prospect of a war to subdue and occupy Iraq has brought the
neo-imperialists out of the closet, so to speak, and inaugurated
a new honesty among political commentators on the left as
well as the right. As Americans wake up to the brutal reality
of a war that could cost half a million Iraqi casualties and
hundreds of billions in American tax dollars, the fiction
that this has anything to do with "weapons of mass destruction"
is swept away as by a cold bracing wind. This will be a war
of conquest, as its supporters are now beginning to acknowledge,
and the rush is on to rationalize it and what comes
neoconservatives, always in the vanguard, were the first
to proclaim the virtues of the imperial project, but then
a lesser goal would be unworthy of the partisans of "national
greatness." Max Boot, writing in the Weekly Standard,
ideological fountainhead of "national
greatness conservatism," enunciated the
new imperial paradigm with typically Wagnerian grandiosity:
have suggested that the September 11 attack on America was
payback for U.S. imperialism. If only we had not gone around
sticking our noses where they did not belong, perhaps we would
not now be contemplating a crater in lower Manhattan. The
solution is obvious: The United States must become a kinder,
gentler nation, must eschew quixotic missions abroad, must
become, in Pat Buchanan's phrase, 'a republic, not an empire.'
In fact this analysis is exactly backward: The September 11
attack was a result of insufficient American involvement and
ambition; the solution is to be more expansive in our goals
and more assertive in their implementation."
is Herr Boot who has it backwards. The United States was born
a republic. What it must not become is an empire. Leaving
aside his curious inversion of the historical process, however,
Boot's program of expansionism as the only foreign policy
possible to the U.S., post-9/11, is widely shared not only
by neocons but by liberal internationalists of
a certain stripe. In a recent Wall Street Journal
Boot explicitly conjured the ghost of Woodrow Wilson as well
as Franklin Roosevelt and Reagan to justify his vision of
now he is joined by Michael Ignatieff, director of the
Carr Center for
Human Rights Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School
of Government, and a liberal internationalist of some renown.
Writing in the New York Times Magazine, Ignatieff seeks
to abolish the last remnants of Bush's campaign promise to
implement a more "humble" foreign policy and get
the administration to admit to the scope of its ambition:
since George Washington warned his countrymen against foreign
entanglements, empire abroad has been seen as the republic's
permanent temptation and its potential nemesis. Yet what word
but 'empire' describes the awesome thing that America is becoming?
It is the only nation that polices the world through five
global military commands; maintains more than a million men
and women at arms on four continents; deploys carrier battle
groups on watch in every ocean; guarantees the survival of
countries from Israel to South Korea; drives the wheels of
global trade and commerce; and fills the hearts and minds
of an entire planet with its dreams and desires."
might forgive Ignatieff his conflation of economic and geopolitical
power – it is entrepreneurs, and not "the nation,"
who drive the wheels of commerce – and his rhetorical embellishments
(are the golden arches of MacDonald's really the modern equivalent
on account of the value of his underlying insight. Except
for the tone of admiration that suffuses his text. George
Washington? Toss the old codger onto the dustbin of History!
The future has arrived….
Boot, Ignatieff dates America's imperial self-consciousness
from 9/11/01. America must restore (or create) "order"
in the outlying regions of the civilized world in order to
protect itself and its interests. Up until now, Americans
have been in denial, blinded by their history and self-concept
to the reality of their rightful title as global overlords:
Sept. 11 was an awakening, a moment of reckoning with the
extent of American power and the avenging hatreds it arouses.
Americans may not have thought of the World Trade Center or
the Pentagon as the symbolic headquarters of a world empire,
but the men with the box cutters certainly did, and so do
numberless millions who cheered their terrifying exercise
in the propaganda of the deed."
Boot, who is contemptuous of the hatred American power arouses,
Ignatieff at least acknowledges it – and then proceeds to
justify the Empire, anyway, as the only possible solution
to our self-created crisis. The Empire is here, immovable
and unalterable, the given, and it must be used to implement
liberal ends. This might be described as the Christopher
Hitchens school of neo-imperialism, which expects U.S.
force of arms to "liberate" every oppressed minority
on earth, from the women of Afghanistan to the Kurds of Iraq.
This is a vision of American GIs, not as Roman legionnaires
waging wars of conquest, but as the Airmen of H.
G; Wells' novel, The Shape of Things to Come, who
drop "peace gas" on warring tribes of savages.
empire is not like empires of times past, built on colonies,
conquest and the white man's burden. We are no longer in the
era of the United
Fruit Company, when American corporations needed
the Marines to secure their investments overseas. The 21st
century imperium is a new invention in the annals of political
science, an empire lite, a global hegemony whose grace notes
are free markets, human rights and democracy, enforced by
the most awesome military power the world has ever known."
before an "awesome" power is the full-time specialty
of court intellectuals, such as Ignatieff, who busy themselves
prettifying the royal ruthlessness and hailing its unique
"new-ness," Ignatieff has given the old imperialism
a complete makeover, and gussied up the old tart in regal
robes, albeit no less purple. But what is so new about Halliburton,
Boeing, and the NGOs the modern equivalent of United Fruit?
The corporate logos have changed, but the reality of war profiteering
remains fully operational.
the emerging American Empire "a new invention in the
annals of political science"? Liberals might be excused
for disbelieving the conservative axiom that there is nothing
new under the sun, but surely even they, by now, would be
more skeptical of the revolutionary mindset. An inability
to learn this particular lesson – an inherent naivete that
can blossom into a dangerous militance – is, perhaps, what
defines the liberal mind: a dizzy utopianism married to a
haughty elitism, easily unbalanced and swept away in the emotion
of the moment.
Melville from his Ivy League pulpit, Ignatieff grandly avers
that this uniquely American Imperium "bears 'the ark
of the liberties of the world.'" It is not only a strategic
necessity but also moral duty that must drive us ever onward
to expand the frontiers of the Empire:
remains a fact as disagreeable to those left wingers who regard
American imperialism as the root of all evil as it is to the
right-wing isolationists, who believe that the world beyond
our shores is none of our business that there are many peoples
who owe their freedom to an exercise of American military
power. It's not just the Japanese and the Germans, who became
democrats under the watchful eye of Generals MacArthur and
Clay. There are the Bosnians, whose nation survived because
American air power and diplomacy forced an end to a war the
Europeans couldn't stop. There are the Kosovars, who would
still be imprisoned in Serbia if not for Gen. Wesley Clark
and the Air Force. The list of people whose freedom depends
on American air and ground power also includes the Afghans
and, most inconveniently of all, the Iraqis."
example of the Bosnians and their Albanian Kosovar cousins
is really too much, especially coming from one
of the chief cheerleaders for Clinton's brutally immoral
demolition of the former Yugoslavia. Bosnia today is ruled
over by a UN dictatorship that presides over fortified cantons
of mutually antagonistic ethnic factions. Thanks to General
Wesley Clark and his Air Force, Kosovo is a killing field
stained with the blood of Serbs and ruled by a murderous drug-dealing
for the Germans and the Japanese, the ultimate irony is that
these former empires become republics are rising to challenge
their great teacher, a republic become an empire. The Germans
criticize and abstain from our Middle Eastern adventure, while
the Japanese try to restrain us in Eastasia. Anti-Americanism,
in the sense of opposition to U.S. government policies, is
growing not only in the Middle East but also in Europe, Japan,
and throughout the Anglosphere.
freedom of many peoples has been paid for in American blood
and treasure, but this debt cannot be repaid by making Washington
the center of a self-consciously hegemonic power. Preserving
the freedom of the American people and their security must
be the exclusive task of our military, because any extension
of that mission erodes its original purpose. Freedom, as Ignatieff
points out, is one casualty of our post-9/11 policy of perpetual
war. He wonders aloud whether the mass internment of American
citizens deemed "enemy aliens" during World War
II could be repeated today.
these little asides are sprinkled throughout Ignatieff's essay
like seasoning on an otherwise unappetizing chunk of tofu,
as if to remind us of the author's liberal credentials. The
main thrust of this neo-imperialist narrative is carried along
by the mystique of its alleged inevitability:
problem is that this implies innocent options that in the
case of Iraq may no longer exist. Iraq is not just about whether
the United States can retain its republican virtue in a wicked
world. Virtuous disengagement is no longer a possibility.
Since Sept. 11, it has been about whether the republic can
survive in safety at home without imperial policing abroad."
we are "the prisoners of history" after all, as
the Old Right author Garet
Garrett put it, locked in our Procrustean bed of global
alliances and ineluctably drawn into the world vortex by dark
forces beyond our control. The pro-war liberal sighs, wishes
it were otherwise, and calmly decides that if we're going
to have an Empire, it may as well resemble the old British
model at its best, rather than, say, the Assyrians or even
behind the veil of historical inevitability, Ignatieff details
his comprehensive program for the reformation of much of the
Turks will have to be reassured, and the Kurds will have to
be instructed that the real aim of United States policy is
not the creation of a Kurdish state that goes on to dismember
Turkey. The Syrians will have to be coaxed into abandoning
their claims against the Israelis and making peace. The Saudis,
once democracy takes root next door in Iraq, will have to
be coaxed into embracing democratic change themselves."
only that, but, as
this author has argued elsewhere, the U.S. must impose
a "peace settlement" in Palestine. "Send in
the troops!" he cries. Whether this involves bombing
Tel Aviv, or perhaps locking Ariel Sharon and Yasser Arafat
in a room until they agree to our terms, is not quite clear.
In any case, there is no logical end to the burdens imposed
on this empire of a new type, which is perhaps why Ignatieff's
paean to American global power is subtitled "The Burden."
"American Empire, get used to it," the magazine
cover exhorts us in red-white-and-blue headlines.
only proper answer is: Never!
price of empire is more than just our blood and our treasure.
It is our very souls. What human being, apart from one maddened
by hubris, could greet the news that the
Iraq war will cost half a million casualties with indifference?
Max Boot, who
bemoaned the lack of casualties in the Afghan campaign,
will be appeased, but what of Ignatieff and all the other
weepy creepy liberals with moral pretensions?
souls, our freedoms, our republican legacy, and the wisdom
of our forefathers, the Founders of this country: all will
be lost in the rush to hail the American Caesar. But even
as some vague consensus on the virtues of the New Rome seems
to be coagulating, like a scab over the open wound of 9/11,
voices of dissent are rising against this supposedly "inevitable"
development. Thomas Sowell, the prominent conservative free
market thinker and prolific writer, comes
out swinging against the neo-imperialist delusion that
has galvanized the neoconservatives and now seems to be the
driving force behind U.S. foreign policy:
the left has done enormous damage to the security of the United
States, the political right is not without its problems. Those
neoconservatives, especially, who were pushing an activist
foreign policy, even before September 11th, have
seized upon that event as a reason for the United States to
'use American might to promote American ideals' around the
phrase, by Max Boot of the Counsel on Foreign Relations and
The Weekly Standard, is breathtaking in its implications.
When he places himself and fellow neoconservatives in the
tradition of Woodrow Wilson, it is truly chilling."
chilling still is the idea that such people are in positions
of power, and have a real and perhaps decisive influence in
putting us on a course bound for Empire. As Sowell puts it:
very idea that young Americans are once again to be sent out
to be shot at and killed, in order to carry out the bright
ideas of editorial office heroes, is sickening."
is right, and that is precisely what will defeat the War Party
in the end. The sheer sight of them, pompously lecturing the
American people on their duty to save the world, while we
are all made less safe and more vulnerable to a terrorist
attack on account of their hallucinations, will eventually
prove so sickening that they will defeat their own cause.
to Cato Institute senior fellow Tom
Palmer for managing to spend an entire hour or so debating
"libertarianism" with Jonah
Goldberg on PBS Chicago's WBEZ
radio without once mentioning the words "peace"
or "nonintervention." (Although he did manage to
get in a plug for gay marriage). That didn't appease Jonah,
however, who got in a complaint toward the end about how Tom
and the other guest (Richard
A. Epstein) are "wonderful" people, but unfortunately
they haven't done as well as the folks over at National
Review in "policing their own movement." Goldberg
was about to launch into a denunciation of the Libertarian
Party and god-knows-who-else
when, thankfully, he was cut off by host Gretchen Helfrich.
Nice try, Jonah: maybe you can get your
buddy John Ashcroft to fill the policing gap. And Tom:
you always were a wimp. I see nothing's changed.
of the radio, last night I did an interview and listener call-in
on Washington D.C.'s popular WMAL
radio as a guest on the Charlie
Warren Show, where I did mention the words "peace"
and "nonintervention" – several times.
out the top headline on Antiwar.com this morning: "N.
Korea Threatens War if US Limits Trade." Isn't it
nice to know that someone's standing up for free trade?
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