The 800-pound gorilla in the American living room
August 8, 2009 4:35 AM   Subscribe

Dismantling the Empire.
According to the 2008 official Pentagon inventory of US military bases around the world, the Empire consists of 865 facilities deploying over 190,000 troops in 46 countries and overseas U.S. territories. The United States spends approximately $250 billion each year maintaining its global military presence. The sole purpose of this is to give us hegemony -- that is, control or dominance -- over as many nations on the planet as possible.
(Related I & II).
posted by adamvasco (162 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
Pffft. Good luck with that. Look at the pushback you're getting from the medical insurance industry in the face of Obama's proposed reforms, such as they are. Can you imagine the reaction you'd get from the Pentagon and military industrial complex if anyone ever seriously tried to carry this out?
posted by you just lost the game at 4:51 AM on August 8, 2009


So, would it be the right thing to remove our military bases from S. Korea and Israel? Are we ready to feel ok about leaving Germany and Japan to fully develop their own military powers without us -- and do they want to absorb that cost? Are we to cut our military support with allies like the UK?
posted by Houstonian at 4:56 AM on August 8, 2009


Europe can deal with pretty much any direct military threat against it, except perhaps one from the USA. The continent has two states with their own nuclear weapons (although the UK's nukes are effectively American); significant military forces for national security purposes; and has a relationship with Russia tainted primarily by the concentration of US military bases in Europe and plans for US ballistic missile defence.

What Europe doesn't have is sufficient military capacity to intervene at will in any country around the world in order to enforce global compliance with the demands of the quasi-hegemon across the Atlantic. It is rather likely that without such foreign entanglements, the security threats to Europe would decrease, and the need for expensive military powers would be shown up for what they are. Nonsense.

The US can start with withdrawing from Europe and see how that goes, after all, the US can still protect us poor Europeans with their ICBMs and "nuclear umbrella".
posted by knapah at 5:08 AM on August 8, 2009 [17 favorites]


According to most of the ad-barfing that I get disguised as email I should be burning off some body fat, enlarging my penis and taking a vacation somewhere.

I'm so confused . . .

Where does Empire end?
posted by RoseyD at 5:10 AM on August 8, 2009


So, would it be the right thing to remove our military bases from S. Korea and Israel? Are we ready to feel ok about leaving Germany and Japan to fully develop their own military powers without us -- and do they want to absorb that cost? Are we to cut our military support with allies like the UK?

Yes.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:28 AM on August 8, 2009 [33 favorites]


"[US] military bases [in] Israel"

Pretty sure there aren't any US bases there. There's a lot of US military aid flowing there - but no troops on the ground.
posted by schwa at 5:39 AM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


I believe we have 120 people in Israel, but I'm basing that on this list.
posted by Houstonian at 5:45 AM on August 8, 2009


So, would it be the right thing to remove our military bases from S. Korea and Israel? Are we ready to feel ok about leaving Germany and Japan to fully develop their own military powers without us -- and do they want to absorb that cost? Are we to cut our military support with allies like the UK?

Another Yes.
posted by Webbster at 6:36 AM on August 8, 2009


What would the 21st century world look like without a hegemon? If the United States pulled back from its global projects, would the world become multi-polar, or zero-polar? With Europe, Russia and China inwardly focused- able to protect themselves but unable to truly project force- what areas the the world would become less stable? What areas of the world would become more stable? What kind of conflicts would lessen? What kind of conflict would intesify?

I'm not making an argument, I'm just saying that it's worthwhile to think about the geopoltical consequences of a retreating hegemonic/imprerial power. Obviously, you'd have less disasters like Iraq (until another power rises to take America's place), but there would also be net losers. It's an interesting and not obvious question.
posted by spaltavian at 6:37 AM on August 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


We have no military presence in Israel. They will not allow it. We might have some tech advisors. We have a presence in Spain but hard to detect because our airforce people there (North of Madrid) not allowed off base in uniform. We have bases in England. Hey, France might attack, but then we have bases in Germany in case ...I am not sure why.We have a lot of people in Japan but no nuke material. It is not allowed. So we put it on ships a few miles off the Japanese coast.
The figures given for our world-wide presence are not to be trusted. The Pentagon does not publish the many bases, some very small, that are never listed for public recognition--they are secret. Even on our own soil we downplay lstuff: wher for example doe we do our bilogical and chemical warfare research and preparation? Where is the huge new NSA complex being built? etc etc...don't worry. Just pay your taxdes and it will be taken care of for you.

We spend a huge amount of money of course on our military. To give but one example, and this will seem crazy: we spend more on military for space than we spend for scientific exploration (NASA) of space. We want to extend empire throughout space too.

Our justification of course is that we are safeguarding America etc...and where we are we are simply protecting against potential "enemies." Who are these enemies and why must we be so close to them if we now live in an age of superfast planes, rockets, satellites, drones etc?

Imagine bringing most of the troops home and dumping them on the American workforce!

A fascinating part of this is that from the earliest days of our nation some people saw our will to expand, to move all over the country, eliminating or moving those here before us;and then of course the invasion of Mexico, that got us California, New Mexico, Texas, Arizona...and then moving out into the Pacific, and so on.

What! Me worry?
posted by Postroad at 6:39 AM on August 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


I know where you could start btw. Some guys who would like the their tropical island back, previously and ditto
posted by munchbunch at 6:52 AM on August 8, 2009


Oh, but if you make any change whatsoever, the entire military system will crumble and we will all die.

My ex-military friends seem to believe this. The United States military has apparently reached some pinnacle of perfection; a step in any direction means that we will be less perfect, and our enemies will surely rise up to destroy us all.

Not kidding. They act as if the country has some kind of force-field projector that blankets our borders, let's only Good Things through, and also makes everything a pleasant, rosy color, to boot. All we have to do is feed this ancient structure gold, blood, and souls. If this continual stream of cash and recruits did not enter The Machine, our force-field would flicker and die, and the stream of meteors that had been bouncing off of it would begin to pulverize the landscape as Godzilla and all of his buddies, who were waiting outside for just such an event, would lurch inwards and begin relentlessly stomping towards the Washington Monument, which would be briefly used for some kind of sex act before being launched into the sky to turn off the Sun.
posted by adipocere at 7:06 AM on August 8, 2009 [59 favorites]


where for example do we do our bilogical and chemical warfare research and preparation?

Fort Detrick, Maryland.
posted by rokusan at 7:07 AM on August 8, 2009 [5 favorites]


adamvasco: According to the 2008 official Pentagon inventory of US military bases around the world, the Empire consists of 865 facilities deploying over 190,000 troops in 46 countries and overseas U.S. territories…

If you use the word ‘empire’ in that way, I don't think it loses any meaningful connotation beyond something vague like ‘powery stuff you should be afraid of.’

It's not very useful to toss around words like that which are still somewhat important in describing the development of the modern era merely as rhetorical devices employed for emotional effect. What's more, when people use emotional effects start off articles which are supposed to have all the detachment and careful contemplation of actual instances of political thought, it leads me to suspect that their intention is not rationalist or interrogative but rather rhetorical and hortatory.

I haven't read this article yet. Maybe it'll turn out awesome; I'm hoping it will. Just wanted to mention that the constant use of the word ‘empire’ to refer to the United States when the US is clearly not an empire—a worldwide power which maintains a vast military and diplomatic influence over hundreds of countries, but not an empire—not a nation which expands its political borders through colonization, military conquest and forcible coup, with the end aim of actually politically controlling as much ground as possible—irks me to no end, as it seems to indicate that people either don't know or don't care about what the imperial era did to the world, and how our own era is doing things which are wholly different (though sometimes much worse).

Does anybody imagine that the American economic hegemony has anything at all in common with lads slinging their fusées over their backs, calling out the tune of The British Grenadiers, and marching into Bombay to put down rebels and rule over the wogs? These things are wholly different, and they deserve to be seen as such—not least because there are essential new features to American hegemony which make it an entirely different beast which we certainly can't expect to fall as easily as the old empires did.
posted by koeselitz at 7:08 AM on August 8, 2009 [21 favorites]


argh, ‘I don't think it keeps any meaningful connotation…’
posted by koeselitz at 7:09 AM on August 8, 2009


…unless, of course, you're a Marxist; and while I don't deny anyone the right to believe what they want, I don't see how you can still want to be a Marxist after all that's happened. But Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt seem to think that there's really nothing different between the American hegemony and classic imperialism.

That makes sense to me; I think you have to make the standard Marxian “all struggle is class struggle”->“any conflict whatsoever is always and forever about capital” leap to draw such parallels. I'd hoped we were past that kind of lumpiing-together and oversimplification.
posted by koeselitz at 7:14 AM on August 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


Washington Monument, which would be briefly used for some kind of sex act

Well, that's clearly what it was designed for...
posted by longsleeves at 7:14 AM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think the bases in Germany are partly for historical reasons, partly for reasons of prudence, and partly because Germany is halfway to the Near East. There are a lot of advantages in having a base that's away from the action, but still relatively close. For instance, I understand that wounded troops from Iraq typically end up in Germany.

As to why the USA needs all this military power - well, I hope it doesn't. We live in remarkably peaceful times. The Cold War ended a little over twenty years ago and there is today no nation or coalition capable of challenging the North American / Western European consensus. I very much hope that we don't look back, in fifty years, and realise that we were living in a golden age like the Europeans before WW1.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:14 AM on August 8, 2009


Metafilter: I haven't read this article yet.
Checkout paragraph 2 of the the article :
Three Good Reasons To Liquidate Our Empire
And Ten Steps to Take to Do So

Its after the lead in.
Then you wouldn't have to make an arse of yourself. If you want to argue using the word "Empire" by all means do so, but at least have the courtesy to read how it was used before frothing.
posted by adamvasco at 7:16 AM on August 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


koeselitz: constant use of the word ‘empire’ to refer to the United States when the US is clearly not an empire

Actually, the United States isn't "clearly not an empire". It's certainly a hegemon, and where hegemon becomes Empire is not a clear cut line. The fact that America doesn't, say, directly control the European governments within its imperium, is true, but all the empires of the past have had varying degrees of sovereignty for it clients. Also, note that these relationships are in constant flux- Armenia was at times a vassal of Rome, at other times a client, sometimes an ally, and sometimes an "adversarial" ally. The relatioship between, say, America and France, has went through all of those stages since 1945.

I'd really suggest (espcially) Among Empries by Charles S. Maier and Colossus by Niall Ferguson for thoughtful examinations of what makes an empire and what ways America matches and doesn't match the classic view.
posted by spaltavian at 7:26 AM on August 8, 2009 [9 favorites]


Ah.

It appears that Mr. Johnson just uses the word ‘empire’ (“from which we shy away”) to mean “bad,” in a sort of “far too involved in other countries” kind of way.

This isn't really history so much as histrionics. I don't really see what new solutions or ways of seeing things it offers. People have said all of these things and more before; what's more, many people have said them in ways which were actually thoughtful and careful.
posted by koeselitz at 7:26 AM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


The first priority of a thing, once it exists, is to continue existing. This applies to organizations as well as living things- perhaps more so, since organizations by their nature are comprised of multiple living things which are more or less dependent on the continued existence/health of the organization.

This is why I chuckle at the 'small government' arguments - governments don't get smaller (by choice, anyway). About the best you can do is prevent them getting larger.
posted by Pragmatica at 7:28 AM on August 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


"Europe can deal with pretty much any direct military threat against it, except perhaps one from the USA. ..."
posted by knapah at 8:08 AM on August 8

Piffle. "Europe" couldn't even deal with Kosovo, or before that, Bosnia, even when it was clear that genocidal maniacs were loose on the collective Continental doorstep. NATO, meaning that largely American funded and operated military alliance various European states have joined and left and rejoined, on various whims, as it suits them, finally did, but that wouldn't have happened without American influence hegemony.

Last year, again, Russia was not deterred in its attitudes towards Georgia one whit, by visions of "European" military power. Europe, as a first world military power, has been remarkably ineffective in building alliances, or extending the rule of law to most of its former African colonies.

The French have one aircraft carrier, which sits, generally, in harbor in Marseilles. All the shots she's "fired" in anger, worldwide, in the last 20 years, amount to about 1 days operations for any one of the 10 U.S. Nimitz class carriers. What the British Navy calls an "aircraft carrier" requires funny VTOL aircraft. The Dutch army is not only unionized, but is often publicly critical of its government's policy decisions, even as regards to tactics in areas where Dutch troops deploy.

The whole history of the 20th century, and now the first decade of the 21st, has been an exercise in proving that, in an uncertain world, relying on "European" military power, is a fool's game. On its best days, European military power can barely keep European arms manufacturers in business.

And the FPP article from TomDispatch, encapsulating a rant by Chalmers Johnson, is hardly forward thinking, or a serious policy proposal, by any reading.
posted by paulsc at 7:29 AM on August 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


On its best days, European military power can barely keep European arms manufacturers in business.

You've just stumbled upon the main function of the US military.
posted by rokusan at 7:38 AM on August 8, 2009 [12 favorites]


Yeah, that is, essentially, why people don't like us. They could give a crap about our consumer goods or our concept of 'Democracy.' They don't even really care about our scantily-clad females on the tee-vee.

They don't like us because we're up in their shit. Makes sense.
posted by Afroblanco at 7:41 AM on August 8, 2009 [10 favorites]


It is a mistake to believe that many countries dislike us because of our military. Our basis in many countries bring in big bucks, plus jobs. Additionally, in some places our hosts de-emphasize their own military because we convince them we take care of such things for them, and this then allows them to spend money on domestic needs of their people rather than, as in the US, so much going to military "needs." A great deal for them.
posted by Postroad at 7:44 AM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


They don't like us because we're up in their shit.

"I don't think Osama bin Laden sent those planes to attack us because he hated our freedom. I think he did it because of our support for Israel, our ties with the Saudi family and our military bases in Saudi Arabia. You know why I think that? Because THAT'S WHAT HE FUCKING SAID. Are we a nation of 6-year-olds?" -David Cross
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:48 AM on August 8, 2009 [41 favorites]


"You've just stumbled upon the main function of the US military."
posted by rokusan at 10:38 AM on August 8

We do what we can, but even with the recent shortages of small arms ammunition our Boys in Green and Khaki have created, those European slacker ammunition makers aren't coming through like they could. Some of them are even cutting back on military ammo production, to put greater effort into sport products like black powder arms, and so called "green" ammunition.

Don't they get the papers? Somebody ought to tell them there are perfectly good wars going on, which need bullets now.
posted by paulsc at 7:49 AM on August 8, 2009


It is a mistake to believe that many countries dislike us because of our military.

I'm pretty sure it's not.
posted by chunking express at 7:52 AM on August 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


It amazes me how many people seem patriotically blind to the fact that our military is used to dominate the world. Dominating the world does not make us a force for good. It does not protect us, the citizenry. Instead, it protects US corporations. It allows them access to resources that would otherwise be closed to them. It prevents those pesky little countries from exercising things like democracy and free choice to elect governments which oppose us and our so-called "ideals."
posted by sonic meat machine at 7:58 AM on August 8, 2009 [11 favorites]


The whole history of the 20th century, and now the first decade of the 21st, has been an exercise in proving that, in an uncertain world, relying on "European" military power, is a fool's game. On its best days, European military power can barely keep European arms manufacturers in business.

Right..... So, how was that American military power working for you in say Vietnam or Korea? Happy with how those turned out were we? In any case, American and European armed forces have worked together in many war zones, where they have had to rely on each other, and have undoubtedly saved lives because of this co-operation. So, your mix of rabid nationalism and tinpot military history is probably even insulting to members of your own military.
posted by munchbunch at 8:02 AM on August 8, 2009 [10 favorites]


Our bases in many countries bring in big bucks, plus jobs.

I may be wrong about this, but I was under the impression that we don't employ non-US people at our military bases overseas. In fact, we often have our bases completely blocked off from "native consumption" at all. Please correct me if needed.
posted by hippybear at 8:03 AM on August 8, 2009


spaltavian: I'd really suggest (espcially) Among Empries by Charles S. Maier and Colossus by Niall Ferguson for thoughtful examinations of what makes an empire and what ways America matches and doesn't match the classic view.

I haven't read Maier's book, though I've heard of it. Ferguson's book struck me more as an attempt to argue something that didn't in the end make sense—and if anyone can succeed at such a project, Niall Ferguson is the man—but it doesn't get past the essential problems involved.

We can go right ahead and call the American hegemony ‘Empire,’ but my sense is that this will only make things worse. This convinces us that all we need to do is dismantle it; and understandably Mr. Johnson recommends only dismantling the ‘Empire.’ Dismantling the British Empire worked—economically, politically, socially, Indians were merely subjugated by the British, and democratic self-rule required only removing the apparatus, sending home the British governors and British troops, and taking control. The British went home; they opened their borders to the natives of their former colonies; and they went about the business of getting past it all. This is not to say that it was easy, but what it took there is definitively not what's required today; if it were, this all would really be as simple (yes, simple) as Chalmers Johnson seems to think it will be. Because we're patriotic, because we love our country, we Americans have a hard time seeing the US for what it really is; it's much easier for us to see it as Mr. Johnson chooses to, as something parallel to the recent empires which have turned themselves over and become democracy. As strange as it may sound, it's much easier for us to maintain our pride in our nation while we are seeing ourselves in the same class as these other nations.

But the United States is different—it is a more insidious, a more thoroughgoing and complete subversion of human justice than any of those nations accomplished. We are not as blunt, but we have been much worse than the British were in India; a large part of this vast evil is the tenaciousness which it embodies and the general near-impossibility of overturning it.

It seems like Chalmers Johnson is far too optimistic in his reading of actions needed to move beyond American hegemony; that's why he seems to think that an emotional plea and a dismantling of military bases might be enough to pull down our empire. But at this point, our forceful brutality doesn't consist in military bases; it consists in economic controls which have been built carefully since long before American bases in Germany and Italy were a glimmer in Truman's eye. And the project of dismantling that ‘empire,’ of removing that instrument of brutality, is vast, difficult, and not easy to envision. Nor would simply dismantling it be of much use; we've done far too much harm at this point to get out without actively righting the wrongs. And anyone who's been paying attention for the last hundred years knows how much innocent blood flows when the United States tries to right wrongs.

Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt go much further toward explicating the economic dimension of the actions we have to take today; but even they lack certain understandings of the truly evil nature of the situations involved and the hideous difficulty of overturning them.
posted by koeselitz at 8:03 AM on August 8, 2009 [10 favorites]


Paulsc, I'm no militarist but isn't saying "What the British Navy calls an "aircraft carrier"" a bit like driving a Humvee and being sniffy about a Ferrari? And as regards the history of military power in the 20th Century and the early 21st you're saying that America comes out looking good? Seems like trolling with broken Wikipedia links to me.
posted by merocet at 8:04 AM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Does anybody imagine that the American economic hegemony has anything at all in common with lads slinging their fusées over their backs, calling out the tune of The British Grenadiers, and marching into Bombay to put down rebels and rule over the wogs?

Ask yourself, seriously, why did we fight that war in Vietnam? Everyone seems to have known, all the way back to when it was called French Indo-China, that it would be a bad idea for the U.S. to get militarily involved there. This refrain repeats itself well through the Nixon administration. Yet, the U.S. continually escalated the war there until the very end. The only rational I can come up with for the whole thing was a sort of unspoken, at least in public policy terms, consensus that if it were to be seen that the U.S. "lost" in Vietnam then we would lose the ability to project power globally: this is certainly how Nixon saw it. Now, look at Iraq for the past 3 years and see the same thing done as farce rather than tragedy.

The people who believe that American hegemony depends on lads with guns run the U.S. government.

The funny thing is that, IMHO, that U.S. dominance has largely been built on 'soft' power and that our attempts to build actual military dominance into that equation have always worked to our detriment. This is the basic disagreement between the Democrats and Republicans wrt "foreign policy." The Dems believe U.S. power is built on nominally internationalized institutions, like the UN, the World Bank, IMF, that are necessarily dominated by the US and it's allies plus a sort of cultural manifest destiny: they were the ones who built the foundations of the second half of the twentieth century. The Republicans have always criticized this position as 'weak' and demanded direct military confrontation.
posted by geos at 8:05 AM on August 8, 2009 [10 favorites]


Postroad: It is a mistake to believe that many countries dislike us because of our military.

chunking express: I'm pretty sure it's not.

I don't know what Postroad was getting at—sorry, Postroad—but I agree with him, at least in a certain sense. They have plenty of even better reasons to dislike us beyond our military; the way our troops behave in the neighboring areas has admittedly been historically bad, but there are a billion deeper, crueler, more devastating effects which the US has on people in other nations every day.

I'm confident that if we closed all of our bases tomorrow and brought all of those troops home, nearly every ounce of pain and suffering which the US causes in the world would continue virtually unabated. It's just not that easy.

(Of course, there are certainly instances in which people in many countries do dislike us because of our military; but they have so many reasons to choose from that it seems odd for them to pick that one.)
posted by koeselitz at 8:11 AM on August 8, 2009


I'm so glad that bully is around to steal my lunch. It saves me from the chore of eating it myself!
posted by stinkycheese at 8:12 AM on August 8, 2009


And I get to spend my lunch hour doing something else!
posted by stinkycheese at 8:14 AM on August 8, 2009


geos: Ask yourself, seriously, why did we fight that war in Vietnam? Everyone seems to have known, all the way back to when it was called French Indo-China, that it would be a bad idea for the U.S. to get militarily involved there. This refrain repeats itself well through the Nixon administration. Yet, the U.S. continually escalated the war there until the very end. The only rational I can come up with for the whole thing was a sort of unspoken, at least in public policy terms, consensus that if it were to be seen that the U.S. "lost" in Vietnam then we would lose the ability to project power globally: this is certainly how Nixon saw it. Now, look at Iraq for the past 3 years and see the same thing done as farce rather than tragedy.

That would be nice, I think: it would be handy if something like nationalist imperialism drove the war in Vietnam. If that were the case, it would have been possible to recover afterwards by simply recognizing that we do have a worthwhile project in the world, and that the war in Vietnam simply wasn't a worthwhile part of that project. Sure, it's no picnic moving beyond imperialism to a benign and caring nationalism, but that love of country can provide a real comfort during the transition.

But I don't think nationalist imperialism motivated the war in Vietnam. The war in Vietnam was motivated by base fear and paranoia. We have associated that sense so deeply with our national character that it was almost impossible for us to extricate ourselves from it afterwards; that's why we've kept on making the same mistakes even though we left Vietnam years ago. Fear and paranoia is vastly more evil and more powerful than nationalist imperialism; for one, it's hard to see how fear and paranoia can be converted into something positive and worthwhile with which to drive a national project of justice.
posted by koeselitz at 8:16 AM on August 8, 2009 [6 favorites]


I'm confident that if we closed all of our bases tomorrow and brought all of those troops home, nearly every ounce of pain and suffering which the US causes in the world would continue virtually unabated. It's just not that easy.


to me that's the weird thing about this question. I think the massive size and spread of the US military is a pathology of U.S. power, not it's foundation. The argument that we need to radically cut the U.S. military can also be part of an argument to shore-up the foundations of U.S. power/hegemony/empire.

Given Chalmers Johnson's background in the national security state I'm not so sure that's far off from how he sees it. There is a long-standing debate within U.S. foreign policy circles about whether our policy should be guided by 'national interest' or 'universal principles.' In many ways I think Johnson comes from the 'national interest' camp and, stripped of the moralistic overtones (when hasn't a military camp been a sewer of sex-crimes?), sees the explosive growth of the U.S. military as ultimately being against the national interest...
posted by geos at 8:17 AM on August 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


…whereas, I should add, fear and paranoia can easily take up a new role in directing economics where imperialism and nationalism fall flat. This is to a large extent why the American hegemony succeeded where just a short time earlier the European empires had fallen: because we had something better acting as our motivation in our conquests than love of country or a sense of superiority. We had abject, utter terror of the unknown, and the hatred which fear spawns.
posted by koeselitz at 8:20 AM on August 8, 2009


(sorry, that was an addition to my earlier comment, not a response to geos)
posted by koeselitz at 8:22 AM on August 8, 2009


But I don't think nationalist imperialism motivated the war in Vietnam. The war in Vietnam was motivated by base fear and paranoia.

I think it was sold on base fear and paranoia... but it seems to me that US policy makers (outside of the bomb China now camp) had a strange ambivalence towards the project from the start. That the U.S. ended up going in as far as it did is therefore very strange.
posted by geos at 8:22 AM on August 8, 2009


"... It prevents those pesky little countries from exercising things like democracy and free choice to elect governments which oppose us and our so-called "ideals.""
posted by sonic meat machine at 10:58 AM on August 8

So you think we've done nothing but grind the people of Panama under our boot heels in the service of our shipping company interests? That doesn't seem to be slowing them down much, in trying to put U.S. railroads and trucking companies in a hole, by expanding the Big Ditch we dug, and gave them back.
posted by paulsc at 8:26 AM on August 8, 2009


It seems those political leaders—Truman et al—who led us into Vietnam were doing so because they sensed that something really significant had changed since their childhoods, and they didn't really know how to deal with it. Namely: the United States, which had always been happily and comfortably isolationist, suddenly discovered that it had to interact in deep and intimate ways with the world out there. We weren't like other countries; we barely had our own ‘culture’ outside of our institutions, and we didn't feel like bringing it to other nations and sharing it. So when we found that we were forced to go out there into the world and defend our position, we panicked. Presidents were panicking all through the Vietnam war, which nobody wanted to fight but which they somehow felt WWII taught them they had to fight. Nothing worse than a war you're only fighting because you're more horrified at what might happen if you end it.
posted by koeselitz at 8:27 AM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


That the U.S. ended up going in as far as it did is therefore very strange.

Oh, I don't know about that.
posted by Pragmatica at 8:28 AM on August 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


koeselitz: We can go right ahead and call the American hegemony ‘Empire,’ but my sense is that this will only make things worse.

I see your point that "empire" can be a loaded term and, on the Left especially, the word is a term of a abuse. But I think it's a useful political term and Maier and Ferguson try to use the term neutrally. Maier's book is worthwhile if you're so inclined.
posted by spaltavian at 8:34 AM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


We live in remarkably peaceful times.

And by "we" you mean "I." Many of the rest of us are less fortunate. Some much less than others.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:35 AM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


It seems those political leaders—Truman et al—who led us into Vietnam were doing so because they sensed that something really significant had changed since their childhoods, and they didn't really know how to deal with it. Namely: the United States, which had always been happily and comfortably isolationist, suddenly discovered that it had to interact in deep and intimate ways with the world out there.

But foreign policy was very much the domain of mandarins like Cabot Lodges who had an internationalist perspective and definitely lived in the "world out there." You have to look the interaction between the D.C. elite and accidental presidents like Truman and Johnson...
posted by geos at 8:37 AM on August 8, 2009


Despite its many flaws the American hegemony is reasonable ok. Besides what's the alternative, feudalism, spheres of influence? Also 250 billion seems pretty cheap after we spent a trillion dollars in Iraq and another trillion on bank bailouts. Move to Canada get all the benefits of american hegemony, none of the guilt and health insurance. That's my plan.
posted by humanfont at 8:39 AM on August 8, 2009


why did we fight that war in Vietnam

The Pentagon Papers allowed a rare glimpse into private policymaking discussions: John McNaughton said it best:

1. US aims:

70% -- To avoid a humiliating US defeat (to our reputation as a guarantor).
20% -- To keep SVN (and then adjacent) territory from Chinese hands.
10% -- To permit the people of SVN to enjoy a better, freer way of life.



The way I see it, the world is divided into currency blocs, and that guy from Network had a point:

It is the international system of currency which determines the totality of life on this planet.

That is the natural order of things today. That is the atomic, and subatomic, and galactic structure of things today. And you have meddled with the primal forces of nature!

And you will atone!



Trade at the international level is very much a zero-sum game since a world power that installs client states has free reign to rip off the people of that client state, on the United Fruit model.


We could give a (10%) shit about "peace and liberty"; 20% of our presence is to cock-block direct competitors, and 70% is to maintain the postwar neocolonial hegemony we inherited after the direct colonial age fell apart last century.
posted by @troy at 8:40 AM on August 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


that should be: the Cabot Lodges...
posted by geos at 8:40 AM on August 8, 2009


Seems to me that there has always been one or sometimes two "superpowers" who are empire builders:
Rome, Byzantine, Ottoman, Portugal, Spain, Great Britain--then Russia and the US. Now the US and China coming up...
Explore these empires and you will see they focus upon(1) land, (2) religion, (3) control via military power....the US, claims to be a benign empire: we spread out among someone's lands, with our military, and we like to see them sometimes take on a Democratic manner of running things (in nations where we have intruded)....but we have come to beleive ourself exceptionalists becauase we are Not Like the Other Earlier Ones...we are nice etc and do things for Them and not for ourselves, only suggesting self defense and security needs as our excuse.
posted by Postroad at 8:47 AM on August 8, 2009


For the record, Vietnam was a followup on a French war, and Korea was a UN "action", not US.

Growing up in a US submarine family I was under the impression all the bases were there to support our operations, such as patrolling the sea and skies against the foreign aggressors at the time (Soviets). These days it's been to support the two war model, but has come in handy in the case of natural disasters.

I see the bases have plenty of problems with locals (Okinawa in particular... probably should be closed or downsized dramatically) but I don't exactly see them exerting pressure on host governments. I have seen plenty of NATO support and some solo projects though (missile shield - which would make far more sense with Russia's participation)... and a lot of people jumping to conclusions about all of this.

Somalia, on the other hand, is a wonderful example of why the US military is as pervasive as it is. We failed there, no one else tried, and now everyone's ships are getting hit by pirates.

I do believe some US Govt. policies completely F up the world, such as agricultural subsidies, some corporate rules, and our piss poor participation in anything UN (maybe Korea had something to do with that). There's even a solid argument to be made against our societal beliefs (globalism, the media, WTF?). However bemoaning scape goats like corporations and the military will get all of us about as far as our jokes about the French or British teeth... distract from the core issues and piss everyone off.
posted by jwells at 8:48 AM on August 8, 2009 [7 favorites]


Also 250 billion seems pretty cheap after we spent a trillion dollars in Iraq and another trillion on bank bailouts

Yeah, fucking anything is going to be pretty cheap in comparison with Iraq. Thanks, Ralph!

Total cost of the bank bailouts is a lot but that money is like the adrenalin scene in Pulp Fiction. Better that than being dead with half our industrial and commercial base sitting around wanking on the internet perhaps.

$250B divided by $50K per job is 5 million jobs. That puts a real-life number on the opportunity cost; 5 million jobs in the education or healthcare sector could make a big difference to the lives and long-run efficiency of American society.
posted by @troy at 8:51 AM on August 8, 2009


I don't see how you can still want to be a Marxist Capitalist after all that's happened.

There. That makes more sense.
posted by Hildegarde at 8:56 AM on August 8, 2009 [6 favorites]


For the record, Vietnam was a followup on a French war, and Korea was a UN "action", not US.

For the record, you don't know what the hell you're talking about. You're so blind you can't even see the chessboard let alone describe the game that's being played. The US took an order of magnitude greater casualties in Korea than our UN allies put together.

Somalia, on the other hand, is a wonderful example of why the US military is as pervasive as it is. We failed there, no one else tried, and now everyone's ships are getting hit by pirates.

But I do find myself agreeing with this to some extent. Nature abhors a vacuum, and empires abhor free actors jacking their shit.

Reducing the events of the 20th century into an analysis of which multinational corporations were operating where will be elucidating. Eg. Alcoa beginning operations in Brazil in the mid-1960s.

Translating Wilson's "Making the world safe for Democracy" into "making the world safe for American Capitalism" is probably the best description of US actions over the past century.
posted by @troy at 9:24 AM on August 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


The sole purpose of this is to give us hegemony -- that is, control or dominance -- over as many nations on the planet as possible.

Well, birth control and environmental policy dominance are lofty goals these days. GO TEAM USA!
posted by Brian B. at 9:30 AM on August 8, 2009


This could easily be solved with a freemium model: F-4 phantoms and M60 Pattons are free. F-22s and M1A1s cost extra.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:44 AM on August 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


The hegemon isnt going to give up its lust for power and resources. Someone needs to re-engineer the western/american psyche for dominance over energy resource issues.

We focused national attention, pride and resources on moon launches and WWII. This full might of the MIC needs to be focused on building and maintaining a 0.25 X Texas sized solar array, wind farm and algal biomass production center. Rennovating the national grid. Re-tooling moderately dense areas for public transport. We could call it the NRF - "national regenerative force". This would have huge profits built in, the millitary-build-thing-swagger that this courntry loves, and lots of people would get rich, but with a net good.
posted by lalochezia at 9:49 AM on August 8, 2009 [7 favorites]


Isn't America the 800 pound gorilla in the world's living room?
posted by snofoam at 9:51 AM on August 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


Someone needs to re-engineer the western/american psyche for dominance over energy resource issues.

You think WWII wasn't about energy resources? Really?
posted by b1tr0t at 9:54 AM on August 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


You think WWII wasn't about energy resources? Really?

Uh, no.
posted by Ndwright at 10:20 AM on August 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


Oh, but if you make any change whatsoever, the entire military system will crumble and we will all die.

adipocere is right. This is the reason we have military bases and troops in 130+ countries and spend a trillion dollars a year on military spending.

As the Aztecs who sacrificed a young warrior every morning to make the sun come up, we expend our vast national resources on the military in the belief that by not doing so, we would leave ourselves open to the domination of others.

Of course that's ridiculous. We have nukes and we have two oceans separating us from anyone who is remotely hostile. We don't need to worry about being "dominated" by countries like Russia and China that couldn't land a fishing boat on our shores without being nuked into glass.

Our obsession, like the Aztec sacrifices, has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. We must maintain our hegemony because other countries hate us and are always attacking us. Why do they hate us? Because of our freedoms hegemony. What we need is someone to disabuse us of the idea that maintaining our absurdly bloated military actually protects us from invasion, and only then our eyes will be opened to the fact that bombing Pakistani wedding parties doesn't actually force Quetzalcoatl to make the sun shine.
posted by Avenger at 10:22 AM on August 8, 2009 [10 favorites]


According to the 2008 official Pentagon inventory of US military bases around the world, the Empire consists of 865 facilities deploying over 190,000 troops in 46 countries and overseas U.S. territories.

There is no Empire. There is a Republic. That means that US voters voted for this. And why wouldn't they? The computers used to type the indignation in this thread came from the economic hegemony the US has established over the years. Your very ability to complain stems from the power and wealth this hegemony gives you.

And the rest of the world is no better. I had an Irish roomate who told me that Ireland never did any of the bad things the US did with its power. My response was that Ireland never had this type of power and that Ireland would do no better if it had the power. He replied that I had a point.

What kind of world is it that would be better? Every other nation strives to gain the power that the US has over others. They would like it themselves. China, Russia, France, the UK, all of them want this power over others. And they would do no better with it.

I never see any answers to these questions . . .
posted by Ironmouth at 10:28 AM on August 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


"But I do find myself agreeing with this to some extent. Nature abhors a vacuum, and empires abhor free actors jacking their shit."

I would be interested to read your argument in favor of Somali piracy.

"The hegemon isnt going to give up its lust for power and resources. Someone needs to re-engineer the western/american psyche for dominance over energy resource issues."

Well, if you've got the 10 million years, I suppose Darwin's force might give it a go. Of course the bloody hegomon isn't going to give up its lust for power and resources. People need stuff to survive. Ensuring you have a continual supply of the stuff your people need to survive and prosper is job No. 1 of any government. That's why we allow them a monopoly of force. Moses, the lucky bastard, had formed a rather fortunate alliance which was willing to air-drop manna all over the desert when he was in a fix. The rest of humanity has to stake claims, trade, and guard the stuff they've got, or else raid and pillage and coerce. The reason you have a lock on your door is the same reason there's a guard a Fort Knox. This is the nature of power.

Inasmuch as anything has changed recently, what has changed is that globalization has made a rat king of us. But just because the pile is tangled does not mean it can't shift and pulse. If we cease to be able to tug our way, someone else will be able to tug theirs. Right now the likeliest power is China; China is not democratic, does not enforce the tenants of human rights doctrine, and certainly does not care a fig if other countries chose to do likewise or not. Many of our pretensions may be merely that; but much good has been done in this world for mere appearence's sake. The face of naked power is geneally less attractive. Ask the poor bastards in the Ukraine who shivered over twigs and scrap last January.
posted by Diablevert at 10:33 AM on August 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


There is no Empire. There is a Republic.

These actually aren't mutally exclusive. "Empire" doesn't mean an authoritarian state. Sometimes this is distinguished between saying a country is an empire vs. a country has an empire. But that's a semantic issue; the term empire doesn't really say anything about the internal politics of the state.

In many cases, empires are more tolerant and politcally open than contemporary states. The Romans had an empire when they still had republican institutions, Britain allowed greater political participation and individual liberty throughout the 18th and 19th centuries than most other large nations.

Your larger point, however, that these systems are driven by people and people from any nation would do the same with the same power, I agree with.
posted by spaltavian at 10:35 AM on August 8, 2009


Putting aside the arguments about American exceptionalism, Johnson's first point remains valid:

We Can No Longer Afford Our Postwar Expansionism

The US is overextended. Like past empires in a position of imperial overstretch, it's going to have to reduce its overseas commitments to match its resources. This may happen with foresight and prudent planning, or it may happen in a more catastrophic fashion (think of the Soviet collapse).

I'd suggest that outside the Americas, the US's top priority should be ensuring that Western Europe (especially the UK) and Japan remain in friendly hands: that either they're capable of ensuring their own security against external attack, or the US has a military presence there. Trying to go beyond that--facing off against Iran, China, or Russia within their spheres of influence, for example--seems unwise.

How do US policymakers actually think, now that the Cold War is over?

Cheney's Regional Defense Strategy (1992). Plans for US dominance in every major region of the world.

On the Democratic side, the picture isn't so clear. The NYRB carried a review recently of Leslie Gelb's Power Rules: How Common Sense Can Rescue American Foreign Policy.
posted by russilwvong at 10:37 AM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Every other nation strives to gain the power that the US has over others. They would like it themselves.

At first, I found this funny. But the longer I look at these words, the sadder they make me.
posted by stinkycheese at 10:41 AM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Uh, no.

I think the case can be made that WW2 was about Hitler wanting to move east at the expense of the Slavs, colonizing the Ukraine and the Caucasus much like the Prussians took over Prussia and we 'Mericans won the West.

Britain had the known oil of the mideast locked up by then, so Russia was the only remunerative alternative within reach when the iron was hot.

WRT Japan, the war was 90% about Japan expanding its continental footprint, too. It had already won Korea and Manchuria with their rich coal resources and saw profit in extending its trading tendrils into China proper, but was running into serious nativist resistance among Chinese anti-imperialists.

Japan did not really *want* to touch off war with the west (by taking their colonies), but the Nazis crushing Europe and FDR's minions playing hardball with strategic resource trade embargoes combined to push the Japanese expansion strategy south instead of east.

So, shorter me: WW2 was not about oil per se, but certainly about resources and their future extraction and who was to profit thereby.
posted by @troy at 10:47 AM on August 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


I may be wrong about this, but I was under the impression that we don't employ non-US people at our military bases overseas. In fact, we often have our bases completely blocked off from "native consumption" at all. Please correct me if needed.
posted by hippybear at 11:03 AM on August 8 [+] [!]


This is incorrect. Foreign nationals are employed at US military bases around the world.
posted by fixedgear at 10:48 AM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't see how you can still want to be a Marxist Capitalist after all that's happened.

Hildegarde: There. That makes more sense.

Oh, absolutely. It makes heaps more sense to say that you'd want to slaughter as many people as possible in a vague, poorly-defined effort to extinguish a particular class which you arbitrarily view as historically pernicious under the guise of a ‘dictatorship of the proletariat,’ all the while fantasizing wildly that increasing as swiftly as possible the iron grip that a certain other more worthy class has on society and encouraging its most violent tendencies will actually be not only the only true path to a good society but in fact is historically pre-determined by some apparent god in the sky named ‘historical dialectical materialism’ who has ordained all of this ahead of time.

That's a brilliant alternative to dully clinging to an arcane theory hanging with the detritus of time which is utterly unequipped to offer any real guidance now that social influence over and control of the economy is an incontrovertible fact beyond urging us to stay out of it as much as possible and trust some invisible hand to make everything work out right.

How can you still have enough faith in the whole Marxist/Capitalist dichotomy to indicate that Marxism is a better alternative, or that Capitalism is the greater villain? How many people died in Stalin's camps, again? Did you forget that Marx promised that the fantastical paradise on earth brought about by the dictatorship of the proletariat was historically inevitable, or that he promised that there would be no Stalins? Do I really have to choose between this raving Hegelian nutter and a smug, self-satisfied ancient English toff like Adam Smith?
posted by koeselitz at 10:56 AM on August 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


Every other nation strives to gain the power that the US has over others. They would like it themselves.

Still stuck on this.

It seems to me "the power the US has over others" is to ensure that capitalism remains the defacto way the world operates; unless you assume that every country in the world is as beholden to corporations as the US is, the statement is false on its face.

Many countries have zero desire for expanding their power beyond what is necessary to keep it going. It is capitalism that instills the idea that there is never enough, that growth ought to be a constant, and that profit should ideally ever increase.
posted by stinkycheese at 10:58 AM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Maybe you can start by not exporting software that makes everybody spell everything with a Z.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 11:10 AM on August 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


So, how was that American military power working for you in say Vietnam or Korea?

I'm not sure that Korea is a great example to prove your point. The US entered the Korean conflict largely unprepared and from a position of technological inferiority, and achieved a detente that basically kept things at their prewar state. Without US intervention, North Korea would have easily conquered the South. While the US didn't achieve total victory, largely thanks to Chinese intervention, I think the outcome was better than the alternative.

I may be wrong about this, but I was under the impression that we don't employ non-US people at our military bases overseas.

I don't know how things work now, but when I was stationed in Germany more than 20 years ago, this certainly wasn't the case.
posted by me & my monkey at 11:11 AM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Many countries have zero desire for expanding their power beyond what is necessary to keep it going.

Name one, with evidence.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:16 AM on August 8, 2009


Many countries have zero desire for expanding their power beyond what is necessary to keep it going

Indeed, I would bet that if you asked 99% of the Americans who are involved in making the Pax Americana work, they would say that is all they are trying to do. But to insure something means ever higher levels of control. That's how things like this get started, with the best of intentions.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:18 AM on August 8, 2009


Many countries have zero desire for expanding their power beyond what is necessary to keep it going.

I know of none.

For Example: Government of Quebec seeks to Divide Cree Nation and Foster Genocide
posted by Ironmouth at 11:23 AM on August 8, 2009


Isn't America the 800 pound gorilla in the world's living room?

Needs a shower.
posted by rokusan at 11:31 AM on August 8, 2009


Name one, with evidence.

You can't prove a negative.
posted by stinkycheese at 11:31 AM on August 8, 2009


It must make people in the US sleep better at night to think that any other country in the world (or rather *every* other country in the world) would make the same decisions as their country has, but that's clearly not the case. In living memory, we have the examples of the invasion of Iraq and the second election of GW Bush - both of which the rest of the world rather dramatically opposed.

Honestly, it reminds me of the sweaty, wide-eyed guy in a horror movie who has just shot & killed an innocent person, and then starts raving about how he was justified and you all would've done the same thing if you'd been in his shoes, blah blah blah...
posted by stinkycheese at 11:37 AM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


It must make people in the US sleep better at night to think that any other country in the world (or rather *every* other country in the world) would make the same decisions as their country has, but that's clearly not the case

Nobody said that, but don't let that stop you from speculating on the psychological defense mechanisms of 300 millon people you never met.
posted by spaltavian at 11:48 AM on August 8, 2009


Right. Because no one was speculating about people they've never met here before I said that.
posted by stinkycheese at 12:00 PM on August 8, 2009


If the rest of the world would just understand the whole don't mess with Texas thing it would all be cool. We're perfectly content to be a peaceful trading partner. So long as you don't sink our merchant ships, bomb our ports go all commie psycho, or nazi. Also while taking american express is optional, we do expect you to take Visa or Mastercard. Note this offer is not valid in Latin America or for certain indiginous peoples in North America. So what I' saying is that America is like that crazy hot chick you used to date. You know the one who insisted on controlling every aspect of your life, was prone to smash shit and throw crazy tantrums; but the sex was so totally worth it that you looked the other way, though it was kind of a relief after you got the restraining order and changed your phone number.
posted by humanfont at 12:06 PM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


It makes heaps more sense to say that you'd want to slaughter as many people as possible in a vague, poorly-defined effort to extinguish a particular class which you arbitrarily view as historically pernicious under the guise of a ‘dictatorship of the proletariat,’ all the while fantasizing wildly that increasing as swiftly as possible the iron grip that a certain other more worthy class has on society and encouraging its most violent tendencies will actually be not only the only true path to a good society but in fact is historically pre-determined by some apparent god in the sky named ‘historical dialectical materialism’ who has ordained all of this ahead of time.
Once more to the defence of Marx on MeFi. It's a funny old occupation for an anarchist communist.
What Marx thought was historically inevitable was that capitalism would, through its internal contradictions, generate a revolutionary crisis. How the world looks as a result of that crisis will entirely depend on the conscious actions of human beings, the choices we make.
The 'dictatorship of the proletariat' as you describe it is largely the work of Plekhanov; as used by Marx and Engels it was really a sort of early counter-troll jibe at the anti-democrats of the old order who described any wielding power by the lower orders as some awful mob rule, such as Juan Donoso Cortés and his theories of dictatorship. They were turning the language of the fear-mongers back on themselves. Marx was a radical democrat, who didn't imagine this would lead to the iron grip of "a more worthy class" but the end of class society:
Long before me, bourgeois historians had described the historical development of this struggle between the classes, as had bourgeois economists their economic anatomy. My own contribution was 1. to show that the existence of classes is merely bound up with certain historical phases in the development of production; 2. that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat; 3. that this dictatorship itself constitutes no more than a transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society. Ignorant louts such as Heinzen, who deny not only the struggle but the very existence of classes, only demonstrate that, for all their bloodthirsty, mock-humanist yelping, they regard the social conditions in which the bourgeoisie is dominant as the final product, the non plus ultraof history, and that they themselves are simply the servants of the bourgeoisie, a servitude which is the more revolting, the less capable are the louts of grasping the very greatness and transient necessity of the bourgeois regime itself.
Emphasis as source. Of course, so many later soi-disant Marxists understood and practised it in a fashion similar to your characterisation that this objection might seem academic, but as is usual when I end up doing this, having read some of the man's work to criticise it you learn enough not to write off one of the great thinkers of world history on spurious grounds. If I thought you were having a go at the later followers alone, I might not have bothered, but the bit about "Hegelian nutter" suggested you meant the bearded on himself. Not too nice to that clever and learned Mr Smith either, but don't know him well enough to mount a defence.
posted by Abiezer at 12:18 PM on August 8, 2009 [11 favorites]


Marx was a radical democrat,

This is an oversimplification. Marx's early years did support what we would call democracy, but as he grew older he moved away from those ideas. Marx, like every other thinker, was never consistent and changed over time.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:40 PM on August 8, 2009


It must make people in the US sleep better at night to think that any other country in the world (or rather *every* other country in the world) would make the same decisions as their country has, but that's clearly not the case

I think it mostly saddens us. My point wasn't that America is better than everyone else, but that everyone else is not better than America.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:42 PM on August 8, 2009


Many countries have zero desire for expanding their power beyond what is necessary to keep it going.

Name one, with evidence.

You can't prove a negative.


There is no negative in your statement. You positively asserted that "many countries have zero desire for expanding their power beyond what is necessary to keep it going." Your assertion needs evidence for support.

The only thing I can think of is South Africa getting rid of their nuclear weapons when they decided to drop apartheid, but I think you and I both know why the ruling whites decided to do that.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:46 PM on August 8, 2009


Please prove black people like to nuke themselves, with evidence.
posted by stinkycheese at 12:56 PM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


But seriously, look at the Project for the New American Century. Do you really think that Canada or Morocco or Venezuela or Togo would write something like that? I mean, talk about speculation - this enters into the realm of 'what if the Nazis had won WWII'? It's kind of pointless to debate it ultimately.

How can someone prove or disprove that other countries would utterly fumble world power as spectacularly as the US? Or would seek such power? It runs to how you imagine people think and act in the world, and I simply don't believe that all nations think and act as the US (again, the capitalism is the key to that IMO).
posted by stinkycheese at 1:02 PM on August 8, 2009


This is an oversimplification. Marx's early years did support what we would call democracy, but as he grew older he moved away from those ideas.
Certainly an over-simplification, but can't see that he ever moved away from a commitment to democracy, though doubtless not "what we would call democracy." See for example his late-life collaboration with Guesde on the Programme of the Parti Ouvrier, where Guesde thinks Marx is the reformist. Anyway, tangent.
posted by Abiezer at 1:06 PM on August 8, 2009


Not that I really want to get in the middle of this one, but I think Costa Rica meets the definition of a country with no external designs on power.
posted by feloniousmonk at 1:11 PM on August 8, 2009


There are documents describing Canada's imperial ambitions in the warming arctic. There are a number of documents and policy memos in VZ dealing with Chavez's ambitions towards a regional empire in Latin America. Don't pretend that these nation states are not filled with rich, powerful interests that when pressed would use violent means to acheive their ends. They simply lack the means and will in the face of American hegemony.
posted by humanfont at 1:16 PM on August 8, 2009


There is no Empire. There is a Republic. That means that US voters voted for this. And why wouldn't they? The computers used to type the indignation in this thread came from the economic hegemony the US has established over the years. Your very ability to complain stems from the power and wealth this hegemony gives you.

I'm not sure the point you are really making here... besides the fact that you are conflating direct democracy with republican governments i.e. we voted for 'hegemony.'

Anyway, one of the basic questions is whether hegemony is actually in the national interest, like a morbidly obese man saying if I didn't eat all the food on the table then someone else would... right before the heart attack.

But it's actually besides the point: the whole point of Nixon going to China is that even Nixon decided almost 40 years ago that American hegemony was very temporary and that American power depended on being able to control a multi-polar world. The idea of "full spectrum" military dominance is a total pathology. It's setting up a situation which will leave the U.S. government, such as it becomes, much weaker than just one powerful player amongst others... the military-industrial complex is a cancer that threatens the power of the US government.

if you don't like the power of the US government it puts you in a funny position.
posted by geos at 1:16 PM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


How can someone prove or disprove that other countries would utterly fumble world power as spectacularly as the US?

How does one prove that the US has utterly fumbled world power in the first place?
posted by me & my monkey at 1:22 PM on August 8, 2009


There are documents describing Canada's imperial ambitions in the warming arctic.

I'm pretty sure that concerns Canada not ceding ground to other powers (a very real possibility), which is a totally different thing than seeking new territory.

The US has had this kind of 'fat man at the table' (love that analogy) mindset throughout its history. Other countries do not. It really is that simple.
posted by stinkycheese at 1:22 PM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


There are documents describing Canada's imperial ambitions in the warming arctic.

You mean defending the territory that our navy (and Russia's) keeps violating?

If a military is used for actual defense, while stationed within that nation, I don't see how you can characterize it as imperialistic.

The DOD really should be called the Department of War.

"Defense" is spin.
posted by rokusan at 1:51 PM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Please prove black people like to nuke themselves, with evidence.

They don't like to nuke themselves. Last time I checked, every human I met was utterly opposed to nuking themselves and was into stomping on those who would do so.

My point is that humanity seeks control and that it is impossible to argue about that "bad country wielding power" because if you look into the history of any country, you see them enforcing their will over those less powerful. Canada included. The fact that a particular country has less power than others is not an indicator that if that country had more power than others it would not use it to its own benefit.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:00 PM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


A "social-democratic" theory asserts that imperialistic U.S. policies are the products of the excessive influence of certain sectors of U.S. business and government.
I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continentsGeneral Smedley Butler.

Not a lot has changed then.
posted by adamvasco at 2:04 PM on August 8, 2009 [3 favorites]




Repeating for emphasis:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued an apology on behalf of the Canadian government and its citizens for the resisdential school system.
I don't see an American president issuing that sort of apology any time soon.
posted by HumuloneRanger at 2:31 PM on August 8, 2009


Do you really think that Canada or Morocco or Venezuela or Togo would write something like that?

Canada has been dealt with by Ironmouth, I'd say. As for Morocco, from the Wikipedia page:

After neighbouring Algeria's 1962 independence from France, border skirmishes in the Tindouf area of south-western Algeria, escalated in 1963 into what is known as the Sand War. Morocco invaded to claim the areas for Greater Morocco, but the fighting stalemated within weeks, and Morocco was forced to retreat with no border adjustments...

Then, in dealing with the Western Sahara dispute,

Morocco then annexed the entire territory and, in 1985, built a 2,500-kilometer sand berm around three-quarters of it. In 1988, Morocco and the Polisario Front finally agreed on a United Nations (UN) peace plan, and a cease-fire and settlement plan went into effect in 1991.

In regards to Venezuela and Tonga, both seem to have been historically too unstable and engrossed in trying to deal with the aftermath of coup after coup to really start making plans to, for example, re-establish Gran Colombia or anything. If they were more stable, and the US weren't around, I'd imagine they'd be scribbling up any number of plans.

The number of non-Western imperial projects is as large or larger (Chinese, both dynastic and Communist (Tibet, Mongolia, etc.), innumerable Indian and Sub-Saharan empires, the Aztecs, Incas, Mongols and the various Islamic states) as those we can call our own, and there has always been an economic and cultural component to such conquests.
And no, this hasn't stopped. Look at what China is building in Africa right now, or what Japan was trying to build with their Greater Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere or whatever they were calling it. Economic goals achieved through formal and informal empires backed by military power. If America does begin to contract, we can probably expect the same thing to start happening on a smaller scale in various parts of the world until someone else moves in.
Hell, if anything, Western empires seem to be less impressive than their non-Western counterparts, of length of dominance is anything to go by. None of the Western colonial systems lasted much beyond a paltry three centuries, American empire, even if you extend it back to include the conquest of the West and the disintegration of the Spanish and Mexican empires in its path, has barely lasted two.
The idea that there is something remarkable, something ominous, something novel about American imperialism (or, before it, the European colonial systems) seems to be pervasive, especially among it's critics. It's sort of a shadow version of American exceptionalism - we might be a force for good, we might be a force for evil, but dammit, whichever it is, we're special!
posted by AdamCSnider at 2:39 PM on August 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think a few people here need to realise that territorial squabbles are just not equivalent to the US' efforts at achieving total spectrum dominance forever and ever, amen.
posted by stinkycheese at 2:52 PM on August 8, 2009


i'm waiting to see what atrocities the evil people of iceland have committed on others before i make up my mind on this

but seriously

There is no Empire. There is a Republic. That means that US voters voted for this. And why wouldn't they?

we didn't vote for "this", we voted for representatives from two parties, neither of which are against "this" - oddly enough, any candidate who is against "this" is buried by political and media ostracism to the point where they often have to battle to get on the ballot and practically never get to participate in the "non-partisan" debates

The computers used to type the indignation in this thread came from the economic hegemony the US has established over the years. Your very ability to complain stems from the power and wealth this hegemony gives you.

except that the hegemony doesn't actually give us the power and wealth to make those complaints CHANGE something - no, it's given to us as an outlet that dissident social pressure can be let out of so things don't blow up

What kind of world is it that would be better?

better for whom? i think that i and a lot of other people believe that the u s of a would be better financially and ethically, if we were to withdraw as the world's policeman - would the world be better? maybe not - maybe it would be worse

according to our constitution, the purpose of the country is so the people of the united states can form a "more perfect union" amongst themselves

i must have missed the part where it said, "make the world better" or "make those people over there behave"

we've shouldered more than our share of responsibility for the world with little thanks - it's time for others to take up the slack, for better or for ill
posted by pyramid termite at 2:53 PM on August 8, 2009


If a military is used for actual defense, while stationed within that nation, I don't see how you can characterize it as imperialistic.

Eddie Izzard

Nations expand until they get push-back. The actual derivation of 'country' is allegedly 'contraterra', the land opposite.
posted by @troy at 2:56 PM on August 8, 2009


Repeating for emphasis:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued an apology on behalf of the Canadian government and its citizens for the resisdential school system.
I don't see an American president issuing that sort of apology any time soon.


Apparently all is forgiven because Stephen Harper apologized and the actions of the Canadian government and white Canadians are no longer relevant to any discussion of the victimization of others.

I guess the armed conflict between Canadian security forces and First Nations peoples can safely be ignored as well:

July 11 the mayor asks Québec Security or the (SQ) to intervene with the Mohawk protest, claiming that criminal activity had been practiced around the barricade. The Mohawk people, in accordance with the Constitution of the Iroquois Confederacy, asked the women, the caretakers of the land and "progenitors of the nation", whether or not the arsenal they had amassed should remain. The women of the Mohawk Nation decided that the weapons should only be used if the (SQ) fired on the barricade and to use them as defensively as possible.

A police Emergency Response Team swiftly attacked the barricade deploying tear gas canisters and flash bang grenades in an attempt to create confusion in the Mohawk ranks. It is unclear whether the police or Mohawks opened fire with gunshots first, but after a fifteen-minute bullet exchange, the police fell back, abandoning six cruisers and a bulldozer. The police's own tear gas blew back at them. During the firefight, 31-year-old SQ Corporal Marcel Lemay was shot in the face and died a short while later.


Or this wonderful exchange:

Out of public safety concerns, the OPP decided to deploy the Crowd Management Unit (CMU) to force the Native occupiers back into the Park. The CMU was essentially a riot squad armed with steel batons, shields and helmets. The CMU was backed up by a Tactical Response Unit, which is a Canadian term for a SWAT team. The plan was that this show of force would convince the Native occupiers to return inside the Park.

On Wednesday evening, police riot squads marched down to the Sandy Parking Lot to confront the Natives. As the CMU advanced, the Natives initially retreated back and the CMU responded by retreating back. A particular occupier, Cecil Bernard George approached the police (peacefully according to the protesters, violently according to police reports). Cecil Bernard was taken down and surrounded by police and arrested. Native occupiers attempted to rescue Cecil Bernard George from the assault from the police units. This resulted in a riot scene. A car and a school bus driven by Natives started coming out of the park to assist the Native occupiers. The OPP TRU teams opened fire on the vehicles resulting in the wounding of two Native protesters and the death of Dudley George. According to police officers there was gunfire from the vehicles. This is denied by the First Nations occupiers who insisted there were no weapons in the Park that night.

Various police officers fired on vehicles. Among the police was Acting Sergeant Ken "Tex" Deane, who was a member of the TRU. Near the park entrance, Deane fired three shots at Dudley George, who was about fifteen feet from the park entrance[8], and was hit and badly injured. Deane later claimed he had mistaken the elongated dark coloured branch which George was carrying for a rifle.

Dudley George's sister and brother attempted to bring him to the local hospital for treatment but were delayed and arrested by the OPP for over an hour. George was declared dead at 12:20 a.m. on September 7, 1995 at nearby Strathroy Middlesex General Hospital, in Strathroy, Ontario.


How about BC?

After failed negotiations, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police launched one of the largest police operations in Canadian history, including the deployment of four hundred tactical assault team members, five helicopters, two surveillance planes and nine Armoured Personnel Carriers. By the end of the 31-day standoff, police had fired over 77,000 rounds of ammunition, one woman had been shot, and a dog had been killed.

Our respective countries have much to feel guilty for. Pounding on the US as if it is the only party to any kind of abuse of weaker peoples doesn't help anything.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:06 PM on August 8, 2009


I think a few people here need to realise that territorial squabbles are just not equivalent to the US' efforts at achieving total spectrum dominance forever and ever, amen.

Apparently the rights of First Nations peoples are merely "territorial squabbles."
posted by Ironmouth at 3:08 PM on August 8, 2009


The idea that there is something remarkable, something ominous, something novel about American imperialism (or, before it, the European colonial systems) seems to be pervasive, especially among it's critics. It's sort of a shadow version of American exceptionalism - we might be a force for good, we might be a force for evil, but dammit, whichever it is, we're special!

Repeated for emphasis. Wanting to consider your peoples to be outside of the terrible history of the strong victimizing the weak is understandable, but hardly realistic.

If the British had not been balked by Polk in 1846, we'd just as likely be talking about Canadian imperialism. And I suspect there would be plenty of Americans in the rump U.S. pointing fingers the way that our friends over the border are doing so now.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:13 PM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


i'm waiting to see what atrocities the evil people of iceland have committed on others before i make up my mind on this


That would be their enslavement of Irish and Scots:

Ingólfur was followed by many more Norse chieftains, their families and slaves who settled all the inhabitable areas of the island in the next decades. These people were primarily of Norwegian, Irish and Scottish origin, the Irish and Scots being mainly slaves and servants of the Norse chiefs according to the Icelandic sagas and Landnámabók and other documents.

You name a people with power, and I can find you the atrocities. Doesn't take much, really.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:20 PM on August 8, 2009


If the British had not been balked by Polk in 1846, we'd just as likely be talking about Canadian imperialism.
You think that if the British had the northwest corner of what is now Washington state, Canada would now be in a position similar to the one that the USA is currently in?
posted by Flunkie at 3:22 PM on August 8, 2009


northwest corner of what is now Washington state
Upon looking it up, I guess it's more like the western half, and a little bit of Oregon. But still, the heart of the question stands.
posted by Flunkie at 3:25 PM on August 8, 2009


> "I don't think Osama bin Laden sent those planes to attack us because he hated our
> freedom. I think he did it because of our support for Israel, our ties with the Saudi family
> and our military bases in Saudi Arabia. You know why I think that? Because THAT'S WHAT
> HE FUCKING SAID. Are we a nation of 6-year-olds?" -David Cross
> posted by XQUZYPHYR at 10:48 AM on August 8 [11 favorites +] [!]

As logic goes, that's stand-up comedy. Does Mr. David Cross have some evidence unavailable to me that Mr. ObL a) understands his own motivation better than any other random Time Cube ranter, and b) would really state his true motives plainly if he thought that claiming some made-up set of motives might go down better with his audience? If Mr. David Cross can't point to a) and b) yet is still ready uncritically to swallow what Osama bin Laden, for Ghod's sake, says, I've got some Gulf coast property in Arizona he might like to buy. Hey, there's the phone now. Hi, Dave! Yes indeed, it's still available!
posted by jfuller at 3:34 PM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


That would be their enslavement of Irish and Scots:

so, i take it you're more interested in scoring petty points in this derail than you are discussing the subject at hand - it's interesting that you claim that no one answers you - but when someone does, you ignore the answer

"mommy, bobby and tommy do it too" isn't any kind of a argument for our holding on to world power
posted by pyramid termite at 3:57 PM on August 8, 2009


I think it's fair to say that the US was not much different in its ability to resist being corrupted by big business's influence on government in the past. The difference is that the rest of the Western world has wised up and the US has not. The US losing power would not immediately lead to Belgium going on another rampage in Africa, as much as IronMouth might imagine it would.
posted by Space Coyote at 4:11 PM on August 8, 2009



You name a people with power, and I can find you the atrocities. Doesn't take much, really.


You name a people without power, frequently ditto. If sufficiently POed.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:21 PM on August 8, 2009


If Mr. David Cross can't point to a) and b) yet is still ready uncritically to swallow what Osama bin Laden, for Ghod's sake, says, I've got some Gulf coast property in Arizona he might like to buy.

I believe that is the motive as it is understood in a strategic sense by the US military. The rhetoric about "hating our freedoms" is just used to gin up support.

Whether bin Laden is justified in those motives is another matter. But his history does suggest that he meant what he said. I am not aware that this is really controversial.
posted by krinklyfig at 4:41 PM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry to harp on this, but I'm still genuinely curious about it:

Am I understanding you correctly, Ironmouth? I think that you're saying that if only the Oregon Compromise didn't happen, and instead it were resolved by giving Britain the full extent of its maximal claim on the Oregon Territory, then Canada probably, or at least likely, would have been the world's leading superpower by now?

If I am understanding you correctly, is this a common belief in Canada?
posted by Flunkie at 4:58 PM on August 8, 2009


HELP US AMERICA!! WHY DON'T YOU HELP US?
posted by Senator at 5:12 PM on August 8, 2009


Imagine bringing most of the troops home and dumping them on the American workforce!

I bought drinks for a couple of NCOs in the U.S. armed forces in a bar in San Juan, Puerto Rico one night. In the course of the conversation, the senior man said earnestly to the junior, "Of course you got called up. They call people up to make those jobs available to civilians. Anytime unemployment goes up, they have a war and call up the reserves."
posted by ob1quixote at 5:26 PM on August 8, 2009


You think that if the British had the northwest corner of what is now Washington state, Canada would now be in a position similar to the one that the USA is currently in?

It helps to know that Canada currently has the population of California. Compared to the USA, it's roughly a 1:9 ratio, so where the Pentagon has Divisions, Ottowa can raise Battalions in the same proportion.
posted by @troy at 5:37 PM on August 8, 2009


Do I really have to choose between this raving Hegelian nutter and a smug, self-satisfied ancient English toff like Adam Smith?

Adam Smith was Scottish, or British, or even North British. But not English.

I have nothing much to add to this conversation, other than that I grew up under the airspace the US Air Force used for training in England. It used to annoy me, but then I realized it wouldn't last forever. Though while it does, my country and Europe as a whole, can cut defense spending and have more money for other things like infrastructure and social security. I don't know when the US plans to withdraw from Europe, but I would like to say thanks for all the money, and even greater thanks for being such a contentious hegemon. The last 60 years have allowed us to rebuild, and wiped away the memories of how awful we used to treat the world. Even the Suez Crisis and the First Indochina War pale into the background in comparison with the recent history of the US. I know the tone of this comment is pretty snarky, but the US has allowed Europe to be rehabilitated under its watch, and we're now in a great position.
posted by Sova at 5:38 PM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Many countries have zero desire for expanding their power beyond what is necessary to keep it going.

Name one, with evidence.


New Zealand cheerfully handed self-governance over to countries like Samoa it had inherited as protectorates in the fallout of last century's wars. This is hardly unique/

The computers used to type the indignation in this thread came from the economic hegemony the US has established over the years.

Actually, I'm pretty sure the foundations of modern computing are the result of British work. The actual computers are built in East Asia, and the web is a European devlopment.
posted by rodgerd at 5:46 PM on August 8, 2009


It is capitalism that instills the idea that there is never enough, that growth ought to be a constant, and that profit should ideally ever increase.

Actually it is Capitalism that, by definition, determines how the wealth pie is divided. The famous Gen. Smedley Butler quote above mentions Brown Brothers;

Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. (BBH) is an old and large private bank in the United States which is particularly notable because of the large number of influential American politicians and government appointees who have worked at the company since its foundation e.g. W. Averell Harriman, Prescott S. Bush, Robert A. Lovett.

Around 10 years ago I picked up a used Harry Magdoff book. While I am by nature wary of Marxist school stuff, it is useful to know what the other side is saying about us.
posted by @troy at 5:50 PM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Actually, I'm pretty sure the foundations of modern computing are the result of British work.

The present embodiment of the personal computer came from Silicon Valley, which was an odd mixture of 1950s aerospace nerdation and 1970s hippie-ism.
posted by @troy at 5:58 PM on August 8, 2009


I find it totally astonishing how, in this thread, the fascist pigs are more post modern in their deconstruction and reinvention of ideas than the long haired hippie freaks.
posted by Chuckles at 6:29 PM on August 8, 2009


[...]Canada probably, or at least likely, would have been the world's leading superpower by now?

If I am understanding you correctly, is this a common belief in Canada?


As a Canadian who's lived in the East, West, and flyover-province (that's right, Ontario, flyover), and interested in politics re: American influence, no. This is not a common belief. The most common belief is what @troy implied, that if Canada had 10x the population of the U.S., we'd be the leading power. #2 would be that if we had the longer history that the Americans had (which sort of leads into who got what land), we might be.

I ascribe to #1.5, which is pretty much "If Canada had the warmer climate, we would thus have the larger population, thus the power." But if my aunt had balls, yadda yadda sex-change.
posted by Lemurrhea at 6:42 PM on August 8, 2009


On reconsideration, it shouldn't have been astonishing. It is exactly the modus operandi of the neo conservative. Still, this is such a mire of engineered confusion that trying to address it is beyond pointless. I mean:
Yeah, fucking anything is going to be pretty cheap in comparison with Iraq. Thanks, Ralph!
Seriously?!
posted by Chuckles at 6:52 PM on August 8, 2009


I had to walk away from this thread for awhile because I was really starting to feel trolled. Upon reading back - yeah, if some historical instance can be shown in which X country did something bad (including defending ones' own borders!?), then = said country wants global hegemonic power just like the US and therefore = USA is A-OK.

Is that the gist of the argument?
posted by stinkycheese at 7:16 PM on August 8, 2009


We love you America, but get the fuck out.

Signed,

World.
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 7:58 PM on August 8, 2009


I find it totally astonishing how, in this thread, the fascist pigs are more post modern in their deconstruction and reinvention of ideas than the long haired hippie freaks.

As time goes on, ever more arcane and ridiculous justifications are necessary for the forcible domination and economic exploitation of the third world.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:18 PM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also I'm loving koeselitz in this thread. "This article is totally wrong, even though I didn't read it, and if you disagree, you're a MARXIST. And a STALINIST."
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:19 PM on August 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


We love you America, but get the fuck out.

Signed,

World.
Really?

Does "World" include South Korea? I kind of doubt that they want us out. Am I wrong? Or, along the same lines, places like Kosovo.

And what about places like, say, Germany, Japan, the UK, Italy, Australia? Surely there are large numbers of people from there who want us out, but is it really a majority opinion, and moreover a pressing one? I would actually bet that a fair majority of people from such places don't really care all that much one way or the other.

Similarly, places like Greenland? Is there actually a vast groundswell of support among Greenlanders for evicting the fairly small and isolated US airbase from their far-off hinterland?

I'll give you Cuba, and the Middle East, or at least most of the countries there that we have troops in. Maybe a couple South American countries?

So is that what you mean by "World"? Cuba, most of the Middle Eastern countries that we have troops in, and maybe a couple South American countries?
posted by Flunkie at 8:20 PM on August 8, 2009


America, seriously, please stop helping. You're nice people, but your pretentious ideas about being special are hurting us in the arse.

Signed,

World
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 8:40 PM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


(again)
Signed,

World
You know, I wouldn't really be terribly surprised to find out that some of my guesses from my question were wrong. For example, I don't know what the average Greenlander thinks about Thule; I find it kind of hard to believe that it's a huge issue to Joe Sixpack Greenlander, but hey, maybe it is, I don't know. So I'm totally willing to hear evidence otherwise.

But if you're just going to respond by continuing to glibly speak for the world (literally), in the face of a question that suggests that the world might not actually agree with you, I guess I'll just suggest that you speak for yourself.
posted by Flunkie at 8:52 PM on August 8, 2009


But seriously, look at the Project for the New American Century. Do you really think that Canada or Morocco or Venezuela or Togo would write something like that?

Once Canada and Togo get their first century, they will certainly want a new Canadian and Tongoian Century.
posted by spaltavian at 8:53 PM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Come now America, you're not awesome anymore. Please stop.
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 9:00 PM on August 8, 2009


The talk of imperialism and Marxists set me looking around for a coherent case from those quarters, but from what I can tell Negri and Hardt's Empire is seen as a bit obscurantist and airy-fairy (welcome contradiction).
Reading arguments about that however brought me to Ellen Meiksins Wood's Empire of Capital which has been very thought-provoking reading so far. Her analysis remains rooted in the actions of states rather than some nebulous transnational abstraction and she touches on the history of various imperialisms ancient and modern both in the West and elsewhere (Mughals, Aztecs, China etc.). This is from Chapter 7, directly addressing the question at hand:
Why is it necessary, in the new capitalist world order, for the US to account for at least 40 per cent of the world's military spending, particularly when it has so many unfulfilled needs at home - not least, for instance, the need for a decent health care system? Why is there such an unprecedented disparity of power in the world, in which the most significant `asymmetry' is not between the US and `rogue states' or `terrorists' but `between the US and the rest of the powers'?' It has been said that the US now possesses a military force greater than the next eight powers put together (and by some measures, greater than all other countries combined), while its budget is equal to the next twelve to fifteen combined. Some might call this `surplus imperialism', but whatever its name, the reasons for it are not at all obvious.' That is the paradox of the new imperialism. It is the first imperialism in which military power is designed neither to conquer territory nor even to defeat rivals. It is an imperialism that seeks no territorial expansion or physical dominance of trade routes. Yet it has produced this enormous and disproportionate military capability, with an unprecedented global reach. It may be precisely because the new imperialism has no clear and finite objectives that it requires such massive military force. Boundless domination of a global economy, and of the multiple states that administer it, requires military action without end, in purpose or time...

...'the plans argue for open-ended war without constraint either of time or geography....

[T]he Pentagon militants prefer to speak of `revolving alliances', which look like a Venn diagram, with an overlapping centre and only certain countries coming within the US orbit for different sectors and periods of an unending war. The only countries in the middle of the diagrammatic rose, where all the circles overlap, are the US, Britain and Turkey.

Officials say that in a war without precedent, the rules have to be made up as it develops, and that the so-called 'Powell Doctrine' arguing that there should be no military intervention without `clear and achievable' political goals is `irrelevant'..."

The repudiation of the notion that military intervention must have clear and achievable political goals speaks volumes, and it articulates a doctrine that has developed since the Cold War. The US and its allies, notably Britain, have been redefining war and the criteria by which we judge it. The new doctrine of war that seems to be emerging is a necessary corollary to a new form of empire...

Every US war claims a just cause, a proper authority and right intentions, while insisting that there is no other way. Those claims are, of course, more than a little debatable. But at least these justifications of US military campaigns, however contestable they may be, up to this point remain within the limits of just war argumentation. The rupture occurs most clearly in the other two conditions: that there must be a reasonable chance of achieving the goals of any military action, and that the means must be proportionate...

...The present case has to do with the world's most powerful military force, the most powerful the world has ever known, which could confidently expect to achieve any reasonable military goal. So a new principle is being established here: it could simply mean that military action can after all be justified without any hope of achieving its aim, but it would probably be more accurate to say that military action now requires no specific aim at all.
(Same chapter seems to be extensively extracted online here which is where I got the c&p from). She then provides a trenchant argument as to how this serves the ends of capital. The terminology will probably not be to the taste of many here, but it makes more sense than pretty much anything else I've seen explaining the incredible military preponderance of the last remaining superpower.
posted by Abiezer at 9:15 PM on August 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


I think it highly like that, were any other country to have the power the U.S. does, it would employ it in a matter at least as self-interested.

And although the world has no shortage of armed conflicts, I believe that the scale of U.S. dominance tends to prevent many tensions from erupting into larger conflagrations, as well as make snuffing out some fires easier than it otherwise would be.

But these aren't really the issues.

The thing is, we've completely lost perspective on the U.S.'s relative military power; our budget could be half as large, and we'd still be nearly as directly dominant. And were we to slash bases, we might lose some direct influence, but with that money redirected, we could afford yet bigger and shinier guns.

But we don't do that... because our military doesn't serve a primarily military function; it serves a political and economic function. It's designed to influence the economic and political decisions of the countries where our armies sit in and near, in ways that benefit the economic elites of the U.S.-- and secondarily, our military serves domestic political needs, by being our big collective phallic totem. Our armed forces are our biggest, most expensive sports team. The American national identity, since WW II, is inextricably tied to overwhelming military power.

The irony, of course, is that the American public's fetishistic need for an absurdly massive military-- and more to the point, our elite's willingness to keep flogging an ever growing military as the national ego salve-- is highly likely to lead to a massive reduction in American power. Even from the most narrowly realpolitik perspective, the looming limits on U.S. power come from energy supply, and secondarily, educational and technological prowess. If we were serious about Preserving the Invincibility of the All-American Team America Action Team, rather than just keeping defense contractors rich and Joe at the neighborhood bar happy, we'd devote a quarter of the military budget to alternative energy research.

As it is, we're doing the equivalent of dealing with annoying lines at the gas pump by buying a bigger, more intimidating looking Humvee.
posted by darth_tedious at 9:41 PM on August 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


^ [+][+][+][+]
posted by @troy at 9:45 PM on August 8, 2009


National Security State
posted by homunculus at 10:48 PM on August 8, 2009


What a fascinating debate! Here's my figurative two bits - the article is a bit propagandistic, but it's essentially correct. Closing a bunch of those bases would be a very good thing for the US. Concentrating money and resources within one's own economy instead of spending them elsewhere is never a bad thing.

But... would there be as much money to save if America withdrew its military footprint from the world? Each nation tends to specialize in ways that emphasize its competitive advantage, and right now the US is the specialist in enforcing stability. With your great big wallet you're the engine that drives a constant demand for goods and services, and with your great big gun you intimidate any other power that might want to upset the current status quo. That's what your nation produces, the one thing you make that no one else can: stability. Not order, because the world situation often seems chaotic in the short term, and not democracy, but long term stability.

Since the US became a superpower there have been no world wars, and the more developed nations have begun to build some serious transnational unions that would never have been possible in the old paradigm of endless squabbles for dominance. Globalization and the long prosperity that has lifted the boats in so many foreign harbours are a byproduct of all that money you spend on your military. So if the US permanently withdrew its footprint from the world I think there'd be a big increase in chaos, and this amazing prosperity we all enjoy (compared to before, that is) would begin to decline. As a trading nation America would suffer along with everyone else.

But anything can be done to excess, of course, and you could make the argument that the US has become far too specialized in this one area for its own good. So a partial withdrawal would be the be best solution, so long as America retains the unquestioned ability to beat the tar out of any other nation, so it can enforce stability when it really needs to.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:08 AM on August 9, 2009


New Zealand cheerfully handed self-governance over to countries like Samoa it had inherited as protectorates in the fallout of last century's wars. This is hardly unique/


I don't know if I'd be citing NZ, there, rodgerd. For a while there we were trying to establish our own little empire in the south Pacific; Seddon was explicit about it - he wanted to copy the British Empire. Sounds laughable, but true. (Still, we did decolonise pretty quick, and if you look at somewhere like Tokelau - NZ is happy to give them independence, but they voted against it in the last referendum).
posted by Infinite Jest at 2:44 AM on August 9, 2009


Flunkie: poll finds widespread international opposition to US bases in Gulf; US influence seen as negative. However this seems to be more an artefact of disapproval of Bush than the US as such: confidence in Obama lifts US image. (Couldn't find anything specifically on bases with the brief googling I did).
posted by Infinite Jest at 2:57 AM on August 9, 2009


However some countries are still apparently pro the deployment of US troops. Empire is still expanding.
posted by adamvasco at 3:53 AM on August 9, 2009


Flunkie: poll finds widespread international opposition to US bases in Gulf
Yes, but the world's opposition to US bases in the Middle East is quite a different issue than the world's wanting the US "the fuck out" of their own countries, which is what I was questioning. With respect to that, I'll (still) give you Cuba, most of the countries in the Middle East that we have troops in, and maybe a couple South American countries.

Now can you show me that South Koreans want us "the fuck out"? Or Kosovars?

Can you show me that getting us "the fuck out" is a major issue to a majority of Italians? Germans? Brits? Australians? Japanese?

Greenlanders?
posted by Flunkie at 7:35 AM on August 9, 2009


"Even in Europe views lean negative. US bases are opposed by a majority in Germany (52%) and a plurality in Italy (43% to 31%). Publics are divided on the issue in Britain (43% positive, 39% negative) and France (41% positive, 43% negative)."

That's from the "poll finds widespread intl. opposition to US bases in Gulf" link. With regards to Britain, I don't think enough people realise that there are US bases here.

In the Republic of Ireland, use of Shannon airport for refueling US planes on the way to Iraq and Afghanistan was vehemently opposed by large sections of the Irish populace.
posted by knapah at 8:14 AM on August 9, 2009


"Even in Europe views lean negative. US bases are opposed by a majority in Germany (52%) and a plurality in Italy (43% to 31%). Publics are divided on the issue in Britain (43% positive, 39% negative) and France (41% positive, 43% negative)."
No. Those numbers are for the question "Are US Naval bases in the Persian Gulf a good idea".
posted by Flunkie at 8:23 AM on August 9, 2009




In the Republic of Ireland, use of Shannon airport for refueling US planes on the way to Iraq and Afghanistan was vehemently opposed by large sections of the Irish populace.

Honest question: Isn't that more about hostility to the wars than to America or Americans itself?
posted by spaltavian at 9:12 AM on August 9, 2009


No. Those numbers are for the question "Are US Naval bases in the Persian Gulf a good idea".

My mistake.
posted by knapah at 9:13 AM on August 9, 2009


I had to walk away from this thread for awhile because I was really starting to feel trolled. Upon reading back - yeah, if some historical instance can be shown in which X country did something bad (including defending ones' own borders!?), then = said country wants global hegemonic power just like the US and therefore = USA is A-OK.

Is that the gist of the argument?"


No. We've done some terrible things. But the gist of the argument is that it is the nature of power to lead you to do terrible things to maintain it (because the powerful fear the weak, and sometimes the weaker they are the more they are feared), and the nature of humanity to struggle for power, because only the powerful can guarantee thier own safety and secure their desires. You repeatedly suggest that other countries would not do as we have, it is true that many would not. But I should say that a large part of the reason that they would not is that they could not. You could name a hundred countries who would not so seek to dominate the world, and I think if you did you would find 100 countries of less than 100 million people, with far fewer natural resources, at a much earlier stage of indistrialization, who could never hope to attain such dominence. Compare us to our peers, rather, to the countries who could legitimately contend to become the most powerful in the world, at various times in history: Russia, China, India, Germany, Italy, Austria, Turkey, Spain, Egypt, the Netherlands --- even, punching far above their weight, Britian and what we now call Saudi Arabia. There's a different story.

If the US were not the most powerful nation in the world --- and someday, perhaps not too terribly far off, it won't be --- the title will not be retired. Some other country will shall be crowned in our place. If perhaps there may not be so many shootin' wars when that day comes, it will likely be because it will by then be obvious that war will be, for all potential participents, terribly bad for business. But even if politics stays politics and does not crack its cocoon into its final form, whichever country has the most power will get its way most of the time. Many times, what it wants it will desire to the detriment of some other group; that other group will lose, because they will be the weaker.

Of course, that's the optimistic scenario. If the future to come is a constrained one --- particularly as reagrds, say, energy or water --- then we may yet see a great many more wars in our time. Because there will be a situation in which other people have things which our people need to live, and do not wish to give them to us.
posted by Diablevert at 9:31 AM on August 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


The only way in which I think you can honestly argue that the US is unique, in the way in which it maintains its not-an-empire, is via the actual technology that's used. That changes the form and some of the outward appearance, but not the essential goal.

The Romans had paved roads and standardized hand weapons; the British had wooden ships, bronze cannon, and flintlock rifles; the US has a network of airbases, B-52s, and Kevlar-clad kids with M-16s.

The Romans had the closest to "full spectrum dominance" that they could achieve with the available technology. They undoubtedly meant for it to last forever, although perhaps the more astute of them realized the impossibility of that. The goal—kill anyone, anywhere, on short notice—is not new. Only the mechanisms are.

There is certainly an element of American exceptionalism in the criticisms of the US that attempt to paint it as totally unique. Doubtless if the technology that exists today had been available to Marcus Aurelius and his predecessors, they would have wasted little time in putting them to work on their own frontiers. It's hubris to think otherwise; to imagine that there's anything essentially different about the American psyche that hasn't been played out a hundred times before, or that doesn't exist, in more or less latent forms, in every other civilization which aspires or has aspired to Greatness at the expense of others. (Which is, if not all of them, at least every one I can think of. It is safely the great majority.)

America is unique only insofar as technology has allowed it to be, just as previous dominant cultures were characterized by the technology of the time.

Nor are the problems faced by the United States really unique, either: the process of establishing dominance inevitably involves stepping on others toes, if only because you must necessarily thwart their own plans for dominance. Thus, once the superior position is achieved, there's always a worry of what will happen if it is lost—what will those old adversaries do when they get a chance to extract their pound of flesh? So the position must be maintained, which itself involves further alienating others (as the US is currently doing), meaning there's even more motivation to hang onto power.

Theoretically, there ought to be an opportunity to gracefully step down, rather than clutch at power with every drop of blood and ounce of treasure, but that doesn't seem to frequently occur. Whether the US will take that route or not remains to be seen, but I'm very skeptical.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:56 AM on August 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


> Whether the US will take that route or not remains to be seen, but I'm very skeptical.

In terms of domestic U.S. politics, military expansion is cheap, military contraction is very, very expensive.
posted by darth_tedious at 12:01 PM on August 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Diablevert: No offense to you, but I meant Ironmouth's argument.
posted by stinkycheese at 12:18 PM on August 9, 2009


Whether or not Ancient Rome would have controlled the whole world if it could, and even reached out to control the skies and outer space if technology allowed (as the US is now doing), is really not very pertinent to how right or wrong it is if the US does it now.

...once the superior position is achieved, there's always a worry of what will happen if it is lost—what will those old adversaries do when they get a chance to extract their pound of flesh? So the position must be maintained, which itself involves further alienating others (as the US is currently doing), meaning there's even more motivation to hang onto power.

Other people have expressed this better than I, but the whole thing seems predicated on greed, ignorance and fear. Greed b/c corporations and the MIC need profit profit profit at the expense of whatever it takes to get it; ignorance b/c so much of the US' decisions are based on sloppy pie-in-the-sky theories (Iraq is a perfect example), and above all fear, b/c the US is utterly riddled with it, and much of the rationale for ongoing strangehold of the US military is a panicky 'what will become of us if someone else has the biggest gun?'

I think people (and governments) need to ask themselves where humanity is ultimately going, where our goal is. Realpolitik is a very, very dangerous game to play in the 21st century and the stakes are incredibly high; the globe should be looking for security, peace, renovation and calm - I don't think the continued hegemony of the US helps in this goal, and it seems likely it'll only get worse before it ever starts getting better.

If one nation has to have that much power, I'd far rather their aim not be 'gots ta get paid'.
posted by stinkycheese at 12:32 PM on August 9, 2009


In terms of domestic U.S. politics, military expansion is cheap, military contraction is very, very expensive.

This is my favorite comment.

I think that, more broadly, it's easier to convince people of the need to change others than it is to convince them to change

US military contraction is a change of self.
posted by zippy at 2:19 PM on August 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


spaltavian: "In the Republic of Ireland, use of Shannon airport for refueling US planes on the way to Iraq and Afghanistan was vehemently opposed by large sections of the Irish populace.

Honest question: Isn't that more about hostility to the wars than to America or Americans itself?
"

The main argument was that it compromised our neutrality. Irish neutrality is one of our more sacred national beliefs for better or worse. Although one wonders if the protests would have been as vehement if it was a war a plurality of people were in favour of. Way too many Irish people work for American companies for us to really hate America.
posted by minifigs at 3:51 AM on August 10, 2009


Honest question: Isn't that more about hostility to the wars than to America or Americans itself?"

Most of the anti-base sentiment across the world isn't because people are hostile to Americans, it's hostility to American foreign policy. I've liked most of the Americans I've met, but I've long been disgusted by the actions of the US government. I'm also disgusted with the actions of the British government, the Irish government, the French government... pretty much all governments.
posted by knapah at 3:59 AM on August 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


Most of the anti-base sentiment across the world isn't because people are hostile to Americans, it's hostility to American foreign policy.

Clearly, and it shocks me there are people who don't understand this.

Nobody hates Americans. Everyone hates American troops on their soil, and American money and muscle propping up oppressive regimes.
posted by rokusan at 7:34 AM on August 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


And our freedoms. Right?




Right?


posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:58 AM on August 10, 2009


The chewing gum and black-market silk stockings go a fair way to making up for it - even with my legs.
posted by Abiezer at 9:36 AM on August 10, 2009


"You name a people with power, and I can find you the atrocities. Doesn't take much, really."

You name a people without power, frequently ditto. If sufficiently POed.

What? So apparently the power of a bunch of pissed of people is, uh, not actually... power?
posted by symbollocks at 9:58 AM on August 11, 2009


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