Is the American Century far behind?
By Carolyn Lochhead
San Francisco Chronicle -January 6, 2003
ROME FELL. The Ottomans vanished. The sun finally set on the British Empire.
Thoughtful people are beginning to wonder -- not just on the left, but on
the right -- if the Bush administration is pushing a modern form of
enlightened imperialism a bridge too far.
The horror of Sept. 11 crystallized the need for military defense.
President Bush responded and found few quarrels.
But the war on terrorism has led to something new, a Bush doctrine boldly
declaring that the United States will ensure not only its defense, but
Bush reiterated this vision Friday to U.S. troops at Fort Hood, Texas.
"America seeks more than the defeat of terror," he said. "We seek the
advance of human freedom in a world at peace. That is the charge that
history has given us. And that is the charge we will keep."
That is the language of empire.
A year after 9/11, the Bush administration laid out a new national
security strategy: "Our forces will be strong enough to dissuade
potential adversaries from pursuing a military buildup in hopes of
surpassing or equaling the power of the United States."
It decisively shifted from containment to pre-emptive attack: "As a
matter of common sense and self-defense, America will act against
emerging threats before they are fully formed."
As Bush said Friday, "We're not waiting for another attack. . .We're
acting now to protect the American people and to shape a future of
The British and Roman empires were likewise grounded in the idea of
imperial virtue, posing as a force for order and civilization, notes Ivan
Eland at the libertarian Cato Institute.
But history shows, he writes, that empires create their own demise.
Challengers arise -- under the shelter of the superpower's costly
America industrialized while free-riding on the British navy. Meanwhile,
Britain's global commitments involved it in 98 different wars from 1800
Once begun, empire knows no logical brake, Eland argues. National
security morphs into global containment, creating an open-ended military
protectorate that "requires an empire to continually enlarge the
geographic scope of its security responsibilities."
Think Kosovo, South Korea, Taiwan, Afghanistan, now possibly Iraq.
Inferior powers tire of occupation. Even as Kim Jong Il starves his
people and rattles a nuclear saber, tens of thousands of South Koreans
protest the 37, 000 U.S. troops protecting them. Will Afghans remember
Bush is not alone. British Prime Minister Tony Blair told the House of
Commons, "We need to rethink dramatically the scale and nature of the
actions the world takes to combat terrorism."
Nor is global policing new.
"Throughout the 20th century, American political leaders did what was
necessary to protect U.S. interests," says the Hudson Institute's Alan W.
Dowd, from President Kennedy's nuclear confrontation with Cuba in 1962 to
President Clinton's 1999 bombing of Serbia.
As Clinton put it at the time, "We act to prevent a wider war."
Bush's policy argues that Sept. 11 forced change: "In the Cold War,
weapons of mass destruction were weapons of last resort. . ..Today, our
enemies see weapons of mass destruction as weapons of choice."
In 1936, Winston Churchill urged another just war: "The era of
procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients,
of delays, is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period
Appeasement was over. So was Britain's empire.
E-mail Carolyn Lochhead at clochheadsfchronicle.com