History of the U.S. Empire,
Does the U.S. Really Have an Empire?,
Why Conservatives Should Be Against Empire

excerpted from the book

The Empire Has No Clothes

U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed

by Ivan Eland

The Independent Institute, 2004, hardcover

Americans don't think of their country having an empire. U.S. presidents have often disclaimed imperial intent while engaging in what suspiciously appear to be imperial adventures. After going to war in 1898 to grab Caribbean and Pacific possessions from a weakened Spain-America's first imperial foray-President William McKinley disclaimed any imperial intent: "No imperial designs lurk in the American mind. They are alien to American sentiment, thought, and purpose. Our priceless principles undergo no change under a tropical sun. They go with the flag."'

Such rhetoric is strikingly similar to that of President George W. Bush. During his campaign for president, Bush asserted flatly, "America has never been an empire."' Similarly, when speaking about the U.S. invasion and occupation of the sovereign nation of Iraq, Bush stated, "Our country does not seek the expansion of territory" but rather "to enlarge the realm of liberty."' In his 2004 State of the Union speech, the president declared, "We have no desire to dominate, no ambitions of empire."'

In the wake of the September 11 attacks, in the name of fighting the "war on terror," the U.S. military invaded and occupied Iraq, took advantage of the war in Afghanistan to establish "temporary" bases in Central Asian countries formerly in the Soviet Union, built bases in Bulgaria and Romania, and sent forces to help suppress insurrections in the backwaters of Georgia, Yemen, and the Philippines. Fighting such insurgencies had little to do with fighting terror and more to do with gaining U.S. influence in "strategic" areas. Similarly, in Azerbaijan, under the banner of the "war on terror," the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) provided funding for the training of the Azeri military and financing to buy U.S. arms, but later acknowledged that the assistance was designed to ensure U.S. access to Caspian Sea oil. In short, the war against Serbia in 1999, two wars against Iraq, and the war in Afghanistan allowed the United States to enlarge its empire into the southern Eurasian region from the Balkans to the border of China, a region that is oil-rich and formerly in the Soviet Union or its sphere of in both influence. To battle "narcoterrorism," the United States has dramatically increased anti-drug aid to the government of Colombia, which is fighting an insurgency.

Similarly, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and thus the lifting of the main constraint on U.S. meddling overseas, U.S. military interventions increased dramatically in the decade after the end of the cold war. From 1989 to 1999, the U.S. intervened nearly four dozen times, as opposed to only sixteen interventions during the entire cold war.

In 1947, President Harry Truman appeared before Congress in an attempt to replace a faltering British empire by aiding the governments of Greece and Turkey against communist insurgencies. To get the money from the frugal legislators, Truman was advised by Senator Arthur Vandenberg to "scare the hell out of the American people." He did so in what became the Truman Doctrine ...

The idea that protectionism had caused the Great Depression and World War II led to a continuing belief in the "underconsumption" of advanced capitalist nations (such countries allegedly produced more than they consumed), which in turn caused the push to create an open world commercial order in which the overflowing U.S. products and investment would dominate.

The lack of [US] interventions where human suffering is at its worst also belies the humanitarian rationale. More than three million people have been killed in each of the civil wars in Sudan and the Congo. About five to eight hundred thousand people were killed by civil strife in Rwanda. The suffering in those nations made the suffering in Kuwait, Panama, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo look mild. Yet the United States did not intervene directly in any of those African conflicts.

Top Defense Spenders in the World (in billions of U.S. dollars)

United States 348.5
China 51.o
Russia 50.8
France 40.2
Japan 39.5
U.K. 37.3
Germany 33.3
Italy 25.6
Saudi Arabia 22.2
India 13.8
South Korea 13.3
Brazil 10.2
Israel 9.9

Source: International Institute for Strategic Studies, Military Balance 2003-2004

Bush II-administration officials have been quick to avoid any causal link between U.S. foreign policy and a! Qaeda's attacks against U.S. targets. President Bush has argued that the United States was attacked on September 11 because the terrorists hated American freedoms (not because they hated U.S. foreign policy toward the Middle East). Yet Bush II's own Deputy Secretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz, dispensed readily with that strategic myth by arguing for an invasion of Iraq so that the United States could lower its target profile vis-à-vis a! Qaeda by withdrawing U.S. forces from Saudi Arabia." Wolfowitz's implied belief-also held by terrorism experts-was that one of the main reasons a! Qaeda had attacked the United States was the U.S. military presence in the Islamic holy land. That example seems to indicate that U.S. policymakers know the terrible costs of their interventionist foreign policy and are not trapped by strategic myths.

Alexander Motyl

... democratic publics have been happily supportive of the genocides, wars, and bullying pursued by their democratically elected leaders. The United States, arguably the most democratic state of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, illustrates the point. Even if their reasons for doing so were beyond reproach, Americans did massacre Indians, drop two atomic bombs on the Japanese, assist in the fire bombing of Dresden, provoke war with Mexico and Spain, gratuitously incinerate retreating Iraqi soldiers, and intervene-militarily, diplomatically, and surreptitiously-in scores of states. French and British behavior in their Asian and African empires was no less egregious, amounting to what, by today's standards, would have to be termed crimes against humanity.

Motyl might also have mentioned the barbarous conduct of U.S. forces in battling the Philippine insurgency after the Spanish-American War. U.S. forces burned villages, destroyed crops and livestock, tortured and executed prisoners, and slaughtered innocent civilians.

When the general public of taxpayers and consumers is not paying much attention to what is happening in the capital city-which is the case with the majority of issues-the concentrated, motivated vested, interests triumph by controlling the war-making state apparatus. Snyder believes that when the masses are energized on an issue, they have a better chance of realizing the costs of the policy and countering the clout of the vested interests. Yet that assumes that the public opposes the policy of the vested interests (including the state bureaucracies)')

War, unlike other issues, brings an outpouring of nationalism and patriotic fervor. The only thing more important to the public than the costs of war is national pride. The state and the vested interests supporting it can use such pride to sway the populace to their side of the debate... [The state's propaganda] apparatus is a powerful tool that can be used to stoke war fervor among the public and demonize anti-imperial interests as appeasers of the enemy, the adversary's unwitting accomplices, or outright unpatriotic traitors. In fact, in democracies, the government may start a war to counteract a loss of public support at home, whereas authoritarian governments can substitute internal repression by the security forces for external war. Thus, democracies are not always peaceful and dictatorships are not always aggressive externally...

In democracies, with the expansionists manipulating nationalism and patriotism and attempting to use powerful propaganda tools to quell dissent, the open public debate may not be so open, and the checks and balances of democracy may not, in practice, reduce the chances of war very much. For example, U.S. public opinion was jingoistic about war against Spain in 1898, and French and British public opinion were equally enthusiastic about war with the Germans in 1914.63 More recently, the U.S. public wholeheartedly supported the Bush II administration's invasion of the sovereign nation of Iraq. Although China is no longer a totalitarian communist nation and is now closer to the fascist-like nations of Taiwan, Chile, Spain, and South Korea before they became democracies, rising nationalism could still make even a future democratic China more assertive, at least regionally.

Although some traditional conservatives (sometimes called paleo-conservatives) are against empire and believe that the quest for one undermines the republic, most conservatives agree with an expansive and militaristic U.S. foreign policy. Neoconservatives (that is, liberals who turned conservative), want to spread democracy and freer markets around the world at the point of a gun. A free society, both economically and politically, is a superior form of social organization; but using force to export economic and political freedoms means adopting harsh methods similar to those of the now exhausted international communist movement. Strangely, although neoconservatives often prefer unilateral U.S. military action overseas, and the old Wilsonian and Clintonian) left opts for U.S. armed force cloaked in a multilateral veneer, they both end up with similar global, interventionist foreign policies.

At this point in history, the new, McGovernite left makes up a larger group among liberals than the traditional conservatives do on the right. But after World War II, both the new left and old right-the guardians of the torch for the more traditional and restrained foreign policy of the founders-both became minorities in their respective camps. A cold war consensus formed around a new policy of global intervention and expansion. The debacle in Vietnam made the anti-interventionist wing of the left stronger. As the memory of Vietnam faded, however, that group lost influence but still makes up a potent and vociferous element of the left coalition.

World War I was the first to require the full mobilization of American society. Although the Civil War led to the income tax and] increased government intervention in the economy, it did not result in the mobilization of the entire society, and the expanded government apparatus was largely dismantled after the war.' Instead of the traditional American policy of allowing the free market to operate, the large-scale conflict motivated the government in World War I to plan industrial production, commandeer private resources and property, conscript men for the armed forces, and, in general, penetrate the civilian economy and society to an unprecedented degree. Federal spending increased 2,500 percent in less than three years during the war and remained at four times prewar levels in the years after the conflict. Federal employment more than doubled during the war and then fell back after the conflict to 30 percent above prewar levels, growing in both defense and nondefense agencies.

The mobilization of society during World War I set the precedent for the federal government's response to a subsequent crisis in the 1930s-the Great Depression. Many of the agencies that managed civil society and the economy during the war were brought back under new names during the New Deal, and even some of the same people were brought back to manage them.

American societal mobilization to fight World War II surpass even the massive effort during World War I. The U.S. government's tentacles slithered ever deeper into the civil society. Similarly in Britain, although the first post-World War II prime minister, Clement Attlee of the Labour Party, usually gets credit for establishing the British socialist welfare state, British society already had been socialized during the war under the Conservative prime minister Winston Churchill.

And there was no relief after the second great conflict was over. In the aftermath of World War II, the activist government left over from the conflict received public approval! Federal involvement in daycare resulted from wartime daycare for mothers working in defense plants. The federalization of American medicine began with wartime extension of military healthcare benefits to dependents of army personnel.' Government wartime economic controls and management of the war effort caused the American public to accept the Keynesian notion that the government should foster full employment and prevent economic maladies, such as recessions. The war also put in place the tax revenue machine that funded the rise of the welfare state in the postwar era.

Thus, the crises of World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II had replaced the free market with government management. World War I and especially World War II created a greater governmental bureaucracy than even the New Deai During World War II, even the nonsecurity parts of the U.S. government grew faster than during the New Deal. The huge bureaucracy sired in the war became a greater tool for promoting social and economic regulation than any created in World War I or the Great Depression. Postwar federal expenditures reached equilibrium at nearly three times their prewar levels.

A cold war with a former ally ensued, and the United States maintained heretofore the largest peacetime military in the nation's history. During the Korean and Vietnam Wars, large increases in federal employment occurred. The precedent had already been set for a level of government encroachment never envisioned by the nation's founders, and President Lyndon Johnson decided to take full advantage of it by pursuing a disastrous policy of "guns and butter"-Great Society social programs and increased defense spending to fight the Vietnam War. The Republican Nixon administration did not reverse such policies. George W. Bush, also a war president from a Republican party that has traditionally touted fiscal responsibility and the lowering of government spending, has increased federal discretionary spending faster than any president since Johnson." He is pursuing a Republican version of Johnson's "guns and butter" policy.

In short, federal spending as a portion of the U.S. economy went from less than two percent in 191413 to a little less than 20 percent today. At the turn of the last century, total government spending (federal, state, and local) accounted for about 8 percent of the U.S. GDP; at the turn of this century, government spending had increased dramatically, to nearly a third of the GDP.

Free market economist Ludwig Von Mises perceptively noted that global peace would never happen until the central governments of all nations were limited in scope and power (this goes a step further than the democratic peace theory). 17 Yet bigger government in the form of the nation-state originally came about because the expenses for warfare became too great for feudal rulers to handle. Thus, war caused big government in the first place. As Ralph Bourne famously stated, "War is the health of the state."

Taking their cue from the founders, conservatives have championed small government-at least theoretically. Yet many on the right who are skeptical of government action at home applaud armed adventures and military social engineering by the government abroad and the huge defense budgets and large peacetime military organizations needed to carry them out. As Bruce Porter notes, "American political dialogue ... reveals the irony of pro-military conservatives railing against Big Government, while forgetting that coercive taxation and bureaucratic organization are the sine qua non of funding and equipping forces in the industrial age."

Christopher Layne argues that during both world wars, the governments of Britain and the United States, at least temporarily, became so strong that they became autocratic. He further notes that during the ensuing cold war, the U.S. government evolved into a "national security state"-still a democracy but one in which government powers expanded greatly and the executive branch dominated the legislative branch in foreign policy.

When many conservatives rail against profligate government spending, they seem to disregard massive defense expenditures. But defense spending has the same ill effects on the economy as any other federal spending. In a defense industry that is rife with socialism, industrial policy, and excessive regulation and produces no goods beneficial to consumers, every dollar spent on research, development, and production is taken away from the much more productive and efficient equivalent in the commercial sector. In fact, the workers and capitalists in the commercial sector have to support workers and capitalists in the non productive defense sector by producing consumer goods for them.

Curiously, many conservative and neoconservative hawks admire Milton Friedman and other free market economists, but seem to be Keynesians when it comes to defense spending. They somehow believe that defense spending is good for the economy, but that other government spending are not.

The Empire Has No Clothes

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