The rulers of the United States rule over far more than you and me. They control and strongly influence many foreign rulers of dependent satellite countries. This extended rule makes our Presidents the powerful emperors of a vast Empire.
Changes in the person and party who occupy the Oval Office certainly affect the detailed course of the Empire, for history is made by individual decisions and acts. However, the basic inclination of many Americans and their rulers to sustain and expand the U.S. Empire, the disposition to international Empire, has held steady for over100 years. While some leaders are reluctant to extend American power, others are not. The net result, the major trend, is unmistakably greater American control. And before America’s international expansion began, the same tendency to expand appeared in the form of Manifest Destiny.
Against this background, Bush’s bloody invasion of Iraq is the latest of a lengthy list of conquests and invasions that have occurred over a long period of time. For example, President McKinley ordered U.S. soldiers to war against the people of the Philippines between 1899 and 1902. Estimates of native civilian deaths in that conflict range from 200,000 upwards.
Or consider the Middle East in the context of American Empire. Many Americans and certainly many American rulers have sided with the cause of Zionism and with Israel for over 100 years. The CIA overthrew Iran’s prime minister in 1953. American soldiers invaded Lebanon both in 1958 and in 1982—1984. Franklin Roosevelt began the close relationship with the royal family of Saudi Arabia in 1945. Saudi rulers have been top recipients of American military hardware for many years. America played a complex role during the Iraq-Iran War of 1980—1988. Extension of American power into the Middle East is nothing new.
Detailing America’s official political, military, financial and economic linkages to numerous countries is easy. So is documenting American intrusions, wars, operations, overt and covert. There is simply no question that our rulers are presiding over an Empire.
In World War II, the U.S. Empire, benefiting from the primary role played by the Soviet Union against Germany, defeated two other expansionist States, Japan and Germany. Thereafter, the American Empire mainly butted up against the Soviet Union until 1990.
The Cold War against communism provided a convenient ideological framework for the extension of American Empire. The real work beneath this cover occurred as our rulers built up a far-reaching set of institutions to implement the Empire. These include the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the U.S. military, NATO, SEATO, OAS, trade pacts, foreign aid, and so on.
The prime ideological enemy of the Empire in the 20th century was communism, with a diversion to fascism. Passions were aroused by viewing communism as a godless creed intent on world domination. Both ideology and religion are important in mobilizing sentiment against an enemy, even though they are not the root reasons for a conflict. Today Bush II compares the terrorist movement both to communism and to fascism and paints it as 100% evil or as an errant extremist religion. Every day some neoconservative column writes of Islamo-Fascism. These are appeals meant to stir passion. They are not reasons for the battle in Iraq and the coming conflicts in Syria and Iran. Those have to do with the expansion of Empire.
Our rulers are neither infallible nor all-powerful. They make mistakes and they must contend with competing powers. For example, they misread the nature of the conflicts in both Korea and Vietnam. Their errors destroyed the lives of many. These costly wars weakened the Empire. Even today, Korea remains a trouble spot that no American ruler wants to see flare up.
Empires are extended States. Within them are still the non-producers and the producers, the parasites and the hosts. Sometimes it is hard to tell one from the other. The parasitical rulers do not want to see their current supply of hosts shrink. They benefit from a bigger supply of hosts.
The key terms in understanding empires are (1) preservation (or security) and (2) gain (of power and wealth). Rulers are like anyone else. They think in terms of loss and gain. Self-preservation or security is prevention of loss. More power and wealth are gains.
Rulers, being men of power, think and act in terms of force and taking. They are alert to threats and inroads against their power. Conversely, they push their power against the weak spots of others in order to gain more power or wealth.
Rival empires are like competing neighborhood gangs. Just as gang leaders worry about their turf, emperors worry about, jostle and fight over border regions.
Although the members of a society and their rulers interact in complex ways, pushing against each other, the rulers have the upper hand. They wield the power. They lead. They control education, communication, and the military. They are usually more united than their disunited subjects.
It is an oversimplification to identify the actions of the rulers with the empire. The situation is far more complex. The established bureaucracy and apparatus of government play a big role. The defining limits of this apparatus are vague and may go outside the traditional ideas of government. They may include foundations, educators, consultants, corporations, doctors, entertainers, and journalists. There are always men who actually control or aim to control or compete to control the rulers. The official government rulers are also divided. Furthermore, the rulers have to control the population at large. Often they have to accede to its passions or the passions of some powerful or influential groups in society.
Although the actual and detailed picture is complex and ever-shifting, like the day-to-day fluctuations in weather, the overall climate of Empire remains constant. The weather maps focus on preservation and gain. There is no noble cause in all of this. Noble causes stem from the rhetoric of indoctrination, influence, and control over the minds of the hosts.
In 1996, William Kristol and Robert Kagan published "Toward a Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy." Much else in this article is wrong, but it did clearly state the goal of Empire or "America’s international role. What should that role be? Benevolent global hegemony. Having defeated the u2018evil empire,’ the United States enjoys strategic and ideological predominance. The first objective of U.S. foreign policy should be to preserve and enhance that predominance by strengthening America’s security, supporting its friends, advancing its interests, and standing up for its principles around the world."
Kristol and Kagan incorrectly thought that Clinton had not followed this objective, and they incorrectly construed this objective as contingent upon America’s recently acquired predominance. However, the fact is that America’s rulers had been following this foreign policy in one way or another for a hundred years. Kristol and Kagan wanted more Empire. With many like-minded functionaries in the Bush administration and with the occurrence of 9/11, their wishes have come true.
The benevolent hegemony of an American Empire is impossible. Being an (extended) State, an Empire uses force to rule, and imposed force acting upon innocent subjects is malevolent, not benevolent. Attacking the Iraqi people was not an act of American self-defense, any more than attacking the Philippine people was. "Standing up for its principles" is ideological cover for an act of brutal conquest.
The rulers of the United States have meddled in the Middle East for decades because they conceived such acts to maintain and extend the American Empire. Who controls and profits from the oil resources has been a paramount factor. There are always other reasons. There are those who support Israel for its own sake. There are those who support democracy for its own sake. Yet these are not fundamental. To our rulers, oil is a fundamental reason. If Israel did not exist, the U.S. would still be in the Middle East. If there were no oil in the Middle East, the region would still be of geopolitical concern.
The whole policy of controlling the Middle East for its oil is misconceived. It is beneficial to those oil companies who wish to ensure their profits, but it is of no benefit to consumers of oil. The Middle Eastern countries cannot eat their oil. Selling it on the world market is their natural course.
By controlling the region for so many years and siding with Israel, the U.S. has now succeeded in re-igniting an old Islamic force related to an older Islamic Empire. At present, this force is not especially strong by U.S. standards, but it is strong enough continually to cause a great deal of damage all over the world. It is buttressed by its own persuasive ideology and religion. It has plenty of potential recruits. It can over time develop or obtain highly destructive weapons, if it has not already done so. The American Empire is colliding with a nascent Islamic Empire that it catalyzed into being.
Emperors and rulers are prone to great blunders. Yet the power structures often survive because the losses are made good by the subjects. Bush went into Iraq on the theory that creating a pliant satellite would be easy and that the whole region could then be brought under firmer U.S. control. However, he has tied down American soldiers for years to come, exposed them to constant threat of death and injury, exacerbated the terrorist problem, created an expensive liability, raised the price of oil, impelled other countries like China to seek oil in places like Venezuela, encouraged smaller countries to seek atomic weapons, and set in motion political forces that involve every other country in the region. So far, there is no perceptible gain.
Kristol and Kagan envision a world in which American military might intimidates everyone else so much that "potential challengers are deterred before even contemplating confrontation…" They want Americans to search and destroy the world’s monsters, to wade into the international arena happily, cheerfully and with relish, to be thankful for the opportunity to bring peace to the world through military might. They want Americans to interfere anywhere and everywhere, in this way living up to their moral responsibilities with courage and honor. Kristol and Kagan write that "sitting atop a hill and leading by example becomes in practice a policy of cowardice and dishonor."
It is amazing that such nonsense could ever be swallowed or taken seriously, but this is the stuff of which Empires are made. This is the line of guff we have been fed for 100 years. Kristol and Kagan know this because they laud Theodore Roosevelt as an inspiration for Americans "to assume cheerfully the new international responsibilities."
Courage and honor belong to the human race, to be found abundantly in every part of the globe that human beings walk. Are Kristol and Kagan such immature fools that they think these virtues need to be demonstrated by force of arms? A woman’s devotion to her ailing husband is an act of courage and honor, the refusal of Rosa Parks to give up her seat on a bus is an act of courage, firemen entering smoke-filled buildings in which it is impossible even to see are acts of courage, scratching out a living against hard odds is an act of courage for millions of people. Living peacefully frequently involves both courage and honor.
If Kristol and Kagan understood courage, honor, and the human animal, they would realize that displays and exercise of might do not undermine the human spirit. They energize them to resist and fight back, even to the death. Might makes wrong. It has to because it oppresses and suppresses human rights.
States and Empires are not agents of morality and peace. They are instruments of force, disruption, disorder, death, dismemberment, and war instigated by those who rule them and command others. Peace is not brought by bombardment, shock and awe, and M2 .50-caliber machine guns.
Morality is not brought by a sword. Is this how Jesus influenced mankind?
Michael S. Rozeff [send him mail] is the Louis M. Jacobs Professor of Finance at University at Buffalo.