There’s never been an empire quite like ours

| May 18, 2015

By Tom Mayer

A few weeks ago my friend Ron Forthofer and I participated in a discussion, attended largely by senior citizens, about U.S. interventions in Libya and Iran.

I premised my own remarks on the assumption of an American empire that was concerned (among other things) with the management of global capitalism. This assumption was challenged by several participants who claimed that no such empire existed. They argued that the U.S., rather accidentally, fell into its present position of global preeminence with little advance planning and certainly no intention of exercising enduring dominance.

Of course both Ron and I disagreed with these denials of empire, and we cited much evidence to the contrary. An interesting exchange followed. This group has now invited me to participate in a further roundtable discussion addressing the question of “Does an American Empire Exist?”

Stimulated by these discussions, I have focused my Peace Train Column for this Friday (published in The Colorado Daily) on “The American Empire”. Newspaper space limitations allow only the briefest summary of the evidence for such an empire in the Peace Train Column. Despite its brevity, I thought this piece would interesting to readers of these communications.

One thing I was not able to address in my short Peace Train Column was the structural conflict between role of the American state as the government of the United States on the one hand and its role as the manager of global capitalism on the other. These two roles often carry contradictory responsibilities and result in political turmoil.

The Trans Pacific Partnership provides an interesting example of this structural conflict. As manager of global capitalism, the duty of the American state is to integrate the various sectors of the world capitalist system, which means (among many other things) the promotion of free trade. As government of the American people, on the other hand, the responsibility of the state is to protect the welfare of U.S. citizens, which clearly requires rejecting the TPP. The Democratic Party is currently skewered on the twain of this particular contradiction.

This structural conflict between the partially incompatible roles of national government and global capitalist manager explains some of the inconsistencies as well as some of the dynamic tendencies of U.S. foreign policy.

On behalf of the Middle East Collective,
Tom Mayer

The American Empire

By Tom Mayer

On January 5, 2003 the entire cover of the Sunday New York Times Magazine said “The American Empire (Get Used to It)”. The accompanying article remarked: “[W]hat word but ‘empire’ describes the awesome thing that America is becoming?….Being an imperial power means enforcing such order as there is in the world and doing so in the American interests.” Some pundits (mostly conservative) now celebrate the existence of an American empire, but its reality is still doubted by many American citizens.

An empire is a group of countries dominated and controlled by another country (often called the hegemon). World history has seen many empires with many different systems of control, but the American empire has the first truly global control system. Empires dominate countries by some combination of military, economic, political, ideological, and cultural means. The American empire uses all of these devices.

Military: The United States has over 1,000 foreign military bases located in over 100 different countries. U.S. annual military expenditures are over one-third of the world total and exceed the military expenditures of the next eight countries combined. We are the unrivaled world leader in developing and deploying military technology. The U.S. has made over 80 extensive military interventions since World War Two.

Economic: The dollar is the currency of international commerce. This enables the U.S. to maintain huge current account deficits, which finance military operations abroad, foreign investment, and domestic consumption. The U.S. controls both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the most important international economic organizations. Wall Street has become the center of world finance, and American capital now penetrates most foreign nations. Countries that defy the U.S. can face economic strangulation.

Political: Countries within the American empire retain nominal political independence, but must submit to U.S. sanctioned rules of conduct. The actions of all foreign countries are closely monitored, and agencies like the State Department, CIA, NSA, AID, and the Pentagon enable the U.S. to intervene effectively in virtually all other countries. American political power is used to manage global capitalism, reinforce U.S. world dominance, establish military alliances (like NATO), and undermine radical movements. Uncooperative nations experience diplomatic isolation, ideological vilification, economic sanctions, assassination of political leaders, or even military intervention.

Ideological: Neoliberal capitalism is portrayed as the only workable economic system. The United States is the benign exceptional nation, not bound by international law, and naturally entitled to be world leader. The American government is an almost perfect democracy, and its designated enemies are inherently evil and subject to military attack.

Cultural: Through films, television, newspapers, internet, popular music, and mass media the U.S. is portrayed as the center of the cultural universe. Gluttonous individual consumption emerges as the highest goal of life and the USA as the best and most exciting place to live.

The American empire may be unique and “informal”, but it is almost surely the most powerful empire in world history.

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