American Megalomania

The rituals of Empire have their own meaning and structure, and, as we morph from a republic to an imperial hegemon, these are becoming more formalized. Note the proliferation of grandiosely named agencies and other offices, staffed by a multitude of officials with sonorously self-important titles. For example, how many people know that a “Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor” has been created within the State Department, charged with “promoting freedom and democracy and protecting human rights around the world,” because, after all, this ideological mumbo-jumbo is “central to U.S. foreign policy”? As Pat Nixon’s plain Republican cloth coat gives way to the imperial purple, a rococo extravagance replaces the unpretentious modesty of the Old Republic as the Washington style.

Another mark of Empire is the codification of its rituals in our laws, and that has given the Boy Emperor a pretext for yet another provocation, this one presumably aimed at Iran, in the form of a new “national security strategy” that reiterates an old Bushian trope: the necessity and morality of preemptive war. Every year, the national security bureaucracy is legally charged with issuing such a document, and, although this has been ignored for the past two years or so, suddenly the Bushies have remembered their legal responsibilities. In the process of slapping it together, however, the State Department’s wordsmiths appear to have plagiarized … George W. Bush. Or, at least, his speechwriters, who can fairly claim credit for the opening line:

“It is the policy of the United States to seek and support democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world. In the world today, the fundamental character of regimes matters as much as the distribution of power among them. The goal of our statecraft is to help create a world of democratic, well-governed states that can meet the needs of their citizens and conduct themselves responsibly in the international system. This is the best way to provide enduring security for the American people.”

The opener is, of course, the most appalling statement uttered in Bush’s second inaugural speech, the Dostoyevskian one in which he invoked “a fire in the mind” – a phrase directly lifted from The Possessed, intended by the author to characterize the nihilist mindset – as a metaphor for the revolutionary fervor this inside-out Bizarro World Trotskyism is supposed to inspire. However, if even the most pro-American resident of, say, Iran, or perhaps Belarus, gets past the grandiloquent phrases, and down to the specific goals and tasks of U.S. foreign policy as announced in this document, what is likely to be inspired is fear rather than hope. Fear of war, invasion, occupation, and all they entail. Fear, that is, of a rogue nation on the loose.

What the U.S. government is saying, here, is that it has abandoned the traditional behavior of ordinary nation-states throughout history. This is generally understood to be the preservation and protection of its own national interests, somewhat narrowly defined as the defense of its territory and such ancillary overseas interests as are directly related to its continued survival as a nation. But the Americans have now abandoned that paradigm, and are seemingly intent on adopting the old Soviet model, at least the one that predominated in the immediate aftermath of the 1917 Bolshevik coup, in which the Communist International was proclaimed from the rooftops and the leaders of the Russian state routinely referred to their intention to overthrow world capitalism.

In the minds of its leaders, the Soviet state apparatus was not merely concerned with governing Russia and the captive nations, but was a kind of General Command of the world proletariat, tasked just as much with spreading Commie rule over the rest of the globe as it was in filling the potholes in the streets of Leningrad. In this sense, the Russian commissars were carriers of an ideological cancer, one that insisted on metastasizing until it – finally – collapsed, exhausted by its exertions and inner contradictions. The USSR was, in principle if not always in effect, a “rogue” state, one explicitly committed to fomenting conflict.

Similarly, the Bush administration, in reserving to itself the right to effect “regime changeanywhere and everywhere on earth, by any means necessary, has transformed itself into a “revolutionary” state, one that seeks to spread its own system over the entire earth – by consent of the “liberated,” if possible, by force of arms if necessary. In any case, the rulers of the American empire, like their Soviet predecessors, fully realize that their final victory won’t be won overnight:

“Achieving this goal is the work of generations. The United States is in the early years of a long struggle, similar to what our country faced in the early years of the Cold War. The 20th century witnessed the triumph of freedom over the threats of fascism and communism. Yet a new totalitarian ideology now threatens, an ideology grounded not in secular philosophy but in the perversion of a proud religion. Its content may be different from the ideologies of the last century, but its means are similar: intolerance, murder, terror, enslavement, and repression.”

The conceptual framework of the new American revolutionary ideology is neatly set out, cast in the context of history and given a dualistic frisson that recalls the old Communist doctrine of “class struggle.” In the Bushian version, however, the inevitable conflict between the classes is replaced by a purely ideological war between the United States and various forms of totalitarianism – the latest of which is “the perversion of a proud religion” against the purely “secular philosophy” presumably represented by the U.S. and the West.

I’m not sure, at this point, whose ears the above statement is meant for: if any Iraqis are listening, perhaps the words “intolerance, murder, terror, enslavement, and repression” recall major aspects of their own “liberated” state – all of which can be traced back to the American invasion and occupation. Surely the religious theocracy now being imposed on the Iraqi people is as intolerant a government as one is likely to find anywhere on earth, at least when it comes to manners and morals. We know that murder and terror – in the form of Shi’ite party “militias” – are the instruments of this odious regime. As the Americans tilt toward putting the bloodstained Ba’athist thugs back into power, as a hedge against a Khomeini-ite takeover, it is the Iraqi people who are forced to somehow choose between full-fledged enslavement and mere repression.

The practical implementation of America’s worldwide revolutionary strategy is left largely to the imagination – and to the concrete example of Iraq – but seven current targets in the sights of our American neo-Leninists are singled out as “despotic systems”: North Korea, Iran, Syria, Cuba, Belarus, Burma and Zimbabwe, against whom “all necessary measures” are justified. “We may face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran,” the document declares, taking up a theme constantly reiterated by U.S. officials in recent weeks. There is mention of a “confrontation” that can only be “avoided” if the Europeans succeed in persuading Tehran to back off its insistence on acquiring nuclear power.

Russia is slapped around a bit, reflecting the hectoring tone and increasingly hostile stance toward Vladimir Putin taken by the administration in recent years:

“Recent trends regrettably point toward a diminishing commitment to democratic freedoms and institutions. We will work to try to persuade the Russian Government to move forward, not backward, along freedom’s path.”

If “freedom’s path” means going the way of Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, and other regime-changed American satellites veering toward some form of “democratic” authoritarianism, then one can forgive the Russian people if they answer: Thanks, but no thanks. China is also warned to know, and keep, her place, and is lectured to about the wonders of “democracy.” There is no recognition or acknowledgement, naturally, that China’s sclerotic Leninist caste system seems to be withering away of its own accord – quite without outside assistance or intervention, except for the all but invincible socio-cultural influence of the West.

There is, indeed, hardly a corner of the world that doesn’t come under the all-seeing, all-encompassing eye of America’s imperial mandarins. Like the Dark Lord keeping track of events in every shire of Middle Earth, the American hegemon keeps a close watch on what it considers its rightful domain – and woe unto those who even think of resistance! The very thought is bound to provoke a military strike – because defiance must be preempted and crushed before it spreads.

And so we are faced with the irony that the one nation formally committed to universal rights is almost universally hated. This kind of arrogance – the Greeks called it hubris – is simply asking to be smacked down. If the Bush Doctrine doesn’t bankrupt us, first, then it will certainly provoke a worldwide reaction, a wave of violent anti-Americanism that endangers us at home and abroad.

This is what happens when foreign policy, instead of attending to the narrowly-defined national interest, becomes the instrument of ideologues, dreamers, con men, and foreign lobbyists. When “ending tyranny in our world,” instead of ending attacks on America and American interests, becomes the central motivating factor in formulating U.S. policy, then the consequences are more than likely to be dangerous and quite possibly lethal.

We have never had a greater need for leadership in the foreign policy arena, and yet politicians in both parties routinely regurgitate the megalomaniacal rhetoric and style that suffuses our 2006 national security strategy. When oh when will we see a return, on the part of American policymakers, to simple common sense? When will America give up the Soviet model, as having demonstrably failed, and return to the time-honored constraints and safeguards imposed by a more traditionally American foreign policy?

Not, I fear, before the blowback becomes pretty intense – and we are forced to pay a high price for the lesson.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].