An Empire in All but Name

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), June 6, 2004 | Go to article overview

An Empire in All but Name


Byline: MALCOLM RIFKIND

Colossus by Niall Ferguson Allen Lane [pounds sterling]20 .[pounds sterling]16 (0870 165 0870) The American columnist Walter Lippman wrote of the United States in 1926: 'We continue to think of ourselves as a kind of great, peaceful Switzerland, whereas we are in fact a great, expanding world power.' If that was true 80 years ago, it is even truer today. Since the end of the Cold War and the defeat and disintegration of the Soviet Union, America has become the sole world superpower. Indeed, such is its extraordinary military might, combined with its wealth and political clout, that it has been dubbed a super-dooper power.

We have to go back to the time of the Roman Empire at its height for another period when one nation bestrode the world like a colossus, with no serious competitor in sight.

This underlies the central thesis of Niall Ferguson's challenging and provocative new book. He maintains that President Bush presides over an American Empire that has been growing for 100 years and is a worthy successor to the empires of the past, including our own British Empire.

Of course, Americans have not seen themselves in that way. Their republic was founded by throwing off the shackles of the British in 1776, and since then they have been the champions of freedom and liberty everywhere.

Franklin Roosevelt undoubtedly believed this and made clear to Churchill that the United States was not fighting Hitler in order to preserve Britain's colonies and empires.

During the Suez Crisis in 1956, Eisenhower sided with Nasser and the Third World and forced Britain and France to withdraw their forces.

But as Ferguson makes clear, American history is not the same as American rhetoric.

The original 13 colonies first made an empire in North America by subjugating the American Indians. They then occupied Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the Philippines, as well as small islands in the West Indies and the Pacific.

However, the American Empire has been different from those of Europe.

Britain measured its power by the amount of the world's map that was coloured pink. The French, Dutch and other Europeans did the same with their colours.

The Americans, for their part, rarely established colonies or imposed direct rule except for short periods. …

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