(November 11, 2016)
The geopolitical world currently resides in the era of Pax Americana, ‘the Peace of America’: a state of relative peace governed by the United States. But like the Pax Britannica, and the Pax Romana before it, this peace is a false one, as the US is pulled into wars that have little to do with its citizens, all over the world. To truly have this peace from America, the American government must comply with the demands of governments and peoples that they desire to protect. Although some would argue that America’s economic, military, and diplomatic leadership of most of the world make it stronger today than ever, this couldn’t be any more false. How can this be? The vast majority of nations rely on the American economy, live under its protection, and/or expect support from the superpower in the case of disaster. America gets its strength from other nations relying on it for so many things, but this is also its weakness. The United States has attempted to bite off more than it can chew, and because of American Imperialism, the nation has weakened itself to a critical point.
First of all, it must be established that America is an empire. According to a piece by Jeffrey Sachs in the Boston Globe:
It may seem tendentious to call America an empire, but the term fits certain realities of US power and how it’s used. An empire is a group of territories under a single power…The United States directly rules only a handful of conquered islands…but it stations troops and has used force to influence who governs in dozens of other sovereign countries.
With its direct control on countries all over the world, The United States of America, has no doubt become an empire, not only by military means, but economic means as well. Political scientist, Samir Amin, writes that modern capitalism, headed by the USA, the EU, and Japan, has conquered the world by removing economic competitors and creating a ‘global generalized market’ (Amin). This global market connects all markets to that of the United States, and all those that are not directly connected, are considered enemies. Both previously mentioned writers generally agree that the cause of this monumental rise in American Imperialism is the Cold War. As the United States and the Soviet Union squared off, both of them spread their economic and military power all over the world, attempting to outdo the other. This involvement in the affairs of other countries in the hopes of national gain ultimately destabilized these smaller countries, leading to chaos and reliance on America, especially after the Soviet Union fell. With the Russian Empire gone, nothing stood in the way of the United States and its brand of capitalism, controlling the way the rest of the world behaved (Amin). If this is not an empire, than what is?
This invasion, literal or otherwise, of foreign affairs has failed for multiple reasons, and has weakened America in many ways. To start, America has placed itself in a position where it must be the bad guy. As Niccolo Machiavelli says in his masterpiece, The Prince, “it is far better to be feared than loved if you cannot be both” (54). America desires to be respected by the rest of the world, and has created a healthy fear for its strength, but it has become equally as focused on being loved. It is a conqueror that wishes to be loved by those it conquers. It is not prepared for a world that hates it, as it does not consider itself an empire. Machiavelli spends much of The Prince explaining how to be a ruler, and is brutally realistic about what one must do in order to stay in power. Machiavelli does suggest that it is relatively easy to subdue a nation with a similar culture and language to the invader, but it is much more difficult to subdue one that is very different. Therefore, when one invades such a country, they must also flood it with their own people and culture, at the expense of the people living there (8-15). This is certainly something that America has done well at, spreading its culture and systems all over the world.
America has made several fatal mistakes that Machiavelli warned against, such as the adage that “there is no avoiding war; it can only be postponed to the advantage of others” (12). In an attempt to avoid a larger war, America has made many preemptive attacks that have ultimately wasted as much money and weakened America as it would otherwise. Also, contrary to Machiavelli’s idea that “men must be either pampered or crushed, because they can get revenge for small injuries, but not for grievous ones”, the United States has time and time again not finished off enemies it could have overthrown when they had the chance, and lived to regret it (10-11). America makes a big mistake when it doesn’t accept its own imperialism, believing it’s the good guy, and not going all the way in their monstrous expansion, resulting in constant creation of enemies.
Perhaps America’s Imperialism was inherently self-destructive. George Orwell speaks against imperialism, particularly that of Great Britain, in his essay Killing an Elephant. Orwell’s submission to the will of those inferior to him, the Indians, reveals to him the “real nature of imperialism”(196). This revelation is something very applicable to all empires, regardless of its relation to the British and the Indians in the context of the story:
I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys. He becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy, the conventionalized figure of a sahib. For it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend his life in trying to impress the “natives” and so in every crisis he has got to do what the “natives” expect of him. He wears a mask and his face grows to fit it. (Orwell 197-198)
In setting itself up as the leader of the free world, America is like Orwell, a puppet of those it rules over. America has a lot of subordinates; dozens of nations expecting it to do what needs to be done. The USA no longer has become a nation led by its people, but is instead led by the people of other nations. In the essay, Orwell is aware of the irony of this system, yet still succumbs to it, as he would no longer have any credibility as the overlord. This is why America so desperately attempts to prove itself to the rest of the world, it wants to be seen as the one in control. As soon as America stops providing this image to the rest of the world, it will no longer be seen as strong. The United States, like so many ‘great’ empires before it, is the true slave.
Similar to Orwell’s text, certain passages from the Bible stand as examples of the true weakness of empires. The Roman Empire is one of the most famous and powerful of all time, but even such an empire’s weakness is seen when Pilate is convinced into killing Jesus by the Jewish leaders. Pilate attempts to set Jesus free, not seeing “a basis for charge against him” but the people yell out underhanded threats of rebellion and declarations like “if you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar” (John 19). Pilate reluctantly allows Jesus to be killed out of fear of revolt. Empires can easily be manipulated into appeasing the demands of the nations they control by fear of losing power. America is forced into conceding to the demands of the people out of the desire to appease the restless nations of the world. This weakens it even more so, making the nation fear all nations it is connected to and forcing it into conflicts that it doesn’t want to be involved in to keep its power.
The final and most significant negative result of American Imperialism is the vast amount of money it requires to keep it alive. Returning to Sachs’ article, the reader is presented with the idea that “America suffers from… ‘imperial overreach’.” Sachs points out how the focus on foreign control has weakened the country at home. The Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq alone have cost the US around five trillion dollars, and this is not to mention the countless other proxy wars America has been involved in for the sake of empire since the end of the Second World War (Sachs). Just as astounding is the statistic that in just South America, the United States has overthrown over 40 governments since 1891, averaging one government overthrown every 2.25 years. “It is nearly a truism that US wars of regime change have rarely served security needs” Sachs says, explaining that these wars just lead to more chaos and more obligations for the US to clean up their mess, spending even more money. Because of these wars, America’s economy and industrial power is weakening, which has allowed China to take the lead in production, with the US projected to get weaker for every year it spends in the Middle East and other locations, attempting to be the policemen of the world (Sachs). Clearly, the imperialistic policies that supposedly make the country stronger economically, in fact, make it weaker.
American attempts to lead the world to a brighter future have failed, as the country has become an empire, an unstable one at that. Because of this, the nation has made countless enemies in attempts to be a ‘good empire’, is forced to prove itself to the countries it protects, has to constantly fear these smaller nations, and weakens its economy with huge, unnecessary, imperialistic wars. If its next president continues down this road of empire, America may completely collapse at home sooner than one would think, and like so many empires before, its fall will be brought on by its own pride.
Amin, Samir. “Contemporary Imperialism.” Monthly Review, vol. 67, no. 3, 2015., pp.23-36. ezproxy.waketech.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/169692030accountid=15152.
Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Prince. Translated by George Bull, Penguin Books, 1999.
Orwell, George. “Shooting an Elephant.” Wake Tech English 111 Reader, edited by Fenton-Glass et. al, Cengage, 2014, pp. 195-200.
Sachs, Jeffrey D. . “The Fatal Expense of American Imperialism.” The Boston Globe, 30 Oct, 2016 www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2016/10/30/the-fatal-expense-american-imperialism/teXS2xwA1UJbYd10WJBHHM/story.html
The Bible. New International Version, Biblica.com, 2011.