Ten Tips for Governing an Empire, and a Heckler in the Back …

I will at some point put up in detail why I don’t think that what America is in the process of building or becoming is an empire.

But, whatever you call it, Robert Kaplan’s essay, “Supremacy by Stealth” on the subject is insightful. (It came out in July but has not been on the Net very long, so maybe it is not ancient news to all our readers.) This passage sounds typical of much that one finds on the conservative/libertarian side of the blogsphere:

The purpose of power is not power itself; it is the fundamentally liberal purpose of sustaining the key characteristics of an orderly world. Those characteristics include basic political stability; the idea of liberty, pragmatically conceived; respect for property; economic freedom; and representative government, culturally understood. At this moment in time it is American power, and American power only, that can serve as an organizing principle for the worldwide expansion of a liberal civil society.

This, less so:

Two or three decades hence conditions may be propitious for the emergence of a new international system—one with many influential actors in a regime of organically evolving interdependence. But until that time arrives, it is largely the task of the United States to maintain a modicum of order and stability. We are an ephemeral imperial power, and if we are smart, we will recognize that basic fact.

Near the end he re-emphasizes this point:

In many ways the few decades immediately ahead will be the trickiest ones that our policymakers have ever faced: they are charged with the job of running an empire that looks forward to its own obsolescence.

Kaplan also notes that liberal empires undermine their own power:

Precisely because they foment dynamic change, liberal empires—like those of Venice, Great Britain, and the United States—create the conditions for their own demise. Thus they must be especially devious. The very spread of the democracy for which we struggle weakens our grip on many heretofore docile governments: behold the stubborn refusal by Turkey and Mexico to go along with U.S. policy on Iraq. Consequently, if we are to get our way, and at the same time to promote our democratic principles, we will have to operate nimbly, in the shadows and behind closed doors, using means far less obvious than the august array of power displayed in the air and ground war against Iraq.

Problem here is that acting deviously is even more antithetical to democratic practices. So, you can’t do what Kaplan says you need to do to keep a real empire going, if you have to answer to a democratic electorate back home. But, putting that insurmountable issue aside, Kaplan provides a comprehensive “users manual” for US global power.

Oh yeah, in case you were wondering, the ten “Rules for Managing the World” are:

1. Produce More Joppolos
2. Stay on the Move
3. Emulate Second-Century Rome
4. Use the Military to Promote Democracy
5. Be Light and Lethal
6. Bring Back the Old Rules
7. Remember the Philippines
8. The Mission is Everything
9. Fight on Every Front
10. Speak Victorian, Think Pagan

And if that still leaves you scratching your head, you are going to have to read the whole thing.

Kaplan has been all over the place and seen a lot and talked to everybody. He focuses on the mechanics rather than the ethics of global governance by the USA. I don’t think he’s always right, but he is never wrong for light or trivial reasons.

Kaplan’s interview regarding the article is also good and adds further interesting details.

As noted above, the great defect in Kaplan’s vision is that democracies don’t like devious, hard-nosed world empires enforced by small cadres of tough, professional legionaries and operatives. Democracies don’t like to run such empires, and they don’t like it when other people do. The public gets suspicious, or sentimental, or has moral qualms or worries about its civil liberties, etc.

War Nerd,provides a good counterpoint to Kaplan on Joe Sixpack’s willingness to bear the burdens of empire, or hegemony, or whatever it is. As usual, he minces no words: “You Pussies!” To paraphrase: First you are baying for blood, now you are whimpering about losing a soldier a day, make up your minds, if you want an empire, face what it takes to have an empire. But no synopsis can do him justice. Don’t let the sarcastic or nihilistic or jeering tone fool you. War Nerd always raises real issues.

3 thoughts on “Ten Tips for Governing an Empire, and a Heckler in the Back …”

  1. America will not be needed anymore when the world has our form of “democracy.” We have a loooonnnnggggg way to go.

    phrawnce is a “democracy.” But look at how their pols get on the ballot. Not very democratic.

    Others consider Iran a “democracy” because they have the right to vote. I pointed out then the USSR, Cuba, and certain African countries, among others, would also be considered “democracies” using that definition. But they were/are not.

    Just because one gets the opportunity to cast a ballot, does not mean one lives in a democracy.

  2. Oh it’s even better than that on the whole democracy thing. I’m much more interested in Liberty; how the hell did the two get conflated in the last hundred years?

    Hitler was elected, segregation and slavery in the US had democratic majorities, Federal Bureaucrats all vote for candidates who’ll keep pumping up their dept., etc. etc. ad nauseum.

    But yeah, it’s a step up from totalitarianism and monarchies, and encouraging it abroad is in my opinion a worthy policy goal.

    And back to Kaplans article, I agree with most of what he’s got to say, and thought we should be doing many of those things during the 90’s. “Cold War’s over, Party!!” didn’t seem to be the best strategy to me.

    But to the extent that we do follow Kaplans advice, I don’t think that those in power in our permanent bureaucracies (a sign of Empire :-) will let things slip from their fingers so readily once they get a taste of those levels of power over the world.

  3. I agree with David Mercer. Popular soveriegnty is fine and good, but is only half the Founding Fathers’ formula, and the somewhat less important half, as far as I’m concerned. Any form of government ought to be limited in scope to those functions where compulsion is appropriate, because governmental authority, by its very nature, is compulsory.

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