Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Empire Called 'America'

Gary Dorrien wrote four years ago in "Imperial Designs," an article in the journal CrossCurrents (he has also published a book by the same title), "most of the world has no doubt that the U.S. is an empire, but now it has plenty of doubt about the kind of empire that the U.S. wants to be."Americans, however, don't want to believe the United States is an empire.

That reluctance was underscored in a 2003 debate sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, between British historian and journalist Niall Ferguson and neoconservative foreign policy advisor Robert Kagan, a founder of the Project for a New American Century and a leading advocate of the American invasion of Iraq. Ferguson, author of the book COLOSSUS: THE PRICE OF AMERICAN EMPIRE, argued the affirmative, saying, after a brief survey of American military, economic, and cultural power, that from a British perspective "the only thing that is really quite remarkable about the American empire … is the fact that … [t]his is an empire in denial. It is an empire that refuses to acknowledge its own existence."

Kagan accepted Ferguson's description of the vastness of American power but rejected the word "empire" as a description, preferring "global power" or "hegemon." Colonies are the touchstone of empire, he said, and he argued that while America had an imperial past, "as American imperialism diminished, American power grew." There is a difference between being the world's greatest power, he suggested, and "a country that seeks to exercise dominion over others, which is what the true definition of empire is."

More recently, in his book THE RETURN OF HISTORY AND THE END OF DREAMS, Kagan continues to think about the world not in terms of empire but of power, suggesting that Americans both desire and rue their role: "Americans want what they want, and not just economic opportunity and security but also a world that roughly suits their political and moral preferences. They would naturally prefer not to pay a high price for such a world, however, and it is not only the financial price Americans would like to avoid, or even the cost in lives. It is also the moral price, the ethical burdens of power."

Read it all here.

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