Rumors Of Empire


Matt sums it up:

America playing an active role in the world doesn't mean America seeking to dominate the world, and avoiding a quest for domination doesn't mean eschewing the use of military force in all circumstances it means working through legitimate institutional mechanisms.

Since the Iraq invasion, which I passionately supported, I've been forced, like a lot of people, to re-examine my core principles and ideas about intervention. I've thrashed through most of the Iraq-specific questions on this blog exhaustively, but the more general ones are worth regular check-ups. Do I oppose all US unilateral interventions in the world? Nope. I've long believed that America is a great force for good in the world. As a native European, I don't doubt that. Neither do Poles or Ukrainians. I just have a much, much higher standard for supporting them than I once did, and a deeper sense of American fallibility. I've learned that just because the French oppose something, it doesn't automatically mean it's a good idea.

Pre-emption? Again, I don't think the concept should be ruled out entirely, but the criteria are much stricter in my mind than they once were. I now think we should pre-empt only when a grave threat is indeed imminent - not before it is imminent, as was the case with Iraq. After Iraq, my skepticism toward all government intelligence has, like many others, gone through the roof. I am far less likely to believe or trust the CIA or the vice-president on Iran than I once was, for example. Do I support a unipolar world in which the US is the prime global player, the indispensable nation? Here I think I'm clearer: no. A unipolar world may be a function of a short period of time - such as after the Cold War - but it is neither a desirable nor permanent state. Allowing other great powers to exercize influence in various regions of the globe is part of responsible, conservative statesmanship. To extend the American writ everywhere is to hobble a republic with the burdens of an empire. It's an act of hubris. We should cut it out.

Did I just say "empire"?

Again, I don't think it would have occurred to me to even use the word with respect to US intervention abroad before the Iraq debacle. But the US has now occupied a Muslim country with well over 100,000 troops for close to five years, with no end in sight. I see increasing signs that the Washington establishment would be quite happy to stay there indefinitely, if casualties declined, and the Chinese keep lending. In fact, I sense in Washington the notion that this is a natural state of affairs - for the US to be sinking down large military bases and vast embassies in foreign countries in pursuit of some global novus ordo seclorum. The Iraq benchmarks have now been abandoned, in favor of just hanging around for ever in the hopes of some kind of permanent improvement. There's not even a pretense that getting a functional independent government in Baghdad is now, you know, urgent. So tell me this: if occupying a country without a government that far away with around 100,000 troops for the indefinite future in order to advance global stability and maximal oil supplies is not something like an empire, then what is? Is there a moment at which some of us can get off this bus? Or is our fate now sealed?

(Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty.)