America Is Not An Empire

Niall Ferguson makes an interesting argument that America really is an empire, whether we like it or not. He’s right in a sense, but that doesn’t make America an empire by necessity. Given that definitions are usually best solved with the aid of a dictionary here’s how Merriam-Webster defines the word "empire".

(1) : a major political unit having a territory of great extent or a number of territories or peoples under a single sovereign authority; especially : one having an emperor as chief of state (2) : the territory of such a political unit b : something resembling a political empire; especially : an extensive territory or enterprise under single domination or control
2 : imperial sovereignty, rule, or dominion

This isn’t a great amount of help. Even before Iraq, America was already a country consisting of 50 states under a single sovereign authority. A bit of clarification is in order: let’s define empire as a collection of bodies under a single sovereign authority that do not have the right to legally seceed from that authority. (Again, the US could fit this definition, as the Civil War proved.)

However, the definition of empire doesn’t necessarily fit in Iraq – or more precisely, it won’t. Puerto Rico is no more than one vote away from independence, despite being a US protectorate for decades. Ferguson is correct that the US will have to stay in Iraq for some time until the country is prepared for self-rule. However, once that is accomplished, the US will maintain a presence in the country only as long as the Iraqi government wishes. The historical precedent is clear – if we wanted to be a worldwide empire, Japan, the Phillipines, Germany, and Puerto Rico would all be under control of the American Empire. Yet they are not.

Ferguson is entirely correct that we will have to behave like an empire for a while, but if we’re an empire it is out of necessity rather than desire. America has had plenty of chances to become a true empire from 1898 to 1945 and taken none of them. Empires conquer – democracies liberate and leave when the time is right, and the history of the United States clearly shows that it has little taste for real empire. While we’ll be in Iraq for a while, that while will not be forever, and Iraq will have its sovereignty when it is able.

One thought on “America Is Not An Empire

  1. On January 17, 1706, Benjamin Franklin was born. After the American Revolution, when asked what form of government the American people now enjoyed, his answer was, “A Republic. If you can keep it.”

    The Republic died on the anniversary of Ben Franklin’s birthday in 1893.

    January 17, 2003, was the 110th anniversary of the American Empire. One hundred and ten years ago, a group of rich white guys got the US Armed Forces to invade the Hawaiian Islands and forcibly overthrow the sovereign government of Hawaii. This invasion and overthrow of a sovereign nation outside the North American continent signaled the death of the American Republic, and the beginning of the AmeriKKKan Empire. You can read the original NY times article describing the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarch here
    ( ).

    Bill Clinton acknowledged in writing that the Islands were stolen illegally, and yet the United States Government refuses to discuss the issue of returning control of the Islands back to its rightful owners.

    But America is ‘not an Empire’.

    During World War II, Okinawa was invaded by the Japanese, and ‘annexed’ in the same way the Hawaiian Islands were. America captured Okinawa toward the end of the war. After the war, the US signed a deal with Japan that ceded control of Okinawa to Japan, with an agreement that the US could keep the best real estate on the island for military use. They took nearly the entire east and west coasts of Okinawa, which they retain to this day.

    Naturally, the Okinawan people, who consider themselves Ryuku and NOT Japanese, were given no say in any of this – no say in being ruled by Japan, and no say in the theft of their land by the United States.

    There have been endless protests against the US presence in Okinawa. Hundreds of thousands of people have turned up at times to demand the withdrawal of US troops. The rate of rapes and sexual assaults in Okinawa is six times that of the rest of Japan.

    The rape of Japanese girls by Americans, often girls under the legal age of consent, has become commonplace in Okinawa. The majority of Okinawans don’t want the Americans there, which they express at the polls year after year by electing anti-US candidates to press the issue with both the US and Japanese governments. Despite their efforts, the Americans won’t leave.

    But America is ‘not an Empire’.

    In Pakistan, the people have also expressed their view of an American presence at the polls, where the Islamists made huge gains in the federal election, and once again handed Musharraf his hat at the recent local elections. The people don’t want American bases there, but Bush has no intention of leaving until the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan Oil pipeline is built.

    But America is ‘not an Empire’.

    American troops in Kuwait are being attacked and shot at almost daily as their presence increases in the Middle East. Even the Kuwaiti people who were once invaded by Saddam don’t want them there. But there is no chance in Hell that the US troops are leaving until Bush has set up a US friendly government in Baghdad and stolen Iraq’s oil.

    But America is ‘not an Empire’.

    Hugo Chavez was elected in a landslide in 1998. He believes that the wealth of Venezuela’s natural resources should be used to help the poor, and not just to enrich a small number of George BushÕs friends. Thus, Chavez is considered by Bush, who couldn’t even win a majority in a fixed election, to be an illegitimate leader. The Bush administration attempted a coup in April, which failed. The coup leaders are now hiding in the United States, where they were welcomed with open arms for their Terrorist activities in Venezuela.

    But America is ‘not an Empire’.

    In 1895, Jose Marti helped lead the Cuban people to freedom from Spanish rule, after years of planning overseas. America promptly betrayed the Cuban revolution, and set up its own puppet government, which ceded Guantanamo Bay to the United States without consulting the Cuban people. The United States has been asked to leave Guantanamo Bay for more than forty years, but they refuse to do so.

    But America is ‘not an Empire’.

    Now, Guantanamo Bay is being used to get around inconvenient things like Constitutional rights, human rights, the Geneva Convention, and the rights of man declared in America’s own Declaration of Independence. Like Rome and Nazi Germany, Bush is creating a two-tiered legal system – one set of laws for those with the ‘right papers’, and another set for everyone else.

    But America is ‘not an Empire’.

    North and South Korea have been trying to establish a dialogue to work toward re-unification. George Bush has been doing everything in his power the prevent this from happening, and is trying his hardest to divide and conquer, so the US can keep its base in Seoul and prevent a united Korea from laying claim to the Spratly Islands.

    Even the leaders in Korea have been protesting the US presence and the Standard Of Forces Agreement (SOFA). The SOFA agreement is aptly named, as it has been used by American GI’s to turn places like Olongapo, Okinawa, and Seoul into their own private casting couch.

    Shops in Seoul have even taken to boldly displaying signs saying, ‘AMERICANS ARE NOT WELCOME HERE’. But the troops won’t leave.

    Re-unification of Korea is going to be allowed by the US only after Exxon has laid its claim to the Natuna gas fields in the Spratlys. Until then, the bases and large presence of US troops will remain, despite the protests, despite the attacks on American troops in Seoul, and despite the wishes of both North and South Koreans.

    But America is ‘not an Empire’.

    Russia, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Cuba, the Sudan, Chile, Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Vietnam, Cambodia, and many others who have dared suggest that the mineral resources beneath their feet belong to them and not to American companies have all suffered under attempted coups, invasions, bombings, sanctions, and military blockades that have killed millions. The people of these nations, who unlike Americans have no say in what their government does, are innocent victims of these sanctions, and hundreds are dying daily, deliberately being starved and denied essential medicines by US sanctions.

    But America is ‘not an Empire’.

    If it’s not an empire, what is it?

    What do you call 140 plus military bases, many of them in places where they’re unwelcome, unhelpful, and do nothing but add to the number of little girls raped or killed by US Marines?

    110 years of bad manners?

    Pax Romana?

    Skull and Bones?

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