In light of Devil39's posts, here is article on the "US Empire" from another
point of view.
The American Empire
19 March, 2003
Al Qaedas goal always has been to unify the Islamic world under an Islamic government
to create, in effect, an Islamic empire that is ready to both protect the interests of the
Islamic world and to expand Islamic influence. It is doubtful that al Qaeda will achieve this
goal. Indeed, it is Stratfor?s view that al Qaeda?s actions will, contrary to its intentions or
expectations, generate the exact opposite effect -- the creation of an American empire.
In a sense, the American empire already was created by the nearly simultaneous fall of
the Soviet Union and the Japanese economy. With the fall of the Soviet Union, the
United States became the only power capable of projecting military force globally.
With the crash of Japan?s economy and the extraordinary expansion of the American
economy in the 1990s, the United States also became the dominant global economic
power, the primary source of capital and innovation. These two forces combined to give
the United States overwhelming political power and with that came the ability to shape
the international order as it wished.
American power did not match the American appetite for power. The U.S. did not
perceive itself as having major global interests and its economy was less dependent
on either imports or exports than were those of other major powers. Nevertheless,
the United States had an interest in maintaining the stability of the international
economic order. In general, this meant maintaining and expanding market capitalism
in other countries and developing an international free trade regime with the inevitable
protectionist aspects that domestic American politics had come to require.
On another level, the United States, no longer riveted by any serious threats to its
national security, had the luxury to focus on the moral character of regimes. It
intervened in Somalia to end appalling hunger; in Haiti to put a stop to a brutal
and repressive regime; in Bosnia and Kosovo to limit Serbian excesses. All of these
were elective operations. The United States did not undertake these missions
because it had any overriding interests at stake, but because it had a massive
surplus in politico-military power and could afford to indulge. When Somalia proved
more complex and painful than the United States was prepared to endure, it
withdrew. When the Haitian operation failed to provide the promised blessings,
the government changed its focus.
The central reality of the 1990s was this: while the United States had the ability
to impose a global order, it clearly did not need one and the cost of imposing
one outstripped any benefit that the United States might derive from it. Although
the U.S. was clearly the world?s leader in every sense, and even thought of itself as
the leader, it did not wish to take on the disciplines of leadership or assume the
cost of forming a global order. Leadership includes developing coherent principles
for governing the international system, deploying the power to impose that system
and the willingness to create appropriate institutions with which to govern.
The lack of American appetite for power in the 1990s resulted in a subsequent lack
of any predictable, coherent behavior in the international system. Instead, Washington's
principles were vague, its political and military power was diffuse and the institutions
it chose to operate through (namely the United Nations and NATO) were both
relics of the Cold War and were fundamentally unsuited to the tasks at hand.
Nothing is more dangerous than power without appetite or fear. Appetite and fear
focus power, make it predictable and make it possible for other nations to craft
policies that accommodate, avoid or resist that power. Where there is neither
appetite nor fear, power is unfocused and therefore inherently unpredictable.
That unpredictability was the mark of U.S. policy between the fall of the Berlin Wall
and Sept. 11.
For most of the rest of the world, the 1990s was like living with a huge gorilla whose
intentions were generally good if somewhat addled. It was impossible to predict what
the gorilla might become interested in next, what it might do and the consequences
of its actions. For other nations, the United States potentially could be the solution
to their problems, but, if unfocused, also could be dangerous.
Other countries therefore had two predominant goals. One was to try to take
advantage of a relationship with the United States. The other was to try to form
coalitions large enough to focus the U.S. or at least render it predictable to some
degree. The latter was difficult. Working with the United States was more profitable
than resisting it. Thus every time a coalition started to form, the U.S. government
would shift its policy slightly, perhaps seducing one of the potential coalition members,
and the effort would collapse.
The rest of the world did not find this situation amusing. U.S. power and indifference
posed a threat to their national interest. The problem did not derive from any defect
in the American character, but from geography and power. The United States was
physically secure from the rest of the world and so powerful and prosperous that it
needed little from that world. American self-sufficiency and the power to secure what
little it needed collided with the very different experience of the rest of the world.
Nowhere was this clearer than in Somalia. The United States, under former President
George Bush, intervened for humanitarian reasons, stayed to try to build a nation,
then pulled out when the nationals resisted. From the American point of view, this
was a humanitarian mission that just didn?t work out.
From the standpoint of the Islamic world -- and particularly that of al Qaedas
founders -- this was an example of the random and unpredictable nature of U.S.
foreign policy, coupled with a lack of moral fiber. Washington?s actions may have
been well intended, but were perceived as an unwarranted, imperial intervention.
Worse, the intervention was perceived as an imperial move by a nation with no
appetite for empire.
Somalia led directly to Sept. 11. Al Qaeda was part of the international community
that found U.S. behavior erratic, unpredictable and ultimately weak. Al Qaedas
goal -- building an Islamic empire -- required that it challenge the U.S. and
demonstrate that the United States was both inherently weak due to moral
corruption and that it would be incapable of destroying al Qaeda. For al Qaeda,
challenging the United States would change the psychology of the Islamic world,
thereby undermining the perceived power of the United States.
Sept. 11 redefined the world for the United States. It turned the world from a
vaguely irrelevant, generally harmless place in which there were economic
opportunities and the chance to do good deeds into one that was deadly. It also
created a focus for U.S. power that changed the dynamic of the entire
international system. Prior to Sept. 11, the United States had only a vague interest
in the international system; after the attacks this international system -- and the
destruction of al Qaeda, to be precise -- became an obsession.
The problem for the United States, however, is that destroying al Qaeda is not a
straightforward action. The group has dispersed itself globally, which forces the
United States to follow suit. Prior to Sept. 11, the United States completely
dominated the world?s oceans and space. This allowed it to go anywhere and see
everything, but its ground forces were deployed fairly randomly. For example,
thousands of troops were still deployed in Germany, more from habit than from need.
The U.S. presence in Eurasia was essentially without a mission and not particularly deep.
Over the past 10 months, the United States has not only dispersed its forces
throughout Eurasia and the surrounding islands, but also has moved deeply into
the governments, intelligence agencies and security apparatus of many of these
countries. U.S. forces have been deployed, in small numbers, to areas ranging
from Europe and Georgia to the "stans" and the Philippines. More important, in
many of these countries small numbers of U.S. forces are "advising" (i.e. commanding)
native forces while U.S. advisors monitor and influence decisions from the these countries?
Sept. 11 created an unintended momentum in U.S. foreign policy that has led
directly to empire-building. Empires are not created by salivating monsters
seeking power. Such empires usually fail. The Romans did not intend to build an
empire, but each step they took logically led to the next and in due course
they had an empire. In turn, being an empire profoundly changed their institutions
and their self-definition. Aside from a deep belief in their own virtue, becoming an
empire was not an intention but an outcome.
The United States does not intend to become an empire. Its birth was the first
great anti-imperial exercise. It certainly has little economic need for empire because,
like the British, it can trade for what it needs. But the logic of empire does not
consist of avarice nearly as much as fear. The Romans? first impulse to empire was
defensive. So, too, the American impulse is entirely defensive. The United States
is not trying to build an empire: It simply wants to stop al Qaeda. However, to do
so is to follow the classic imperial process.
Driven by the need to defeat al Qaeda, American forces are deploying to scores
of countries around the world -- sometimes overtly, sometimes secretly;
sometimes in uniform and sometimes as secret agents. In all of these countries,
the United States is engaged in reshaping domestic policies. Al Qaeda cannot be
rooted out unless the social fabric of these countries can be managed.
Few will dare resist. The United States is enormously powerful and has been
transformed from a vaguely disinterested gorilla into a brutally focused and deadly
viper, ready to strike anywhere. Given U.S. power and the American mood, few
nations are prepared to risk U.S. displeasure by refusing to cooperate in the fight
against al Qaeda. Indeed, many see it as a chance to profit from collaboration with
In practice this means that, in the course of defeating al Qaeda the United States
is becoming an integral part of the domestic policy process and implementation in
virtually all countries around the globe. Those that resist are potential targets for
American attack. This was an inevitable -- but unintended consequence of the
attacks of Sept. 11.
The intention is to defeat al Qaeda; the means to do so is a global war against them.
This requires the United States to be present in a majority of countries, overseeing
processes that are part of a sovereign nations purview, therefore, in effect, usurping
its sovereignty. Since the war itself requires reconstructing social orders, the
American presence will have to intrude deeply into these societies. Since the war
against al Qaeda could take a generation, the U.S. will be there for a long time.
Most American policymakers would deny that this is their intention. All would be
sincere, but the unintended consequence is the nature of politics. In this case,
the unintended consequence is empire. U.S. power, having met an obsessive
need, is moving throughout the world. Where it meets resistance, it has no
choice but to plan war. The United States can neither decline combat with al
Qaeda nor avoid the consequences of such combat.
The United States has been a democratic republic, an anti-imperial power. Now
it is an imperial power, not in the simplistic Leninist sense of seeking markets, but
in the classical sense of being unable to secure its safety without controlling
others. The paradox is that al Qaeda -- ultimately a very minor power -- is driving
the world's greatest nation toward this end.
The problem, of course, is that all of this is visible tactically to Americans. They
see the deployments into each country. They see the acceptance of advisors
into ministries. They have come to expect cooperation by police in Yemen,
bases in Kyrgyzstan, information from Egypt and accommodation from Germans
or Russians. They expect it, but have not yet constructed a coherent picture
or named what they are getting into: empire. Empires begin not with rabid
manifestoes, but with short-term solutions leading only one way.
The dispersal we see today will last at least as long as the Cold War dispersals,
and will be even harder to abandon. There will be resistance to an American
empire, from great powers as well as small. There will be burdens to be borne
in holding this empire that cannot be abandoned. The American dilemma is that
it is better at winning an empire than explaining it or even admitting what has
The United States is taking control of countries throughout the world, bringing
benefits and making threats. But the United States has no theory of empire.
How can a democratic republic and an empire coincide? Once, this was an
interesting theoretical question. Now it is the burning -- but undiscussed --
question in American politics.
The issue is not whether this should happen. It is happening. The real issue,
apart from how all this plays out, is what effect it will have on the United States
as a whole. A global empire whose center is unsure of its identity, its purposes
and its moral justification is an empire with a center that might not hold.
As the obvious becomes apparent, this will become the focus of a pressing
debate in the United States.