Tuesday, March 29, 2011
IMPERIALISM A LA MODE
I listened very carefully to Obama's speech about Libya last night. It was intelligent, careful, prudent, restrained, high-minded, and -- I thought -- admirably clear. In short, it is just about the best version we are going to get of American Imperialism. As I suggested yesterday, Obama's foreign policy is entirely continuous with the Imperial stance that America has adopted for the past two-thirds of a century. The United States, despite its economic troubles, bestrides the world like a colossus [if I may borrow a phrase from Shakespeare]. Its military power, unmatched in magnitude, flexibility, and efficiency, underwrites our imperialism in much the way that Britain's navy underwrote hers and Rome's legions hers. Obama proposes to wield that power with restraint, with intelligence, with international cooperation, and with determination both in defense of what we conceive to be our vital national interests and in pursuit of our collective policies, be they the opening of markets, the securing of friendly rulers in oil-laden lands, or even the protection of subject populations yearning to be free. As I have several times argued in this space, this imperial project is the shared commitment of every sector of the American political establishment, and of the vast majority of the American people as well. There is, I believe, no realistic prospect of America giving up this project until it is forced to do so by circumstances, as has happened sooner or later to every previous empire. I am not in principal opposed to a powerful, militarily dominant America, inasmuch as there will always be some nation or nations dominating the international scene. I would simply have liked America, when it ascended to this eminence, to use its power to advance the progressive and revolutionary interests of common people around the globe, rather than to undermine those interests while supporting dictators, tyrants, and religious fundamentalists. I would have liked this country to throw its support unreservedly behind Fidel Castro, so that he could create the socialist paradise he dreamed of for Cuba. I would have liked America to support Mossadegh, not assissinate him, to embrace Daniel Ortega, not plot to overthrow him. But I am well aware that there is not the slightest hint of popular or elite support in this country for a truly progressive use of our military power. Would it be better if we were to retire from the world scene, disband our enormous military-industrial-governmental complex, and maintain only enough military power to protect the country from genuine threats? That would certainly allow us to repair the economic damage of two thirds of a century of war-making and war-preparation, although I have no reason to believe that the vast funds thus freed up would be used for anything other than further enrichment of the super rich. Were we to adopt that course, we would then live in a world dominated by the Chinese, whose imperial ambitions are no less deeply rooted than ours. Would that be a better world? I honestly do not know. But these are idle speculations. The reality is that for at least another generation or two, America will be the dominant imperial power in the world [and there are no Jedi knights waiting on out of the way planets to step in and sort things out.] So I guess we are left with Obama's version of imperialism for the next two to six years. We shall have to wait and see how things work out.