Is America Really An Imperialist Power Asks Shikha Dalmia in the Washington Examiner


As President Obama prepares to launch a military intervention against Syria, anti-war folks will go ballistic about American imperialism. But America is not so much an imperialist as it is a bumbling uncle trying to save his wayward nieces and nephews from their own ruinous tendencies, argues Reason Foundation Senior Analyst Shikha Dalmia in her morning Washington Examiner column. She notes:

Genuine imperialism involves exploiting others for one's own material interests. That's what British colonialists did when they took raw material—minerals, fabrics, cash crops—from Indians at confiscatory rates for their factories back home.

Or when the Soviet Union transported Eastern European assets—coal, industrial equipment, technology, even personnel—to reconstruct the motherland after World War II.

The Soviets received a net transfer of resources from the rest of the Eastern Bloc roughly comparable to what "imperialist" America pumped into Western Europe under the Marshall Plan.

By contrast, America's post-Cold War efforts, with some notable exceptions such as Afghanistan, have been less about promoting its own vital interests and more about protecting others.

None of this means that American foreign policy is good or sensible, however.

Go here to read the whole thing.

NEXT: Syrian Opposition Leader: Intervention a Moral Responsibility

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  1. I’ve mentioned this a few times before, but I like the theory that we’re an “empire of trust,” which, in some respects, just means we’re the acknowledged world cop. See Thomas Madden’s Empires of Trust: How Rome Built–and America Is Building–a New World for more on this. It’s not a perfect analogy with the Republic’s empire-building, but I think the categorization is a good one.

    1. From imperial power (1898), to world cop (1950), to assistant principal (2013).

    2. As we agreed before. The best action at this point is to air-drop Bloomberg and his army-in-blue into Syra to impose stop-and-frisk on the population. I assume they don’t have a constitution that prohibits it, so it’s all good.

      1. The constitution stops Bloomberg?

  2. A sensible article about US foreign policy? Not on my Reason!

    1. Sensible, to you, means deferential.

  3. Foreign aid is exploitation.

    One, it often involves military credits being given to a nation state in order for the nation state to purchase weapons from American weapons makers. Thus, money is transferred from productive folks in order to enable a foreign nation purchase military hardware from defense manufacturers.

    Second, foreign aid is exactly what sarc has described as, “money confiscated from the poor people in rich countries and given to the rich people in poor countries.” American policy makers know that the money is going to dictators and war mongers and socialist thugs and not to the poor peeps in such countries and that the boss men and those connected to the ruling elites in such countries are using the dough to buy luxury items such as Mercedes limos and villas on the Mediterranean.

    What about all of the military installations we have all over the world? What about the special rules which apply to US intelligence and military personnel stationed in such installations? How about the immunities afforded such state workers? If we were so nice, why the double standards?

    If we were not imperialists, why interfere and meddle in the internal affairs of so many countries through the years? Why overthrow a democratically elected Mohammed Mossadegh? How about what we did to Allende and Chile?

    Why forbid Americans from trading with, and travelling to, Cuba?

    Big boys do not make exceptions for America.

    1. Last time I checked, Allende nationalized US copper companies without compensation. In my world, I call that wholesale theft and an act of aggression, and am inclined to see the responsive action (which was limited to funding opposition groups as opposed to military action) as retaliation rather than imperialism. If Allende had paid for them outright, I’d see it differently, but that’s not what happened.

  4. All this means is that we aren’t even good at being imperial. It’s like with the whole war for oil thing. You’d at least expect us to take the oil if that were the case.

    1. We’re not imperial. Not in that sense. We don’t plunder, we don’t annex territory, we really don’t even set up puppet governments–look at how Iraq is already casting aside our influence.

      That’s a good thing in many respects, but it’s also bad, because toppling governments, blowing shit up, and killing people, even if we’re not imperial, still makes us lots of enemies. And not just among those we directly harm. In other words, we should only use force when there’s a compelling and immediate need to do so, with some eye toward the consequences of using such force.

      1. That’s what I’m saying. What we wind up with is that nobody loves us but the people who we should want fearing us don’t.

  5. If one wants to nitpick in this way over a particular definition of “empire”, I am happy to concede that the US is not an empire.

    However, the US runs and works actively to expand a vast hegemony. It runs its hegemony with carrots and sticks to advance its own interests and uses violence to expand it.

    1. That’s not exactly “nitpicking”. The USA simply doesn’t fit into the commonly accepted definition of empire, or at least it hasn’t since the era of Teddy Roosevelt. A hegemonic power is not necessarily an empire.

      The term “imperialist” is used against the USA as an epithet, not as a factual description.

      I’m not saying that our foreign policy has been particularly right or effective, though. Trying to be the World Cop is costly and stupid.

      1. Read the book I mentioned above.

        1. I’m sure the thesis of Empire of Trust is more sophisticated than the basic notion of comparing us to the Roman Empire, but on its face it doesn’t make much sense.

          Rome was an actual empire, conquering territory and annihilating or assimilating the native populations. The annexations were usually conducted out of a mix of economic reasons and a fear of barbarians being too close to the Roman heartland.

          Ultimately, the empire changed Rome, since the policy of making provincials into citizens led to Spaniards and North Africans becoming senators, high officials and emperors.

          My experience has been that people who try to analogize Rome and the USA don’t know much about Rome.

          1. Not at all. He’s not comparing our situation to the empire or even the late republic. There was a period of time–quite long, when compared to the U.S.’s history–where Rome would do things like go fight off some bad guys in, say, Greece, on request, then go back home. They did that for quite a while and eventually became the go-to guys when you wanted a military solution without becoming a subject state thereafter. Yes, that all broke down, but what human institution hasn’t over time?

    2. But why concede a falsehood?

      If one nation has military installations in well over a hundred nations, and by some accounts, has upwards of 1,000 such installations in foreign lands, by what reasoning can one conclude that the same does not constitute evidence of empire?

      1. An empire should be made of sterner stuff, eh?

        1. What about the kidnapping of people alleged to have some connection, somewhere, somehow to terrorists and transporting them to dungeons all over the world for “enhanced interrogation”?

          If a nation state engages in such kidnapping, with some frequency, and, by its actions, asserts that it has the right to nab foreign nationals, anywhere in the world, for such confinement and interrogation, what is irrational about describing the same as further manifestation of imperiousness?

          1. I’m not endorsing what we do and would prefer far, far less intervention. But I hesitate to lump us in with true empires.

      2. The US really is not an empire because it does not assert sovereignty or supremacy in its hegemony not does it impose taxes upon it provinces.

  6. Id say that people, mostly leftists, call America ‘imperialist’ for the same reason that those same people call everyone ‘racist’, because it saves them the trouble of actually having to think about what there objection really is and lets them move on to the much more satisfying ‘feeling morally superior’ part of the conversation.

    1. No, the racist analogy fails, big time.

    2. racist

  7. What malarkey! Shikha Dalma may have proffered the best legal foundation for invading Syria yet, and all under the guise that America is protecting the “interests of others.” Making the world safe for democracy through military intervention means tearing open other countries to make room for American corporations, establish central banks (which we recently accomplished in Lybia, one of the forerunners of trying to push a confederation of countries to divest from the dollar and peg their economies to the Dynar), and gain control over planned oil/natgas routes, while ensuring our geopolitical primacy over Russia and China and Iran (the last one at the behest of Israel, of course).

    Reason, in your attempts to appear impartial, you are failing your readers. I expect more from you.

    1. If that’s been our goal, then we’ve been horribly ineffective at it.

      But, of course, you’re assuming way too much strategy and goal-setting on the part of the US government. The reality is that we have what is basically a “CNN foreign policy.” If the optics are bad, we’ll get involved, even if there’s no conceivable national interest.

  8. This piece by Dalmia supports the point I was making in last night’s thread where I told Irish that Lew Rockwell and the writers such as Woods, DiLorenzo, Shaffer, Anderson, Grigg et al who are regularly featured at Lew’s site have and do more for the cause of liberty than Reason and its stable of cosmotarian scribes.

    One has to be pretty ignorant to argue that the US is not an imperial power but is essentially well meaning and just screws up things. Tell that to the thousands of people who have been kidnapped, all over the world, to be confined and tortured because spy boys say that they may have some connection, somewhere, somehow to them evildoers.

    1. Judging by their gushing over Chavez, Putin and Mossadegh it seems their problem with the US Empire is that the Wrong TOP MEN are in charge. How libertarian.

  9. chemtrailz!!!11!

  10. The US is not a monolithic thing with a singular, rational goal. Neither was the Roman Empire or any other imperial power. It’s a collection of self-interested people and groups, which may change over time, that react to the circumstances of the time and place. The US is not much like empires of old in terms of grabbing resources or subjugating people, but those actions weren’t done for their own sake. They were done for treasure and glory.

    In the contemporary US, treasure can be got from the taxpayers of the richest civilization in history, and glory has changed to be something more “liberal.” The differences in means are, in one sense*, superficial. So the Soviets brought resources from its satellites to Moscow (as the socialist state had to to keep the game up a little longer), while the US taxes and borrows and inflates for its money. So Napoleon marched out of vanity while the US does it out of “Wilsonian idealism.” The goals are largely the same.

    *in another sense, going into debt to enrich the connected is probably less intolerable than enslaving foreigners

  11. The new Imperialism doesn’t demand resources, it demands compliance.

  12. This is a good point. I can’t stand when libertarians adopt the rhetoric of socialists just because there’s agreement (usually for different reasons) on a narrow issue. Our foreign policy debacles aren’t expansionist, they come from an overzealous sense of benevolence and moral grandiosity, as if it’s our responsibility to fix every problem in the world. It’s driven by a LEFT WING, paternalistic sensibility, which makes their selectively partisan opposition to it all the more disgusting.

    All they care about is free shit and everything else they say is a means to that end.

    1. You mean the same leftists whose ideas of proper leadership are Stalin, Mao and Chavez?

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