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Robert D. Kaplan: The Empire Correspondent

Why does the world need a politically and militarily strong United States?

July 24, 2003

Why does the world need a politically and militarily strong United States?

Robert Kaplan is a foreign correspondent for the The Atlantic Monthly. As such, he has been reporting and writing from almost every corner of the earth. If anything, his views about the need for a global dominance by the United States have become stronger. In our Read My Lips feature, we present Mr. Kaplan's breathtaking views on the future political and military role of the United States.

How is the U.S. empire different from its 19th century predecessors?

“This American imperium is without colonies, designed for a jet-and-information age in which mass movements of people and capital dilute the traditional meaning of sovereignty.”

Why is it difficult for democracies to build an empire?

“Precisely because they foment 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.”

How come most empires are brought down by decadence?

“With affluence often comes not only the loss of imagination — but also the loss of historical memory.”

Yet, what makes you confident about the U.S. empire?

"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."

What should be the goal of U.S. foreign policy?

"For the time being, the highest morality must be the preservation — and wherever prudent the accretion — of American power."

Why does the world need a strong power like the United States?

“Some 200 countries — plus thousands of nongovernmental organizations — represent a chaos of interests. Without the organizing force of a great and self-interested liberal power, they are unable to advance the interests of humanity as a whole.”

How could a second diplomatic disaster at the UN be avoided?

“In the future, we should attempt to manage most problems long before they get to the Security Council, by increasingly emphasizing Special Forces — and an intelligence service bolstered by its own military wing.”

Why did the United Nations disappoint you?

“The diplomatic farce at the UN a few months back — with France and Germany working indefatigably to contain the power of a democratic United States rather than a Stalinist, weapons-hungry Iraq — need not be repeated.”

What has to change about the UN?

“The UN Security Council represents an antiquated power arrangement unreflective of the latest wave of U.S. military modernization in both tactics and weaponry.”

In what way does U.S. foreign policy need improvement?

“A nation whose businesses can regularly sell products that people neither want nor need should be able to market a foreign policy better than it usually does.”

How will the United States build its alliances in the future?

“Reliance on our military equipment and the training and maintenance that go along with it helps to bind regimes to us nonetheless.”

Has U.S. foreign policy been consistent over the last generation?

“Economy of force — doing the most with the least — has been an imperative of the U.S. military, diplomatic and intelligence communities since the beginning of the Cold War.”

Under what circumstances should the United States play dirty?

“As the ancient Chinese philosophers well knew, deception and occasional dirty work are morally preferable to launching a war.”

How could that be achieved?

“Our intelligence officers — backed by commando detachments — should in the future be given as much leeway as they require to get the job done, so that problems won’t fester to the point where we have to act in front of a battery of television cameras.”

What about international law?

“As for international law, it has meaning only when war is a distinct and separate condition from peace.”

What will be the way of future conflicts?

“In the 21st century, a single conflict may include not only traditional military activity — but also financial warfare, trade warfare, resource warfare, legal warfare and so on.”

How should the United States plan for such future conflict?

“Get bogged down militarily nowhere — but make sure we have military access everywhere.”

How will the increasing U.S. presence abroad change domestic and international politics?

“There will be less and less time for democratic consultation, whether with Congress or with the UN.”

What about the importance of public opinion?

“The best information strategy is to keep the public’s attention as divided as possible.”

Where do you see the role of the media in all this?

“Like the priests of ancient Egypt, the rhetoricians of Ancient Greece and Rome, and the theologians of medieval Europe, the media constitute a burgeoning class of bright and ambitious people whose social and economic stature can have the effect of undermining political authority.”

Yet, why do you not worry about the U.S. media?

“It is impossible to ignore the resurgence of patriotism among American journalists.”

These quotes were all taken from an article Mr. Kaplan published in the July 2003 issue in The Atlantic Monthly.