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Empire's apologists.

When two of the leading magazines in the United States put stories on their covers that deal with the hitherto taboo subject of the American empire, it's worth examining their presentations. I'm referring to "The American Empire (Get Used to It)" by Michael Ignatieff, which ran on the cover of The New York Times Magazine of January 5, and "The American Empire: Is the U.S. Trying to Shape the World? Should It?" by Jay Tolson on the January 13 cover of U.S. News & World Report.

Surprise, surprise, both articles end up defending the U.S. empire, though Tolson quibbles with the term.

Both articles embellish the record of the U.S. empire to date.

Both articles neglect the fundamental material basis of the empire.

And both articles prattle on about the United States reluctantly having to assume the imperial responsibilities that have allegedly been thrust upon it.

Buffing the Historical Record

Tolson writes, "So far, the United States has seldom--with the exception of 1898--demonstrated that it wants to directly dominate the internal affairs of other nations." This is a whopper, given the U.S. interventions, meddlings, or subversions in Haiti, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Grenada, Panama, Chile, Angola, Namibia, the Congo, Ghana, Iran, Indonesia, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, to name just some. Even Tolson immediately has to hedge, citing "heavy-handed meddling ... in Iran, South Vietnam, Chile, and other nations." And he embarrassingly calls the U.S. war against Vietnam a "failed experiment in `nation-building.'"

For his part, Ignatieff writes: "America's success in the twentieth century owed a great deal to the shrewd understanding that America's interest lay in aligning itself with freedom."

Such platitudes crumble upon even the most cursory examination of the record. The United States didn't overthrow Arbenz, Mossadegh, Lumumba, and Sukarno to ensure freedom but to make way for U.S. capital and to project U.S. power.

Or check out the actual words of chief U.S. policy planner George Kennan in the late 1940s and 1950s. As Noam Chomsky has noted, Kennan was quite jaundiced about the need to align the United States with freedom. "It is better to have a strong regime in power than a liberal government if it is indulgent and relaxed and penetrated by Communists," Kennan wrote. He also favored, in his words, "police repression by the local government" because "the results are on balance favorable to our purposes."

Obscuring the Material Motive, Then and Now

In general, Tolson and Ignatieff don't bother to explore the material roots of the U.S. empire. Instead, they are satisfied with echoing the rationalizations for that empire. But again, Kennan was quite clear. "The protection of our resources" is a major concern in Latin America, he wrote. And he underscored the need to encourage "a climate conducive to private investment," one that would allow "foreign capital to repatriate a reasonable return." Southeast Asia, Kennan also wrote, has to "fulfill its major function as a source of raw materials and a market for Japan and Western Europe." (The quotations from Kennan can be found in Chomsky's Deterring Democracy.)

Tolson talks about the rebuilding of Europe and Japan, along with the creation of the World Bank and the IMF, as examples of the United States "doing good works abroad and generally making the world a better place to live." But he does not mention the crucial importance of that rebuilding process--and of the ongoing work of the IMF and World Bank--in securing profits for U.S. corporations.

Tolson applauds Bush's pledge, spelled out in his new national security doctrine, of "encouraging free and open societies on every continent." But what Bush means by free and open societies is free and open to U.S. investments. The new doctrine itself insists on "pro-growth" regulatory policies that would be a boon to multinational corporations. And it urges the IMF and the World Bank to achieve "economic growth through sound fiscal and monetary policy, exchange rate policy, and financial sector policy"--all code words for prying open markets to foreign capital.

As to the importance of oil in driving current U.S. policy, Tolson is absolutely silent.

Ignatieff is smarter than that. He recognizes that when the United States has intervened, it has often done so for "stability--which means not only political stability but also the steady, profitable flow of goods and raw materials." And he acknowledges that U.S. interventions in the past were doing the bidding of U.S. corporations. But he does so only to draw a specious distinction:

"America's empire is not like empires of times past, built on colonies, conquest, and the white man's burden. We are no longer in the era of the United Fruit Company, when American corporations needed the Marines to secure their investments overseas. The twenty-first century imperium is a new invention in the annals of political science, an empire lite, a global hegemony whose grace notes are free markets, human rights, and democracy."

Certainly, the empire is for free markets--nothing new in the annals there. But is it for human rights and democracy?

Ignatieff cites Bosnia and Afghanistan. While the Bosnia case appears closer to a humanitarian intervention, it also was a way for the United States to justify NATO'S existence. And the U.S. war against Afghanistan was not designed to bring about democracy or to restore human rights but to get Al Qaeda. Toppling the Taliban and liberating women were tardy afterthoughts.

Similarly, the war that Bush is planning today against Iraq is not to liberate the people there but, in large part, to assure U.S. control of oil supplies and flex U.S. muscle. Here is Cheney last August, speaking in Nashville to the Veterans of Foreign Wars. He noted that Saddam has "a seat atop 10 percent of the world's oil reserves," and warned that if he got weapons of mass destruction, he could "take control of a great portion of the world's energy supplies."

Ignatieff acknowledges that the Persian Gulf, "because it has so much of the world's proven oil reserves," serves as "the empire's center of gravity." But then he leaps to the conclusion that "the case for empire is that it has become, in a place like Iraq, the last hope for democracy and stability alike."

Inventing a Reluctant, Benign Emperor

For Tolson, the United States has been a reluctant interventionist in the world since the days of McKinley. And he posits an innocent, well-intentioned foreign policy, especially after the Cold War. "At most, under Clinton and Bush before him, the United States acted like the benign but barely attentive custodian of globalism." Tolson manages to erase the U.S. invasion of Panama and the Gulf War. And "barely attentive" does not even come close to describing the aggressive foisting of the free market model on economies around the world that so typified the Bush/Clinton era.

Today, Tolson goes on about "the challenge of being the sole superpower in the world."

Ignatieff lays it on even thicker, referring to "the burden of empire." (The article's inside title is "The Burden.")

Throughout his piece, Ignatieff acts as though the United States is valiantly accepting some heavy responsibility that previous empires have placed on its slender shoulders. Twice he writes that "America has inherited" a crisis or a "world scarred," as if this country had nothing to do with creating the crisis or scarring the world.

In this, Ignatieff is much like Bush, who himself has a thing about inheritance and loves to indulge in this recurrent fantasy of gallantly answering the call of history.

In the context of Iraq, he again sounds hauntingly like Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Powell. After discounting other options for dealing with Saddam, Ignatieff concludes: "That leaves us, but only as a reluctant last resort, with regime change." (Bush: "This nation fights reluctantly.")

But there is nothing "reluctant"--or "last resort," for that matter--about the Bush Administration's lust for war against Baghdad.

Thus does the mainstream media counsel war.

Matthew Rothschild is Editor of The Progressive.
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Title Annotation:American foreign policy
Author:Rothschild, Matthew
Publication:The Progressive
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2003
Previous Article:Tom Tomorrow. (The Progressive Interview).
Next Article:I [??] NY. (Unplugged).

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