The post could be book length, but it won’t be. That’s because in order to examine the notion of the US being an imperialist power, I don’t need more than a couple of paragraphs.
Glenn Greenwald (objecting to Drezner’s characterization of him as a “pacifist”) says case closed:
For those who actually understand what the term means, there is no reasonable ground for objecting to the term “imperial” to describe America’s role in the world. Even our Foreign Policy Community elites have begun acknowledging that we are acting as an empire and are openly debating the best forms of imperial management. And the seemingly endless string of military interventions over the last several decades under a whole slew of “justifications” leaves no doubt that we see ourselves as world rulers who violate sovereignty and use military force at will, whenever—as Drezner himself said—we perceive that it promotes our interests to do so. That is what an empire does, by definition.
As I have said in the past, the notion that the United States is a peaceloving nation is belied by the facts. Since Viet Nam, we have intervened in Grenada, Panama, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iraq again, and numerous air raids carried out against Ghaddafi, Saddam, and Slobodan MiloÅ¡eviÄ‡.
Trouble just seems to follow us around, I guess.
Actually, the use of military power does not necessarily make a nation “imperialistic.” Rather, the reasons for those interventions are what determines whether a nation is building or defending an “empire” or not. And in each intervention I listed, US motives for using military power could be defended as a response to chaos, tyranny, or despotism.
Face it, people. We are “it.” History, geography, and the efforts of our forefathers have all combined to make the United States a superpower. For most of our existence, we ignored our potential to dominate world affairs – even though we could have done so easily from the turn of the 20th century on. Even after World War II when our victorious armies in Europe and Asia could have remained in place and dominated those continents as they had never been before, we chose to bring the boys home and – unprecedented in world history – actually disarm.
From an army of 8 million men we contracted to just over a million by 1949. From an astonishing 80,000 planes at the end of the war, we barely had 5,000 by the end of the decade. The same with our 50,000 tanks that were reduced to 2,000. An 800 warship navy was cut to around 300.
Now, it would be a silly imperial power who would do such a thing. Of course, we had the bomb but it wasn’t clear at that time what kind of a military weapon the bomb might actually be. Until the Soviets got their very own nukes, Truman didn’t know quite what to do with the gadget. He used it as a threat but it is not clear if he would have followed through and made good on those threats. Nuclear doctrine did not mature until the early 1950’s. And when it did, reliance on conventional forces for almost all conflicts – save the Big One with Russia in Europe – was the accepted strategy of the US.
I give this little history lesson in order to make the point that even today when we are the only superpower with an $11 trillion economy producing nearly a quarter of all the goods and services on the planet and a pop culture that people can’t get enough of, by virtue of our size alone, we dominate the planet.
There are those who are uncomfortable with that fact. Perhaps you can give us all the benefit of your wisdom and tell us how we could stop “dominating” the planet without tearing our economy to shreds, destroying our culture, causing a worldwide economic catastrophe, and give free rein to every cutthroat, thug, maniac, and butcher who would then seek to take advantage of the fact that the only thing between them and their sick goals is the United Nations.
Oh, you can work around the edges of the problem. The US must work more within the international framework. Fine. Tell it to the people of Darfur where we have consistently tried to the get the United Nations to refer to what is happening there as “genocide” only to be rebuffed. We may yet be forced to intervene there considering the ongoing slaughter and because of every ineffectual and counterproductive thing the UN has done.
Perhaps you think we should radically disarm. Okay, for the sake of argument let’s cut our military by 90%. Just a few jets for air defense, a couple of divisions for homeland security, and perhaps a couple of ships to evacuate our citizens when the world inevitablly blows up. Happy? Good. And the next Tsunami that hits Indonesia or some other natural disaster that the world needs to tend to, we’ll fly a couple of UN bureaucrats out there to help with morale. Since that’s all the help victims of those disasters are going to get for a couple of weeks, let’s hope too many people don’t die because of it.
Nor should we worry about the little wars where the bigger neighbor will invade the smaller nation just because there’s no one there to stop them. The idea that UN sanctions would scare off any of these cutthroats is laughable.
What else? Get Hollywood to stop making crappy movies? Or maybe make it impossible for other countries to purchase our music, our movies, TV programs, and other manifestations of the most wildly popular cultural exchange in human history.
Now we’re where the Greenwalds of the world want us to be. No more of this runaway globalization, no more militarism. No more cultural dominance. Just the US taking its rightful place as subservient to the UN and other international bodies. Let the Europeans run the world. They’ve been doing it a long time and experience has to count for something.
I put it to you; for all our faults, foibles, stumbles, good and bad motives thrown in for good measure, the world cannot do without us as we are now. You can have a president that grovels before the UN or the EU. But that won’t change the fact that when the EU’s chestnuts are in the fire, they won’t turn to the French to bail them out. Love us, hate us, spit at us – you can’t ignore us.
Are we an imperialist power? The only people who seem to care are those who wish to call us “imperialists.” For the rest of the world, the US is a fact of life, a force of nature. And, I might add, a welcome sight when the boogyman is knocking at the door or Mother nature goes on a bender.
Can we do it while acting more humbly? Must we be so “arrogant?” Next tyrant we overthrow, we should be sure to apologize before having our military rip his regime a new one. Maybe that will satisfy those who see anything relevant at all in this stupid argument.