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News ::
Condemned to Empire (english)
20 Nov 2002
Does empire encourage untruthfulness, the rewriting of history and the crisis of language and community? Can the unipolar moment annul the multipolar reality? Does denial of interdependence plunge a nation into paralysis and repression competition? Is self-righteousness the grand delusion? The powerful, it is said, never make mistakes, only learning experiences. Translated from the German
Condemned to Empire

By Rudolf Maresch

[This article originally published in the cyber journal Telepolis is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,]

While the US administration demonstrates wild determination and Europe argues about hatred of America, US strategists are still deeply alarmed about the imperial fate of their country.

One truth should be clearly and openly kept in mind: the world is rearranged. The “new world order” is unipolar. This order has a single center, the US who is its lord and taskmaster. This role fell into the lap of the country within only a decade. Despite all the pundits, the “equal ranking of the states” [September eleventh (1)] and the emergence of a “multipolar”, “European” or even “pacifist century” were prophesied after the fall of the wall, the end of bipolarity and the problems of the US economy. Sociological super-theories collapse as quickly as houses of cards.

The Empire is Everywhere

This message that the US has long played in its own league and that the gap runs between America and the rest of the world and no longer between the rich and the poor, the West and the non-West, is not heard everywhere. Gradually the idea arises that the American hegemony will not be a temporary phase of world history. Today, all the world is America – this slogan passed on by Zbig Brzezinski more than thirty years ago – is now reality. America is everywhere. No wonder that hearts race, heads glow and eyes moisten when the term Imperium Americanum or “new Rome” occurs [The New Rome (2)].

Unless Saddam is stopped, the world will almost certainly face a nuclear-armed megalomania in a few years. That’s why we need to get to work, find a trigger and then carefully start shooting.
Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek International, September 2, 2002

The empire decides sovereignly and in an egocentric way through its practices, procedures and lifestyles over its expansion and the moment of its withdrawal. As a result, the United States is its own worst enemy and its only rival. The US can only defeat itself through conceitedness, an exaggerated opinion of itself, ignorance, thoughtlessness or self-love. This imperial over-reach (Paul Kennedy) ultimately points to Rome. This may be historically unique in its power and size and may never occur again for a long time..

The present administration seems willing to seize the Kairos offered by world history. The worldwide diffusion of American values, practices and styles is looking better than ever before. Single-mindedly and resolutely, this administration uses the freedom of Go it alone for the fastest possible construction of a global hegemonial power. All means are suitable including disregard of international rules of the game and breach of international law. This power politics and geo-political calculus with its war rhetoric and war normalization, contempt of allies, treaties and international organizations and determination declaring the Monroe doctrine the Magna Carta of the global age, only have a coherent meaning when actions are pre-emptive.

The “Alarmed” Empire

All US strategists do not want to go this way. Some do not need much persuading; others conjure and hesitate. Moralists or post-modernists, liberals or neo-realists identify with the new role. They take little pleasure in the prospect of being animal trainers of world history for the foreseeable future. Instead of being “proud of their country” and striking up a loud “God bless America” for the greatness, splendor and brilliance of the new empire, they fret about the “imperial fate” and the “trouble” confronting them.

The empire is responsible or competent for all political trivia. America is indispensable and can no longer withdraw to an observer’s position or to the role of the timid sheriff. If a conflict breaks out anywhere in east Timor, Bosnia, the Middle East or elsewhere, the empire must solve the crisis or conflict diplomatically or by handshake – not the UN, the EU (European Union) or another superpower. Without American participation, most international agreements are dead letters. When twelve Moroccans occupied an unfriendly island belong to Spain and hoisted a Moroccan flag as a sign of its annexation, the hyper-power forced the fighting hens to the negotiating table through days of telephone diplomacy.

The United States `making the dinner’ and the Europeans `doing the dishes’
Robert Kagan, Power and Weakness

The problematic success of the war against terrorism promised by the government with the campaign in Afghanistan, the transatlantic feuds with the rebellious and stubborn Europeans, the incalculability of the financial costs and political risks of an expedition against Iraq and the absence of convincing political concepts for the years ahead create a bad mood and suspicions among some US strategists.

Around the Potomac, a heated battle is waged between hardliners, conservatives and realists over whether and how America should shoulder the imperial fate, dashingly, inexorably and uncompromisingly or reserved, together and in agreement with partners and over the effects of a Go it alone policy for the country, world politics and the international community. Different from Germany where conflict is usually in generalities, the debate in the US is practical, reflective and self-critical. The fronts are never rigid, straight and unequivocal.

Principle no.1 of the Bush doctrine “Whoever is not for us is against us” finds hardly any supporters or imitators in Germany. Changing fronts is allowed in Germany and not immediately punished with a red card. Thus an internationalist to whom decent respect for the opinion of mankind (Thomas Jefferson) is as important as the well-being of the American people canvasses for “just war” or pleads for a regime change in Bagdad. The Go it alone proponent argues pragmatically and counsels opportunistically for the balancing of power.

The New Inscrutability

Conflicting commentaries in leading US magazines and journals document the politically and intellectually confused situation in Washington among the global thinkers. If some interpret the newly flaring hatred of America as an inevitable side effect of all hegemony, others urge the government to more consultation to reduce misunderstandings. If some rightly point out that cooperation is always an argument of weak countries to hinder the strong in their sovereign conduct, others know that a hyper-power depends on support through official channels to avoid the slave trade and drug smuggling, promote investigation of criminal transactions, proliferation of weapons, terrorist acts and nation-building and restore law and order in failed states.

Either we act aggressively where necessary to shape the world and change regimes or we accept living in a world in which our very existence is contingent on the whims of unstable tyrants.
William Kristol and Gary Schmitt: (5) Lessons of a Nuclear North Korea

If some sway in the splendor and magnificence of the “new Rome” that assaults and converts foreign countries and states, others deplore the powerlessness of a hollow hegemony that can bomb the whole infrastructure of a country to the ground within weeks without ensuring the observance of law and order fifty kilometers outside of Kabul. If some stylize every compromise limiting Washington’s freedom of action as a hostile act, others emphasize amicable agreements and consensual solutions.

If some see first strike and pre-emptive actions as legitimate means to effectively neutralize the dangers from international terrorism and the diffusion of weapons of mass destruction, others criticize the clarity and visionary far-sightedness in US foreign policy.

Injured Pride

The causes for much bad feeling and irritability that seizes columnists and strategists are all those irritations and self-doubt that September eleventh aroused in the strategists. In fractions of seconds, tens of millions of Americans were told that neither military-technology superiority nor the myth of exceptionalism were adequate protection from terror cells and asymmetrical warriors prepared to go to any lengths. Rather the danger and the nervousness before such attacks have grown. Still others could feel called to imitate Al-Qaida who seek provocation and deconstruct the Monroe doctrine. Bin Laden, it is said, mocked the empire as a “paper tiger” and declared it the target after the failed Somalia mission.

The violation of strong feelings may have an important share in this nervousness phenomenon. A new self-pitying attitude spreads especially among internationalists. The US is often a delinquent international citizen, Tony Judt laments (6) while Fareed Zakaria (7) beseeches his comrades-in-arms: It is better to be loved than feared.

This attitude is spurred by the lack of understanding summoning Europe to the “war for western civilization” against the “powers of darkness” and the “axis of evil”. The US created expanded zones of democracy in the second half of the twentieth century. The western hemisphere would never be as free, rich and secure as it is today without their “selfless engagement” for free markets, open horizons and the free flow of information [(8)Free flow of information]. The world would be thrown in anarchy and chaos for a long time if America refused this Herculian challenge, didn’t endure the anti-Christ and didn’t send its children to heroic battle for more freedom, democracy and global security in the Diaspora.

The pain is understandably great when those who enjoyed more freedom, security and blissfulness through America now prove extremely unthankful, are carried away to disrespectfulness toward their liberators and conjure an axis of petulance [(9) Charles Krauthammer]

Two Standards

The experience of humiliation, suffering and degradation should not be disregarded, particularly in the field of politics. Parties, peoples or empires cannot be simply put on the coach for free association. That the empire will shoujlder its imperial destiny alone and intervene wherever and whenever it pleases should be feared. Power is about arms and the will to use them, and we have both. Israel has impressively demonstrated this unyielding hardline attitude to the world. Israel has ignored every resolution of the UN or the Security Council without fearing sanctions for decades, not first since the beginning of the second Intifada. Thirty-five resolutions were rebuffed as the Syrian president recently emphasized. Even the liberal Economist asks anxiously (10) whether “two standards” are now used in comparison to Israel regarding the “big fuss” around Iraq and the resolutions.

The new unilateralism seeks to strengthen and unashamedly deploy American power for self-defined global ends.
Charles Krauthammer, The New Unilateralism

The US seems to orient itself in Israel’s politics as its model. Uncompromisingness, severity and resistance, long the image of “rogue states”, should be shown toward every resolution. The term rogue state proliferates. For several years, this term has caused a sensation and excitement in western politics. The term is mostly applied to states and nations that oppose the customs of international law. Gore Vidal recently applied it to the US. Peter Sloterdijk explained where the “rogue term” originated, namely in biology.. “In biology”, as the poet-philosopher described correctly (11), `rogue’ stands for the wild lone animal that wanders through the bushes apart from the herd. Seen this way, the two `rogue states’ of present world politics are the US and Israel that reject every kind of alignment with the international community of states since they both start from the notion that non-Israelis or non-Americans cannot feel the special situation of these two countries. This strengthens the US and Israel in their inclination to practice self-mandating.

Political Theology

When times are inscrutable and observers look anxiously into the future, not knowing much more than that it will be different from the present, one looks more hopefully to the past. Hearkening back to myths, resources and models, one hopes to find teachings, instructions and solutions for the problems of tomorrow…

“Unilateralism” follows an historical reflex grounded firmly on belief in “exceptionability”. A deep mistrust is encouraged against everything non- or anti-American. Whoever strives for alliances with foreigners corrupts and falsifies the spirit of the American nation. Thus the fear of any kind of world government is very deep. On the other hand, the world is too close together and interwoven for exceptionalism as a maxim for actions of the empire. America’s hegemony is bound with free trade, the free flow and openness of global markets.

America is a part and a result of globalization – and its greatest profiteer on top of it all. Like no other nation, America depends on the openness and stability of open markets. Number one also cannot afford any screening. Unilateralism no longer functions since the US is attached by a thousand cords, as Colin Powell remarked on his appointment as Secretary of State (15). Joseph S. Nye, former Clinton advisor and dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, calls this (16) the paradox of American power that September eleventh taught the empire.

Multilateralists are convinced that the way out should be sought in a value-oriented foreign policy, a political messianism of the 19th century setting out to battle as New England fought for the abolition of the slave trade or the expulsion of despots. Woodrow Wilson is a model for that orientation. Wilson was the first president who formulated the idea of the “international community” and proclaimed the end of all wars and summoned his compatriots to the internationalization of their values. He was the president who justified the struggle around democracy with the general interest of humanity.

Since then, every American president engaged for convictions, values and principles has been described as a “Wilsonian”. While this political theology was despised and Wilson was politically a failure, every president still explicitly refers to him. Even George W. Bush referre3d to him when in West Point he proclaimed to the world carrying the battle in the future to the enemy. This was coupled to a general rule of law that America asserts worldwide [(17) America will name evil by name].

There are only Americans

The world should not be deceived. Internationalists are first of all Americans despite the confession to cooperation and agreements, internationalism and the monopoly of force of the UN. Foreign policy is about national interests. These internationalists are also ardent patriots to whom the shirt is closer than the coat. This was not different under Bill Clinton. In his National Security Strategy, we read:

“If interests of our national security are threatened, we will use diplomatic means when we can and resort to military force when we must.”

Whoever remembers Madeleine Albright and her advisors recalls their arrogance and just war rhetoric earmarking military interventions as a means of politics. This was clearer than the cultivated appearance of her successor in office Colin Powell.

Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus.
Robert Kagan, Power and Weakness

Therefore a turning point or a foreign policy tilt has not occurred. Not at all! While the political ways may be different, the present administration is hardly distinguished from the preceding administration in its goal. Its predecessors pursued the pragmatic construction of the Imperium Americanum with just as much determination and did everything so America could long maintain this status. The problem is not Bush, Rumsfeld or Cheney. In the vote in the Senate and in the House of Representatives, Republicans and Democrats authorized their president for war against Iraq with a two-thirds majority. Rather the problem involves the asymmetries of power and a consistent power politics a la Rome.

Certainly the tone, climate and behavior have changed. They are more harsh, inflexible and wicked. If unilateralists like to practice usury with military pounds or economic power, neo-realists prefer the gentle tones, refined appearance or silent channels of diplomacy. They maximize soft power. The success or failure of US hegemony depends mainly on the radiating power or sex appeal of strong values, symbols and images. Because power always needs consent, love and acceptance, pressure and repression do not help in the long run. The powerless wants to be a member and demands a perspective.

The Soviet empire withheld these positive values from its vassals. Therefore this empire was hated by everyone and finally perished. As a result, the fate of the Soviet Union could be a warning example to the US. Lasting influence can only be gained through trust or “good policy intentions”.

Strength and Weakness

Perhaps Robert Kagan (18), a “house intellectual” of the Bush administration alongside Bill Kristol, is right (19):

Europe and the US only have a fragile shared world horizon. The transatlantic gulf is far deeper than the despicable talk of the “universalist value community”. This gulf is clear when one looks dispassionately at the disparities of power.

Europe has been militarily weak since the end of the Second World War. The weak are fearful of becoming the spoils of the strong. Therefore their tactics and strategy are always intent on restraining the strong through agreements and cooperation. NATO is and was the best example for this. In contrast, the strong follow a diametrically different perspective. NATO avoids all regulations and bonds that it did not create itself. It knows that alliances and agreements are inventions of the serf hindering the existence and single-handed efforts of the strong. Since the US has rediscovered the unipolar moment for itself, NATO, the UN and other international organizations are only outposts of its power, not partners with equal rights any more.

We will let them hold our coats, but not tie our hands.
Charles Krauthammer, The Axis of Petulance

Europe already imagines itself in the post-historical state. Europe believes it is governed and protected by a net of rules, understandings and agreements. Therefore power is not a relevant greatness for Europe any more. Europeans have stepped out of the Hobbesian world of anarchy into the Kantian world of perpetual peace. However this post-modern order can only grow because America extends its protecting hands over Europe and shoulders the burden of global security.

In contrast, the US stands firmly on Hobbesian ground. In the conflict zones, the power of the stronger rules and the laws of the jungle are in force. Whoever wants to be successful must act in a two-track way. Agreements, partnerships and alliances must be viewed as po9litical means constantly oscillating here and there between the jungle and the post-modern.

Our Man in Stanford

(20) Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht has recently taken up Kagan’s arguments and held them up to America’s critics in Europe and Asia. Europe and particularly Germany can only afford “so much collective vanity and so much blindness” because they know they are “in the event of war under American protection”. “German rigorists” practiced in a “moral and political feeling of superiority” misunderstood “anti-Americanism as an expression of national sovereignty”.

The whining tone is not surprising in this sweeping attack (Frankfurter Allgemeiner Zeitung, October 4, 2002) against everyone who attacks the policy of the rogue colossus. The voting American doesn’t defend his native country with a flaming patriotism. At last he trumpets this loudly in the world at every suitable occasion. The weakness of the argument is amazing. Instead of constantly attributing dubious intentions to America, Europe despite some “slips” in the past should at last have “trust” in “American military power” and its “policy”. “Only the American military power can secure the survival of all of us since fifty or more nations can and will `soon’ - - in one or two decades – produce nuclear weapons of destruction and use them in the scope of their political sovereignty.”

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