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American Empire?
January 26, 2004 6:57 AM   Subscribe

POWER RANGERS: Did the Bush Administration create a new American empire—or weaken the old one? The left's favorite blogger, Talking Points Memo's Joshua Michah Marshall has been published in this week's New Yorker.
posted by jpoulos (29 comments total)

 
josh was a cut above the fray last night on blogging the president, atrios was excellent as well, sullivan was a whiny punk, and some guy from the bush administration sounded like the borg ... he told the audience we would all be assimililated when the bush campaign money bags open up.
posted by specialk420 at 7:09 AM on January 26, 2004


I think the bogus "empire" axiom stinks. "Have you stopped beating your wife yet?"

One of the flakier refrains of American history is isolationism. Pretending that the rest of the world doesn't exist, isn't important, or can be ignored.
It's not "internationalism fatigue", which is being just plain tired of foreigners and their antics, which is different; it's embracing a policy of "not our problem if they slaughter each other."
Pat Buchanan is typical of this "America first and bugger everyone else" attitude. But spokesmen on the left are just as susceptible and transparent.
You could say it transcends party ideology.

They are the first who want to "seal" America's borders, for whatever reason. To stop foreign aid. To bring our "boys" home. To abolish the military. It doesn't have to be logical.

"If we ignore them, they will ignore us."
posted by kablam at 7:38 AM on January 26, 2004


To call or even imply that Josh Marshall is an isolationist is to show you've never read much of his stuff.
posted by raysmj at 7:41 AM on January 26, 2004


I oppose the war, but I don't consider myself an isolationist. I think ridding the world of violent dictators is a wonderful thing, and I think there are times when it is necessary. Saddam, for example, was a tyrant and I'm glad he's been deposed. I oppose the way we did it, for reasons too well-trodden to list here, but I think we do sometimes have a responsibility to intervene to achieve humanitarian objectives.

I would argue that Bush is more of an isolationist than those of us who want us out of the Middle East. Despite his SOTU laundry list of tiny island nations which support us, he has isolated this country politically (and economically--steel tariffs anyone?) from huge players on the world stage. We are more alone, more isolated than we've ever been.

Incidentally, the idea that anyone who isn't completely insane supports the notion of "abolish[ing] the military" is patently ridiculous and beneath discussion.
posted by jpoulos at 7:51 AM on January 26, 2004


Marshall illuminates the paradox of imperial power: it rests on the consent of the "subjects." These two paragraphs from the piece express the kernel:

“Bill Clinton was actually a much more effective imperialist than George W. Bush,” Chalmers Johnson writes darkly. “During the Clinton administration, the United States employed an indirect approach in imposing its will on other nations.” That “indirect approach” might more properly be termed a policy of leading by consensus rather than by dictation. But Johnson is right about its superior efficacy. American power is magnified when it is embedded in international institutions, as leftists have lamented. It is also somewhat constrained, as conservatives have lamented. This is precisely the covenant on which American supremacy has been based. The trouble is that hard-line critics of multilateralism focussed on how that power was constrained and missed how it was magnified.


Conservative ideologues, in calling for an international order in which America would have a statelike monopoly on coercive force, somehow forgot what makes for a successful state. Stable governments rule not by direct coercion but by establishing a shared sense of allegiance. In an old formula, “domination” gives way to “hegemony”—brute force gives way to the deeper power of consent. This is why the classic definition of the state speaks of legitimate force. In a constitutional order, government accepts certain checks on its authority, but the result is to deepen that authority, rather than to diminish it. Legitimacy is the ultimate “force multiplier,” in military argot. And if your aim is to maintain a global order, as opposed to rousting this or that pariah regime, you need all the force multipliers you can get."

Ever since the collapse of the post-Napoleonic world order in the maelstrom of the Great War, the world has struggled to create a legitimate transnational security authority to avoid the threat of a single hegemonic state. Bush's "West Point
doctrine" purported to set the U.S. up as the single projector of military power, as if the world were a single nation state under U.S. hegemony. This role for the U.S. is simply neither desirable nor achievable. Pursuit of this chimera has given us all the Mesopotamian Tar Baby, inter alia.

With props to Voltaire's definition of God, if the UN did not exist, it would be necessary to invent it. A recognized world political authority--even an imperfect one-- can mediate the problems inherent in the exercise of hegemonic force by enabling "buy in" on the part of the less powerful nations.
posted by rdone at 8:40 AM on January 26, 2004


He said irenic. Heheheheheheheheheh /Prof. Butthead
posted by y2karl at 8:59 AM on January 26, 2004


Ever since the collapse of the post-Napoleonic world order in the maelstrom of the Great War, the world has struggled to create a legitimate transnational security authority to avoid the threat of a single hegemonic state.

Wow. You went to school and, like, paid attention. Heh-heh-heh.

Seriously, that sentence made my head hurt.
posted by jonmc at 9:22 AM on January 26, 2004


Great article.

A couple items you pointy-headed foreign policy types might find interesting:

The Bush Doctrine and the War with Iraq by Jeffrey Record. A critique of the Bush Doctrine from a professor at the War College in Carlisle, PA.

The Stability of a Unipolar World by William Wohlforth. A (convincing, I think) defense of the global unipolar power arrangement.
posted by Ty Webb at 9:46 AM on January 26, 2004


I think the accurate "empire" axiom is succint.

Proofing for the intellectually challenged. It's not a job, it's an adventure.

Great article. But then, that's what we've come to expect from Joshua Micah Marshall.
posted by nofundy at 10:00 AM on January 26, 2004


Power Rangers?
posted by jacobsee at 10:11 AM on January 26, 2004


jpoulos: shockingly enough, the idea of "abolishing the military" is *not* unheard of:

The Guardian, on a proposal to abolish the British Navy.

Germany wanting to rely on everybody else for its self-defense.

Isolationism is not limited to the US, who, I might add, in times past has repeatedly reduced its military to a fraction of its wartime strength. Resulting in disaster.
posted by kablam at 11:08 AM on January 26, 2004


An “empire of bases” is what Chalmers Johnson calls it in his new book

He also writes about it here: America's Empire of Bases
posted by homunculus at 11:25 AM on January 26, 2004


What would happen if we were kicked out of all the countries we have bases in? Do we really need to be there, in most cases?
posted by amberglow at 11:37 AM on January 26, 2004


What would happen if we were kicked out of all the countries we have bases in?

The survivors would envy the dead.
posted by jpoulos at 1:27 PM on January 26, 2004


amberglow: that is a continually changing question. For example, look at the just the new and projected bases the US wants, and the given reasons for them:

Romania and Bulgaria, with the express purpose of defending Europe from a ballistic missile attack from Iran.

Central Asia, in every one of the "-istans". Multiple purposes, from watching projected pipeline routes (several) to watching seriously dangerous Islamist areas, to indirectly menacing China and keeping surveillance on Pakistan and India.

West Africa, where a half dozen African states are working with the US on their problems.

Iraq (oh, you betcha), to watch Iran, Syria, Lebanon, southwest Asia, northeast and east Africa, and who knows what else. A large permanent contingent.

Macedonia. Very few people know of the US "trigger" presence there. Eight (I believe) countries claim Macedonia as their own and are willing to fight over it. The US guarantees that nobody will get Macedonia without a fight with the US, too. A nutty situation.

Are (just) these legitimate or a waste of people and resources? A constantly changing question and answer to that.
posted by kablam at 1:35 PM on January 26, 2004


Joshua Michah Marshall:

> London did not exercise what historians call government in depth. It had
> little sway in the family and business networks that held the colonies together.
> In fact, outside a few port towns, the Crown had to rely on local bigwigs—
> the New England merchants and Virginia planters—to wield authority in its name.

This shouldn't pass without a raised eyebrow. I can't speak for New England merchants, not being from that part of the world, but I do know another name for Virginia planters: slaveowners.

"London did not exercise what historians call government in depth." That sounds so approving. Do we imply that the U.S. should likewise govern lightly? That the U.S. should be seeking hegemony-by-consent over states that are the modern equivalent of Virginia slavedrivers--instead of telling those states to shut down the torture camps this instant?

I think that's exactly what we're implying, and it won't go down, it triggers the gag reflex. It has that slippery, sleazy feeling, like complicity with torture by looking the other way. Just the sort of thing that would earn you a trip to Hell, if there were a Hell. (In case there isn't, North Korea will do.)
posted by jfuller at 2:15 PM on January 26, 2004


Iraq (oh, you betcha), to watch Iran, Syria, Lebanon, southwest Asia, northeast and east Africa, and who knows what else. A large permanent contingent.

How large a contingent contingent, if at all, on if the administration can still 'democratically' elect our man Chalabi or a similar suitable surrogate autocrat--a prospect looking ever dimmer every day.
posted by y2karl at 2:15 PM on January 26, 2004


Joshua Michah Marshall:

> London did not exercise what historians call government in depth. It had
> little sway in the family and business networks that held the colonies together.
> In fact, outside a few port towns, the Crown had to rely on local bigwigs—
> the New England merchants and Virginia planters—to wield authority in its name.

This shouldn't pass without a raised eyebrow. I can't speak for New England merchants, not being from that part of the world, but I do know another name for Virginia planters: slaveowners.

"London did not exercise what historians call government in depth." That sounds so approving. Do we imply that the U.S. should likewise govern lightly?


No, he's implying that we shouldn't emulate the British. Wasn't that obvious?
posted by Ptrin at 2:48 PM on January 26, 2004


In that particular passage he's suggesting that American hegemony is much like the British hegemony of the past; that is, it is even less of a government in depth than the British Empire was, and attempting to change this without understanding its true nature is inviting trouble.

It's in the rest of the article that he discusses ambitions to mold post-Cold-War American hegemony into something resembling the British Empire of old.
posted by furiousthought at 3:28 PM on January 26, 2004


Do we imply that the U.S. should likewise govern lightly?
That the U.S. should be seeking hegemony-by-consent over states that are the modern equivalent of Virginia slavedrivers--instead of telling those states to shut down the torture camps this instant?


Our ally and client Azerbaijan comes to mind.
posted by y2karl at 3:40 PM on January 26, 2004


George Soros: The US is now in the hands of a group of extremists. "I contend that the Bush administration has deliberately exploited September 11 to pursue policies that the American public would not have otherwise tolerated. The US can lose its dominance only as a result of its own mistakes. At present the country is in the process of committing such mistakes because it is in the hands of a group of extremists whose strong sense of mission is matched only by their false sense of certitude."
posted by niceness at 4:10 PM on January 26, 2004


> No, he's implying that we shouldn't emulate the British.
> Wasn't that obvious?

Which British should we not emulate? The British that governed lightly, colluding with slaveowners, or the British that later tried to govern with a heavy hand, and so lost the colonies?


> attempting to change this without understanding its true nature is
> inviting trouble.

Well, I understand it because I have Joshua Michah Marshall to explain it to me. Nevertheless it strikes me that overthrowing dictators invites about the same amount of trouble whether done with geopolitical understanding or not. If America loses its coca-colonies, are you going to say that's a bad thing? If so, wait just a minute, I want to get this on tape.


> Our ally and client Azerbaijan comes to mind.

And isn't that wrong, then? Remember who you're talking to here. I'm in favor of blowing all the bad guys away, and hang the expense. Hand that detonator to me and I won't stop with Saddam. Won't catch me colluding with Pinochet any more than with Fidel. Down they all go,
with no attention paid to American interests if they incidentally suffer.

Surely there's somebody here besides me who understands that American interests aren't the be-all and end-all of existence? Fuller displays 500 watt crocodile smile.


> The US can lose its dominance only as a result of its own mistakes.

This George Soros, he's in favor of U.S. dominance? He wants to preserve it? My, how the lefties must despise him.
posted by jfuller at 4:32 PM on January 26, 2004


I'm in favor of blowing all the bad guys away, and hang the expense. Hand that detonator to me and I won't stop with Saddam. Won't catch me colluding with Pinochet any more than with Fidel. Down they all go, with no attention paid to American interests if they incidentally suffer.

So what you're in favor of is using American power to overthrow dictatorships and install democracies throughout the world, not necessarily caring about whether those democracies wind up being friendly or not to America afterwards because then they are free, right? Because that's a noble goal! I'm serious, it sounds good.

You do understand, though, that we haven't pulled this off anywhere just yet, and it's been part of the neocon ideology that all democracies we create will automatically be friendly to our interests because the people will be so grateful, and we've not yet seen which wins out, their freedom, our interests, both, or neither, so some of us would like to see our democracy-spreading efforts work somewhere before we take them everywhere. There appear to be a lot of people who think we can have our coca-colonies and eat 'em too, so to speak.
posted by furiousthought at 6:31 PM on January 26, 2004


I'm in favor of blowing all the bad guys away, and hang the expense.

Yeah? You and whose army?
posted by y2karl at 6:48 PM on January 26, 2004


jfuller:

Do you support blowing up the dictators, and then leaving it alone unless another dictator comes around, or do you want to try to help form a democracy in addition to blowing up the dictatorships?

Would you support the use of strategic thermonuclear warfare to accomplish this goal?

And would you stop at Putin's doorstep?
posted by Ptrin at 6:50 PM on January 26, 2004


jfuller - blowing up dictators is, in itself, not a bad thing.

But it always happens in context, and this usually means that the dictator's thugs move in to seize power and set themelves up as dictators in their own right, alongside the smoking crater where once stood their boss-tyrants.

But the new dictators, for being less experienced than the old ones, will tend to be even more thuggishly brutal - unless, of course, the foreign power which has seen fit to blow up the previous tyrant should prevent this by sending in occupying troops to enforce a transition to a better form of government.

But there are lots of tyrants around the world. US troop strength and resources are limited.....and occupying armies have a funny way of galvanizing local opposition.

We'll need lots of troops. I propose citizenship for all Mexican males on one condition - that they serve first in the US army. That would help. We might need to invade Brazil and Canada as well, to press gang their citizens into our armies.

As I said, there are lots of tyrants.

Can a nation "invade" itself?
posted by troutfishing at 7:57 PM on January 26, 2004


I say we purchase jfuller a detonator and a one way ticket to China.
I've got $5 to donate.
I just love a man of such conviction who has no concern for his own welfare.
If jfuller can pull off this violent China democratization then I'll vote Bush.
posted by nofundy at 5:07 AM on January 27, 2004


troutfishing:

> I propose citizenship for all Mexican males on one condition - that they serve
> first in the US army. That would help. We might need to invade Brazil and
> Canada as well, to press gang their citizens into our armies.

Now there's a coincidence! I was drinking sour mash with Andy Jackson and Davy Crockett the other night and this very question came up. Davy said he's sure he could use some Yanomamos and Aztecs but we needn't bother to draft any Canadians except Sargent Preston and Yukon King, and they've already volunteered.


nofundy:

> I just love a man of such conviction who has no concern for his own welfare.

Why nofundy, you do love fundies after all. Warm. And. Fuzzy!
posted by jfuller at 7:30 AM on January 27, 2004


Good to see you apprecaite humor jfuller.
posted by nofundy at 11:53 AM on January 27, 2004


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