Neocon Fantasies of Empire

From Mark Engler, AlterNet:”Two disastrous wars and the ECONOMIC meltdown have shaken America’s superpower status. What can Obama do to help shape a sustainable global order?…Not long ago, excitement over American IMPERIALISM reached levels not seen in a century. “People are coming out of the closet on the word ‘empire,’” the right-wing columnist Charles Krauthammer told The New York Times in early 2002. Neoconservatives were on the RISE in Washington, and their leading propagandists were not shy in making the case for aggressive expansionism. 

Wall Street Journal editor Max Boot, for instance, took issue with Pat Buchanan’s belief that the United States should be a “republic, not an empire.” “This analysis is exactly backward,” Boot wrote. “[T]he Sept. 11 attack was a result of insufficient American involvement and ambition; the solution is to be more expansive in our goals and more assertive in their implementation.”…s ince then, the world has experienced a CATASTROPHIC occupation in Iraq, and voters have ousted the Republican vanguard of the “War on Terror.” Overt defenders of imperialism have found good reason to CREEP BACK into their wardrobes. 

And that, of course, is to say nothing of the bursting of the housing bubble, the fall of Lehman, and the end of the hedge fund era. With unemployment rising and Wall Street shamed, we have entered a period of economic downturn acute enough to raise serious questions about the viability of U.S. power. The pressing issue today is: How will the economic crisis affect our country’s role in the world? Or, more bluntly: Is America’s empire FACING foreclosure?  The answer involves more than just quibbles over the semantics of U.S. dominance. Together, the FALLOUT from the imperial hubris of the Bush administration and the DISCREDITING  of the deregulated market fundamentalism that thrived even under Bill Clinton have opened new possibilities for RESHAPING the global order in the Obama years….The theory of imperial decline that has become standard over the past two decades is known as “overreach” or “overstretch.” Historian Paul Kennedy most famously described the concept in his 1988 book, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. Kennedy argued that, historically, dominant world powers doomed themselves by engaging in overseas adventures that drained their strength and strained their finances. His analysis, with its implication that the United States could well follow the pattern of past empires, proved influential. The TERM “imperial overstretch” quickly became a fixture in mainstream political discussion.

At the time, American conservatives fumed. They argued that the British-born professor was a doomsdayer who did not appreciate America’s unmatched power. When the Soviet Union collapsed and the American economy took off in the 1990s, they considered themselves vindicated. However, it APPEARS that Kennedy may yet have the last laugh. ..Today, the price tag on America’s global military posture looks more imposing than ever. .. “Once upon a time, you could TRACE the spread of imperialism by counting up colonies,” Chambers Johnson writes in his 2007 book, Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic. “America’s version of the colony is the military base.”…We must now ask: Can such HEGEMONY plausibly be maintained? On the objective level, President Bush made the STRAINS on empire more severe by occupying multiple countries and creating a need for more troops than the military could recruit….But even more significantly, Bush upped the political and economic costs of empire by ENGENDERING ill-will and resistance to the United States throughout the world. A key aspect of imperial overstretch is that it must be measured relatively. It depends not only on objective factors, like the size of the U.S. military, but also on how other international actors choose to respond to America’s foreign policy prerogatives. Ironically, as the neoconservative “imperial globalists” of the Bush administration placed ever more STOCK in America’s hard power, they only ended up demonstrating its impotence. In Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States has shown itself unable to create stability or suppress insurgency with its might. Like its failure in Vietnam, the FIASCO in the Middle East has EMBOLDENED opposition. The neocons dreamed of Iraq as a democratic ally and platform for U.S. power in the region. Instead, the country is now a symbol of the superpower’s weakness. …The United States, accustomed over the past 15 years to running a large current account deficit, has clearly been living beyond its means. While its bubble economy was expanding, the government relied on foreign investors to pay for its excessive military spending. And on the consumer level, families went into credit card debt and borrowed against the value of their homes to keep consuming. 

It was an UNSUSTAINABLE state of affairs, and most nations would never have been allowed to maintain it. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) would have railed against wanton economic mismanagement and warned creditors not to invest in that country unless the government promised sweeping reforms. Even without the institution’s influence, textbook economics holds that, on seeing such signs of economic weakness, investors would shy away from the country, its currency would fall, consumers would no longer be able to afford as many foreign goods, and the economy would undergo a necessary, if painful, “correction.” Financial hardship and DECLINING standards of living would logically prompt a country to scale back pricey involvements abroad.

Now that crisis has struck, it would seem that we are overdue for a tough reckoning with imperial costs….”



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