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NYTimes.com Article: All Roads Lead to D.C.
by Boris Stremlin
05 April 2002 17:55 UTC
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overlooked, from this past sunday's week in review:

first capitalism, now empire becomes the shibboleth of US public
intellectuals.  What next?  Slavery? Devil worship?


All Roads Lead to D.C.

March 31, 2002


STRUGGLING to get a handle on American foreign policy? For
starters, try dusting off your Livy and boning up on the
Second Punic War. Or dip into a good history of
19th-century Britain, paying close attention to those
dazzling military campaigns in the Middle East - the Battle
of Omdurman, say, or the Second Afghan War.

Today, America is no mere superpower or hegemon but a
full-blown empire in the Roman and British sense. That, at
any rate, is the consensus of some of the nation's most
notable commentators and scholars.

"People are now coming out of the closet on the word
empire," said the conservative columnist Charles
Krauthammer. "The fact is no country has been as dominant
culturally, economically, technologically and militarily in
the history of the world since the Roman Empire."

Americans are used to being told - typically by resentful
foreigners - that they're imperialists. But lately some of
the nation's own eminent thinkers are embracing the idea.
More astonishing, they are using the term with approval.
From the isolationist right to the imperialist-bashing
left, a growing number of experts are issuing stirring
paeans to American empire.

The Weekly Standard kicked off the parade early last fall
with "The Case for American Empire," by The Wall Street
Journal's editorial features editor, Max Boot. Quoting the
title of Patrick Buchanan's last book, "America, A
Republic, not an Empire," Mr. Boot said, "This analysis is
exactly backward: the September 11 attack was a result of
insufficient American involvement and ambition; the
solution is to be more expansive in our goals and more
assertive in their implementation."

Calling for the military occupation of Afghanistan and
Iraq, Mr. Boot cited the stabilizing effect of 19th-century
British rule in the region. "Afghanistan and other troubled
lands today," he wrote, "cry out for the sort of
enlightened foreign administration once provided by
self-confident Englishmen in jodphurs and pith helmets."

Since then, the empire idea has caught on. In January,
Charles H. Fairbanks, a foreign policy expert at Johns
Hopkins University, told an audience at Michigan State
University that America was "an empire in formation." Last
month, a Yale University professor, Paul Kennedy - who 10
years ago was predicting America's ruin from imperial
overreach - went further.

"Nothing has ever existed like this disparity of power,"
Mr. Kennedy wrote in The Financial Times of London. "The
Pax Britannica was run on the cheap, Britain's army was
much smaller than European armies and even the Royal Navy
was equal only to the next two navies - right now all the
other navies in the world combined could not dent American
maritime supremacy. Napoleon's France and Philip II's Spain
had powerful foes and were part of a multipolar system.
Charlemagne's empire was merely western European in its
stretch. The Roman Empire stretched further afield, but
there was another great empire in Persia and a larger one
in China. There is no comparison."

The most extended statement from the empire camp to date is
"Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos"
(Random House, 2001), a recent book by the journalist
Robert D. Kaplan.

Arguing that "times have changed less than we think," Mr.
Kaplan suggests the nation's leaders turn to ancient Greek
and Roman chroniclers - as well as Winston Churchill's 1899
account of the British conquest of the Sudan - for helpful
hints about how to navigate today's world. He devotes a
chapter to the Second Punic War ("Rome's victory in the
Second Punic War, like America's in World War II, made it a
universal power") and one to the cunning Emperor Tiberius.
Granted, the emperor was something of a despot, writes Mr.
Kaplan. Still, he "combined diplomacy with the threat of
force to preserve a peace that was favorable to Rome."

IF that sounds familiar, you've got the right idea. "Our
future leaders could do worse than be praised for their
tenacity, their penetrating intellects and their ability to
bring prosperity to distant parts of the world under
America's soft imperial influence," Mr. Kaplan writes. "The
more successful our foreign policy, the more leverage
America will have in the world. Thus, the more likely that
future historians will look back on 21st-century United
States as an empire as well as a republic, however
different from that of Rome and every other empire
throughout history."

Classicists may scoff at the idea that democratic America
has much in common with the tyrannical Rome of Augustus or
Nero. But the empire camp points out that however unlikely
the comparison, America has often behaved like a conquering
empire. As Mr. Kennedy put it, "From the time the first
settlers arrived in Virginia from England and started
moving westward, this was an imperial nation, a conquering

America's imperial behavior continues today. "The United
States has bases or base rights in 40 countries," he said.
"In the assault on Al Qaeda and the Taliban, they moved
warships from Britain, Japan, Germany, Southern Spain and
Italy. So while Joe Public might say we are not like those
old empires - and we resent being called an empire - the
actual effect of the projection of American power is not
unlike the effect of the projection of Victorian power or
Roman power."

Today, the empire scholars acknowledge that America tends
to operate not through brute force but through economic,
cultural and political means. The idea seems to be that it
is easier to turn other people into Americans than for
Americans to make war on them.

"We are an attractive empire, the one everyone wants to
join," Mr. Boot said.

And that, empire enthusiasts say, is the reason to root for
a Pax Americana. In an anarchic world, with rogue states
and terrorist cells, a globally dominant United States
offers the best hope for peace and stability, they argue.

"There's a positive side to empire," Mr. Kaplan said. It's
in some ways the most benign form of order."


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