In praise of American empire
RANCHO SANTA FE, CALIF.
America has become an empire, a fact that Americans are reluctant to admit and that critics of the United States regard with great alarm.Skip to next paragraph
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Since the end of the cold war, the US has exercised an unparalleled and largely unrivaled influence throughout the world economically, politically, culturally, and militarily. Critics of America, at home and abroad, are right to worry about how US power is being used.
The critics charge that America is no different from other rapacious empires that have trampled the continents in previous centuries. Within the universities, intellectuals speak of American policies as "neo-imperialist," because they promote the goals of empire while eschewing the term.
America talks about lofty ideals, the critics say, but in reality it pursues its naked self-interest. In the Gulf War, for example, America's leaders asserted they were fighting for human rights, but in truth they were fighting to protect US access to oil. The critics point to past US support for dictators like Anastasio Somoza in Nicaragua, Augusto Pinochet in Chile, Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, and the Shah of Iran as evidence that Americans don't really care about democratic ideals.
Even now the US supports unelected regimes in Pakistan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. No wonder, the critics say, so many people around the world are anti-American and some even resort to terrorism to lash out.
Are the critics right? They are correct to note the extent of American influence, but wrong to suggest that the US is no different from such colonial powers as the British, French, and Spanish that once dominated the world. Those empires like the Islamic, Mongol, and Chinese empires were sustained primarily by force. The British ruled my native country of India with some 100,000 troops.
US domination is not sustained primarily by force. True, America has bases in the Middle East and Far East, and it can intervene militarily just about anywhere in the world.
But the real power of America extends far beyond its military capabilities. Walk into a hotel in Barbados or Bombay and the bellhop is whistling the theme from "Titanic." African boys in remote villages wear baseball caps. Millions of people around the globe want to move to America. Countless people are drawn to America's technology, freedom, and way of life.
Some critics sneer that these aspirations are short-sighted. Perhaps they are right. People may be wrong to want the American lifestyle, and may not foresee its disadvantages, but at least they are seeking it voluntarily.
What about the occasions, though, when America does exercise military power? Here we can hardly deny the critics' allegation that the US acts to promote its self-interest. Even so, Americans can feel immensely proud of how often their country has served their interests while simultaneously promoting noble ideals and the welfare of others. Yes, America fought the Gulf War in part to protect its oil interests, but it also fought to liberate the Kuwaitis from Iraqi invasion.