Taking Kaplan’s Defense of Empire on Its Face

Robert Kaplan wrote a predictably horrible defense of empire that a number of people are giving the appropriate disdainful treatment.

Against my better judgement, I’d like to take a different approach and treat it as a useful piece (though not one I agree with or find palatable at all).

I think its useful, in part, against the background of the NSA disclosures. Key players in NSA discussions — people who travel some of the same circles as Kaplan, even — premise their treatment of the disclosures from an exclusively national perspective, completely ignoring that the NSA (and its GCHQ poodle) is different precisely because it depends on and serves as a key instrument of authority in an empire (or global hegemon, if the term empire gives you the willies). Approaching and assessing NSA’s behavior solely from a national perspective not only represses the obvious reasons why NSA’s dragnet of other countries’ citizens matters, but it also fails to assess our actions in the proper light, even from the standpoint of efficacy. NSA’s tasking choices reflect not our national interest, but rather the needs of the empire, which is why a relatively minor country like Venezuela gets prioritized along with Russia and China. That’s why we made Huawei such a high priority target: because it presents a unique threat to the functioning of our empire.

I would like to get to the point where we can discuss the NSA disclosures not just in terms of what they mean for Americans’ civil liberties as well of those who may not enjoy Fourth Amendment protection but nevertheless are citizens in a US order, but also whether the prioritization of complete dragnet and offensive spying and hacking serves the interests to which they’ve been put, that of the American global hegemon.

And here’s where I think Kaplan, in spite of his racism and paternalism and selective history, serves a useful role at this point in time. He claims, cherry picking from history, that only empires can provide order.

Throughout history, governance and relative safety have most often been provided by empires, Western or Eastern. Anarchy reigned in the interregnums.

And then he asks whether or not America can afford to sustain its own empire.

Nevertheless, the critique that imperialism constitutes bad American foreign policy has serious merit: the real problem with imperialism is not that it is evil, but rather that it is too expensive and therefore a problematic grand strategy for a country like the United States. Many an empire has collapsed because of the burden of conquest. It is one thing to acknowledge the positive attributes of Rome or Hapsburg Austria; it is quite another to justify every military intervention that is considered by elites in Washington.

Thus, the debate Americans should be having is the following: Is an imperial-like foreign policy sustainable?


Once that caution is acknowledged, the debate gets really interesting. To repeat, the critique of imperialism as expensive and unsustainable is not easily dismissed.

Perhaps predictably Kaplan dodges his own question, never seriously answering it. Instead of answering the question that he admits might have answers he doesn’t much like, he instead spends a bunch of paragraphs, in all seriousness, arguing that Obama is pursuing a post-Imperial presidency.

Rather than Obama’s post-imperialism, in which the secretary of state appears like a lonely and wayward operator encumbered by an apathetic White House, I maintain that a tempered imperialism is now preferable.

No other power or constellation of powers is able to provide even a fraction of the global order provided by the United States.

And by dodging his own question by launching a partisan attack, Kaplan avoids a number of other questions. Not just whether the American empire is sustainable, but whether there’s something about the means of American empire that has proven ineffective (which is really a different way of asking the same question). Why did Iraq end up being such catastrophe? Why did we lose the Arab Spring, in all senses of the word? Why, even at a time when the US still acts as global hegemon, is instability rising?

There are some underlying reasons, like climate change, that the imperialists would like to distinguish from our oil-based power and the dollar exchange it rests on.

But even more, I think, the imperialists would like to ignore how neoliberalism has gutted the former source of our strength, our manufacturing, has led us to increased reliance on Intellectual Property, and has not offered the people in our realm of influence the stability Kaplan claims empire brings. People can’t eat, they can’t educate their children, they can’t retire because of the policies Kaplan and his buddies have pushed around the world. And the US solution to this is more trade pacts that just further instantiate IP as a core value, regardless of how little it serves those people who can’t eat.

The NSA is intimately a part of this, of course. The reason I find it so hysterical that NSA’s one defense against China is effectively the IP one — the NSA doesn’t steal IP and give it to “private” companies to use. But that’s just another way of saying that the empire we’ve rolled out has failed to protect even the increasingly ineffective core basis of our power, its IP.

I’ve said this before, but what is happening, increasingly, is that the US has to coerce power rather than win it through persuasion — persuasion that used to be (at least for our European allies) increased quality of life. It’s a lot more expensive to coerce power, both in terms of the military adventures or repression you must engage in, but also in terms of the dragnet you must throw across the world rather than the enhanced communication of an open Internet. Nevertheless, the Obama Administration, for all of Kaplan’s claimed post-Imperialism, seems to be doubling down on more coercive (or, in the case of trade agreements, counterproductive) means of retaining power.

And so Kaplan, who’s so sure that empire is a great thing, might be better considering not empire in the abstract (indeed, abstracted to the point of suppressing the many downsides of empire), but the empire we’ve got. He seems to implicitly admit he can’t rebut the claim that our empire is no longer sustainable, but since he can’t he changes the subject. Why is our empire unsustainable, Robert Kaplan? And for those who believe the US offers a good — or even a least-bad — order for the globe, what do you intend to do to return it to sustainability?

Dragnets and austerity aren’t going to do it, that’s for sure.

Update: Thanks to Wapiti for alerting me to my huge error of substituting Kagan (generic neocon name) for Kaplan’s actual last name. Sorry for the confusion.

31 replies
  1. Wapiti says:

    You have a link to Kaplan, but the second link (the critique) mis-names him Kagan, and you picked up that mistake in your piece, I think? Maybe there’s something about Kagan I missed.

  2. orionATL says:

    let’s translate kagan’s argument – and that of all other neo-cons – to its simple core:

    (american) empire is desireable because it makes it possible for israel to continue to exist while suppressing palestinians,

    but empire is expensive.

  3. JohnT says:

    Sort of OT

    Police across the country might be intercepting phone calls or text messages to find suspects using a technology tool known as Stingray. But they’re refusing to turn over details about its use or heavily censoring files when they do.


    A Stingray device tricks all cellphones in an area into electronically identifying themselves and transmitting data to police rather than the nearest phone company’s tower. Because documents about Stingrays are regularly censored, it’s not immediately clear what information the devices could capture, such as the contents of phone conversations and text messages, what they routinely do capture based on how they’re configured or how often they might be used.
    In one of the rare court cases involving the device, the FBI acknowledged in 2011 that so-called cell site simulator technology affects innocent users in the area where it’s operated, not just a suspect police are seeking.


  4. orionATL says:

    what makes kagan’s argument such a condemnation of the atlantic for publishing his nonesense is that it is blatantly at odds with current history – history kagan foolishly helped make ( the article is kagan’s sly apologia and retreat).

    the u.s. empire blindly destroyed one stable, secular society, iraq, which was ruled by s. hussein as a 3-partite empire,

    replacing it willynilly with a violent, divided, religion-dominated society which may not be able to return to its secular destiny for a decades.

    the u.s empire has made it more likely that a viciously intolerant, misogynistic theocracy will hold sway in afghanistan for decades.

    and asnoted, the u.s. empire has made itpossible for the theocracy of israel to thumb its nose at hundreds of millions of its arab neighbors.

    what empire really does is allow localized tyranny to thrive and provide order while the empire receives tribute and protects only itself.

    kagan’s argument, at base – and it is a base argument – is for empire to allow localized tyranny to kerp the peace and corruption and abuse of power in public office to thrive.

    • Objectivist says:


      “the u.s. empire blindly destroyed one stable, secular society, iraq, which was ruled by s. hussein as a 3-partite empire”

      Right, a stable, secular society that regularly killed thousands of its own citizens, was a destabilizing influence in the region (Iran war, Kuwait invasion), ruled by a despot who had no regard for human life and who possessed a stockpile of WMDs.
      Before you berate me for claiming he had WMDs, you need to read up on the UN inspection of his large quantities of anthrax and other bioagents. It’s also well known he had and used chemical weapons.

      There are many, including many Iraqis, who are pleased that S. Hussein no longer wastes valuable oxygen.

      • bmaz says:

        Yeah. Right. So, instead, the US “liberation” you so proudly proclaim killed and/or was responsible for far more death (geometrically over a short period compared to decades under Hussein), destruction of a functioning society, far worse destabilization of the region, increased Iranian power and an unstable, religious society where….thousands are still being killed and corrupt despots still rule sects and regions. And your facts on Hussein’s “possession and use of chemical weapons” are disingenuous, if not outright bogus as indicated by the final report. But, hey, “Mission Accomplished”! Well done old chap!

  5. ArizonaBumblebee says:

    What we have been witnessing since 9/11 in Western Europe and North America is the emergence of a new, more sophisticated version of fascism, which eschews brown and black shirts in favor of expensive business suits. We see evidence of this in our government’s surveillance programs and in its imperialistic foreign adventurism. Both political parties in the United States have now been bought and paid for by corporations and wealthy donors. It was no accident that the Obama Administration went soft on Wall Street criminals while it has ruthlessly pursued whistleblowers. Few people in government are surprised when the Federal Reserve engages in manipulation of the economy in ways that only a fascist could fully appreciate. (And it goes without saying that the Federal Reserve shares responsibility for creating the bubbles that led to the financial crisis in 2008.) If the primary beneficiaries of this manipulation are Wall Street speculators and bankers, the principal victims are senior citizens who have seen the interest rates on their savings of a lifetime reduced to almost zero. I found it interesting that one of the first acts of the new regime in Kiev was to sign a multi-billion contract with Chevron. Meanwhile, Monsanto is pleased by the improved prospects of doing business in Ukraine’s agricultural sector. While I agree with Mr. Kagan that imperial overreach and the costs associated with it have doomed previous empires, he has chosen not to address the backlash that will come when the middle class in our country realizes how imperialism and corporatism are slowly grinding them into poverty.

  6. What Constitution? says:

    Mr. Kaplan’s view of international relations follows from perceiving this vignette from Monty Python’s Life of Brian as a wholly inspirational “lesson”:


    There’s just no pleasing some people, thank goodness Mr. Kaplan is willing to protect them (so long as they have something we want to justify the expense of our bothering).

  7. ess emm says:

    Great piece pointing out the implicit concession by Kaplan.

    You’re right, dragnets and austerity wont make Empire sustainable. But maybe the reactionary sociopaths that run the Empire think that through military force they could wipe-out anti-empire elements (like Russia, Venezuela, Iran, etc) to remove alternatives. A part of that strategy is to assist the 1% as they go about their looting.

    As is well known, to be a world hegemon America has to control Asia and prevent any country from becoming a Great Power, or even an independent power, there. That is dangerous policy in itself and, what’s more, it has led the US to hook up with some pretty noxious characters—jihadists in Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria; fascists in Ukraine; monarchists in Saudi Arabia; and so on—destroying any moral standing that the US might have. But Kaplan is fine with all that, we made the world better!

  8. Adam Colligan says:

    I continue to find it unhelpful to use the term “empire”, along with “colonialism”, to describe the nature and functions of the kind of influence that the United States currently wields. It seems to lead both supporters and detractors of American power into drawing false historical lessons by parallel with real empire and into incorrectly over-attributing events all over the globe to US intentionality.

    Empires are properly understood as politically integrated under de facto central authority (and, for the most part, de jure central sovereignty). There is a reason that the joke about the Holy Roman Empire carries through “neither Holy, nor Roman” to “nor an Empire. Empires monopolize the legitimized use of violence in their territories…and do much more besides. An Empire’s level of centralized authority and political integration, particularly concerning the standardization of practices and laws, creates for it distinct challenges that are not present under circumstances where one state or region is simply under the strong economic, political, cultural, or even military influence of another region or is part of a loose and diverse confederation.

    Colonialism also gets bandied about, though it isn’t such a central feature of this post, so I won’t dwell on it too much. Colonial power may be exercised as part of an arrangement within empire that formally subordinates one polity to another, or it may be somewhat less stringent in terms of sovereignty. But in either case it entails a very direct and literal control and exploitation of the resources of the subordinate for the exclusive benefit of the controlling power. Colonization creates for itself distinct challenges that are not present in relationships where there is simply a strong trading bond between a weaker and stronger power that gives the weaker power pause when it comes to upsetting the raft.

    American power is immense, influential, and in some areas hegemonic. But it is neither imperial nor colonial, and adding “neo-” prefixes to these words should not get anyone off the hook for duping an audience (or themselves) about the nature of that power. These words make commentators feel like they have a license to blithely draw “lessons” from the Japanese Empire or the Soviet Union, or Napoleon or some Khanate or other for decision-makers in Washington or Brussels today. These lessons are given weight because empires are presumed to share certain qualities, and therefore observations of those qualities can be applied from one situation to another. Some detractors of these claims stop at a contingent reading of history, simply arguing that all empires are different and rise at different times, with their circumstances to diverse to compare.

    But I think a better approach is to understand that empire and colonial control are in fact coherent ideas that create valuable lessons between situations. But the nature of America’s power is not really much in keeping with those coherent ideas, and so we have to be much more circumspect about both labeling America with those terms and attributing historical lessons to its situation.

    This is especially dangerous when it results in reflexive opinions like the one orionATL has expressed here and the one that the “Emptywheel’s boss” conspiracy theorists advanced about EuroMaidan. Those share the unrealistic attribution of events in US-influenced or US partner or client states to American actions. In an environment less encumbered by simple labels, we would be much more open to letting facts lead us to a picture of events: facts about, for example where Iraq’s oil actually gets sold, where Iraq’s violent social divisions really came from, what gave the most significant impetus to Ukrainian protesters, etc. But when we start from a rhetorical perspective that leans on a term like “empire”, with its coherent meaning, to frame events, this closes our minds and distorts our interpretation of reality. After all, in a real empire, important political events taking place in the covered territory are either orders from the chain of command or threats to it, and resources are sold in furtherance of central interests or not at all.

    From this perspective, it should be straightforward for us to see that making the statement “the United States is really not an empire” requires far less contortion of the facts at hand than are required to make the multitude of reinterpretations of events that are required to constantly map whatever happens to a pre-imagined picture of American imperialist governance.

    • orionATL says:

      “I continue to find it unhelpful to use the term “empire”, along with “colonialism”, to describe the nature and functions of the kind of influence that the United States currently wields….”

      as do i.

      “empire” does not accurately describe the current circumstances of u.s. economic-military pre-eminence.

      it is at best a metaphor, and a treacherous one.

    • Frank33 says:

      Collogan’s comment should get a prize for saying almost nothing, and using approximately 600 words to say nothing. But there is a trivial message there, that it is not “helpful” to discuss the American Police State and Empire. This Post is “duping” the audience. And the audience needs to be much more circumspect when the audience calls imperialist war pimps, such as Kagan, and Kaplan and Colligan, “imperialist war pimps”. They are not imperialist war pimps, they are just war pimps.

      This audience has “closed” their minds and “distorted” reality when we use the terms “America’s Bloody Empire”. Plus it is disrespectful to our neo-con One Percent who are destroying the planet. The “reality” is that the USA is a universally loved, happy, peaceful nation that never bombs women and children, in never ending wars.. That is not an “empire”. Vickie Nuland Kagan is not an empire builder. She and the other neo-cons are just trying to replace elected governments with dictatorships because they are humanitarians. So STOP DISTORTING REALITY and LEEEAVEE Kaplan and Kagan ALLLOOOONNNE!

      It is especially dangerous to have all these “reflexive” opinions by CONSPIRACY THEORISTS. This Post is especially encumbered by too many simple labels. That is why Colligan has to use a 50 word sentence to describe the actual facts about Irak and the Ukraine. Ha Ha Ha!

      This is especially dangerous when it results in reflexive opinions like the one orionATL has expressed here and the one that the “Emptywheel’s boss” conspiracy theorists advanced about EuroMaidan.

      Those share the unrealistic attribution of events in US-influenced or US partner or client states to American actions.

      In an environment less encumbered by simple labels, we would be much more open to letting facts lead us to a picture of events: facts about, for example where Iraq’s oil actually gets sold, where Iraq’s violent social divisions really came from, what gave the most significant impetus to Ukrainian protesters, etc.

      • Adam Colligan says:

        If the “truth” is I’m a war pimp but not an imperialist war pimp, it does nobody any good to just throw on “imperialist” for good measure. The tone of your comment suggests that you think there is license to do that because being a war pimp is bad, and being an imperialist is bad, and people who are bad should get bad adjectives.

        It reminds me of the Bill Maher spat some years back in which he challenged the idea that the 9/11 hijackers should be called “cowards” and was summarily canned for it. His point was that that, even if it might feel good to attribute every bad quality you can think of to a group of evil people, doing so leads you to make bad decisions because you stop being able to understand the problem properly.

        Much of the public reaction was just like your comment. It saw challenging the use of an (inaccurate) bad label as an act of defending bad people. If you’re focused so mightily on slaying an enemy — whether it’s US power in general, or neo-cons, or the one percent, or al-Qaida, or whatever — there is always going to be the strong temptation to associate every evil concept you can with that enemy. And anyone who tries to correct that is at best harmfully off-message and at worst suspected of being in league with the enemy.

        But by doing that, you’re always shooting yourself in the foot. If you can only see the enemy as a sort of funhouse mirror that reflects any evil concept that might be anywhere near it, you’ll never be able to identify its real threats and real weaknesses.

        The thing that makes classical conspiracy theorists (Reptilian spotters, NWO dissidents, Freemason investigators) vulnerable to bad conclusions is an overarching need to feel that events are under a central direction and control. The flawed concept of American empire unfortunately seems to induce this same line of thinking in people who would not otherwise be using it. Because American power is global and American influence broad, there will always be a way of tracing every event back, at least indirectly, to something or someone American. And because American power is often exercised in secret, you will always be able to fill in any gaps in tracing the origins of an event to an American plan by just asserting that the rest of the action bust have been covert. If America is a real empire, then just about every event everywhere is suffused with this US intentionality. It becomes impossible to falsify, since lack of evidence that something was planned in Washington just becomes evidence of how good the US government must have been at *hiding* it.

        I don’t understand your assetion that I’ve used 50 words to describe the situation in Iraq and Ukraine. What I did was make references to areas where there are a number of difficult and complex facts to follow, ones that don’t add up to neat picture of US control. I didn’t try to analyze them in the post or claim that I had.

        • Frank33 says:

          I don’t understand your assetion that I’ve used 50 words to describe the situation in Iraq and Ukraine.

          A 50 word sentence means 1) You are a propagandist copying your propaganda from a piece of paper. 2) You are being payed by the word, or by the bandwidth you can consume with your pro-war propaganda.

          You people, and by you people, I mean you and the Kagans and Paula Broadwell and Jen Psaki, and the insane five million member secret government, you people are worthless. You are destroying the planet for the benefit of a few hundred billionaires. And perhaps those five million members of the Secret Police do not control an Empire. But they have created never ending war and horror and you try to tell us there is no “One Percent”.

    • emptywheel says:

      Thanks. Not sure I agree (no surprise), but I’d be interested in hearing you flesh this out.

      <blockquote>I think a better approach is to understand that empire and colonial control are in fact coherent ideas that create valuable lessons between situations. But the nature of America’s power is not really much in keeping with those coherent ideas, and so we have to be much more circumspect about both labeling America with those terms and attributing historical lessons to its situation.</blockquote>


      They’re coherent in what way? Across time? So you’re only seeing some colonies and some “empires” as such because only they adhere to this coherence?

  9. Bob Stapp says:


    Thanks for one of the most clearly articulated, succinct and devastatingly insightful summations of what I see happening in the current state of our “empire.”

    What is emerging as a serious point of discussion in many recent things I’m reading is that the U.S. reliance on global surveillance is indeed finely targeted at preserving that empire at all costs. “Fighting terrorism” is a chimera, something we’ve long deduced anyway.

    As you said, influence and quality of life were perfectly adequate tools as long as they worked, but now that the elites are pulling up the drawbridges and filling the moats with piranha, continued preservation can only happen through coercion.

  10. Base says:

    What i took away from this piece was the fact that, despite the obvious nature of it, this may be the first time I recall any of these players actually calling our empire by that name. It has been a term that we from the far left or right use in the pejorative, but now it seems to be acceptable.

  11. TarheelDem says:

    Kaplan’s assertion about the stability of empires glosses over the functions that empires did that enforced stability. Those functions were well-known (at least for the classical period) to the architects of the US constitution, who for all their talk about the Roman Republic did nonetheless keep a not unevious eye on the Roman Empire. But like Kaplan, they reasoned by assertion.

    Empires create stability by policing the imperial commons, providing (minimal) common rights and (sometimes maximal) common obligations and by regulating the cultural/religious and economic leadership in such a way that politics becomes the center of social action. In the case of Rome, and oligarchic republic became an alternating autocratic empire that alternated between hereditary monarchy and tyrannic popular dictatorship.

    Moreover, the political domination of society means that instruments of politics, the security services and the military and the courts and deliberative bodies attract the prestige and ambition of both the establishment and the climbers.

    Put bluntly the answer to Kaplan’s question about American empire is the fact that it is the economic establishment that dominates society in the US and they are no longer willing to pay for the maintenance of empire. The western part of the Roman empire reached this condition around 500 AD.

    Why this happened is very easy to explain. The US claim of sole superpower status was massive hubris. George W. Bush and neo-cons like Kaplan got high on their own propaganda and put the empire to a military test that was ill-chosen, poorly executed, and a massive failure because they talked liberation and prosperity and practiced bigoted harshness and penny-pinching. And then they doubled down on a second country. The world saw that unlike during the Eisenhower and Kennedy era, the US could not successfully do the tasks of empire because of the cognitive dissonance between its ideology and its strategies.

    Empire is not longer a possibility for the US because of its self-enforced austerity. And after 25 years of bungling, the world has noticed and is forming alternative centers of economic, political, and cultural power as the US stumbles on doing the same old same old.

    The functions that empires have performed in the past now must be performed by collaborative actions of nations. Reducing the destruction of infrastructures by frequent war is one function; empires extended infrastructure to all parts of their domain mainly to provide military advantage in speed and flexibility of response. Providing resources for those within the empire through organizing the economy was another function. Having a common system of rights, obligations, means of settling disputes, even if that system was complex and class-based was another. Policing the common areas of empire was another. Great Britain and afterwards the US saw that policing as extending to all of the international commons, the US asserting “freedom of the seas” as early as the war against the Barbary pirates, for which Jefferson reversed course and increased the navy.

    For Kaplan, NSA is just policing the global commons of the internet. It’s just one of the responsibilities of empire. No doubt the entirety of the intelligence community operations looks the same to him–another burden of empire, another cost of world peace.

    The US has decided to abandon its global empire as too costly to maintain (also to drown government in a bathtub). How the world works is once again up for grabs. Kaplan’s question has been quaint since George Herbert Walker Bush decided that shock treatment would be the best way to reform the economy of Russia and Eastern Europe–just because he didn’t want to raise taxes to support a Marshall Plan.

    • orionATL says:

      a very thoughtful comment.

      i am especially partial to this:

      ..And after 25 years of bungling, the world has noticed and is forming alternative centers of economic, political, and cultural power as the US stumbles on doing the same old same old.
      The functions that empires have performed in the past now must be performed by collaborative actions of nations…”

  12. TarheelDem says:

    Judging from the PR push, it’s appearing that the Nuland-Kaganate putsch in Ukraine was timed to the rollout of the reconstituted and renamed PNAC. Likely also a part of this timing is GOP midterm election comments about national security and defense spending. And trying to re-patriotize a war-weary public. So watch out for some more flag pin nonsense.

  13. orionATL says:

    what are the fundamental attributes of a “clasdical” empire?

    – centralized control over the choice of who rules each of the empire’s states/provinces/satraps/protectorates

    – military control whenever necessary over all the populations of the empire

    – taxes/food/raw matetials collected from each of the provinces of the empire

    can anyone point put to me a non-metaphorical way in which these criteria can be applied to a putative u.s. empire?

    • TarheelDem says:

      There are some indirect ways that modern empires have done those same three things and the more successful empires have been characterized by how deft they are at avoiding popular resistance. For the US in particular:

      Since World War II, the US has exerted veto control over the head of state ruling states that the US at the time considers in its “national interest”. It deposed the heads of state of Guatemala, Iran, Congo, Vietnam, Dominican Republic, Chile, the list could go on up to Ukraine when it decided to, although these countries were nominally allied, friendly, or neutral to the US. In other cases (Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine), it installed the leader of its choosing.

      For sixty-nine years, the US has had occupation forces in Europe and Japan, later reorganized through bilateral agreements and mutual security pacts like NATO. In the case of NATO, it has controlled the decision-making structures and has traditionally had primacy of military command. That’s close to an imperial relationship.

      The framework of economic trade and monetary relations instituted by the Bretton Woods agreement and the General Agreement on Tariff and Trade. Although the US has abrogated some parts of the Bretton Woods agreement a lot of the institutions that resulted from that agreement are still in place and in general act in a way that privileges US interests in competition. In addition, the US manages its domestic economic policy in a way not to disadvantage its national interest in the rest of the empire. That is one of the unacknowledged structural contradictiosn of US policy. For example, fracking in the US is not about energy independence or even jobs, it is about maintaining Europe within the empire by having a price war with Russia and Middle Eastern producers. That is imperial logic. It is also self-defeating.

      • orionATL says:

        very interesting examples and a great deal more specific to our nation and times than much discussion of american “empire” these days.


  14. bevin says:

    The Empire in question originated in 1492. The looting of the Americas financed the successive raids that a series of European “nations” made upon the rest of the world, which was brought under imperial hegemony.
    The United States inherited the position, formerly filled by Spain, the Netherlands, inter alia, and Britain, of leading this empire in the Twentieth century.
    This is almost self evident.
    As to the nature of the Empire it exists to plunder, in order that it may plunder more effectively tomorrow.
    There are fairy tales putting a gloss of inevitability and benign outcomes on this stark and simple history but reality, every day of the planet’s life, shows them to be, at best wishful thinking and clearly sordid apologias for greed and murder.
    My first witness comes from what is now called New England…

  15. GKJames says:

    Kagan’s contention—the big boys on the block provide stability (of sorts)—is neither new nor inaccurate. What he and his fellow travelers smoothly elide from the conversation, though, is the price paid here and abroad, as well as who gets to decide whether, and by whom, that price gets paid.

    One wants to ask Kagan (and Bush and Cheney and the rest of the gems of empire) when we can expect a return on the staggering $4 trillion spent in Afghanistan and Iraq. Or why it is that these architects of both imperial adventures continue to thrive and be listened to and respected while countless others the world over—the dead, the maimed, the impoverished, and the permanently traumatized (not least the American youngsters suckered into sacrifice by their elders on the back of the tawdry, but perpetually successful, myth of military heroism)—don’t appear to be doing so well. And, more basically, how is it that the elite of a superpower in the 21st century is so devoid of imagination as to be incapable of addressing geopolitical issues with any tool other than slicing and dicing humans (though, admittedly, with the best high-tech ordnance borrowed money can buy)?

    Which makes the activities of the national security apparatus the cosmic joke that they are: all that information under our dominion and control and we’re as blind, ignorant, and self-absorbed as ever. That’s not a problem either, apparently, given the prevailing ethos that insulates the elite from ever having to account in any meaningful way for leading the country into costly dead-ends. All that’s required is a distortion of history (“Iraq’s a success! Saddam was a really bad man, you know.” “We’ve foiled countless murderous plots!” etc.) to close the door on the past, and the crafting of a new PowerPoint for a new mission to be sold to a part-gullible, part-ignorant, and part-disinterested public. Look for the Kagans to be front and center, though the upside to that will be to know that there’s guaranteed to be thousands of miles between them and the consequences (blood, usually) flowing from the policies they advocate.

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