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The Problems Of Superpower; Bush Is No Emperor; Some Say The American Troops Swarming Iraq Are The Vanguard Of Imperialism. They're Wrong. So Far… Liberation Of Philippines Raises Concerns About Iraq

The Problems Of Superpower; Bush Is No Emperor; Some Say The American Troops Swarming Iraq Are The Vanguard Of Imperialism. They're Wrong. So Far.

Anthony Pagden

Anthony Pagden is professor of political science and history at UCLA and the author of "Peoples and Empires" (Modern Library).

14 November 2004
Copyright © 2004 Los Angeles Times. All rights reserved.

In the 1960s, as Europe's once-proud empires shed their remaining colonies, "empire" became a dirty word. The Soviet Union alone was one, and an evil one at that. Only enemies of the United States used the slanderous term against this country and its "imperialist" policies.

Long before American troops' well-televised push into Fallouja, however, things had begun to change.

Books with titles such as "The Sorrows of Empire," "America's Inadvertent Empire," "Resurrecting Empire" and "The Obligation of Empire" appeared almost daily, offering positions both for and against.

Influential journalists, including Robert Kaplan, have likened the U.S. to Rome in its struggle with Carthage. Historians such as Niall Ferguson and, in a more muted tone, Michael Ignatieff (one British, the other Canadian) have pointed to parallels with the British empire -- which they suggest the U.S. do more to emulate.

In short, at a time when there is again but one remaining empire, the term's respectability has been revived.

But is the U.S. really an empire?

Of course, the U.S. often acts like former imperial powers, and its leaders sometimes sound like them. "If we have to use force, it is because we are America," Madeleine Albright, then the secretary of State, declared in 1998. "We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall. We see further into the future."

No Roman consul could have put it better.

Like any great empire, the U.S. has client states and subservient allies. It also has a string of military bases around the globe, which some see as a global empire. But if military power alone were all that was needed to be an empire, neither Rome nor Britain, both of which relied on foreign-born troops to do their fighting, would have qualified.

Although it is stylish these days to speak of a Pax Americana, 21st century America bears not the slightest resemblance to ancient Rome, and very little to 19th century Britain. It has no significant overseas settler populations in any of its 14 formal dependencies, as all previous European empires had, and no obvious desire to acquire any. It does not conceive the control it exercises beyond its borders as constituting a form of citizenship, as nearly all European, and many Asian, empires did. It exercises no direct rule anywhere outside these areas. And it has always attempted to extricate itself as swiftly as possible from anything that looks as if it were about to develop into even indirect rule.

Nineteenth century British imperialist Cecil Rhodes once said that he would colonize the stars if he could. Today in the U.S., it is hard to imagine even Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz harboring such desires.

There is one similarity between the American, British and Roman empires. All claim to be shouldering some version of what Rudyard Kipling famously called the "white man's burden." For the U.S., this has meant democracy. But even this analogy will not stand for long.

"An empire," declared the Roman historian Livy at the end of the 1st century BC, "remains powerful so long as its subjects rejoice in it." When the Roman empire fell, it was not destroyed by rebellious subjects but by nomadic tribesmen eager to acquire what they did not have and could not produce.

The British, with rather less success, tried to impose what Lord Macaulay in 1833 called "better government ... European knowledge and European institutions." That is not far from what George W. Bush calls "freedom."

The difference -- and it is crucial -- is that the British sought to impose it upon peoples who were assumed neither to understand nor to desire what they were being offered. One day, it was hoped, the subject peoples would come round, as Macaulay put it, to "demanding" a European constitution, and this in his view would be "the proudest day in English history." But until that day dawned, the English would remain firmly in place.

The U.S., however, assumes that everyone understands freedom and democracy and that most appreciate the opportunity to embrace these ideals. Remove those who don't -- those who stand to lose in a democracy -- and everything will sort itself out for the best.

The most severe criticism of the current administration focuses on its belief in this "naive" view. Antagonists complain that the U.S. always attempts to install a type of government compatible with peace and prosperity, without ever considering the stability, much less the long-term consequences, of such "regime changes." As a result, it has left behind it a trail of botched imperial projects. Its more robust ancestors, this argument goes, would have stayed around, providing the manpower, money and administrative skills needed to complete the task.

Kipling wrote his famous paean to imperialism in 1899 after the U.S. took over the Philippines following the Spanish-American War.

... Take up the White Man's burden

And reap his old reward:

The blame of those ye better,

The hate of those ye guard ...

His purpose was to scold the U.S. into assuming its thankless yet proper -- imperial -- place among the "Anglo-Saxon" peoples, a role for which, in his view, it was showing insufficient enthusiasm.

But unlike ancient Rome or 19th century Britain, the U.S. was and is a liberal democracy. It has been incapable through its entire (if brief) history of creating colonies, as all empires have necessarily done, even if these places were finally destined for self-determination as Western-style democracies.

Even so resolute an imperialist as Teddy Roosevelt could not finally imagine turning Cuba or the Philippines into colonies. When the U.S. has brought states under its control, it has incorporated them into the nation as a sovereign body (Hawaii, Alaska) or returned them to their native rulers (Cuba, the Philippines).

Colonialism is unacceptable partly because the U.S. came into existence by an anti-colonial revolt and, even during 1898, when the U.S. came as close as it has ever done to acquiring an overseas empire, most Americans claimed to look upon empire-building as a matter for Europeans. It is unacceptable also because colonization, especially when there are large native populations to be controlled, inevitably require sharing some sovereignty with them. This is how the Romans ruled their empire, and it is how the British governed India.

The U.S., however, cannot do this because to do so would be to menace the integrity of the nation by, in effect, creating different levels of citizenship. The major exception to this rule is, of course, Puerto Rico. But the continuing debate about what to do with this commonwealth and the fact that everyone sees Washington's relation to the island as an anomaly prove the rule.

At present, the U.S. is, in practice, dividing sovereignty with the Iraqi government because it controls such armed forces as exist. But unlike the British in 1918, Bush clearly has no desire to transform Iraq into a colony. Hence the Bush administration's insistence, despite evidence to the contrary, that the Iraqi government is in control, will soon be fully democratic and has a large measure of popular support.

If circumstance compels the U.S. to prolong its presence and increase the size of what is, in effect, an army of occupation, then Washington may soon see a need to transform Iraq into a colony or at least what the British called a "protectorate," because the only alternative is inconceivable: making Iraq the 51st state.

Americans should reject any such notions. When either detractors or defenders of American foreign policy represent the U.S. as an expansionist empire imposing some latter-day version of the "white man's burden" on the world, they are not just being historically misleading. They are courting political danger.

As Alexis de Tocqueville warned prophetically of France's invasion of Algeria in 1830, no nation can acquire an empire without finding itself radically transformed. Rome was a republic when it acquired its empire. It ended its days as a tyranny.

The same fate is unlikely to overtake the United States. Still, it is unwise to encourage Bush administration policymakers, who should be playing the part of Brutus -- the defender of republican liberty -- to see themselves as Caesar.

The U.S. is not an empire. If a new American Empire became a reality, liberal democracy -- and the U.S., for all its faults, is still the best representative of this ideal -- would be truly at risk.

Liberation Of Philippines Raises Concerns About Iraq

David Vaida is an attorney in Allentown.

27 September 2004
Copyright © 2004 The Morning Call. All rights reserved.

Though the exact definition of freedom is somewhat elusive, and we can sometimes get ourselves caught in the morass of trying to explain the difference between ''freedom'' and ''license,'' most people have an intuitive idea of what we are talking about. It is primarily a political aspiration, as in ''we are free to choose our leaders.'' It also has a personal component, which Bertrand Russell articulated in his usual pithy fashion as ''the absence of obstacles in the realization of our desires.'' Of course, the touchstone of our understanding was given to us by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence: ''We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.''

Some in the United States are under the impression that because freedom is so important to us that it is just as important to everyone else in the world. And it is here where we can locate the beginning of the neoconservative chain of reasoning that ends up justifying imperialism in the name of freedom and thus, the invasion of Iraq.

Such a move is not unique in U.S. history. We went through something similar in the Spanish-American War to acquire Cuba, Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico. Within months of a war that was precipitated by government lies and hysteria, the American Anti-Imperialist League was founded. Its platform said in part: ''The United States have always protested against the doctrine of international law which permits the subjugation of the weak by the strong. A self-governing state cannot accept sovereignty over an unwilling people. The United States cannot act upon the ancient heresy that might makes right.''

Stung by this and other condemnations, the pro-imperialist forces, led by Albert J. Beveridge, said ''I answer, We govern the Indians without their consent, we govern our territories without their consent, we govern our children without their consent. I answer, How do you assume that our government would be without their consent? Would not the people of the Philippines prefer the just, humane, civilizing government of this republic to the savage, bloody rule of pillage and extortion from which we have rescued them?'' The response by the Filipinos was a 12-year guerrilla war involving 70,000 of our troops. By the end they lost 200,000 lives and we lost 4,234 servicemen. Independence did not come to the Philippines until 1946, followed by American-backed dictatorships until Ferdinand Marcos was driven from office by a popular revolt in 1986.

It is unfortunate but true that belief in the beneficence of our form of government followed by an invasion does not necessarily result in a welcoming and grateful reception. Why?

First, the idea that we can force people to be free is absurd and contrary to experience. Japan may be the exception to the rule because it has a homogenous population with a clear-cut national identity that was nuked into unconditional surrender. Even a cursory look at world history shows that the march to freedom is an organic development based on particular cultural and historic conditions.

Furthermore, the goal itself is subject to interpretation. While it is undeniably true that most aspire to more, rather than less, influence over their government, it doesn't follow that what we regard as important civil rights is also shared. There are many other values at play in a society, like humility, courage, justice, mercy, honesty and modesty. The priority each is given and how they are exercised differs from place to place. For Americans to pretend that their way is superior to all others crosses the line from arrogance to hubris.

Finally, I must comment on the neocons idea that democratic countries don't produce terrorists, so America was justified, as a form of self-defense, in invading Iraq as a prelude to changing all regimes in the Middle East (except Israel). President Bush has explicitly accepted this theory and reiterated it at the Republican National Convention: ''Free societies in the Middle East will be hopeful societies, which no longer feed resentments and breed violence for export. Free governments in the Middle East will fight terrorists instead of harboring them, and that helps us keep the peace.''

The refutation of this theory occurred in the person of Timothy McVeigh and his Oklahoma City bombing. McVeigh, a U.S.-born member of the armed forces who received a Bronze Star and was honorably discharged, committed the single worst act of domestic terrorism. What is the difference between McVeigh and Osama bin Laden? I trust the reader doesn't think that twisting religious and political doctrines to justify murder is limited to those born in the Middle East.

I love my freedom and wish it upon all the inhabitants of the Earth. But I am not willing in its name to pursue an imperialist policy which will, in the end, do nothing but cause the unnecessary death of thousands of young people who honor their country when they do as they are told.

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