BOOK REVIEW

COLOSSUS
by
Niall Ferguson

FUTURECASTS online magazine
www.futurecasts.com
Vol. 9, No. 11, 11/1/07

Homepage

The semantics propaganda ploy:

 

"Empire" is not necessarily a pejorative term.

  In "Colossus: The Price of America's Empire," Niall Ferguson expands the term "empire" to a point of meaninglessness. He argues that "empire" is not necessarily a pejorative term. He asserts that the U.S. should candidly assume the "nation building" role of a "liberal" imperial state and pick up "the white man's burden" previously borne by the British Empire. Ferguson provides a utopian vision of what the U.S. can accomplish.
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Empires are "those ambitious nations that seek to exert power beyond their own borders."

  Any powerful nation that exercises some substantial influence of any type beyond its borders meets Ferguson's definition of at least an "informal" imperial state. Empires are "those ambitious nations that seek to exert power beyond their own borders."

  Note the use of the word "ambitious" rather than "powerful." Even Switzerland has various international financial and economic ambitions.

  His definition of this "power" that is exerted is so broad that his reasoning can be extended to include any nation, no matter how small, that exercises some influence abroad. This expansion of the term "empire" is the equivalent, say, of expanding the term "holocaust" for propaganda purposes to cover the Boston Massacre.
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  A nation need not exercise any political or legal control - formal or informal - to qualify as an empire, according to Ferguson. He provides an interesting menu of characteristics with an explanation of his expanded definition of "empire."
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  Applying his menu and explanation, we find that an "empire" can be a market democracy with political and economic freedom - that wishes to communicate with other people - for peaceful purposes - and sends ambassadors or even just informal delegations of civic and business elites - to meet with the political or civic elites in other nations - and engages in free trade involving the export and import of goods, entertainment and culture - for the mutual benefit of all peoples, resulting in the raising of standards of living abroad closer to the more advanced nation's level - meaning "Americanization" with respect to U.S. involvement.
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  Just about anything that a powerful nation does abroad becomes an act of imperialism. Even acts by its civic and business leaders and non-government organizations abroad become acts of imperialism.
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This book is an exercise in propaganda and sensationalism.

 

Instead of shaping their theories to fit the facts, these advocacy scholars twist the facts to fit their theories and routinely ignore a host of facts that contradict their theories.

  This book is not serious scholarship. It is an exercise in propaganda and sensationalism. Ferguson is clearly what FUTURECASTS calls an "advocacy scholar" - someone who, like John Kenneth Galbraith and Lester Thurow, twists the facts to achieve some ideological agenda. See, Modern Advocacy Scholars. Like them, Ferguson paints with a broad brush - eschewing examination of a host of pertinent details. Unfortunately, there are many devils in those omitted details.
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  The expanded application of a pejorative and emotion-laden term
like "empire" is ample proof that Ferguson is not interested in serious scholarship. Propaganda ploys designed to arouse emotions are widely used for obfuscation and to divert attention away from an  examination of issues on their merits. Indeed, Ferguson cites a host of other advocacy scholars - of both the left and the right - who for decades have been fulminating about American "imperialism" as a part of their propaganda assaults on America's Cold War and free trade foreign policies. Instead of shaping their theories to fit the facts, these advocacy scholars twist the facts to fit their theories and routinely ignore a host of facts that contradict their theories.
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  The semantics propaganda ploy - changing the meaning of terms for propaganda purposes - has become commonplace during the last century and a half. Marx and his followers, of course, used this ploy widely - as in his redefinition of the terms "profits" and "total capital," see, Karl Marx, "Capital (Das Kapital)," vol. 3 (I) at section "H) Profits." In the 20th century, Marxists gave us a host of nations absurdly designated as "The Peoples Democratic Republic of - - -."
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  Another version is the "science" propaganda ploy, involving the misapplication of the term "science" to increase prestige and popular acceptance - as in "political science," "social science," "military science," the "science" of Keynesian economics (thankfully abandoned since the Keynesian failures of the 1970s). Modern religions also use this ploy, as in "Scientology" and "Christian Science." Marx, in creating his secular religion, widely employed the science propaganda ploy. He insisted that his "investigations" were "scientific" and therefore certain in the accuracy of their conclusions. See, Karl Marx, Capital (Das Kapital) (vol. 1)(I), at section "A) The Science Propaganda Ploy." He achieved astounding consistency, being proven wrong on 12 out of 12 predictions in the first volume of Das Kapital.
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  Ferguson employs the semantics propaganda ploy primarily to sensationalize - to gain public attention for his work - and to distract attention from essential factors such as the very real difficulties and costs of nation building and the very real limits of U.S. power and the very real limits of public support for expensive nation building and other military or assistance activities abroad.
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  Ferguson employs some interesting semantic gymnastics in support of his vastly broadened definition of "empire." In total, the exercise becomes ludicrous.

  • "The imperialism of anti-imperialism" is the description of U.S. Cold War opposition to the Soviet empire.

  • "Formal empire" is a historic empire - like the British Empire.

  • "Informal empire" is an empire without direct political or legal control of other nations.

  • "Empire by invitation" is the empire of Cold War alliances composed of nations sheltering under the U.S. military wing. This was an imperial undertaking even in West Europe whose "leaders expected to be treated as equals," Ferguson acknowledges.

  • "Empire based on consent" is involved in informal alliances.

  • A kind of "semi-empire" is created when the U.S. and the UN act together to overthrow a genocidal or dysfunctional regime and thereafter engage in nation building to create a free political system in which people can rule themselves. Overturning the regime in Liberia and then turning the place over to the UN for follow-up nation building efforts was thus an act of semi-imperialism - whatever that means.

  • "Multilateral empire" is created when the U.S. acts with the UN or other major powers for purposes of regime change and nation building. Indeed, just about all multilateral activities involve multilateral imperialism.

  • "Empire without settlers" is created when both government and people neglect imperial service abroad.

  • "Empire without imperialists" characterizes the U.S. empire that exists without either government or public acceptance of any kind of imperial role.

  • "Temporary empire" is created by U.S. determination to terminate military occupations and leave people to their own devices as soon as possible - and often even sooner.

  • "Undeclared empire" is a description of the current U.S. empire.

  • "Cooperative empire" is the modern European Union, which largely lacks a governing center and is run by its parts.

  • "Liberal empire" is the British Empire towards the end of the Victorian age, bearing "the white man's burden" to provide good governance and progress for the backwards peoples of the world. The ideological ax that Ferguson is grinding is his desire to see the U.S. pick up this burden - bringing law and order and good governance to failed states and states ruled by vicious tyrants.

  • "Imperial governance" is inherent in all nation building efforts by external authorities.

  This line of reasoning achieves some ludicrous results. Any exercise of "soft power" is an exercise in imperialism.

  • Since the U.S. not only seeks influence abroad but responds to foreign nations and peoples who seek to achieve influence in the U.S., we have a world of mutually imperial states.

  • That "Americanization" is not forced on other nations and peoples makes no difference if they decide in various ways to "Americanize" themselves. Wal-Mart and Coca Cola thus become extensions of American imperial power in China and India. Do China and India realize that they have become parts of the U.S. "empire?" The plethora of ethnic restaurants throughout the U.S. is obvious proof that the UN is indeed attempting to take over the U.S. They don't even need the black helicopters. They don't even need the UN. All they need is sushi and chop suey.

  • No matter how long it has been since they expanded to achieve their current borders, the U.S., China, and Russia remain formal empires, not mere nation states. This same reasoning, of course,  can be applied to any nation that at some time in its history expanded to include more than one previously sovereign political entity.

  • That the U.S. has for the last century been as anxious to retire from wartime conquests as to conquer is viewed by Ferguson not as contradicting his view of the status of the U.S. as an "empire," but as a deplorable "weakness" in its imperial activities. Thus:

  "[A] peculiarity of American imperialism - perhaps its principle shortcoming - is its excessively short time horizon."
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  "[The U.S.] prefers the idea that foreigners will Americanize themselves without the need for formal [U.S.] rule."

  There is either "empire" or complete independence in Ferguson's world.  There is nothing different or in between. There is no broader pallet or shades of gray. Indeed, only hermit kingdoms like N. Korea or Myanmar (Burma) escape the "imperialist" taint. (Of course, Myanmar does have oppressed minority ethnic groups, so it is probably an "empire," too.)
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  Yet, Ferguson also asserts that there have been only about 70 identifiable empires in world history. Using his menu, he could certainly find many more with very little effort. Perhaps he means "formal" empires.
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  Methodology aside, there is much of substance in this book that FUTURECASTS agrees with as well as much that it disagrees with. Unfortunately, the author has submerged the merits of  frequently important issues in sensationalism and obfuscation. Indeed, this book could easily be repackaged as a satire about the semantics propaganda ploy.
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An empire of nation building:

  At least with respect to "liberal empire," Ferguson is an ardent advocate. "Empire" is not a pejorative term to him if it is "liberal."
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Ferguson is wholeheartedly in favor of a widespread nation-building effort.

  His propaganda purpose is to convince the U.S. to compound its efforts in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Iraq to take over and engage in nation building in a host of other failed or viciously misgoverned states. He is writing in 2003, before the reality of the difficulties involved in nation building became manifest in Afghanistan and Iraq.
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  Ferguson is wholeheartedly in favor of a widespread nation-building effort - in "failed states" and states run by aggressive tyrants and in states kept impoverished by despotism and corruption - especially in most of sub-Saharan Africa. He joins a host of "neo-conservative" ideologues that have been pushing the U.S. in this directions. See, Barnett, "The Pentagon's New Map."
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  This "empire" propaganda theme is a sensationalist argument in favor of a massive U.S. effort to bring peace and prosperity to the dark corners of the Earth.

  "What is required is an agency capable of intervening in the affairs of such states to contain epidemics, depose tyrants, end local wars and eradicate terrorist organizations. This is the self-interested argument for empire. But there is also a complementary altruistic argument. Even if they do not pose a direct threat to the security of the United States, the economic and social conditions in a number of countries in the world would justify some kind of intervention. - - - The problem in Liberia, as in so many sub-Saharan African states, is simply misgovernment: corrupt and lawless dictators whose conduct makes economic development impossible and encourages political opposition to take the form of civil war. Countries in this condition will not correct themselves. They require the imposition of some kind of external authority."

  Sometimes this type of intervention works, and sometimes it doesn't. However, it is never easy and always expensive and takes decades at best. Ferguson provides no analysis of the local and international characteristics that improve or block the chances of success. Apparently, he doesn't want to even think about them.

  In the tradition of left wing propagandists, Ferguson views the active soft power influence exercised by the U.S. to induce acceptance abroad of ideals of political and economic freedom, rule of law, civil and property rights, etc., as an exercise in "imperialism." At present, there is more robust support for his thesis in the Bush (II) administration shift to the "preemptive" use of force.

  Now more than three years after the publication of this book, however, it is highly uncertain to what extent the preemptive foreign policy will be continued. It will be indeed difficult to gain even minimal public support for such dubious nation building exercises in the future. It would probably require a clearly credible nuclear threat for any future application of regime changing preemptive force. The broad application of a policy of "preemption" may already be kaput.

The U.S. empire:

 

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  Early U.S. history can legitimately be viewed as "imperial," of course, as the nation expanded across the North American continent and ultimately acquired some territories overseas. However, the purpose of this book is to apply the term to U.S. conduct in the 20th century and now in the 21st century.
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  A broad brush history of American empire building through the period of the Spanish-American War and U.S. control of the Philippines is provided by Ferguson. He continues with the record of failure of U.S. "nation-building" efforts in Central America and the Caribbean between WW-I and WW-II.
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  The occupations of Germany and Japan after WW-II are viewed as examples of U.S. imperial expansion. That expansion was weakened, according to Ferguson, by the lack of imperial purpose.

  In short, according to the author, after winning a hugely expensive and bloody war against hideous opponents who had extensive support from their populations, anything the U.S. did except immediately packing up and going home inevitably involved "empire building." All efforts to achieve something constructive as a result of the vast wartime struggle automatically became acts of "imperialism." Could any attitude be more convenient for anti-American and anti-war propagandists? Could any attitude be more convenient for the propagandists of al qaeda and similar hideous adversaries of the U.S.?

  Generals MacArthur in Japan and Clay in Germany were given no meaningful policy direction from Washington. What direction they received was not implemented as they both improvised as they saw fit. "What was planned did not happen. What happened was not planned." (Apparently, this was an "empire by improvisation.")
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  Initial instincts were to punish Japan and Germany and especially their political and civic elites. These vengeful instincts were quickly pragmatically abandoned by the occupying authorities except for the principal leaders responsible for the conduct of the war. The subordinate leaders and civil elites and the remaining industrial capacity were needed to govern and reestablish sustainable economic systems that would enable the U.S. to draw down its occupation forces and turn the countries back over to their peoples.

  "By the end of 1945 all the new or reconstituted states -- Lšnder -- throughout the U.S. zone had German governments and 'preparliaments.' In the first half of the following year, local governments were formed, and elections held, first locally and then, successively, at the level of landkreis - district --, city and finally state. By October, all the American-controlled states had their own constitutions, which were approved by the military government and then by referendums; simultaneously, elections to the new state parliaments were held."

  For the U.S., occupations after military victories do not open opportunities for empire. As FUTURECASTS has frequently pointed out, for the U.S., occupations are wasting assets. At most, the U.S. can only achieve what is pragmatically possible  in a few years and then must, for better or worse, turn occupied nations back to their people. Support, alliance, and even the stationing of military forces may continue indefinitely thereafter, but always only so long as consent is maintained. As Ferguson notes, as soon as consent is withdrawn - as in France, Libya and the Philippines - the U.S. withdraws.
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  For reasons peculiar to war-ravaged Germany, Japan and S. Korea and the Cold War threats they were immediately exposed to, efforts at nation building were ultimately successful, constituting major triumphs for U.S. foreign policy. Absent such unique circumstances, nation building is a very dubious activity with only slim chances of success, and is inevitably much more difficult in the event than in contemplation. See, Easterly, "The White Man's Burden." The threat from an aggressive Soviet Union and its allies probably had as much influence on the development of liberal democratic and capitalist states in Germany, Japan and S. Korea as did U.S. occupation policy. In Latin America and Vietnam, however, as Ferguson notes, U.S. nation building efforts have a long history of failure. See, Boot, "The Savage Wars of Peace," segments on "The Banana Wars," "Augusto Sandino," and "Vietnam."

  Ferguson describes a U.S. policy that was totally devoid of specific objectives other than to establish some form of democratic government in Germany and Japan and then return power back to their people. Postwar U.S. occupation policy was a muddled combination of the disparate ideas of various Washington officials and agencies. Washington policy was ultimately disregarded by Generals Clay and MacArthur as totally unrealistic. Policy quickly focused on economic rejuvenation and the establishment of some form of democratic system sufficient to reduce the burdens of occupation and quickly bring the occupation to a close.
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The need for liberal imperial rule:

  The UN failures in Bosnia, Kosovo and especially Rwanda are cited by the author as proof of the need for a U.S. liberal empire. The UN is simply a weak reed on which to base hopes for improvement of conditions in dysfunctional third world nations.
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  The end of the great European empires has been disappointing. There has still been cross-border conflict, but far more frequently there has been civil wars - conflict within borders. Attempts at democratization by newly independent states have frequently been rapidly displaced by indigenous despots.

  "Many of these dictatorships have been worse for the people living under them than the old colonial structures of government: more corrupt, more lawless, more violent. Indeed, it is precisely these characteristics that explain why standards of living have actually worsened in many sub-Saharan African countries since they gained their independence."

  Economic failure, too, has been widespread among newly independent states - especially in sub-Saharan Africa - and would be even more widespread if not for mineral wealth in some of these states. Life expectancy has declined drastically - to 47 years - in sub-Saharan states.

  "There are some who claim that the big divergence in per capita incomes between rich and poor countries since the 1960s has been a direct consequence of globalization. But this is a flawed argument. In theory globalization, meaning simply the international integration of international markets for commodities, services and capital and labor, should tend to maximize economic efficiency, yielding gains for all concerned. The real problem of the early twenty-first century is not globalization but its absence or inhibition. Indeed, the sad truth about globalization is that it is not truly global at all."

Poor nation trade restraints are even worse - typically much worse - than rich nation trade restraints.

  Rich nations still block access to their markets for poor nation produce - especially through agricultural subsidies and tariffs. And, poor nation trade restraints are even worse - typically much worse.

  "It has been convincingly shown that one of the principal reasons for widening international inequality in the 1970s and 1980s was in fact protectionism in less developed economies. A comparison of per capita GDP among developing countries found the more 'open' economies grew at an annual rate of 4.5 percent, while the 'closed' countries managed barely 0.7 percent."

  Restraints on labor migration are also damaging to third world nation development. But poor governance is the primary culprit. Ferguson cites Landes, "The Wealth & Poverty of Nations." In the absence of good governance and appropriate civil institutions, loans and aid achieve little - and primarily benefit the elites. Ferguson points out that Botswana - although land locked - grows rapidly due to good governance and civil institutions.

  Post colonial experience has been considerably more positive for many Asian states. Even in Latin America - at long last - there is hope in many states for political and economic progress. Unfortunately, many remain shackled by left wing ideology and dysfunctional economic policies.
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  Ferguson's analysis of the failures of development in third world undeveloped nations is in line with that of FUTURECASTS. These failures are almost all due to a lack of good political governance and a failure to develop politically, legally and economically empowered civil society.

  Ferguson acknowledges the one factor that actually makes it impossible to view the U.S. as a modern day empire.
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"[Americans] are reluctant to 'go there' --- and if they must go, then they count the days until they can come home."

  The U.S. doesn't want the imperial role abroad - means it when it says it would rather just concern itself with its own interests at home and abroad - and returns home as soon as possible if called to act abroad. Ferguson deplores this attitude. He views it as a failure, not a virtue.
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  All the problems of the world
that might benefit from international intervention under U.S. leadership are attributed to failures of U.S. imperial policy.

  "Despite their country's vast wealth and lethal weaponry, Americans have little interest in the one basic activity without which a true empire cannot enduringly be established. They are reluctant to 'go there' --- and if they must go, then they count the days until they can come home."

  Indeed, the U.S. has no institutions for permanently managing imperial territories. Its occupation efforts after military victories are always ad hoc with the clear purpose of setting up a structure of government that will permit the return of power to the occupied nation. Nor will the American electorate support an occupation for more than about seven years. Nor do America's "best and brightest" aspire to be imperial magistrates or to staff other offices abroad. (Some empire!)
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  Despairingly, Ferguson lists the problems that get in the way of his vision of the U.S. as the liberal, nation-building empire that will sally forth to cure many of the world's ills.

  "[One] of the most serious difficulties the United States currently faces is its chronic manpower deficit. There are simply not enough Americans out there to make nation building work."

  120,000 soldiers were simply not enough to get the job done in Iraq. And, they don't stay abroad long enough to achieve imperial purposes. U.S. overseas bases are predominantly in such places as Europe, Japan and Korea, placed for purposes of strategic convenience, rather than in third world nations where they can help conduct nation building activities. And, when the U.S. is asked to leave, the U.S. actually packs up and leaves.
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  Three quarters of American expatriates live in Canada, Mexico and Europe. Of those in the Middle East, two thirds are in Israel. Only 37,500 live in Africa.
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  "This - - - is an empire without settlers," Ferguson complains.
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  The only Americans who serve abroad for any length of time are its soldiers. And they are always on a quick rotating basis, frequently taking them to different countries. "Today the elite products of the Ivy League set their sights on law school or business school; their dream is by definition an American dream." Not only are there no American settlers in this American empire, there are also no American administrators.
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"[You] simply cannot have an empire without imperialists -- out there, on the spot -- to run it."

  Thus, there are few U.S. administrators in Iraq that speak the language or are familiar with the culture. American political and economic experts are engaged in Iraq - but as consultants, not as colonizers. They prefer "long trips abroad rather than long-term residence." 

  "As far as the Ivy League nation builders are concerned, you can set up an independent central bank, reform the tax code, liberalize prices and privatize the major utilities -- and be home in time for your first class reunion."

  The U.S. is currently an empire without imperialists.

  "Until there are more U.S. citizens not just willing but eager to shoulder the 'nation builder's burden,' ventures like the occupation of Iraq will lack a vital ingredient. For the lesson of the British imperial experience is clear: you simply cannot have an empire without imperialists -- out there, on the spot -- to run it."

  So, there you have it. By Ferguson's own reasoning, the U.S. is neither an "empire" nor "imperialistic" after all. 

Nation building:

  Successful nation-building requires patience.
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  Nation building for the U.S. is especially difficult precisely because the U.S. is always looking for a quick exit. Indigenous elites will not be anxious to collaborate if the U.S. is not going to be around very long. Why should they take the risk?
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  Successful nation building requires long term commitments - as in Germany, Japan and S. Korea. Even the formal occupations lasted seven years after the cessation of hostilities in Japan and 10 years in Germany. Major troop deployments continue to this day in those nations as well as in S. Korea. On the other hand, short term occupations in Latin America were generally unsuccessful. 

  Long term occupations were similarly unsuccessful in Latin America. A U.S. stay in Nicaragua lasted for 13 years, another in Haiti lasted for 14 years. See, Boot, "The Savage Wars of Peace," segment on "The Banana Wars." As soon as the U.S. left, its nation building efforts collapsed.

  Presciently, Ferguson states with respect to Iraq:

  "Premature elections, held before order has been restored and economic life has resumed, would almost certainly fail to produce a stable government. They would be much more likely to accentuate the ethnic and religious divisions within Iraqi society."

  The U.S. electorate will simply not tolerate indefinite involvement in attrition warfare. This has made success at "nation building" or real "empire building" unlikely for the U.S. in the face of any physical opposition within the borders of occupied states. However, this impatience has permitted the U.S. to withdraw from difficult foreign commitments and permitted the U.S. economy to repeatedly recover from its periods of weakness, while adversaries like the Soviet Union stubbornly stood their ground in support of weak clients and descended into bankruptcy and collapse.
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  Ultimately, the U.S. is its public, and the public is not imperialistic, as Ferguson acknowledges. The public will not support worldwide nation-building  efforts. It will not indefinitely tolerate the costs of nation building.

  But the U.S. has no real alternative but to stay as long as it takes and to make the commitment needed for success in Iraq, the author emphasizes.

  "The last thing the [U.S.] needs is another Iran, an oil rich country governed by Islamic fundamentalists, or a Middle Eastern version of Yugoslavia, descending into internecine war. No matter how much foreign critics and American voters may pine for an early American exit, in truth the only credible option is to hang on and try to make a success of economic and institutional reform."

  The task will be long, difficult and expensive.

  "A formal return to Iraqi self government may need to be announced this year. But there will also need to be continuing limitations on the country's sovereignty in order to ensure the country's economic recovery, its internal political stability and the future security of those countries Iraq once menaced. Mr. Bremer, or someone like him, must be prepared to be Iraq's Lord Cromer, viceroy in all but name for decades.

  Current U.S. policy is to look for local Iraq leaders with whom it can cooperate and to support them in their efforts to establish local self government. The U.S. ambassador is influential in Baghdad, but he is no viceroy.

  Peacekeeping in troubled lands takes commitment for decades and solid planning, the establishment of rule of law and political and national institutions.

  FUTURECASTS estimates that it takes at least 8 decades from the cessation of conflict - long enough for everyone in the nation who was 5 years old or older during the time of conflict to be dead or in their dotage. It takes at least that long for the passions of conflict to dissipate and become ancient history. In Iraq and Afghanistan, that clock has not even begun to run as yet.

  Ferguson examines British imperial control over Egypt for insight into the possibilities in Iraq. Decades of good governance in Egypt was swamped by population growth and reversed by indigenous  resentment. However, Egypt did prove to be a vital strategic asset during both world wars. The economic failures of British imperial rule in India were not because of British "exploitation," but because of insufficient exploitation. According to Ferguson, the British simply didn't invest enough in India to make a difference.
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  America's financially overstretched domestic entitlement obligations are accurately portrayed by Ferguson. However, his expectations for economic developments domestically and in Iraq in the near future already look ludicrous.

  Actually, his economic expectations never have any chance of fulfillment. They are fatally informed by Keynesian economic concepts.

  But he is clearly correct about the onrushing crisis with entitlements (now being mindlessly increased by Congress).  The financial, economic and military power that the U.S. can apply to achieve its international objectives is clearly very limited.
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The European Union:

  The European Union is a truly vital and marvelous development. Ferguson calls it a "post-modern cooperative empire" based on voluntary acceptance according to the "voluntary principle."
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  The EU, however, is hardly a political or military union. It is a union for particular purposes - primarily economic and to maintain peace in Europe. It is maybe an economic empire.
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  The euro may indeed displace the dollar as the world's primary international and reserve currency. (The euro is already the currency of choice for European bonds and an increasingly attractive alternative to the rapidly devaluing dollar as a reserve currency.)
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  Soft power is indeed the EU's strength - and it has been applied with spectacular success in spreading peace and prosperity across the historically troubled European landscape. The author at some length perceptively evaluates the EU as a rival or as a substitute for the U.S. liberal imperial role. (His analysis of the EU economies, however, leaves much to be desired.)

  "Europe's, in short, is a curious kind of union, a confederation that fantasizes about being a federation without ever quite becoming one. It has an executive, a legislature, an upper house, a supreme court, a central bank, a common currency, a flag and an anthem. But it has only a tiny common budget and the barest bones of a common army. Many more decisions than its architects intended are still taken by the national governments at meetings of the Council of Europe or at intergovernmental conferences. The EU lacks a common language, a common postal system, a common soccer team, even a standardized electric socket."

  Well, that's what a "cooperative empire" based on a "voluntary principle" will inevitably be. Use of the "empire" terminology is good only for obfuscation. It clearly serves no descriptive purpose when applied to the EU.
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  The EU is not even a federated nation, much less an "empire." However, this does not diminish its accomplishments in bringing peace and stability to Europe. It does not diminish the accomplishments of its constituent nations in humanitarian relief, assisting in peacekeeping, and in other roles in third world undeveloped nations.

U.S. effectiveness:

 

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  The effectiveness of the American empire in international affairs is evaluated by Ferguson and found wanting - which is hardly surprising considering that neither the public nor the political leaders want the U.S. to be effective as an empire. Thus, the reasons for this lack of effectiveness involve economics, manpower, and lack of attention.
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The U.S. will help nations build themselves, and it broadly provides diplomatic good offices to assist in the resolution of conflicts.

  The American electorate doesn't want to provide either the funds or the manpower for "building" either nations or an empire. The U.S. will help nations build themselves, and it broadly provides diplomatic good offices to assist in the resolution of conflicts, but the public will - (rightly) - not tolerate open ended commitments of men and material for wars of attrition or to attempt to "build" nations that will not build themselves.
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  But what really gripes Ferguson is that Americans refuse the role that "educated Europeans" assign to them. They have the audacity to refuse to "exercise" the imperial role that these "educated Europeans" have for decades been prattling about.
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  Without commitment of either sufficient resources or sufficient time, the "building" of nations becomes a very dubious exercise indeed. As Ferguson points out, the U.S. has failed at this exercise not just in Vietnam and N. Korea, but numerous times in Latin America during the 20th century. This may be happening again in Afghanistan and Iraq - and that would be tragic.

  "Peacekeeping is not what American soldiers are trained to do, nor do they appear to have much appetite for it. It also seems reasonable to assume that the American electorate will not tolerate a prolonged exposure of U.S. troops to the unglamorous hazards of 'low intensity conflict': suicide bombers at checkpoints, snipers down back streets, rocket-propelled grenades fired at patrols and convoys."

  The U.S. thus will need all the help it can get from its NATO allies and the EU and other contributing nations.

  "Unilateralism, like isolation, is not so splendid after all. Indeed, it is seldom a realistic option for an empire."

  If the efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan actually succeed in achieving anything, it will be because the American soldiers on the ground - with their traditional resourcefulness and flexibility - have devised tactics and strategy to meet the challenges they face. The American military has actually conducted itself with an amazing degree of sensitivity for local sensibilities. The original plans from Washington were obvious failures and should have been discarded long ago.
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  At best, success will be Iraqi and Afghani governments that are well short of Western democratic standards, and that are able to take care of their own internal security needs with a level of U.S. support equivalent to that in S. Korea. U.S. support will probably have to be maintained for at least eighty years from the end of conflict - so that clock has not yet even begun to run.

  There is no other nation capable of playing the role of liberal empire. Without the U.S., the peoples and nations of the world will spin off in uncontrollable and tragic directions.
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  The unreality of Ferguson's views is encapsulated in the following quote taken from one of his earlier books:

  "The proper role of an imperial America is to establish [free market and democratic] institutions where they are lacking, if necessary - - - by military force. There is no economic argument against such a policy, since it would not be prohibitively costly. Imposing democracy on all the world's 'rogue states' would not push the U.S. defense budget much above 5 percent of GDP. There is also an economic argument for doing so, as establishing the rule of law in such countries would pay a long-run dividend as their trade revived and expanded."

  Sure! Wouldn't Iraq pay for itself out of its vast oil wealth? Weren't the Iraqi people modern enough to take up the burdens of self-rule if just relieved of their tyrant? Wasn't that what the neocons assured us in their prewar assertions and Congressional testimony?

  Under any verbiage, Ferguson councils that the U.S. "should try to do a better rather than a worse job of policing an unruly world than their British predecessors."

  The Fergusons of the age - whether the "best and brightest" in the Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson administrations or the "neocons" in the Bush (II) administration - always overestimate U.S. strength and capabilities and underestimate their adversaries. Moreover, for some reason, they never bother to really study and understand the battlefields that they send American soldiers to fight on. Their personal intelligence and frequently rapid rise to positions of influence fill them with hubris. They are worse than the WW-I generals who planned vast costly battles from maps without ever really examining and understanding the actual battlefields.
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  Underestimating your adversaries and failure to examine and understand the battlefield are two of the most basic errors that a strategist can make.

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  Copyright © 2007 Dan Blatt