Wages of Empire
By Patrick J. Buchanan, Patrick J. Buchanan is the author of "A Republic,
Not an Empire" and editor of the American Conservative.
WASHINGTON -- To the acolytes of American empire, the invasion of Iraq is
but Act I in the exhilarating unfolding drama of the 21st century. All the
"Islamo-fascist" regimes of the Middle East and northern Africa -- Iran,
Syria, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Libya -- are to follow Saddam Hussein's onto the
landfill of history. As democracy was imposed on Japan by Gen. Douglas
MacArthur, so shall it be imposed upon them all.
That is the vision of the neoconservatives to whom George W. Bush incarnates
their Woodrow Wilson, FDR and Winston Churchill. Yet, their disillusionment
is certain, for they misread the man and the times.
True, the relative power of the United States exceeds Britain's at the
height of its empire. But this war to "liberate" Iraq and reshape it in our
own image has already called into existence countervailing forces that stand
athwart our path to empire.
The first is the force of world opinion. To protest a U.S. war on Iraq
without U.N. Security Council sanction, there were million-person marches
last week in the streets of the capitals of our staunchest allies, Spain,
Italy, Britain. Polls show that huge majorities of Europeans oppose a U.S.
war without U.N. sanction. Among Arabs and Turks, the opposition is visceral
and well-nigh universal. We are as isolated as the Brits at the time of the
Boer War. It is the height of hubris to believe America can indefinitely
defy the whole world.
Even if Iraqis initially welcome U.S. soldiers as liberators, within months
there will be Islamic bombers willing to die to drive us out, as they drove
the French out of Algeria, the Israelis out of Lebanon, the Marines out of
Beirut. While the Arab and Islamic worlds did not succeed in many endeavors
in the 20th century, they did excel in terrorizing and expelling all the old
imperial powers. Our turn is next.
Neoconservatives came to their editors' cubicles a century too late. Peoples
everywhere have internalized Thomas Jefferson's dictum that all governments
derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, and Wilson's
gospel about all peoples being entitled to self-determination. This idea has
taken root in the hearts of men: better to fight than be ruled by
We may see American hegemony as benevolent. Is it not clear the world does
Already, Cold War friends and allies are revisiting the issue of whether the
protection afforded by the presence of U.S. troops on their national soil is
worth the price paid in alienation from their own peoples.
According to the New York Times, Crown Prince Abdullah will ask for
withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Saudi Arabia at the end of the Iraq war.
The new president of South Korea was elected on a pledge to review the U.S.
troop presence there. The Pakistanis want us out, and, after 60 years of
occupation, even the Okinawans wish to be rid of us.
Nor should we resist the eviction orders, for the terrorists are only over
here because we are over there.
Worldwide, the anti-American card has become a trump. Herr Gerhard Schroeder
played it deftly to rescue himself from certain defeat in the German
elections. And while Americans may be boycotting French wines, French
Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin is a more celebrated figure in Old
Europe than Colin L. Powell, let alone Bush.
And the staggering bill for empire has just begun to come in. Not only are
Japan, Germany and Saudi Arabia unwilling to pay the cost of this war, as
they did for Desert Storm, they are not in any condition to do so. Nor does
the United States, staring at deficits of $300 billion to $400 billion, have
the means to subsidize an empire.
The cost of invading and rebuilding Iraq has been put at $100 billion to
$200 billion by Bush's former economic advisor. That was last year.
More recent estimates have soared. Will Americans pay this immense sum to
reconstruct and "democratize" Iraq?
With California mulling higher taxes and firing workers to cover a
$35-billion deficit, how long will taxpayers tolerate shakedowns like
Ankara's demand for as much as $30 billion for U.S. troops to transit Turkey
and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's demand for $15 billion in foreign
aid and loan guarantees to hold our coat?
Neoconservatives assure us that once Arab peoples see our destructive power
rain down on Iraq, they will line up with the winner and accept our
hegemony. But if such power has not brought respect for Israel in Lebanon or
on the West Bank, what guarantee is there it will make American occupiers
revered or loved?
History teaches otherwise. Five years after the United States had reduced to
smoldering ashes the greatest empire Asia had seen in centuries, little
North Korea, which did not even exist in 1945, launched an invasion to throw
the Americans off the peninsula and out of Asia. World champions never lack
Our own history teaches us this. A dozen years after the British army had
defeated our enemies in the French and Indian War, American patriots were
shooting British soldiers on the Concord Road.
George Washington wept with joy at America's alliance with France in 1777,
but a year after Yorktown, American agents were back-channeling Brits in
Paris to conclude a separate peace.
As for the Bush Doctrine -- "We will not allow the world's worst dictators
to get the world's worst weapons" -- it is already going the way of William
McKinley's "open door." With Russian assistance, Iran is building nuclear
plants it does not need and mining uranium. North Korea, with a secret
uranium- enrichment program running and a plutonium reactor being refired,
is openly taunting and defying the president. The American response to date:
repeated assurances that neither sanctions nor military strikes are being
Given the immense time, energy, resources and costs -- financial and
political -- of Bush's drive to disarm a weak, isolated Iraq, will the
president, when Baghdad is occupied, press on against other regimes, which
are not under U.N. sanction?
Where will he get his authority to go after Iran, Syria or Libya, as Sharon
and his Amen Corner demand? In Iraq, the president has the cover of U.N.
resolutions. Will the Brits be with us when we go after Iran?
Will British Prime Minister Tony Blair be up for a second adventure? Who
will be with us if we attack North Korea to disarm it? Can the United States
tread alone the path to empire in a world where the United States is
believed by much of mankind to be itself the great threat to world peace?
Imperialism is an idea whose time has come and gone, and, in any event, we
Americans were lousy imperialists. We lacked the tradition, the will to rule
other peoples, the perseverance required. We had not occupied the
Philippines a few years before Theodore Roosevelt, champion of annexation,
wished to be rid of it.
No, empire is not our future, or our fate. The braying Beltway
interventionists are only advancing the day when this generation too will
rid itself of empire and America returns to the foreign policy written in
its history and heart: the friend to freedom everywhere but the vindicator
only of our own.
That way lies long life for the republic. To hell with empire.