Thursday, November 03, 2011

Larison on American Empire

Daniel Larison had a good passage in a recent post on the subject of American imperialism:

Almost everyone can agree that the U.S. is still the world’s hegemonic military and political power, and the main points of contention here in the U.S. concern how to use that power and whether the U.S. should try to maintain “undisputed leadership” of the world. Obviously, global hegemony is a much more ambitious goal in some ways than traditional territorial/colonial empire, and it is based in what may possibly be an even more arrogant vision of America’s proper role in the world, but it shares many features with imperial projects. The U.S. considers the internal affairs of other states to be the legitimate concern of our government, and it asserts the right to interfere in those affairs to influence them.

The U.S. treats several key regions of the world as privileged space where it is supposed to have military and political supremacy, and regional challengers to that supremacy are treated as potential threats to the U.S. because they infringe on what our government considers its sphere of influence. U.S. military commands divide up the world, because it is taken for granted that the U.S. has some proper military role in every part of the globe, and the U.S. has hundreds of bases scattered around the globe. The President has the ability to wage war largely on his own authority, and when he condescends to consult Congress it is now little more than a formality, so that the phrase “imperial Presidency” is as appropriate now as it has ever been. What the U.S. does not do is to establish direct political and administrative control over territories overseas. That sort of colonial empire became unfashionable and politically untenable in the decades after 1945, and the U.S. has not tried to bring it back. U.S. hegemony is a form of indirect empire, and an indirect empire is one most suited the idea of an empire dedicated to the liberal principle of self-determination.

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