Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Day the Empire Struck Back

(This article was originally written in 2002)

Make note of the date September 20, 2002. Historians will surely mark it as a seminal moment in our new century. On that date an old debate ended, and a new one began.

For the past decade analysts have been debating the question whether the United States would follow the course of former powerful states such as Britain and Rome and proclaim itself an empire. In "The National Security Strategy of the United States", submitted to the U.S. Congress by President George W. Bush on September 20, the White House espouses a doctrine that is explicitly imperialist.

The document envisions a world in which the United States will enjoy permanent military dominance over all countries, allies and potential foes alike. Indeed, in its sweeping declaration that the U.S. "has no intention of allowing any foreign power to catch up with the huge lead the United States has opened since the fall of the Soviet Union", the distinction between friends and foes becomes much less important than it was in the past.

The United States now spends as much on its military as all the other countries in the world combined spend on their militaries. According to the Bush document, the U.S. military will "be strong enough" to dissuade any potential challenger from "pursuing a military buildup in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States."

The meaning of the doctrine is clear. It dashes the aspirations of those who had hoped that the world was moving toward a system of international law that would allow for the peaceful resolution of conflicts, through covenants and courts. In place of this, a single power that shuns covenants and courts has proclaimed that it intends to dominate the world militarily, intervening pre-emptively where necessary to exorcise threats.

Through the decades of the Cold War, the United States portrayed itself as first among equals, the leader of the Free World. Its doctrine rested on the proposition that through containment and deterrence, the U.S. and its allies could prevent aggression by hostile states. The new doctrine consigns containment and deterrence to the dustbin, and with them the notion of the United States as first among equals. Instead for the first time in a formal statement of U.S. policy, the United States is portrayed as standing above all other states. Its role, as guardian of a global system in which the United States is at the centre, is conceptualized as being of a higher order than the roles played by all other states. It is this feature of the doctrine that makes it explicitly imperialist.

Throughout its history, the United States has sought to influence others through its values, its culture, and the way of life of its people. Americans have never seen themselves as a militaristic people. Now though, the U.S. government is resting its claim to global power on military might and that puts the Americans in the company of the Roman Emperors and their legions. To be sure, the Bush document displays a fine Orwellian touch when it proclaims that the United States will not use its power to seek "unilateral advantage". The ninety five per cent of humanity that is non-American is to be lulled into accepting the benefits of "a distinctly American internationalism." Those who are not pacified will have to contend with the American legions, legions that will strike pre-emptively, long before a threat to American interests is allowed to develop.

The coming U.S. assault on Iraq will be the first case in which the new American doctrine will be acted on. Those who have suggested in these pages, that the Iraq adventure is in a unique category, having to do with the unique evil of Saddam Hussein, need to read the new Bush doctrine. It’s all there in black and white.

Today, it may very well be true that there is not much the rest of the world can do about America’s military might. But former imperial powers who have proclaimed their right to dominate others have ended up creating adversaries who multiply faster than the means to control them. However comfortable the yoke that is offered, people won’t accept it over the long term. Those who want a world in which no power is supreme and which laws and covenants are used to settle conflicts will begin a new debate---about how to contend with imperial America.

Americans may live to rue September 20, 2002, the day they turned in the old Republic for a new global empire.

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