Naked Imperialism

By Foster, John Bellamy | Monthly Review, September 2005 | Go to article overview

Naked Imperialism


Foster, John Bellamy, Monthly Review


The global actions of the United States since September 11, 2001, are often seen as constituting a "new militarism" and a "new imperialism." Yet, neither militarism nor imperialism is new to the United States, which has been an expansionist power--continental, hemispheric, and global--since its inception. What has changed is the nakedness with which this is being promoted, and the unlimited, planetary extent of U.S. ambitions.

Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, insists that the "greatest danger" facing the United States in Iraq and around the world "is that we won't use all of our power for fear of the 'I' word--imperialism.... Given the historical baggage that 'imperialism' carries, there's no need for the U.S. government to embrace the term. But it should definitely embrace the practice." The United States, he says, should be "prepared to embrace its imperial rule unapologetically." If Washington is not planning on "permanent bases in Iraq ... they should be.... If that raises hackles about American imperialism, so be it" ("American Imperialism?: No Need to Run from the Label," USA Today, May 6, 2003). Similarly, Deepak Lal, James S. Coleman Professor of International Development Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, states: "The primary task of a Pax Americana must be to find ways to create a new order in the Middle East.... It is accusingly said by many that any such rearrangement of the status quo would be an act of imperialism and would largely be motivated by the desire to control Middle Eastern oil. But far from being objectionable, imperialism is precisely what is needed to restore order in the Middle East" ("In Defense of Empires," in Andrew Bacevich, ed., The Imperial Tense, 2003).

These views, although emanating from neoconservatives, are fully within the mainstream of U.S. foreign policy. Indeed, there is little dissent in U.S. ruling circles about current attempts to expand the American Empire. For Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay, senior fellows at the Brookings Institution, "the real debate ... is not whether to have an empire, but what kind" (New York Times, May 10, 2003). Michael Ignatieff, director of Harvard University's Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, states unequivocally: "This new imperialism ... is humanitarian in theory but imperial in practice; it creates 'subsovereignty,' in which states possess independence in theory but not in fact. The reason the Americans are in Afghanistan, or the Balkans, after all, is to maintain imperial order in zones essential to the interest of the United States. They are there to maintain order against a barbarian threat." As "the West's last military state" and its last "remaining empire," the United States has a responsibility for "imperial structuring and ordering" in "analogy to Rome.... We have now awakened to the barbarians.... Retribution has been visited on the barbarians, and more will follow" ("The Challenges of American Imperial Power," Naval War College Review, Spring 2003).

All of this reflects the realities of U.S. imperial power. In his preamble to the National Security Strategy of the United States, released in fall 2002, President George W. Bush declared that since the fall of the Soviet Union there was now "a single sustainable model for national success: freedom, democracy and free enterprise," as embodied concretely in U.S. capitalism. Any society that rejected the guidance of that model was destined to fail--and would, it was implied, be declared a security threat to the United States. The main body of the document that followed was an open declaration of Washington's goal of strategic dominance over the entire planet for the indefinite future. It announced U.S. intentions of waging "preemptive" (or preventive) war against nations that threatened or in the future could conceivably threaten U.S. dominance directly--or that might be considered a threat indirectly through dangers they posed to U. …

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