A new debate, which may become a sticking point in the upcoming election, is making its way into Washington political circles. Is an American Empire forming? This is not an Empire in the traditional British or Roman sense of simple occupation. Today the geopolitical structure is far less defined in conventional terms. We must look deeper than countries, borders and capitals to understand what is at work. Modern empires are built through spy networks, covert operations and economic and military pressure.
This movement toward an empire began with the end of World War II and the rise of the Soviet Union. Suddenly the United States was thrust to the front of the world political landscape, something that had been unheard of up to that point.
In the last 50 years the Unied States has created a tradition of exerting their presence in other political realms. Invasions, covert political operations and coups in countries such as Chile, Cuba, Iran, El Salvador and the Congo were all done in the name of protecting our interests against the tide of Communism. Whether that is good or bad is not for me to judge, but the main problem from this was the fact that the tradition was not ended or even questioned when the Cold War ended. In the words of Christopher Preble, director of the Cato Institute, “That is when we should have had the discussion, instead we maintained all our Cold War commitments and added new ones, without much debate at all.”
Since the Cold War ended, the United States has involved itself in Panama, the first Gulf War, Somalia, Rwanda, Haiti, Bosnia, Afghanistan and now Iraq again. Most of these operations were performed without the help of the United Nations. In places such as Iraq and Afghanistan the longer the United States is involved the less patient people become and the more wary they are that the United States is in fact no more than an imperial occupier.
These views are not just held by knee-jerk liberals bitter about the current Iraq debacle or fringe independents such as the libertarian Cato Institute. The debate is also headed by some prominent conservatives, including former counsel to the first Bush C. Boyden Gray, Clyde Prestowitz, former Reagan official and the president of the Nixon Center Dimitri Simes.
Unfortunately, the debate is still hidden as most Republicans and the majority of Democrats are for increased spending for the military. The biggest obstacle is the neoconservative presence in the current administration, whose benevolent sounding policy of “empire of liberty” has had less than benign results.Yet people like Max Boot are leading the rally cry for doubling the military spending and increasing our “sphere of influence” deeper into the geopolitical scene.
Perhaps the most important group leading this debate is the fledgling Committee for the Republic whose members are a group of influential conservatives drawing up a manifesto whose mission statement says, “America has begun to stray from its founding tradition of leading the world by example rather than by force.”It is high time that the administration stepped back and took a look at its messy handling of foreign policy.
History teaches us many important lessons, and perhaps if the administration realized what principles this country was founded there would not be so much worry about the new American Empire.
Zeiser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.