At the close of the 20th century, it cannot be reasonably disputed
that the United States is the most powerful nation on earth — perhaps
in history. Despite multiple policy failures regarding U.S. military
involvement into arenas of foreign concern by the Clinton
administration, U.S. economic and military strength remains unsurpassed
— despite attempts by the president to weaken both.
That said, U.S. leaders now have a dilemma — what to do with all
this power? Do we conserve it and guarantee our own survival, or do we
squander it away on senseless imperialistic ventures? Though the kind
of global prowess the U.S. currently enjoys has rarely been seen
throughout history, there are a few examples from which American
leaders — and would-be leaders — can draw when deciding how best to
“handle” our affairs of state.
Historically speaking, the best “solution” to this dilemma can be
summed up in this way: Don’t abuse the power you have or you’ll lose
it. For reference, see, “Roman empire” or “British empire.”
In their day, each of these empires succumbed to the desire to
constantly use the power they had acquired. They often justified
their intervention into the matters of sovereign nations on the
flimsiest of reasons, claiming — as the U.S. claims today — “moral”
and “ethical” concerns that left their respective populations little
choice but to feel obligated to respond.
As the process repeated itself — and as the imperial victors gained
more power and trust — interference into the affairs of other sovereign
(and less powerful) nations became reflexive among the nation’s leaders.
“Intervention” became a way of life, and anyone who dared oppose this
common knowledge was chastised as some unenlightened neophyte with no
sense of reality.
But the “Chicken Littles” of the day proved correct: With each rise
of a new empire there was a fall. And when they fell, they fell hard.
Similar warnings abound today about the future of the United States
if this penchant to dominate every aspect of every life around the world
does not come to an end. The history, albeit limited, is conclusive.
Arrogantly, though, U.S. leaders continue to ignore the obvious warning
When a powerful nation abuses that power, the very nature of the
abuse begets carelessness, hubris and a false sense of superiority.
Resources are frittered away, opportunities are squandered, the people
made complacent, and all sense of reason abandoned. After all, a
“powerful nation” doesn’t have to negotiate, only demand, lest
the weaker foe be pummeled for his failure to fall at the feet of the
all-powerful imperialist empire.
The problem with this kind of overbearing foreign policy is that
leaders who advocate such rarely, if ever, understand the limitations of
such policies. Even the U.S., with all our prowess, did little real
damage to Yugoslavia when the smoke finally cleared — but did lots of
damage to the nation’s weapons stocks, relationships with key allies,
NATO, and our own credibility. In fact, NATO itself seems to have been
transformed into a surrogate of U.S. imperialism.
And still, “mainstream” presidential candidates like Vice President
Al Gore, Sen. Bill Bradley and Texas Gov. George W. Bush push for a more
“centralized global role” with increased “responsibilities” to countries
where we have no vital national interests.
Other powerful empires have tried to find the key that unlocks the
door to a cost-free, risk-free and limitless imperialism. They failed;
the U.S. will fail too.
Of all the prominent presidential candidates, only one — Reform
Party member Patrick J. Buchanan — truly understands the futility of an
imperialistic foreign policy. As he has warned, men throughout the 20th
century — Chamberlain, Wilson, FDR — did not understand. Their
errors and arrogance cost this world some 25 million souls.
What will the next imperialist failure cost in terms of U.S. lives?
In terms of future strength? In terms of resources?
Who really wants to find out?
If the issue is “Isolationism vs. Global Imperialism,” give me the