Liberal Imperialism: At a Time When It Can Answers to Urgent Questions, We Have Forgotten America's Long History of "Nation Building."

By Boot, Max | American Heritage, June-July 2002 | Go to article overview

Liberal Imperialism: At a Time When It Can Answers to Urgent Questions, We Have Forgotten America's Long History of "Nation Building."


Boot, Max, American Heritage


IN LATE JANUARY 2002 HAMID KARZAI, THE NEWLY INSTALLED leader of Afghanistan, visited Washington and New York. He received a standing ovation at the President's State of the Union address, and glowing press attention, in no small part because of his gentle demeanor and splendid attire. But he did not receive what he had come for, an enlarged U.S. peacekeeping presence in his war-torn country. President Bush turned him down cold, offering him economic aid, military aid, anything but what he really wanted: U.S. troops to patrol his country and bring peace to his people. America was not going to engage in "nation building," Bush declared.

This should have come as no surprise. To large segments of the Republican foreign policy establishment and the military, nation building became anathema in the 1990s, thanks to the debacle in Somalia so powerfully depicted in Black Hawk Down. During the 2000 presidential campaign, Condoleezza Rice, now Bush's national security adviser, complained that our troops had no business escorting children to kindergarten, a reference to the American peacekeeping role in Bosnia and Kosovo. Yet U.S. attempts at nation building--otherwise known as imperialism--long predate the Clinton administration.

The most successful examples are, of course, post-World War II Germany, Italy, and Japan. The U.S. Army helped transform three militaristic dictatorships into pillars of liberal democracy--one of the most important developments of the twentieth century. Critics of nation building argue that those examples aren't relevant to today's world, that Germany, Italy, and Japan were advanced industrialized nations that had some experience with the rule of law and democratic institutions. And besides, the United States made a very large, very long-term commitment to those countries, a commitment justified by their importance to the world, but one that can not be so urgent in small Third World countries like Afghanistan and Haiti.

Fair enough. Let's leave Germany, Italy, and Japan aside, and look at the U.S. peacekeeping record in what is now known as the Third World. Between the Spanish-American War and the Great Depression, the United States embarked on an ambitious attempt at "progressive" imperialism in the Caribbean, Central America, and the Pacific. Successive administrations, from McKinley to Wilson, were emboldened to act by a variety of concerns. There were strategic reasons (keeping foreign powers out of areas deemed vital to American interests, such as the Panama Canal Zone) and economic ones (expanding opportunities for American businesses in promising markets, such as China). Above all, there was the pull of "The White Man's Burden," the title of a famous poem written in 1899 by Rudyard Kipling in an attempt to persuade Washington to annex the Philippine islands.

The United States did annex the Philippines. It also occupied a number of territories that remain part of the United States to this day, under various legal guises: Samoa, Guam, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. A number of other places were occupied temporarily: in addition to the Philippines, the Panama Canal Zone, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and the Mexican city of Veracruz, the shortest occupation being that of Veracruz (seven months) and the longest that of the Canal Zone (almost a century). In the process the United States developed a set of colonial administrators and soldiers who would not have been out of place on a veranda in New Delhi or Nairobi. Men like Leonard Wood, the dashing former Army surgeon and Rough Rider, who went on to administer Cuba and the Philippines; Charles Magoon, a stolid Nebraska lawyer who ran the Panama Canal Zone and then Cuba during the second U.S. occupation (1906-09); and Smedley Butler, the "Fighting Quaker," a Marine who won two Congressional Medals of Honor in a career that took him from Nicaragua to China.

They were tough, colorful, resourceful operators who used methods not found in any training manual. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Liberal Imperialism: At a Time When It Can Answers to Urgent Questions, We Have Forgotten America's Long History of "Nation Building."
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.