Shilling for the Empress

The new year has hardly had time to properly start, but the Washington Post has already set the tone for things to come. In the January 2, 2008 issue, on page A13 (opinion), the Post carries an abridged article by Moisés Naím, titled “A Hunger for America.”

Never mind the current disaffection with the United States throughout the world, Naím says; in reality, people around the world want to be ruled by an American Empire, so long as its hegemony is benevolent. Not only that, but an American hegemony is a necessity:

“Few want to see the world’s stage led by autocratic regimes such as those in Russia or China. An ineffectual Europe does not offer much in the way of leadership. And short of these options, there are few possibilities besides living in an anarchic vacuum.”

If any of this sounds familiar, it’s because you’ve heard it before – from Madeleine Albright, Dick Holbrooke, and Bill Clinton. Indeed, the paper edition of the Post (not the online edition, though) featured a sub-heading with Albright’s infamous phrase, “indispensable nation.”

About the Author

Naím’s sparse Wikipedia biography reveals that he was born in Libya, and was a major “reformer” in Venezuela – presumably before Hugo Chávez came to power. He also worked at the World Bank, and there is a cryptic note suggesting he was involved with the NED as well. Now he is editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy, published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, an interventionist think-tank in Washington, DC.

The “Argument”

If the past two years have shown anything beyond a doubt, it is that the world increasingly resents U.S. hegemony. Yet even though he acknowledges worldwide resentment towards the US, Naím brushes it aside as irrelevant. According to him, beginning with this year, “world politics will be reshaped by a strong yearning for American leadership.” However unexpected, this is “inevitable given the vacuums that only the United States can fill.”

Excuse me, but hasn’t the United State (not a typo) been creating some rather spectacular “vacuums” around the world for the past fifteen years? Oh no, says Naím:

“Almost a decade of U.S. disengagement and distraction have [sic] allowed international and regional problems to swell. Often, the only nation that has the will and means to act effectively is the United States.” (emphasis added)

He continues:

“…strong anti-American currents will increasingly coexist with equally strong international demands for the United States to play a larger role in world affairs.”

Wait… What?

Naím notes the overwhelming disapproval of the U.S. in polls around the world; you see, it’s not the American Empire in principle all these people object to, but its current version. The demand, he avers, is not for the America “that preemptively invades potential enemies, bullies allies or disdains international law,” but “an America that rallies other nations prone to sitting on the fence while international crises are boiling out of control; for a superpower that comes up with innovative initiatives to tackle the great challenges of the day.”

Before anyone can point out that bombing isn’t particularly “innovative,” Naím dismisses the horrors of Empire by claiming the world understands that, “while the United States may sometimes use a heavy hand, the alternatives are much worse.”

Right. One could actually be alive, or God forbid, free.

Nonsense, says Naím. The world only asks “that the price not include subservience to the whims of a giant with more power than brains and whose legitimacy is undermined by regular displays of incompetence, recklessness and ignorance.”

Of People and Power

While this may be a fair enough description of the Empire under George the Lesser, Naím’s making a case that the particular Emperor is the problem, not the Empire itself. From reading this article, one would be tempted to conclude that “the world” really wants and likes – nay, loves! – to be ruled by America, it just cannot abide George W. Bush. No person – no problem. Someone else ascends to the White Marble Throne, and all is well in the world. To term this sort of nonsense wishful thinking would be a monumental understatement.

Naím’s “proof” of this supposed desire for American domination is the eagerness of Latin American leaders to meet with Emperor George last year. Why? They hoped the superpower would “do something for them.”

This sort of erroneous thinking is understandable. After all, the modern state functions thanks to not just the legions of bureaucrats, but also millions of willing enablers among the governed, who seek to use the state to acquire money, power or privilege. This is the corrupting nature of power; it entices even the most virtuous to seek “shortcuts” that bypass voluntary human interaction. A little coercion here, a little there, and soon we’re talking about creating a New Soviet Man.

Hail to the Empress?

While obviously disapproving of the eight-year Bush reign, Naím offers an “alternative” that sounds better, but is just more of the same: a Clinton empire. That is already obvious from the earlier image of an America that rallies those on the fence. Naím underscores the point by quoting Bush’s Defense [sic] Secretary, Robert Gates:

“Success…will be less a matter of imposing one’s will and more a function of shaping the behavior of friends, adversaries and, most importantly, the people in between. . . . We need a dramatic increase in spending on the civilian instruments of national security…”

No doubt the magic words here are “a dramatic increase in spending.”

Gates is, of course, correct that power is not just force, but rather an ability to compel obedience. Bush the Lesser’s sin in the eyes of Beltway imperialists is that he botched the project of world domination by being too open about it. Someone like Bill Clinton would have done all this (or has already) far more smoothly.

And by a truly amazing coincidence, there’s a Clinton running for Empress right now!

Supply and Demand

Naím ends his op-ed by declaring that, “The demand for a new brand of American global leadership is there. Increasingly, the supply to satisfy this demand will also be there.”

It’s a typical fallacy reversal at work. There is an obvious surfeit of “global leadership” in Washington, where power-hungry government-worshippers are no longer content with soaking the wealthiest nation in the world to the bone, but insist on using its power to dominate the planet. But is there really a “demand” for Empire’s “services”?

No doubt there are legions of fellow criminals (a.k.a. “statesmen”) around the globe eager to employ the Empire’s might against their political adversaries at home or neighbors, and hardly averse to getting their paws on some cash from Uncle Sam, however devalued it may be. In addition to fostering this form of corruption, though, the Empire seems to be “good” at only two things: killing people and breaking things. A portion of the world’s sycophancy surely goes towards ensuring that the killing and the breaking happens to someone else. When leaders of other countries pay compliments to the U.S., which Naím misinterprets for “demand,” they are merely practicing fretful politeness towards a capricious bully.

Author: Nebojsa Malic

Nebojsa Malic left his home in Bosnia after the Dayton Accords and currently resides in the United States. During the Bosnian War he had exposure to diplomatic and media affairs in Sarajevo. As a historian who specializes in international relations and the Balkans, Malic has written numerous essays on the Kosovo War, Bosnia, and Serbian politics. His exclusive column for debuted in November 2000.