Open defense of imperialism

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Tue Dec 11 08:52:20 MST 2001

(From December 9, 2001 NY Times Magazine article on "The Year in Ideas",
which is indexed from A-to-Z. This one is listed under A. During the 1960s,
when the radical movement was much stronger, the media and politicians
tended not to use the word "capitalism" but euphemisms instead, like "free
enterprise" or "the market system". With the collapse of the radical
movement, they were much more up-front about what they embraced. Now, as
the forces of reaction gather momentum, they are openly using the word
"imperialism", something that never used to happen in the past. I first
noticed this about a year or two ago when rightwing ideologues were
defending the re-introduction of colonialism into Africa in order to stop
the natives from killing each other, or some such rot. )

American Imperialism, Embraced

This year a new conservative movement, led by William Kristol's Project for
the New American Century, formed around a single idea: support for a new,
proud American imperialism. The debate on whether America is an imperial
power is over, P.N.A.C.'s scholars insist; the American empire is real. The
challenge now is to figure out what to do with it.

''We had better get used to seeing ourselves as others see us,'' says Tom
Donnelly, P.N.A.C.'s deputy executive director. ''It doesn't matter if we
don't consider ourselves an empire. Others see us as impinging on their
lives, their space, their way of life. If we are going to protect our
enduring interests, in the Middle East and elsewhere, then we have to do
something about it.''

So far, that something mostly boils down to spending more - a lot more - on
the military. P.N.A.C. has deluged the Bush administration and Congress
with articles and press releases calling for vast increases in the defense
budget, and expressing suspicion about Secretary of Defense Donald
Rumsfeld's ideas on ''reforming the military.'' They claim that military
spending fell to less than 3.5 percent of the nation's gross domestic
product during the Clinton years, ''back to pre-World War II levels.'' The
new imperialists would like it to return to its cold war average of 10
percent of G.D.P., increasing the defense budget by at least $75 billion to
$100 billion per year.

''We'd better understand the full range of tasks we want our military to
do, from Balkans-like constabulary missions to no-fly zones to maintaining
enough big-war capacity,'' Donnelly contends. The P.N.A.C. wants it all - a
military that can confront China over Taiwan, throw up a missile defense,
remove Saddam Hussein from power, fight two conventional wars at the same
time and effectively hunt down terrorists, drug lords and guerrillas.

Donnelly refers longingly to the strategies and tactics of the old British
Empire, back when it was policing the Raj and maintaining the Pax
Britannica. But the American empire is different, he says, in that it holds
no territorial ambitions.

''The fundamental difference between America and other, past empires is
that we don't issue writs in Washington that we expect others to follow,''
Donnelly says. Rather, our new manifest destiny is to disseminate our
values. ''We have seen the spread of liberty in our own country as our
power spreads, as well as around the world,'' he says. ''As we have grown
more powerful, we have extended rights to women, to racial minorities, to
everyone.'' These are the values - along with free-market capitalism - that
the American empire should stand for, the new imperialists maintain.

In Afghanistan, Donnelly speaks of ''economic development'' and long-term
diplomatic engagement aimed at ''not just winning the war, but creating a
stable peace.'' He rejects talk of an ''easy-exit strategy'' and demands
that we commit American troops to a peace-keeping force and take the lead
in building ''some sort of state structure in Afghanistan.''

Historically, America's most ambitious imperialist projects have been
undertaken during some of the more progressive periods in American history.
Conservatives have generally been more skeptical of attempts to impress
American values upon foreign nations. So it's no surprise that the debate
over imperialism has exposed deep fissures in the national conservative
movement. Donnelly's most intractable opposition comes from other
conservatives - including much of the administration's foreign policy
establishment. Bush's foreign policy, after all - at least prior to Sept.
11 - has been based upon a partial global disengagement; a self-interested,
''realistic'' unilateralism. P.N.A.C.'s analysts criticize the ''almost
contemptuous rejection'' with which the administration has backed out of
international agreements.

Kristol sees domestic political advantage in the imperial strategy; in an
essay, he and Robert Kagan promise that the new imperialism will make the
Republican Party ''once again the party of Reagan - a party that stands for
that 'distinctly American internationalism' that we believe a majority of
Americans embrace.''

Louis Proyect
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