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U.S. Empire: The Sun Never Sets

What are people saying about the current administration’s bent toward empirialism?

April 2, 2003

What are people saying about the current administration's bent toward empirialism?

The United States is the most powerful country on earth. For many, its global reach equals a modern-day empire. However, many Americans shudder at the thought, because they once were at the receiving end of imperial expansion. Add to that already charged picture the fact that every empire in history sooner or later collapses — and one can see why some Americans feel uneasy. Our Read My Lips explores the debate.

Do Americans believe in empire?

“It is simply not in America’s national DNA to impose a new Pax Romana.”

(Michael Hirsh, Newsweek’s former Foreign Editor, September 2002)

How was it possible for the United States to become a modern-day empire?

“A historian once remarked that Britain acquired its empire in ‘a fit of absence of mind.’ If Americans have an empire, they have acquired it in a state of deep denial.”

(Michael Ignatieff, professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, January 2003)

Yet, how did one early U.S. empire-builder think of empire?

“From the Rio Grande to the Arctic Ocean, there should be but one flag.”

(Former U.S. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, 1895)

Is it chic to be imperialist in the United States?

“People are now coming out of the closet on the word ’empire’.”

(Joseph Nye, Dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, June 2002)

What does the U.S. President have to say about U.S. imperialism?

“America has no empire to extend — or utopia to establish.”

(U.S. President George W. Bush, August 2002)

Do people believe him?

“Has September 11 been used as an excuse for the United States to fulfill its imperial ambitions — and was the whole war against terrorism hyped up to convince its public that this unjust war is justified?”

(Imran Khan, Pakistani party leader and former cricket captain, March 2003)

Is empire-building a Republican Party policy?

”We are the greatest country in the world and what we are doing is serving the role of the indispensable nation to see what we can do to make the world safer for our children and grandchildren — and for those people around the world who follow the rules.”

(Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, February 1998)

What is the problem with empire for the Untied States?

“The difficulty with American imperialism is that it ‘dare not speak its name’.”

(Niall Ferguson, professor of political and financial history at Oxford University, January 2003)

Why is that?

“Empire is a dirty word in the American political lexicon.”

(Jeet Heer, Boston Globe columnist, March 2003)

How did an old empire react upon detecting U.S. imperial tendencies?

“These Americans represent the new Roman Empire — and we Britons, like the Greeks of old, must teach them how to make it go.”

(Harold McMillan, then-Minister at Allied Headquarters in North Africa — and future British Prime Minister, back in 1943)

Is there a historical precedent for a U.S. empire?

“Not in 500 years has any nation’s culture had such an overpowering influence on the world stage as does the United States today.”

(Former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Larry Summers, February 1998)

What might hamper U.S. imperial ambitions?

“The great majority of the American people are not nearly as militarist, imperialist or aggressive as their German equivalents in 1914. But most German people in 1914 would at least have been able to find France on a map.”

(Anatol Lieven, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, October 2002)

Why does the United States need to be careful about how its foreign policy is perceived abroad?

“We need to make clear that the new world order we still have a chance to build is not some code for American imperialism — but rather a system in which freedom and self determination are the widely accepted norms.”

(Former U.S. President George Bush, February 2003)

What do the critics say?

“A new international order is emerging, but it is designed to suit American imperial objectives.”

(Michael Ignatieff, professor at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, January 2003)

How do Europeans view the Bush doctrine of preemptive strikes?

“Preemption says to us, ‘This is an empire — and we will not allow anyone to get close to our capabilities’.”

(Senior EU official, September 2002)

How do foreign-born Americans view empire?

“America is the most magnanimous imperial power ever.”

(Dinesh D’Souza, Hoover Institution fellow, April 2002)

What is the true danger of designs for empire?

“The beginning of empire is the end of commonwealth.”

(Leon Fuerth, former National Security Advisor to Vice President Al Gore, March 2003)

And finally, does U.S. empire-building have a future?

“Empires are pretty well dead.”

(Niall Ferguson, professor of political and financial history at Oxford University, January 2003)