasoned responses to your posts. Did you want to discuss the piece or not, hama7? Come on, then, let's hear your rebuttal to the *thoughtful* replies you got, rather than just the easy dismissal of nofundy's ad hominem joke attempt.
posted by mediareport at 11:11 AM on November 29, 2002


At present the United States faces no global rival. America’s grand strategy should aim to preserve and extend this advantageous position as far into the future as possible."

Nice links, troutfishing, but aiming to lead the world militarily and seeking to preserve that position does not equal empire-building, because it is in the nation's blatant self-interest to do so. What do you propose? That the US seek to weaken itself sufficiently to have its ass whupped by Canada within a year or something? Come on.

And the song was unnecessary, and just contributes to the huge pile of crap that went in where the "comments" area should have been.

Once again, we see your well-established pattern of somehow overlooking the many reasoned responses to your posts. Did you want to discuss the piece or not, hama7?

I didn't write the two pieces that I linked. If you'd like to read them, by all means do so. If you'd rather not, then don't click them, simple as that. If this dogpile is what passes for discussion, then no, I don't want to discuss the damn piece.

I really debated about whether or not to post this, and I have read more than a few op-ed pieces accusing the US of empire-building, this piece presented a different viewpoint.

I can't tell you how disappointed I was to see the "comments". It's hard to believe people are so threatened by differing opinions.
posted by hama7 at 5:04 PM on November 29, 2002


Hama7 wrote:

"Nice links, troutfishing, but aiming to lead the world militarily and seeking to preserve that position does not equal empire-building, because it is in the nation's blatant self-interest to do so. What do you propose? That the US seek to weaken itself sufficiently to have its ass whupped by Canada within a year or something? Come on."

Now that you've drained all meaning from the word "empire" Hama7, how exactly do you suppose an authentic discussion can now take place?

Oh I see: "I can't tell you how disappointed I was to see the "comments". It's hard to believe people are so threatened by differing opinions."

Meaningfulness of dialogue is something, Hama7, I'm afraid you weren't particularly interested in in even posting this link. Not that the link shouldn't have been posted (thanks for the link hama7!), but obviously there is deep disagreement with it. You want discussion in the form of "disappointing comments"? Get used to disagreement then.

In an empire, it bears saying, disagreement is disagreeable. Which is disappointing.
posted by crasspastor at 6:48 PM on November 29, 2002


Or not.
posted by hama7 at 3:20 AM on November 30, 2002


Hama7 - You're right, the "Cops of the the World" post was gratuitious. It was dead on subject though, and quite pointed: the US has a very long record of military intervention which suggests empire. What is empire? I turn to my 100 year old "Webster's New World Dictionary": "Supreme rule: absolute power or authority: dominion."

Under this definition, I would call the current US world military supremacy very close to empire. And the Cheney/Wolfowitz/Rumsfeld school of thought would be to render US military supremacy absolute. So: empire
posted by troutfishing at 8:53 PM on December 2, 2002


« Older Bad Flash! A little respect, gentlemen, please! ...  |  Israelis targeted in Kenya att... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments