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The un-American Empire

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Is America an imperialist country? The Left has long said so. Recently, some "conservatives" have unsurprisingly found the term "ideologically loaded" and suggested it be "retired" from textbooks and, thus "'imperialism' as a characterization of America's modern rise to world power is giving way to 'expansionism,'" reports Brett Michael Dykes (U.S. history textbooks could soon be flavored heavily with Texas conservatism). But these same "conservatives" are also arguing that "Thomas Jefferson [be] no longer included among writers influencing the nation's intellectual origins," so it appears theirs is a campaign to rewrite American history as "ideologically loaded" as any ever carried out by the Left.

However, there is a much more interesting conservation happening about terms like "empire" and "imperialist" among the factions now coalescing to form what may be a broad-based movement reminiscent of the American Anti-Imperialist League and the America First Committee from the turn and middle of the last century. David R. Henderson, writing about the recent conference titled "Across the Political Spectrum Against War and Militarism" (The Left-Right Conference on War), reported, "When Paul Buhle, an historian and, in the 1960s, the editor of Radical America, the magazine of Students for a Democratic Society, proposed that anti-Imperialism be replaced with anti-Empire, [conservative William] Lind agreed vigorously."

Kevin Zeese in his report on the same Voters for Peace-sponsored "meeting of 40 people from across the political spectrum who oppose war and Empire" (Time for a Broad-Based Antiwar Movement), observed:

"Some conservatives warned against describing the United States as imperialist [because] that would get up the hackles of many Americans. But, they were comfortable describing the United States as an empire.

"Personally, I found that of interest. Americans never hear discussed in the media whether or not our country is an empire. And, if we were to have such a discussion, the critical questions would be: Is empire good for us, for our national security, for our economy, for our democracy? Having those questions debated would be a breakthrough in political dialogue." [Emphasis mine.]

That there exists an American Empire seems an undeniable reality. What Chalmers Johnson described in 2004 as "an empire of bases" then consisted of "702 overseas bases in about 130 countries" in addition to the "6,000 bases in the United States and its territories" (America's Empire of Bases). William Pfaff this year updated the numbers and added that "the United States now has 1.25 million service men and women on active duty, 700,000 civilians in service and supporting roles, and... an unknown number of private and foreign mercenaries... on 800 to 1,000 bases scattered about the world" (A Duped President's Wasted Foreign-Policy Year). The American Empire is thus a given.

Then, is what seems to be a logical extension of that reality, that America is thus an imperialist power, a point that is up for debate? What are these latter, truer conservatives getting at? Isn't a country with an empire ipso facto an imperialist country? Perhaps not. The answer to that question may be found by answering the questions raised by the man of the left, Mr. Zeese, as to whether "empire [is] good for us, for our national security, for our economy, for our democracy."

Is empire good for our national security?

Mr. Pfaff, in the article mentioned above, answered Mr. Zeese's question about national security: "The Americans who today are actually at risk from dangers that have a foreign origin are these hundreds of thousands of people stationed around the world, intervening in the political affairs of other societies." This "intervening in the political affairs of other societies" also serves to make the world hate us and make Americans less safe at home and abroad. Switzerland has never maintained a military presence in 130 countries and does not seem to have suffered much as a consequence.

The "fight-them-there-so-we-don't-have-to-fight-them-here" argument is so laughable on its face that it doesn't merit serious debate. It is obvious that the only way "they" can get "here" is by us letting them in, as we did with the 9/11 terrorists, who trained in Florida; obvious, except perhaps to those so fearful and gullible to have actually taken seriously "Iraq's unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) program" (Iraqi Drones May Target U.S. Cities).

"Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course," said our first president (George Washington's Farewell Address), referring to our geography and the prospects for neutrality it afforded. Geography has not changed much, and this same "detached and distant situation" should be used to our advantage, as it always has in the past. Let us rely on geography, not military interventionism. Fred Reed once noted "Americans cannot always distinguish between military prowess and the Atlantic Ocean" (Confessional). Add to that the Pacific Ocean, and the logical conclusion is that we are relatively free of "dangers that have a foreign origin," unless, of course, we continue to insist on "intervening in the political affairs of other societies."

Is empire good for the economy?

Recently answering Mr. Zeese's question was that man of the right, Patrick J. Buchanan, with some rhetorical questions of his own, highlighting the absurdity of the "imperial" arrangement (Liquidating the Empire):

"Indeed, how do conservatives justify borrowing hundreds of billions yearly from Europe, Japan, and the Gulf states to defend Europe, Japan, and the ArabGulf states? Is it not absurd to borrow hundreds of billions annually from China to defend Asia from China? Is it not a symptom of senility to borrow from all over the world in order to defend that world?"

Another answer to that same question came a few years ago from Ivan Eland (Ungrateful Allies):

"Despite plundering their colonies at gunpoint (for example, the Spanish Empire looted the gold from Latin America) and creating sheltered markets for their goods overseas (for example, British mercantilism), even the formal empires of old were not cost-effective, according to classical economists. The informal U.S. Empire that defends other countries abroad using alliances, military bases, the permanent stationing of U.S. troops on foreign soil, and profligate military interventions is even more cost-ineffective. U.S. forces cannot plunder, and rich allies, such as South Korea, excessively restrict their markets to U.S. goods and services."

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An American Catholic son-in-law of Korea, Joshua Snyder lives with his wife and two children in self-imposed exile in Pohang, where he serves as an assistant visiting professor of English at a science and technology university. Religiously orthodox and politically heterodox, he might be (more...)
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