Andrew is right that this election is likely to be something of a referendum on neoconservative adventurism, but one thing it is likely not to be is a referendum on its noncombustible leftovers. Americans are fine with our Korean presence, even though that war was something of a disaster (or as neocons might say: unfinished)...If the question of “permanent empire” boils down to a matter of small ball haggling over 30,000 vs. 90,000 troops, four versus twelve big bases the American people will accept the larger numbers if, as I’ve said before, costs in blood and treasure are kept reasonably and acceptably low.
A further point. My reader mocks my alleged naivete earlier. But the truth is: the Soviet Union made all imperial actions by the US look inherently defensive. And that indeed was how the vast expansion of American power-projection across the globe earned its domestic legitimacy. After the Cold War, we had a period of moderate conservative retrenchment, a building of some global alliances, an expansion of free trade and a very limited form of interventionism - minimally in Kuwait, fatally in Somalia, belatedly and multilaterally on the Balkans, impulsively in Haiti. I don't think these actions can be thought of as imperial in impulse.
But the post-9/11 move to Iraq - again posited originally as defensive - is being revealed as something much more profound and much more of a precedent. Even large lingering numbers of troops in Germany or South Korea do not mean much (although I'm increasingly persuaded there's no real point for them there either). But an expansion of troop presence in the tens of thousands deep into the Arab heartland is a huge shift - the first real shift since the end of the Cold War. And that makes this election a very profound one in many ways: it's about the direction of the US - the meaning of the US - in a post-Cold War world. A permanent Iraq presence really does mean an imperial future for the US - revealed nakedly for what it is.
It's not so much my naivete as a simple fact. In a way not exposed so baldly before, the empire is beginning to have no clothes.
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