An American Imperium?

By Steven Miller
  • Sunday, March 23, 2003

At the heart of much of the hand wringing over America’s unconditional insistence that Iraq be disarmed by force if necessary has been the quivering fear of a new and freer world.

Of course, it never gets put in quite those terms.

Instead, the naysayers—whether overseas or domestic—prefer to raise straw-filled boogeymen of quite the opposite character. Old Europe frets about the looming hegemony of the world’s single “hyperpower.” Russia and China, each with a straight face, assert that “international law” requires American obedience to the consensual fecklessness of the United Nations. Domestic leftists—notwithstanding years of practical indifference to the depredations of Saddam—suddenly discover that Iraqis can be hurt, and might be, in a war of liberation. And peace hypocrites, here in Nevada, simply descend into bug-eyed lunacy, blathering about how “Adolf II” is running the country.

But behind all the complaints, it is increasingly clear, George W. Bush’s real sin is his willingness to challenge the evils of the existing world order—an order in which his most vicious critics turn out to be deeply invested.

France and Germany, for example, refuse to give up their hostility to domestic free markets, preferring instead continued economic decline. In these circumstances, the “cowboy” Bush offers a welcome distraction for rising domestic discontent. He makes a good symbol for the deeply feared future—one where the disciplines of American-style economic dynamism would flush away the cartelized and corrupt “special arrangements” of Old Europe.

Bush’s clear-eyed willingness to wield America’s transcendent level of military force treads also on the sore corns of French and German military impotence. But even more grating, from the standpoint of Gaullist grandeur, is the ever-clearer historical contrast between America’s past, present and emerging record in behalf of human liberty and the chronically collaborationist tendencies of French elites. As Britain’s former Tory leader, William Hague, points out, “The French, it seems, have never got over the indignity of having to be rescued” twice in the last century.

“Without America,” Hague points out, “France would have lived in a dark age of dictatorship for decades. Without America, Germans could not have rescued themselves from a racist ideology. And without America, Europe’s only alternative to Nazi tyranny would have been communist tyranny.

“American troops left behind them an independent and democratic Japan, and brought Europe the Marshall Plan — both supreme acts of enlightenment in foreign policy. They share with Britain, but not with other European powers, the distinction of leaving democracy and freedom in their wake wherever they can.”

Hague’s last point is key. While we Americans have, to be sure, made our share of mistakes, the boogeyman of an arrogant and tyrannical American Imperium is manifestly more a psychological projection of French and German cultural and colonial history than of America’s. It’s an image more highly relevant to the totalitarian reflexes of the Left, domestically and abroad, than to the essentially insular instincts of the American people.

To be sure, candor by the Bush administration about its willingness, post 9-11, to act preemptively, has provided a ready hook on which to hang such projections. But despite the paranoia, America’s recent modifications to its national security strategy—like each of the modifications throughout the last century—are an entirely natural outgrowth of the progressively smaller world created by modern technology.

Consider the last century: It was only unrestricted submarine attacks off the East Coast that brought us into World War I, and only the direct attack on Pearl Harbor that brought us into the second. In 1947, as Stalin sought nuclear weapons and as isolationism had shown itself futility, Truman reversed a longstanding American policy of withdrawal from Europe. Similarly, it was after the policy of détente had failed for decades that Ronald Reagan, in 1981, committed us to seeking victory over communism.

Today, as 9-11 showed, the world is even smaller than ever before. And in this new, much-smaller world, no American government—obligated, as American governments are, to protect American lives—can tolerate a Middle East that continues to spawn terrorist scorpions.

Thus the question of a direct, smoking-gun link between Iraq and Al Qaeda was always, to a large degree, a diversion. The more important link is one that American officials for various reasons of statecraft cannot overtly acknowledge. It is that the dictatorships of the Middle East are the dominant avatars and defenders of the cultural dynamic that creates terrorists—and therefore they simply have to go.

Steven B. Miller is policy director for the Nevada Policy Research Institute.

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