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  • American empire?

    Posted by Jonathan on January 13th, 2003 (All posts by )

    James Bennett speculates. He thinks the only plausible current justification for empire is to “secure those areas of the world that can be characterized as failed states or regions of ethnic conflict than cannot be resolved within the currently existing frame of reference.” Even then it isn’t such a hot idea. His hypothetical examples are Liberia and Israel. The Israeli example is dispositive:

    Similarly, would they be willing to contemplate making Israel a state or territory of the United States, again, permanently? The United States extends a security guarantee to Israel little short of what it extends to its own national territory, but the Israeli government has the ability to make that guarantee more or less difficult by its actions, in a way a U.S. state government does not. The logic of empire would demand that Israel be brought under formal control as the price of its guarantee. This would be the end of the Zionist dream in some respects, but would guarantee the security of Israelis as no other action could.
    Americans wouldn’t want to do it and Israelis wouldn’t trust them to. Israel wouldn’t be willing to pay the price in independence. And why should we prop up Israeli socialism? (And would an economically reformed, more productive Israel even need us?)
    I raise both of these cases not as serious proposals but as examples to try to concretize the question of what empire might mean in the 21st century. It is more likely that the mild hegemony currently enjoyed by the United States as a by-product of its technological, financial, and social successes is as much empire as most Americans are willing to contemplate, or pay for. It is also more likely that the future lies in the further development of the international cooperative links such as NATO and the North American Free Trade Agreement into organizations that are more loose commonwealth than empire.
    Exactly. The idea of an American empire in the style of past empires is fantasy. The U.S. isn’t likely to benefit from annexing five or 10 more Puerto Ricos, and productive countries will do much better to see us as a trading and cultural partner rather than a patron. (There’s also moral hazard in our implicitly holding out colonial status to dysfunctional countries as an alternative to their domestic reform. The very fact that we think it’s valuable to stabilize a region gives its inhabitants leverage over us. If we involved ourselves and insisted that they reformed, would we — who wouldn’t be there if we didn’t value their stability more than they did — leave as long as they appeared to be making an effort? I suspect that it is always easier for local elites to placate bwana than to do the hard, and perhaps personally disempowering, work of liberalizing their own backward economies.) Rather than talk of empire, we should invite countries like Israel into NAFTA while at the same time reducing the subsidies we pay to them. That would increase their incentive to reform. Our treating them as colonies would only increase their incentive to remain unproductive and, hence, dependent.

    (Bennett link: Instapundit)