Monday, 31 October 2005

The American Empire

The United States of America is an empire.

That is not a bad thing.

It has always had imperial pretensions, from the expansionism through the North American continent (Louisiana, Florida, Oregon, Texas etc), to the gradual build up in dabbling outside its borders (Philippines, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam, Panama etc) and then the post World War II phase that included West Germany, Japan and South Korea (to date the greatest success of the US empire). The failures that followed received more coverage: Cuba, Vietnam, Cambodia, Grenada, Haiti, Afghanistan and now, of course, Iraq.

The United States at the end of World War II inherited the mantle of the world's leading empire from the fading United Kingdom, after waiting in the wings for some time and engaged in a battle for hegemony with the Soviet Union...and we know who blinked first in that clash of the titans.

Since the collapse of the USSR the United States has become, by unspoken desire and pre-determined default the worlds imperial power; following on from the great empires that have littered mankind's social progress. The European Union, the only entity that could possibly challenge this authority, is too busy dividing and falling.

Empire is not a bad thing, the trouble is to be a true empire you have to embrace the concept and in the US we have an empire in denial, as Niall Ferguson describes it: "Consuming on credit, reluctant to go to the front line, inclined to lose interest in protracted undertakings...America as a sedentary colossus...a strategic couch potato."

Iraq is no better example of this negation of power, the US occupies a strategically important area to build its empire but the troops can't stay too long otherwise the people back home get twitchy; therefore the occupation will fail in its hamfisted swiftness. Nothing can be achieved in a rush, just look at the length of time the US stayed in West Germany and Japan (10 and 7 years respectively) to rebuild those nations; indeed they still keep troops in both countries to this day; the rewards of imperialism.

An empire that doesn't want to be an empire is a genuine danger to the world, I believe the US needs to embrace its status as the leading power in the world and relish this role, rather than fall painfully between two stools as it attempts to flex its imperial muscle constrained by a lack of faith in its actions. Currently though, we have a US foreign policy paradox of dictating democracy, enforcing freedom and exhorting emancipation.

The United States has another weakness, it is an empire built on debt and a debt that is mostly in the hands of foreign (Asian) banks. America is the world's biggest borrower and chief IMF economist Ken Rogoff said he would be "pretty concerned about a developing country that had gaping current account deficits year after year, as far as the eye can see, of five percent or more, with budget ink spinning from black to red, with the likely deficit on GDP ratio for general government exceeding five percent this year and open ended security costs."

In short hand that means 8 trillion dollars worth of debt in foreign hands.

Much of the financial malaise comes from Bush's misguided economic policy but much of the hard edge of the imperial behaviour also stems from his policy. In a sense the US needs a leader who has sounder fiscal sense but can see through the concept of a liberal empire and make it a reality.


  1. You've also forgotten to mention the pervasive cultural imperialism dished out by the USA and the Hollywood dream factory.

    Ever been shopping in the US? It's just like traipsing around those soulless retail parks we have here. For get Iraq and all that other Imperialistic guff, I blame George Bush and America for the decline of the High Street and the cornershop. Have you tried to buy a washer for a tap lately? In the old days, there'd be a local ironmongers that would give you want you want for a couple of pence. Now you have to drive to the middle of nowhere, just to find some spotty, teenage oik hasn't restocked their section properly and the particular washer you want isn't actually in stock.

    I personally blame Bush for that. The unmitigated bastard. He should hang his head in shame, I tells ya!

  2. i liked the way a lot of that was put, daniel.

    and, 'just because you feel it, doesn't mean it's there' i know that lyric. i can't remember, though, who.

  3. I bought a washer for my dripping victorian tap just the other day from the high st. The man who served me was Indian and knew exactly what I needed!! Peace!!!

  4. Hmm. Well put, regarding the empire, though I would say that the fact that we borrow and consume so much from the rest of the world is another surefire reason that we'll stay in power. As long as we're the giant consumer of all of the world's goods, no country is going to destroy us.

    China, perhaps the biggest potential threat to America in the near future (given their recent war games with Russia, the reason for which they stated was to show the US that there are other powers in the world), would have a hard time invading us as we're it's biggest customer, probably moreso even than itself.

    Oh but George Bush can't be single handedly blamed for shopping mall America. That happened long ago, and as much as I despise what Wal*Mart has done to the Mom & Pop, things like that only happen because the people are willing to sacrifice identity, culture, and genuine good service in exchange for low price and convenience. The people of America do drive the country, not the single leader they've chosen. America is much too diverse a place to lump all of it's citizens together in any way, but apparently enough of a percentage have decided that shopping at the Wal*Marts was a good enough idea that it allowed the store to force the rest of the competition out of business...which in turn forces the rest of us to go there.

    Long live the Empire.

  5. Long live the empire?

    I agree.

    But only if it takes on the job fully and stops being so weak.


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