Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Desolation Row

American Thinker has an interesting piece up about American Imperialism. In it J.R. Dunn looks at the difference between American Imperialsm and the Roman version.

Much in the way of criticism of the United States comes in the form of accusations of imperialism. According to this view, echoed by everyone from Harold Pinter to Noam Chomsky to the Arab press, the U.S. has for decades run roughshod over the globe, in defiance of agreements and civilized norms. Enforcing its policies unilaterally and always for its own benefit, the U.S. has effectively colonized huge swathes of the planet, if not through direct military action, then by economic exploitation or diplomatic chicanery. No one dares raise a hand against this; any show of independence is met by cruise missiles at the very least, if not armored divisions or carrier battle groups. Today it's Iraq, tomorrow... who knows? America is the third-millennial Rome, brutal, implacable, infinitely corrupt.

Domestically, this takes the form of hegemonism, with the U.S. viewed as the primal source of global iniquity. Internationally, it's a major component of anti-Americanism, in which the U.S. is taken as the embodiment of an overpowering modernity, in whatever form - economic, political, cultural -- the onlooker finds most threatening. In such a context, anything and everything can be labeled "imperialist", from military bases to McDonald's fast-food joints to tourism. Intent and results are meaningless; all U.S. actions are evil, since all are viewed through the lens of imperialist activity.

It's difficult to match any of this with the actual record. The America that takes on the dirty jobs, the jobs no one else will touch - Serbia, Kuwait, Somalia - the country that comes to the rescue when disaster strikes, as with the Indian Ocean tsunami or the Pakistan earthquake, either goes unmentioned or has its actions attributed to somebody else (as in Kofi Annan's taking credit for tsunami relief operations in his farewell speech).
It is a strange kind of imperialism that neither rules nor directly taxes the imperium for the maintenance of the imperial garrisons and the American rulers of the conquered states. In fact Americans pay the price to keep the "imperial" system running. Strange indeed.

Mr. Dunn looks at Rome to see what might be in our future.
But the world's anti-Americans should take care that their fantasies don't catch up with them. Myths have a way of coming true. If believed in long enough, and hard enough, and by enough people, they can come to pass, if only by limiting the possible responses of the subject in question. Tell someone they're an oppressor often enough, and they may become an oppressor, out of spite, or anger, or simple weariness. Useful the Roman stereotype may be, but it can prove very dangerous.

How did Rome get that way in the first place? The Rome we know is seen through the lens of the later, corrupt empire -- brutal, heartless, and tyrannical. We see the Romans as dour, arrogant, living off the intellectual capital of older civilizations, slowly falling victim to their own worst impulses. But was Rome always like that? Did Rome start out that way? Was Rome ever young?

It must have been at one time. Rome was once a republic, and must have possessed a republic's virtues. How could it ever have accomplished so much otherwise?

So what happened to change things? Wars, in a word - Rome's early history is that of a state with its back to the wall, sacked by the Goths, at constant sword's point from neighboring states. Livy's histories are a chronicle of endless strife -- wars with the Etruscans, the Social Wars, at last the Punic Wars. And with each conflict, another layer of republican virtue was scraped off. At some point, perhaps during the Second Punic War, with Italy all but under occupation by Hannibal's forces for a decade, it effectively vanished, destroyed not only by the fear and strain of constant struggle, but what the Romans felt compelled to do in response. Consider that terrible image of Scipio gazing on the blazing ruins of Carthage and seeing Rome itself in the flames.
In Decline and Fall I take a look at what the end of American "imperialism" might mean for America and the world. Again, not surpisingly, through a look at what happened to the Roman Empire. It was not pretty. Long distance trade became impossible. With the lack of long distance trade the gains from what economist David Riccardo called comparative advantage are reduced to a local scale. The gains are limited indeed. This leads to a much lower carrying capacity for the regions formerly under protection of the empire. Populations disappear through, war, disease, and starvation. Everything comes back in balance at a much lower level. For the world it would mean a massive die off. For the USA a drastic cut back in our standard of living.
There's a sense of weariness at international ingratitude, irresponsibility, and hostility. It has not gone unnoticed that sympathy for the U.S. effectively evaporated within days of 9/11, that support for necessary responses has been grudging and hedged with conditions, that, time and again, Western states have been caught under the table with corrupt UN officials and even the terrorists themselves, that, with a few notable exceptions such as India and Japan, our sole dependable allies against a universal threat have been our cousins, Great Britain and Australia.

The classic U.S. response to such provocations has been isolationism. When betrayed in the international sphere, we go home and mind our own business. But that's no longer a viable option. In this millennium, we can't isolate our troubles overseas. If we turn our back, they'll come right after us.

There have been rumblings, comments on the Net, voices on talk radio, arguing another alternative. That we owe the rest of the world nothing. That an effective response to terror is simply to start vaporizing cities, beginning with Tehran and working our way down until attacks cease. That, quite simply, the United States should transform itself into Rome.
I have given some thought to this myself. I have wistfully rejected it. The Sampson option. If we are going down we will take the rest of the bastards with us. Let the world become like the Iranians, nostalgic for the "oppression" of the Shah.
But we had better know this: if the U.S. ever does take on the trappings of imperium, if we, out of despair or terror, turn to Roman methods, then, like Scipio, we will be witnessing our own fate in the cities we set ablaze.

Fate is by definition unavoidable. Nations are often forced into roles they might not have chosen, the way Britain found itself an empire "in a fit of absentmindedness". For now, we - the Americans, despised and envied across the world -- still stumble along, doing the best we can, taking our licks and looking for solutions while living up to our image of ourselves. But the criticsshould be wary of screaming too loud, of conspiring too well, of undermining us too thoroughly. Because if they succeed, if they do get what they insist they want, then the result may well be something they never conceived, and it will be their desolation, and our peace.
I think he has that right. Except with our peace will come our impoverishment.

We do have a trick or two up our sleves. One I found at Classical Values. One I invented myself. One is defensive, one is offensive (yeah, that's me).

The defensive measure is Easy Low Cost No Radiation Fusion. With greatly increased energy supplies we will not be dependent on the oil tankers plying the high seas. We will greatly reduce the funding by the Arab states of terrorism. Enegry independence would become our defensive shield since energy (specifically liquid energy) is our greatest vulnerability.

The offensive measure is the Neighborhood Development Package. A package designed to give a neighborhood access to the internet, cell phones, and electrical power. By distributing these packages we educate and emanicipate women. Educated and emancipated women are the best tool we have to destroy tribal culture.

We can get our wish (a measure of peace) by destroying the world. We can also get it another way. Let us hope our better angels predominate, but we will have to get cracking.

Cross Posted at Classical Values

No comments: