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10 October 2006


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America IMO only achieved its imperial peak from 1990 to 2003 because (a) it acted more or less in consent with most of the important players, and (b) as a result of this the US achieved legitimacy and generated goodwill. Further, (c) it led to nobody seeing the need to challenge the US because it was not threatening.

The key to Bush's failure is (1) over-reliance on pressure and confrontation, (2) needlessly antagonising friends and thus (3) generating opposition. They made it worse still by (4) insisting in doing so out of principle even after it turned out beyond reasonable doubt to be counter-productive - staying the course, so to say.

The self-delusion and hubris are IMO primarily domestic policy problems.

Mac Nayeri

'Aint it sad though - to watch it all unfolding b4 your eyes - in real time almost. A great country is falling from grace and it is ours. The hemorrhaging can be stopped, but we have certainly weakened our own security environment and strenghtened, yes enhanced the influence of various competing forces - all to our own detriment.
Power has a shelflife and I think most of us realize the administration has negligently managed our Pax Americana.


Professor Cantori's paper is a great assessment of the reality this administration's actions in the ME have created - and what the future there might hold. Not all bad, I think, if we eventually return to a balance of power of sorts. An internationally weakened US foreign policy might in fact result in a world where no one player can initiate anything exceedingly foolish. Perhaps diplomacy will stand a chance once again?

That's my glass-half-full version, anyway....



To fill in the arc of imperial rise to its arguable 1990-2003 peak might be fun. Let me give it a try.

First, de Toqueville was able to predict America's future status as a great power even in the 1820s, although he believed a war over slavery would eventually break the country in two. He thought there was something energetically special about the United States, and applied the term "exceptionalism" to it, as Cantori notes. This would indicate there was something specially advantageous about American resources and culture.

Next, American leadership from at least McKinley on consistently made decisions which increased America's power relative to its international rivals. And while FDR made a huge bet in getting into WWII, he did so from a strategically conservative perspective, hedged it well, and statesmen like Fulbright and Marshall treated the resulting windfalls of victory, both financial and moral, with remarkable grace and foresight.

Thus tremedous soft power, hard power, and international droits moral were built up and manifest in the US by the 1950s and early 1960s, coincident with broad-based prosperity. At the end of WWII, the US share of world GDP was roughly one-half. Now that's imperial!

The experience in Vietnam certainly did not add to any of the above types of power, and neither did invading Grenada or Haiti. I would argue that the peak of Empire occurred much earlier than 1990, when US Cold Warriors were looking for a way to continue the Great Game and seek a more pecuniary reward in the wake of the Wall's fall.

When a parent uses violence, they are frustrated over lack of control. When a parent lowers themselves to brutality, they are lost. I would peg the peak of the American Empire as during the Johnson Administration, the start of decline as when Nixon went off the Gold Standard.

cynic librarian

This is a profoundly important essay that needs to make the rounds of Congress quickly, not to mention the media--if they could be trusted to read it over their lattes and sushi.

The article gives the depth to a comment made by military historian Martin Creveld that appeared briefly in the media about 8 months ago. Many of your readers will remember Creveld writing that the invasion of Iraq was "the most foolish war since Emperor Augustus in 9 B.C sent his legions into Germany and lost them."

The problem now is that the debacle will perhaps make the Bush admin. crazy and out for blood, hoping via an invasion of Iran to destabilize that country in such a way that any advantage that it's gained from the US failure in Iraq will be ameliorated.

Such an invasion would be devastating to not only the Mideast but perhaps the world economy, as former New York Times war correspondent Chris Hedges has recently written. According to Hedges, a war with Iran:

[W]ill ignite the Middle East. The loss of Iranian oil, coupled with Silkworm missile attacks by Iran on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, could send oil soaring to well over $110 a barrel. The effect on the domestic and world economy will be devastating, very possibly triggering a huge, global depression. The 2 million Shiites in Saudi Arabia, the Shiite majority in Iraq and the Shiite communities in Bahrain, Pakistan and Turkey will turn in rage on us and our dwindling allies. We will see a combination of increased terrorist attacks, including on American soil, and the widespread sabotage of oil production in the Gulf. Iraq, as bad as it looks now, will become a death pit for American troops as Shiites and Sunnis, for the first time, unite against their foreign occupiers.
Hedges, of course, is echoing similar comments by others (like Ray McGovern) inside and outside the intelligence community.

Many are hoping that the upcoming election will somehow forestall any such attack on Iran. That's doubtful, given the Bush admin's interpretation of the Authroization to Use Military Force passed to invade Afghanistan. In addition, Bush's imperial presidential pretensions discount the idea that he will backtrack now, given his propensity for Texan bluster and blue-blooded sense of entitltement.

Should the Democrats win majorities in either house of Congress, the only option left would be for Congress to refuse to appropriate monies for the war effort. That indeed would bring on a constitutional crisis, one that might indeed spell the death of the republic as Bush goes further than any American president ever has in unilaterally appropriating funds for his suicidal war.


The Cold War was a great fosterer of illusions.

I think both gargantuan super-powers were past their sell-by-date by 1990. Up until then they had propped each other up like two drunks.

The collapse of one seemed to leave one still on its feet, but it was an illusion - like those cartoon characters who walk over a cliff but only start to fall when they look downwards.

The future does not look good.


The thing that struck me the hardest was the comparison to the Indian campaigns that began when European "settlers" first came to North America and latest through the nineteenth century:

“Injun country” is the term used by soldiers on the ground to describe their relationship to the culture of their adversaries. It turns out that metaphorically, the “injuns” in North America in the nineteenth century and those in Iraq or wherever else that American troops fight is a foe whose language and culture is not only not known but, crucially, need not be known.

Now, let me see. Are we still supporting "settlements" in Injun country? Isn't there a nation somewhere on earth that has "settlements" in a hostile environment that they despise?

Nazi Germany did not have a monopoly on holocausts. What happened to Native Americans was a holocaust. What happened to African Americans was a holocaust (11,000,000 "imported", 4,000,000 left at the start of the Civil War), and what the Project for the New American Century has in mind for Islam is a holocaust.

Of course, if you don't think the latter is a holocaust, I assume you're taking your next vacation in Baghdad, a city that was once the cradle of civilization.


Despite all the known narrative (and much more evidence awaiting the shredder if the Dems get up in the House or Senate), the Koolaidistas will never admit error. Watch the elves and the more rancid "think" tanks as they start forging a barrage of "they lost Iraq" vilifications.

POTUS 44 will have an unusually delicate mission -- any suitable candidates? That is, apart from the usual self-infatuated Messiahs.


Do not overestimate the negative impact the Iraq war will have on the US. For Iraq itself, and for most of its neighbors, it will be a catastrophe. But the US can dust itself off and leave at any time.

Indeed it could afford a hundred such wars before it felt the pain in a real sense. The loss of 3,000 men and $400 billion is nothing in 'Imperial' terms. Lost goodwill can be regained with a few nice gestures and changes in policy - People are always eager to befriend the powerful, and eager to mend fences with them.

There question is not 'Can we be an Empire in the face of mounting antagonism to our policies and the failure of our grandest adventure to date?' the question is 'Do we want to be an empire?'. So far the answer is a clear yes, despite our aversion to the term itself.


Cynic Librarian,

With all due respect cynic, you may not be cynical enough. Do you actually believe:

A. Members of Congress (the ones who are capable of understanding it in the first place)are unaware of the facts underlying Cantori's premise/s? The vast majority support the Imperial Thrust...until it costs them that is. The rest oppose it...but not in ways that will cost them.

B. That the rest...the one's who have not made up their minds on this are actually capable of reading something Cantori wrote?

We can't even have an adult discussion of these issues in public. The blogs excepted. There are words and ideas that are not allowed to be uttered in the MSM. Look at one example of what happens when you do utter them.


See post under the title "Fiasco at the Times". As the blogger points out...what message do you think this sends?

The machine is broken. You see evidence of it on the blogs, like this one, and on C-Span panels. That is where the adults and free speech now live. Special emphasis on "now"

Jaime Gormley

Thank you for an illuminating post. I hope it makes an impression on our People's Deputies.

From the Cheney energy task force to the Halliburton/KBR sutlings to the CACI/Blackwater mercenaries to the baseline MICC behemoth, it takes little insight to see the cold deathly suffocating grip of corporate private wealth as the driving force behind this catastrophic national overreach. A change of horsemen will only affect speed but not direction of this willful nag. Our choice is to break and domesticate it or send it to the glue factory. Otherwise, we're still going to end up where we're heading.

How I miss Phil Hart and John Boyd.

A good start, if you will, would be a few highly selective (metaphorical) defenestrations for demonstrative effect followed by many (actual) incarcerations for substance. Going forward then, the foundation of a renewed American contract would be a realistic energy policy, mass transportation investment and sensible urban planning to support the more modest lifestyle that reflects our new diminished global station.

I'd be surprised if many of our invincibly ignorant antagonists didn't warm to it as much as I would. At least, we wouldn't have those awful Cheney, Rumsfeld and Bush people spilling into our living rooms from the telescreen.

"May we look upon our treasures, and the furniture of our houses, and the garments in which we array ourselves, and try whether the seeds of war have nourishment in these our possessions, or not."
A Plea for the Poor, Part X by John Woolman (1720-1772)


I think the basic thing to which it can be condensed is that an imperial policy like described above only has legitimacy with those who want it - and as it's based on American Exceptionalism, these folks are basically in America only.

Those at the receiving end do not share this view. You can only successfully use pressure, coercion or force when the use is *perceived* as legitimate *beyond the pond*. Bush's use of these instruments lacked legimacy where it counts. It is absolutely beside the point how rightous he and his goons and their supporters in the US feel their cause is - the local and international bystanders need to buy it, too. Because if they don't, opposition and resistance are as predictable as inevitable.

Nobody likes to be pressured to support policies he knows not to be in his interest, and that's a point that Bush & Crew have persistently considered irrelevant, and said so aloud. When the actor then starts throwing his weight around in self-righteous indignation, saying that who's not with him is aginst him, he will only underline the bully image, further eroding his legitimacy. This is just common sense.

That said, compared to Bush the younger, Clinton was the better and more successful imperialist. Legitimacy is the key, and Bush doesn't have it. Clinton had it.
And MarcLord, you might be well right that Clinton's time was just the golden dusk of the American empire. I just don't know if I like it or not.

Got A Watch

The American mis-adventure in Iraq is eerily similar the Roman General Crassus invasion of Parthia (what is now Iraq) in 54 BC.

Then as now, the invaders were encouraged by "traitors" to invade (Chalabi etal = Ariamnes), then led astray into hostile deserts. Some 15% or less of the Roman forces returned to Syria in defeat, the rest killed or captured.

The outcome today may not be much different, for many of the same reasons. 2,000 years of progress. Didn't Santayana say something famous about that?


arbogast @3:55AM,

"Now, let me see. Are we still supporting "settlements" in Injun country? Isn't there a nation somewhere on earth that has "settlements" in a hostile environment that they despise?"

Damn, that was a good insight re: Israel as Western settlement. East as West and new frontier. Absolutely parallel in terms of racial metaphor and consistent with previous population-management efforts.


The thing that has caught me about the "Imperial America" idea is how infrequently, if ever, it is turned around and examined from an internal perspective.

To wit, an Empire is characterized by the presence of an Emperor. And not to put too fine a point on it, but emperors are not subject to election or defeat thereby. Furthermore, they enjoy functionally unlimited power, much as this administration has brazenly sought.

If we are to accept that the PNAC/Weekly Standard crowd do in fact believe this to be an Imperial Administration, and we furthermore accept that they are in a position of ideological preeminence within this administration, then... well, then what? It is a chilling line of reasoning.

On the foriegn policy side, I think Prof. Cantori is overly optimistic. The combination of a strong polity of wealthy jingoists and a media establishment in the habit of ennabling the military-industrial complex seems more likely to be leading to successively more desperate attempts to impose regional dominance by force.

There is no political force in the United States that has shown a willingness to speak against this course. Unless one emerges, it is what will happen, 1 yr, 5 yrs or 15 yrs down the line.

It would make sense that after successive failures of this approach, we will see Prof. Cantori's circling of the wagons. But it will not happen without some heavy rhetorical reevalution of "American Exceptionalism," and that is a matter of political will and, even more difficult to face, deep-seated cultural identity.


I would lastly like to note, since it seems germane, that I was recently a part of a conversation where the question came up, "What is winning in the ME?" I would submit that for the U.S., winning in the ME would consist of being able to withdraw our forces from combat zones without igniting a catastrophic region-wide conflict.

Here's hoping we can get there.

João Carlos

MacLord said:
"I would peg the peak of the American Empire as during the Johnson Administration, the start of decline as when Nixon went off the Gold Standard."

I think you are right. I read somewhere that religious fundamentalism is a symptom and not the cause of a civilization decline. So, we are seeing today a strong symptom of a decline that was happening for some time now.

I think that the peak of US civilization happened at 1969 when Neil Armstrong made that small step for a man...


I had my first brush with the American corporate world over 30 years ago, working for the worlds largest corporation. What I saw - complete disregard for anything and everything, including laws, in the pursuit of dollars, repelled me and I left quickly. They have not changed their spots since.

Now examine Congress and the Senate, where the winning of elections is now a matter purely of money you can raise.

Look at concentration of media ownership.

Look at the dumbing down of Americans via a public education system that a noted education consultant friend of mine calls "dumb as dogshit".

Look at an entertainment and cultural system that is totally narcissistic in the worst possible sense, that fosters a sense that Americans are somehow superior to the rest of the world and always have been, to the point where the the media debates whether the future deaths of millions of non americans are in America's interests or not.

Look at a legal system that is unjust, savage to the point of torture, biased and politically complaisant. It is increasingly obvious that it is being morphed into a tool to keep the population fearful and repressed.

Look at an election system that does not even meet third world standards for fairness and accuracy, Diebold will deliver the Republicans yet again next month - you watch.

Look at an Administration that is beset by special interest groups funded by corporations and even countries (like Israel) who make policy.

Look at an insurgency or radical "Christianists" who are bent on destroying humanism and all its works. There have been numerous counterattacks since the reformation, and this is one of their deadlier ones.

Look at a rapacious corporate world, where even the health system is designed to extract the last dollar as one breathes their last breath. Why do you think there are no vaccines for aids and other diseases? Because there is no money in vaccines is there? There is much more money in giving rich AIDS patients drugs they must take for the rest of their lives.

The net result is a once proud people being led at an accelerating rate to their doom. Orwell's "1984" is being recreated in front of our eyes, and the American people are now too dumb to perceive their fate and do anything about it.


Nabil, the loss of 'goodwill' is not what was lost, it is the loss of Constitutional protections - that is what the Republican victory at Guantanamo Bay represents, they have defeated the America where "we hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal....."

As for sustaining more of these wars, who is to fight them? Bush's kids? The 120,000 college republicans? None of them are going. Pay $400 billion for another war? There is already a $28,000 bill at birth for every child born in the US just for the debt run up by this president. That is their college education, transferred from them to the bond holders and share-holders of this generation. And of course it does not include any of the dead Iraqi's and the shattered dreams of their children.

Col. I agree that Iran is the big winner here and that we have essentially lost this war as envisioned by the neo-cons, unfortunately many more good men and women will die before the political leadership in D.C. forces a change.


Walrus, your post is phenomenally spot-on until the last paragraph.

"A once proud people"?

Proud enough to destroy an indigenous civilization? Proud enough to wage the most murderous war in its history over slavery, having destroyed the lives of 11,000,000 people? Proud enough to outsource the labor of its people to a repellent regime that murders its citizens outside of anything any normal person would call a legal system?

You want pride? Look into the faces of George I, George II, and Jeb. You'll see pride.

Where are our good deeds? How has America aided mankind? Defeating the Soviet Union? Look at the Soviet Union now.

Defeating Germany? If I recall correctly, we were sitting that one out until the Japanese damn near destroyed our Pacific fleet. That's real leadership.

Green Zone Cafe

Well, Walrus, I am a bit of a declinist myself, and agree with some of what you say, but too much of what you say is wrong or a gross overstatement.

American public education takes its hits and could be improved, but an American high school grad in the median compares pretty favorably to the majority of school leavers in the European systems - the majority who are not baccalaureat holders, graduates of Gymnasiumschule or A-level certificate holders.

What American education is pretty good at is providing an opportunity and second chances, without the tracking and predetermination of European systems. You can go from a community college, to a state university, to an ivy grad school.

An entertainment and cultural system that is totally narcissistic -compared to that of what country? Bollywood? German Schlager pop music? Benny Hill or Little England? European football thugs? There is high culture and low culture in every country. Usually, I see entertainment and media preoccupied with national and local concerns everywhere.

a legal system that is unjust, savage to the point of torture, biased and politically complaisant. - Not sure what you mean by "politically complaisant" - legal systems do not work too well when politically active, but as someone with extensive experience with the US legal system I will acknowledge its faults, but I would rather be judged in a US jury trial than a French or German panel of judges in their system. It's true that I won't be harshly punished, a few years for murder, but what if I'm innocent?

You may not know this, but Diebold voting machines are not that extensively used in the USA. Problems with voting integrity are likely to be corrected.

"Special Interest Groups" include the American Association of Retired People, the NAACP, and the American Association of Scholars, among many other civil society organizations. You either have civil society, or not.

The health system, while it does churn a large part of the economy, usually does not bankrupt people, due to Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance, and state-funded free care programs. Yes, single payer would be more economical, but Americans can almost always find medical care whatever their means - about the same as I've seen on TV in the UK with people complaining about long delays in the NHS.


the depth of discourse here never ceases to amaze. i always am something of a philologist always dumbstruck by the raw power of words to educate. Republic, aha: res publica- a public thing, so obvious. Emperor- Imperator, commander. The Romans still kept up the pretense of their res publica institutions even when their Imperators became powerful. they still had their offices if consul and of Pontifex Maximum. The Great Bridge (to the Gods). Our Res Publica is stil patterned after Rome. Carried by the Legions on their standards SPQR. the senate and the people of rome- Senatus Populus Qua Romanum. Senatus- Old Men of the old nobility . The House-The tribunes of the commoners.

The Empire- that which is subjected to the Imperator? Non-Romans initially but Eventualy Roman citizenship became widely dispersed.

Lot of things going on in foreign policy.
Plans A, B, C, D


A. Our principle which would be based on human rights as in our Declaration of Independence and the 5th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. In this we are the truest to ourselves and the shining beacon to the rest of the world. Not imposing democracy with bullets but encouraging life, liberty, equality, and the pursuit of happiness everywhere. Liberte, egalite, and fraternite. The principles of the Englightenment crystallized in Rousseau's Social Contract.

B Or NeoKon Idealism to make the world safe for Israel by breaking the back of the Palestinians and the Sunnites in Irak. Partioning Saudi Arabia- all kinds of things to guarantee Israel can swallow the Palestinians in Peace and tranquility.

C Realism, Defensive Realism as the Balance of Threat (Stephen Walt)school modification of the Balance of Power theory. In this we build alliances against existing and emerging hegemons.

D Offensive Realism (John Mearsheimer). We become the hegemon. We cut off all emerging other hegemons at the knees. We play the role of "offshore balancer" to upset farway powers from becoming hegemons.

In both realism schools we should grab assets or make alliances to control or deny strategic natural resource assets to deny them to other potential hegemons. This would be especially true in the resource rich gas-oil ellipse in the Middle-East and Central Asia.

The tragedy of Irak under Cheney, Scooter Libby, Rummy, Wolfie, Feith has been Plan B. Admittedly not exclusively and with elements of the others thrown in. Mainly the NeoKons wanted to break the back of Sunni Irak to give Israel strategic depth so it could digest the West Bank in peace. The cost to the U.S. 2,700 dead, over 21,000 wounded, a trillon dollars spent (true economic cost).

Time to smell the coffee and quit sipping the Kool Aid

Best Wishes


Jaoa Carlos @ 01:44

"I read somewhere that religious fundamentalism is a symptom and not the cause of a civilization decline. So, we are seeing today a strong symptom of a decline that was happening for some time now.

I think that the peak of US civilization happened at 1969 when Neil Armstrong made that small step for a man..."

Kevin Philips (author most recently of American Theocracy) has noted how a fit of religion flares up as a symptom in the late stage of empires, and tends to focus on themes of Apocalypse and redemption.

Neil Armstrong's step on the moon would be the perfect choice of a peak moment, and I would be happy if that one moment is remembered as our legacy. Well done.



I stole your "Injun territory" insight re: Israel and ran with it a little on my blog. So far without attribution. Would you like to be attributed, if so how?

funny you mention the Reformation. I believe we're living in one, and this like the previous also is enabled by a more highly sophisticated form of the printing press.


Green Zone, I hope you are right, I'm just a little cynical today.

My biggest concern is that Americans in general know very little about the rest of the world and care even less about it - aided and abetted by the media and entertainment industry. Most are totaly incurious about it - just like President Bush.

I live in Australia (OK so there aren't walrus's in Australia) on my frequent trips to the U.S. I continualy run into people who don't even know where Australia is, or what language we speak, or that we are in Iraq and Afhanistan. I get comments like "Australia, oh thats where the Government took away your guns" (Always spouted by NRA members and simply not true) and so on.

Maybe its because we are far away and also insecure, but it would be hard to find one Australian who didn't know where Washington is, who the President is, and the rough details of what is going on in the world including the world economy because we understand how the world economy impacts on our own economy.


This is a wonderful analysis of the Israeli intelligence failure in Lebanon.


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