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Empire ()

American imperialism? Please: The upside to the U.S. leaving Iraq is that it should quell the nonsensical talk about empire-building (Jonah Goldberg, October 25, 2011, LA Times)

Critics of U.S. foreign policy have long caterwauled about American "empire." The term is used as an epithet by both the isolationist left and right, as a more coldly descriptive term by such mainstream thinkers as Niall Ferguson and Lawrence Kaplan, and with celebratory enthusiasm by some foreign policy neoconservatives like Max Boot.

The charge in recent times has centered on the Middle East, specifically Iraq.

The problem is, contemporary America isn't an empire, at least not in any conventional or traditional sense.

Your typical empire invades countries to seize their resources, impose political control and levy taxes. That was true of every empire from the ancient Romans to the Brits and the Soviets.

That was never the case with Iraq. For all the blood-for-oil nonsense, if America wanted Iraq's oil it could have saved a lot of blood and simply bought it. Saddam Hussein would have been happy to cut a deal if we only lifted our sanctions. Indeed, the U.S. oil industry never lobbied for an invasion, but it did lobby for an end to sanctions. We never levied taxes in Iraq either. Indeed, we're left holding the tab for the liberation.

And we most certainly are not in political control of Iraq.

Queen Victoria's Secret: a review of EMPIRE: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power By Niall Ferguson. (Margaret MacMillan, NY Times Book Review)

The notion of empire can also be useful. The historian John Lewis Gaddis, for example, argues that empire, as the power that one type of people and society exercises over other, different, ones, is crucial to analyzing the cold war and indeed the workings of international relations. He is onto something, it seems to me, if only because the convenient fiction that governs relations among states at the diplomatic level -- that they are all independent and sovereign -- is so clearly at odds with reality. The United States and minuscule Guinea both sit on the United Nations Security Council but we all know which one counts.

In the cold war, although it somehow escaped the notice of much of the left, the Soviet Union had a very old-fashioned empire, with direct control of subject peoples. The United States had its empire as well -- the Western European countries, Israel, Canada, nations that largely but not entirely of their own volition decided to place themselves under American protection and leadership. 'Empire by invitation,' as one student of the period describes it.

Niall Ferguson goes even farther. A young British historian who has made a name for himself with masterly studies of banking and finance, as well as an iconoclastic account of World War I in which he contended that Britain would have been much better off to have stayed out, he argues here that empires can be a positive force. They can provide the necessary framework in which good things, from globalization to uncorrupt government, happen. He has little patience with liberal guilt about imperialism or the exercise of power. The time has come, he asserts, for the United States to think seriously about swallowing its deeply ingrained distaste for colonies and take up, well, if not the white man's burden, then that of the civilized world.

His model is the British Empire. True, the slave trade was appalling, the hunting down of aborigines in Tasmania genocide. On the other hand, the British Empire spread wealth and technology. It allowed the free movement of capital and labor.

As it happens, I just finished reading Mr. Ferguson's book and it seems to me that Mr. Gaddis's standard for what constitutes an empire could provide some much needed clarity both to the author and to Mr. Goldberg. Remove the notion of day-to-day exercise of governance and substitute the more basic notion of the exercise of power over peoples and nations and it is pretty inarguable that America is an empire. For example, Iraq today has a form of government that we find acceptable as a result of our having removed one that we found unacceptable. We, of course, believe that in choosing to ape our popular sovereignty model the Iraqis have been swayed by the power of our ideas, but the deeper reality, contrary to Mr. Goldberg's assertion, is that were they to decide to adopt an Islamicist model we'd remove that regime too.

As Ms MacMillan notes, Mr. Ferguson, in his book, seeks to absolve Britain of the downsides of imperialism by celebrating the upsides--the exportation of the Anglospheric model to the colonies. But then he frets about America supposedly not embracing its role as inheritor of the British imperial mantle. In point of fact, American history is little more than the story of the extension of the Anglospheric model to every corner of the globe. We just happen to have effected this with less of the downside baggage than the Mother country did. So, rather than governing Iraq as a colony for a hundred years, before being shamed into leaving--a la Britain in India--we stayed only so long as needed to establish stability. And not only did the Iraqis adopt our system but the example of replacing a dictatorship with democracy has spread like wildfire across the region. In the end, our empire is just as powerful as ever the British was, if not moreso. The absence of a Foreign Service bureaucracy to administer that empire is a mark of strength, not one of weakness.


Grade: (B)


See also:

Niall Ferguson (4 books reviewed)
Niall Ferguson Links:
    -Dr. Niall Ferguson (Oxford)
    -EXCERPT : Chapter One of The Pity of War : The Myths of Militarism
    -EXCERPT : Tommy's Revenge from Pity of War
    -EXCERPT : First Chapter of Ferguson, Niall: The Cash Nexus: Money and Power in the Modern World, 1700-2000
    -EXCERPT : Chapter One of House of Rothschild
    -ESSAY: The Empire Slinks Back (NIALL FERGUSON, April 27, 2003, NY Times Magazine)
    -ESSAY: The True Cost of Hegemony: Huge Debt (NIALL FERGUSON, April 20, 2003, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: Europe's Response to Iraq Reflects an Old Rift (NIALL FERGUSON, February 23, 2003, NY Times)
    -ESSAY : 2011 (Niall Ferguson, December 2, 2001, NY Times Magazine)
    -VIDEO LECTURE : Why the World Wars were Won (Niall Ferguson, Boxmind)
    -RESPONSE : Niall Ferguson responds to a review of Pity of War by Jay Winter in Reviews in History
    -ESSAY : War - what is it good for? (Niall Ferguson, Financial Times)
    -ESSAY : Millennium Reputations : Which are the most overrated authors, or books, of the past 1,000 years? Continuing our series, the historian Niall Ferguson nominates Max Weber  (booksonline uk)
    -ESSAY : The anarchists are wrong, but they ask the right questions (Niall Ferguson, Daily Telegraph)
    -ESSAY : The Birthday Boys (Niall Ferguson, Daily Telegraph)
    -ESSAY : Scotland the Disunited   (Niall Ferguson, Daily Telegraph)
    -ESSAY : Has Cash Had Its Chips ?  (Management Today, February 01 2001 by Niall Ferguson)
   -REVIEW : of  Hitler 1936-45: Nemesis by Ian Kershaw  A magisterial biography which lays bare Hitlerís morbid psyche  (Niall Ferguson, Books Online UK)
    -REVIEW: of The Invention of Peace: Reflections on War and International Order by Michael Howard Peace in our time, almost: Democracy is the best form of defence against global conflict (Niall Ferguson, Books Online UK)
    -REVIEW : Troublemaker: The Life and History of A. J. P. Taylor by Kathleen Burk (Niall Ferguson, Books Online UK)
    -REVIEW : of Frozen Desire: An Inquiry into the Meaning of Money by James Buchan and  The Real Meaning of Money by Dorothy Rowe (Niall Ferguson, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW : of Kitchener by John Pollock (Niall Ferguson, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW : of The Invention of Peace: Reflections on War and International Order by Michael Howard  (Niall Ferguson, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW : of  A Future Perfect: The Challenge and Hidden Promise of Globalisation by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge (Niall Ferguson, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW : of The Battle by Richard Overy (Niall Ferguson, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW : of The Faustian Bargain: The Art World In Nazi Germany by Jonathan Petropoulos (Niall Ferguson, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW : of The Nazi Terror: Gestapo, Jews and Ordinary Germans by Eric Johnson (Niall Ferguson, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW : of  Facing the Extreme: Moral Life in the Concentration Camps by Tzvetan Todorov (Niall Ferguson, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW : of To the Bitter End: The Diaries of Victor Klemperer 1942-1945 (Niall Ferguson, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW : of Hitler's Airwaves by Horst J. P. Bergmeier (Niall Ferguson, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW : of Ethics and Extermination: Reflections on Nazi Genocide by Michael Burleigh (Niall Ferguson, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW : of The Great Wave: Price Revolutions and the Rhythm of History by David Hackett
 Fischer (Niall Ferguson, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW : of We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History by John Lewis Gaddis (Niall Ferguson, Daily Telegraph)
    -INTERVIEW : Audio Special: Niall Ferguson interviewed by Bill Goldstein  (NY Times)
    -PROFILE : The History Man (Daily Telegraph)
    -PROFILE : Dial-a-don : Niall Ferguson is prolific, well-paid and a snappy dresser. Stephen Moss hated him - at least until he spent an hour being charmed in the historian's Oxford study (Guardian Unlimited, March 1, 2001)
    -PROFILE : Robert Fulford's series about Niall Ferguson (The National Post, March 14, 2001)
    -ESSAY : Pop Historians : Since 1945 Britain has bred a disproportionate number of readable historians.  Following AJP Taylor, the line between historian and journalist has blurred.  But has the new post-cold war generation, led by Niall Ferguson, taken too literally the claim that history is good "box office"? (Daniel Johnson, Prospect)
    -ESSAY : A History of the 20th Century (Jude Wanniski, Polyconomics)
    -PROFILE : Fighting Blackadder (Desmond Christy, October 30, 1999, The Guardian)
    -ARCHIVES : "niall ferguson" (Find Articles)
    -ARCHIVES : "niall ferguson" (Mag Portal)
    -ARCHIVES : "niall ferguson" (Guardian Unlimited)
    -ARCHIVES : "niall ferguson" (booksonline uk)
    -REVIEW : of Pity of War (Jay Winter, Review in History)
    -RESPONSE : to Jay Winter (Niall Ferguson, Reviews in History)
    -REVIEW : of The Pity of War by Niall Ferguson (V. R. Berghahn, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of The Pity of War (Chris Patsilelis, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW : Aug 12, 1999 Paul Kennedy: In the Shadow of the Great War, NY Review of Books
               The First World War by John Keegan
               The Pity of War by Niall Ferguson
    -REVIEW : of The Pity of War (Donald Kagan, Commentary)
    -REVIEW : of The Pity of War by Niall Ferguson and First World War by John Keegan : Was World War I Necessary (Keith Windschuttle, New Criterion)
    -REVIEW : of The Pity of War by Niall Ferguson and The First World War by John Keegan (National Review,  David Gress, National Review)
    -REVIEW : of The Pity of War by Niall Ferguson and First World War by John Keegan (The New Leader,  Roger Draper)
    -REVIEW : of THE PITY OF WAR: Explaining World War I, by Niall Ferguson. (Andrew J. Bacevich, Wilson Quarterly)
    -REVIEW : of The Pity of War, by Niall Ferguson (Christopher Hartwell, Intellectual Capital)
    -REVIEW: Was the Great War Necessary?: The Pity of War, by Niall Ferguson (Benjamin Schwarz, The Atlantic)
    -REVIEW : of The Pity of War (Andrew Cockburn, Washington Monthly)
    -REVIEW: Robert Jervis reviews The Pity of War by Niall Ferguson (Political Science Quarterly)
    -REVIEW : of Pity of War (Todd R. Laughman , History Net)
    -REVIEW : of Pity of War (Tamara Vishkina)
    -REVIEW : of Pity of War (Lieutenant-Colonel Bernd Horn, Canadian Military Journal)
    -REVIEW : of Pity of War (RJQ Adams, History Cooperative)
    -REVIEW : of Pity of War (John J. Reilly , Alternative History)
    -REVIEW : of The Pity of War (Marc B. Haefele, LA Weekly)
    -REVIEW : of Pity of War (Contemporary Review,  James Munson)
    -REVIEW : of Pity of War (The Historian, Paul W. Schroeder)
    -REVIEW : of Pity of War (The English Historical Review,  Brian Bond)
    -REVIEW : of Pity of War (John H. Maurer, American Diplomacy)
    -REVIEW : of The Pity Of War: Explaining World War I (Bill Steigerwald., Pittsburgh Post-Gazzette)
    -REVIEW : of The Pity of War by Niall Ferguson and First World War by John Keegan (RICK HARMON , Oregon Live)
    -REVIEW : of The Pity of War by Niall Ferguson (Jwnnifer Mediano, Mindjack)
    -REVIEW : of Pity of War (Tim Travers, Parameters : US Army War College Quarterly)
    -REVIEW : of Pity of War (Bridge Colby , Harvard Salient)
    -REVIEW : Nov 4, 1999 Jason Epstein: Always Time to Kill, NY Review of Books
               Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege, 1942-1943 by Antony Beevor
               Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in
               Poland by Christopher R. Browning
               Zhukovís Greatest Defeat: The Red Armyís Epic Disaster in Operation
               Mars, 1942 by David M. Glantz and with German translations by
               Mary E. Glantz
               An Intimate History of Killing: Face-to-Face Killing in
               Twentieth-Century Warfare by Joanna Bourke
               The Sorrow of War: A Novel of North Vietnam by Bao Ninh
               Hitler, 1889-1936: Hubris by Ian Kershaw
               Hitlerís Army: Soldiers, Nazis, and War in the Third Reich by Omer
               The Iliad by Homer and translated by Robert Fagles
               The First World War by John Keegan
               The Pity of War by Niall Ferguson
    -REVIEW: of The Pity of War (Chris Patsilelis, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW : Dec 16, 1999 Robert Skidelsky: Family Values , NY Review of Books
               The House of Rothschild: The Worldís Banker, 1849-1999 by Niall Ferguson
               The House of Rothschild: Moneyís Prophets, 1798-1848 by Niall Ferguson
    -REVIEW : of THE HOUSE OF ROTHSCHILD Money's Prophets, 1798-1848. By Niall Ferguson (Geoffrey Wheatcroft , NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of The House of Rothschild The World's Banker, 1849-1999. By Niall Ferguson (Sylvia Nasar, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of THE HOUSE OF ROTHSCHILD: Money's Prophets, 1798-1848 By Niall Ferguson (JOSEPH MANDEL, Business Week)
    -REVIEW : of  THE HOUSE OF ROTHSCHILD: The World's Banker, 1849-1999 (Business Week)
    -REVIEW : of Virtual History: Alternatives and Counterfactuals ed by Niall Ferguson (Blair Worden, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW : of THE CASH NEXUS Money and Power in the Modern World,1700-2000. By Niall Ferguson. (David P. Calleo, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Cash Nexus by Niall Ferguson (Jennifer M. Welsh, National Post)
    -REVIEW : of Cash Nexus by Niall Ferguson (Frank McLynn, Independent uk)
    -REVIEW : of Cash Nexus (Christopher Fildes, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW : of THE CASH NEXUS: MONEY AND POWER IN THE MODERN WORLD 1700-2000. By Niall Ferguson (The Economist)
    -REVIEW : of The Cash Nexus (New Statesman, John Gray)
    -REVIEW: of Empire by Niall Ferguson (Max Hastings, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of Empire by Niall Ferguson (Jonathan Sumption, The Spectator)
    -REVIEW: of Empire by Niall Ferguson (Michiko Kakutani, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Empire (Farhad Manjoo, Salon)

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