The ancient Romans were the only superpower of the world in their time, and today America is the preeminent world power. The ancient Romans also dominated commerce, as do we.
The comparison is a lofty thought. Should we use our power as we please? Invade countries at will? Confiscate their resources to suit our needs? Nationalize their oil to fuel our cars, without asking permission or begging forgiveness?
No. We must exercise our power responsibly, with appropriate restraint. Remember, civilization once before advanced to the point where ancient Rome had running water, yet we fell back – to the point where even ancient Rome in all its power and glory fell back into the depth and confusion of the Dark Ages. We, too, regardless how far we think we have advanced, could also fall back into darkness once again.
Imagine any major U.S. city without electricity for a prolonged period of time and you will quickly see a crisis beginning to emerge after as short a period of time as 48 hours. No American city is ready for the consequences of a suitcase nuclear bomb exploded within their metropolis.
How will we avoid the downfall that ancient Rome suffered?
The ancient Romans conquered in order to colonize. Make no mistake about it – in Christ’s time, Pontius Pilate was in Israel to govern a conquered land for the benefit of Romans back home. Those living in Israel were not citizens of Rome, nor did they share in the rights afforded to those who were Roman citizens. Ancient Rome’s interest was one-sided – to subdue internal unrest in conquered territories and to engage in commerce with the colonies designed to benefit primarily Rome itself.
The United States has always fought foreign wars with a different purpose in mind – to defend the national interests of the United States. Americans do not intend to establish colonies. This is why the goals of holding elections in Afghanistan and Iraq is so important. Our goal is and must be to establish independent regimes in these countries and leave.
American foreign policy can be reduced to two simple principles:
- The American people do not want to be blown up, and
- Anything that prevents the American people from being blown up is OK.
Fighting foreign wars for objectives other than these has always been problematic for Americans.
This was the rub on the Iraq debate – the American people believe fundamentally that Saddam Hussein was a threat to us at home. Forget that we didn’t find weapons of mass destruction. Saddam Hussein had given the world every reason to believe WMDs were there, and that was enough for the American people to feel threatened.
Ancient Romans may have thought differently. Does Iraq have oil we need? Then go conquer Iraq and confiscate the oil, the ancient Romans would have argued. When the radical left accused President Bush of having this as his secret agenda, the American public didn’t buy it. American presidents have never been able to sell to the American people wars of foreign conquest for the sole reason of the conquest itself. Why bother fighting the war, most American would reason, unless we are threatened at home? Even then, the decision to fight the war is always a hard sell.
Another difference is that Americans believe in limited government, the ancient Romans did not. Our founding fathers had a profound distrust of any national government that was too strong. Hence we have a balance of powers between the executive, legislative and executive. No branch of government should ever get so powerful as to proclaim itself divine or assume dictatorial powers, as ancient Roman emperors often did. American presidents, even presidents with expensive libraries commemorating their time in office, are comfortably considered far from being gods.
Moreover, though we separate church and state – as the ancient Romans did not – God still has an important place in the American republic. Separation of church and state has never meant that God needs to be wiped clean from our public consciousness. “In God We Trust,” is stamped on our coins, despite what the American Civil Liberties Union might insist. As long as God remains in the American public and as long as we do not adopt a state religion, Americans are free to believe as they choose. Americans embrace religious differences without requiring that God be eliminated from our public buildings, our national documents, our schools and our hearts.
Yes, we may well be the ancient Romans of the modern world, but with a difference. The United States of America remains, as Abraham Lincoln expressed, mankind’s last, best experiment with freedom in a nation where all men are considered equal, each endowed with God-bestowed inalienable rights. We have massive power, yet Americans understand restraint and respect for others. We appreciate freedom and we wish freedom to be enjoyed around the world, yet we do not demand that others subject themselves to us as conquering heroes.
These differences are important, especially if we are resolved to celebrate in 2076 yet another 100 years of our cherished liberties.