another thought on empire
Freidersdorf: I would say that there are some other big problems that the country faces. One of them is sort of national security, and staying secure without becoming an either an empire by getting ourselves into so many foreign entanglements that we’re spending money all over the world or else becoming, uh –
Reihl: Why did you use the word “empire”? What do you mean “empire”? What foreign country have we invaded and taken over in the last 50 years, since World War –
Freidersdorf: Iraq and Afghanistan.
Reihl: No. That’s not empire; that’s military intervention. Empire, to me, suggests me you are growing. In other words, Iraq becomes a sister state or a shadow state of America. I don’t see that happening. I don’t see anyone advocating for empire.
I think the problem with defining “Empire” in a more classic sense of the word is that previously – during past empires – there was no such thing as globalization. Even under the British colonial empire globalization was essentially occurring only in those places that British empire (and other European empires) had reached. Essentially even under Rome, the purpose of territorial expansion was the fact that it was a necessary prerequisite to economic expansion.
We can no longer define empire this way. Nor do we need to come up with a new word to describe what has inevitably the same results. America doesn’t necessarily need territorial expansion – indeed, it could very well be a hindrance, and an entirely unnecessary cost – to achieve economic expansion. Sometimes we feel that where vital economic interests are concerned we ought to maybe run a coup or topple a regime and chalk it up to national security. But for the most part our empire is one that has developed along economic lines, underpinned by an extraordinarily effective and expensive military.
In every other sense save perhaps the “conquer and colonize” we are imperial, reaping even more effectively the economic benefits of our expansion than any empire that came before us. America has made of empire an art form.
Update. More of the transcript per Conor’s request in the comments:
Freidersdorf: Well, I agree that what we have now in Iraq and Afghanistan is not an empire. I do think that there are–
Reihl: You said, or you implied it was, it was “we shouldn’t act [imperially.”] That’s what you said, Conor. I’m not making it up.
Freidersdorf: Right. I said a challenge we’re going to face in coming years is staying secure without becoming an empire. I think that there are going to be failed states in the world — you know, Pakistan may be one of them, Iraq may continue to be one, Iran may become one — and we’re going to face a tough line between having to go in, and take out terror cells and terrorist training camps, and on the other hand not putting ourselves in a position where we have permanent military bases all over the world. And at the moment, we have permanent military bases in a lot of places. And while I think that most people in the United States don’t think that we should have permanent military bases in Iraq, if you read the Weekly Standard blog, you will see that there are definitely some very prominent conservatives who think that we should have permanent military bases in the countries that we’ve now invaded.
Reihl: I wouldn’t disagree on that, necessarily–
Freidersdorf: Alright. So…
Reihl: –particularly, I think that it’s a smart idea. I think — I’ll be honest with you — I think the Iraq invasion, or whatever you want to call it, was I think…in essence, what I think the underpinings of the Bush philosophy I think were relatively brilliant and exactly what we needed to do. I’m saying it was implemented correctly or that it cannot be misconstrued as something other than what it is. But to me, just so you understand my way of, where I’m coming from on that, is not to become an imperial power, but for instance, to establish a genuine, not a mock democracy, but a genuine democracy in the heart of the middle east and to have to have Iraqis control their own lives and begin to realize economic growth and social advancement and all the things that the West has enjoyed, I think that’s probably, in other words, seeding democracy in a cesspool part of the world is strategically very smart. We can disagree on that, but I wouldn’t characterize what Bush were trying to do was build empire. I think you could say he was trying to create empire in terms of capitalism, but you know, Saddam Hussein and Iraq (?)is a different issue. So I didn’t have a problem — I don’t have a problem with that concept in terms of the Middle East because we’ve been trying for 40 years to find others ways to do it and I think that having the Iraqi people who are genuinely free and steering their own destiny and able to act as a model of modernization or modernity is a wonderful thing. And we’re still on track for that, and I think that history may show that that was actually a wonderful thing. That doesn’t mean that I want to have an Air Force base in Kuwait for the next 2,000 years, but it might be a good thing for the next 50 years. You know, why we never pulled out of Germany and some of the other areas is better question to me. I’m sorry to let (?) carry some of the water in that. I’m sorry talking too much.
Payne: No, no, not at all. that’s why you’re here to do.
Freidersdorf: So, I guess — well, first, let me say I agree with you that George W. Bush was not trying to start an empire in Iraq and I — there’s, you know, some deabe as to whether he wante to start democracies in the Middle East. And I think he did. I take him at his word that he did.