This 'Empire' Strikes Out

PUNDITS abhor a vacuum. So it's perhaps not surprising that two policy analysts at The New Republic have written an odd new proposal for a "third American empire" stretching over much of the old Ottoman Empire.

Ever since George Kennan penned the "containment" policy that became US doctrine toward the Soviet Union for half a century, ambitious analysts have tried to perform a similar feat. None have succeeded. Some have launched provocative ideas; some, misreadings of history. The essay in question is both - a kind of interesting Oliver Stoning of history.

It argues that America has ventured into two previous empires (spheres of influence): First, the takeover of Spanish holdings (Cuba, Philippines, etc.) in the Spanish-American War. Second, Europe and Asia after World War II.

Now, the thesis continues, as the US is squeezed out of its military/political/economic influence in Europe and Asia, Washington should put together what it is doing from the Balkans to the Middle East as a coherent new core policy.

There are three main reasons for critiquing this Ottomanization of America's role in the world:

1. To reassure America's allies and other great powers (Europe, Japan, China, the Asian tigers) that Washington won't abandon its many mutually profitable arrangements with them.

2. To scotch the very idea that the US might trade its basic interest in its primary trading partners in Europe and Asia for a mess of pottage - sole influence in the always troublesome Balkans and Mideast.

3. To remind readers that Europe and Japan, as well as the US, have long had (and continue to have) a vital interest in Mideast peace because of increasing reliance on the region's petroleum.

In short, the US has indeed taken the lead in both Arab-Israeli peace deals and Persian Gulf oil protection. But these closely tied policies, as well as vital relations with Turkey and the Turkic states south of Russia, are also of direct interest to major European powers. So are the Balkans.

It's natural that thoughtful policy planners have searched for a new US role after the cold war. Remember the similar search for a new role for Britain after it shed the last of its empire. But this proposed "third empire" policy has many dangerous subtexts. Among them: giving up on engagement with China. Abandoning close relations with Japan and the prosperous Asian tigers. Turning the US back on the uniting of Europe. Shirking the task of expanding global trade and repairing the UN. It's isolationism with an Ottoman face. No thanks.

The idea of a US 'empire' from Balkans to Mideast is isolationism with an Ottoman face.

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