Carving Up the Pie On a Post-Colonial Planet
American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of U.S. Diplomacy
by Andrew J. Bacevich
Harvard University Press (2002)
Review by Richard Cummings
The rantings by American pundits such as Thomas Friedman, as well as by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, about the irrelevancy and spoiler role of the garlic eating, wine-quaffing nation of France misses the point entirely. All the talk about the meaning of perfidious, the passion to be at the center of the world that can never be fulfilled, and how India, and not France, belongs on the Security Council, fails to take into consideration that France is a country with a gigantic economy, with huge companies with vast resources that are gobbling up banks in the west of the United States and various enterprises elsewhere around the globe. And even as word spreads about the inevitability of the American empire, Air Bus has overtaken Boeing in international sales.
Perhaps Brecht would have understood the current situation with regard to Iraq best. Bush wants the lion's share of the Iraqi spoils for America (the correct meaning of "the lion's share" is all of it, not the biggest portion,), but France and Russia have prior claims, by virtue of contracts they entered into with the government of Saddam Hussein, if in violation of the embargo. After all, Haliburton and Dick Cheney had no problem doing business with Saddam Hussein's Iraq, so why not France? They want those contracts recognized after Saddam falls, not some vague promise that the oil fields will be held in trust. The French and Russians have dealt with the Americans long enough to know that such a promise is as ephemeral as the dew on the Texas grass. Which is precisely why they have enlisted the Germans to join with them to create obstacles to Bush's plans for a second Security Council resolution allowing him to give the go-ahead to Rumsfeld to pull the trigger.
The issue at stake is how does one define the empire that rules the planet earth. DeGaulle envisioned the resurrection of the Holy Roman Empire, with an alliance of France and Germany at its head, to counter the power of America once the Soviet threat was eliminated. The ever expanding European Union is now courting Russia as an ally, to gain access to the vast mineral wealth of the Central Asian republics that were once part of the old Soviet empire, and where America is now playing the new Great Game to win control of the oil and gas. There is no pretense in this game that human rights count. All of the Central Asian republics are brutal dictatorships. In Uzbekistan, they have a prison so vile it is know as "the place from which no one returns." Don't tell that to Jeff Goldblum, the star of a new movie about the Uzbeks leading the glorious fight against Al Queda.
Before France agrees to abstain in the Security Council, along with Russia, it will extract from Bush more than an empty promise. Bush will have to sign in blood that France will get its fair share of the spoils, and that Russia will also be present at the table, not just America and Britain, which Tony Blair has defined as America's pet rock in the imperial stakes. Otherwise, America will have to act in the face of a Security Council resolution that could upset the American game plan, or at least, force it to veto what the rest of the world not totally corrupted by cynicism, would perceive as a last ditch effort to stop a bloody war that would destroy the United Nations as a legitimate vehicle for international discourse and the enforcement of international law. In any event, what is at play is a dynamic that has thrown the entire field of post-colonial studies into the junk heap of history, as imperialism is resurrected with bravado. American anti-colonialism was always a mask to win support of Third World countries from Soviet and Chinese inspired Communist revolution. Once that menace was defeated, it was not long before America stripped itself of that mask as evidenced by the new National Security Strategy, which purports to allow no other country or alliance of countries from usurping America's role as the sole super power on earth.
It is just this Pax Americana that Andrew Bacevich analyses with such panache and graceful erudition in his startlingly daring work, American Empire — The Realities and Consequences of U.S. Diplomacy. Bacevich comes to this self-appointed task as a product of West Point and after a career in the American military. Armed with a Ph.D. from Princeton, he began to rethink the orthodoxy of Cold War history as set forth by George Kennan, as a professor of international relations at Boston University and as the Director of its Center for International Relations. He has produced a work of seminal importance that rises to the level of a "must read" for anyone concerned with the role of America in the world.
To cut to the chase, it is Bacevich's thesis that the American empire was no accident; that it was the product of a concerted effort arising from a vision that goes back to the so-called Founding Fathers. In resurrecting the works of two revisionist American historians, Charles Beard and William Appleman Williams, Bacevich acknowledges that much of what has been written about the Cold War has missed the essential truth that America was on the course of empire as a result of concerted and conscious policy decisions, using every excuse it could get its hands on, including two world wars, to expand its global reach. Using preemptive strikes under false pretenses when necessary, as with Spain, to annex the Spanish empire, to delaying entry into global conflicts long enough so potential competitors would be weakened, and then coming to the rescue to clean up the mess and collect the spoils as the unchallenged leader of the world, American became what it always longed to be, the new Rome.
Bacevich sees American involvement in the Balkans in the same light, as well as in its role in the Gulf War under Bush the Elder. "As a feat of arms, the American-led victory in Desert Storm might qualify as the most overblown achievement since the U.S. Navy, nearly a century before, handily dispatched a rickety Spanish fleet in Manila Bay," he writes. "Like Admiral Dewey's storied victory, Desert Storm appears in retrospect far less momentous than it seemed at first blush while giving rise to outcomes far different from and more problematic than those anticipated when the smoke of battle first cleared. Above all — and contrary to expectations — the liberation of Kuwait, like the naval action off Manila ended up being decidedly peripheral to the era that it inaugurated."
Exploding the myth of a liberal conservative dichotomy with regard to the American imperial enterprise, Bacevich makes it clear that Bill Clinton was as much a part of this project as the Bushes, attempting only to put a human face on the empire. At that, he pulled the plug on a human rights condition for aid to Colombia, the site of a Marxist insurrection that is likely to become into American's next Vietnam.
Bacevich concludes: "The question that urgently demands attention — the question that Americans can no longer afford to dodge — is not whether the United States has become an imperial power. The question is what sort of Empire they intend theirs to be. For policy makers to persist in pretending otherwise — to indulge in myths of American innocence or fantasies about unlocking the secrets of history — is to increase the likelihood that the answers they come up with will be wrong. That way lies not just the demise of the American empire but great danger for what used to be known as the American republic."
But, of course, as the rise and fall of the Roman Empire teaches us, empire and the republic are incompatible, just as global intervention and free market economics cannot ultimately be reconciled. As they like to say in New Hampshire, "Live free or die."
February 11, 2003
Richard Cummings [send him mail] taught international law at the Haile Selassie I University and before that, was Attorney-Advisor with the Office of General Counsel of the Near East South Asia region of U.S.A.I.D, where he was responsible for the legal work pertaining to the aid program in Israel, Jordan, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is the author of a new novel, The Immortalists, as well as The Pied Piper — Allard K. Lowenstein and the Liberal Dream, and the comedy, Soccer Moms From Hell. He holds a Ph.D. in Social and Political Sciences from Cambridge University and is a member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers.
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