The politics of Empire and the National Security State were not an unfortunate deviation of the Bush years, and by no means something peculiar to conservative Republicans. The roots of American Empire go way back to the early 20th century.
New Left historian William Appleman Williams coined the phrase “Open Door Empire” for the consensus foreign policy that arose at the turn of the twentieth century. The version of Open Door Imperialism currently in place, the neoliberal system, traces back to FDR’s planning for a postwar global order.
FDR’s main policy goal, in maneuvering the United States into WWII, was to counter the threat that a major part of the resources and markets of the world required for integration into the American corporate economy would be, instead, incorporated into autarkic projects like Fortress Europe and the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere. The central aim of the post-war power structure was to guarantee that no nation would ever be able to promote large-scale defection from the global corporate order enforced by the United States, and to prevent any nation from emerging to challenge the United States as (in Samuel Huntington’s phrase) “hegemonic power in a system of world order.”
The basic consensus on which American postwar foreign policy has been based is shared by the mainstream of both major parties. The central tenet of this consensus was ably stated by Noam Chomsky: the United States (or rather the state-corporate elite whose interests the United States government serves) owns the world. At the “left” extreme of the consensus, some liberals may suggest that some war—Vietnam, say, or Iraq—was “a mistake.” But they don’t challenge the basic policy goals it was fought to promote. They never question the basic principle that the United States should be more powerful militarily than the rest of the world put together. They never express any doubt that the United States has the unique right, among all other countries in the world, to define a “threat” as the ability to resist an attack by the United States and to define as “aggression” the refusal to take orders from the United States.
If anyone has any doubts that this consensus is still very much in effect under Barack Obama, a look at the Quadrennial Defense [sic] Review should settle them. The document recommends a military posture suited to dealing with “two capable nation-state aggressors.”
Now, to understand what’s meant by “aggressor,” you need only note that the two likely cases of “aggression” envisioned by the U.S. national security state aren’t a two-pronged assault on American territory by the military juggernauts of Canada and Mexico. Nope. They’re the kind of deal where the United States has to helpfully maintain forward military bases on the other side of the world, within a few hundred miles of the borders of the “nation-state aggressors,” for the “aggression” even to be physically possible. But then every conventional conflict the U.S. government has fought against a “nation-state aggressor” since WWII has been about what some other country on the other side of the world did within a few hundred miles of its own borders. None of those enemies has even possessed the logistical capability to fight outside its own environs. If the United States only fought wars against the kind of “aggression” that involved the actual threat of military attack on American territory, we wouldn’t get to have any wars to “defend our freedom” at all!
The Quadrennial “Defense” Review continues to assume, as a natural state of affairs, a military budget larger than those of all the rest of the world combined and thousands of military garrisons in dozens of countries.
As the QDR itself spells out, the major “threats” anticipated by the United States amount to “anti-access” strategies that impede its “power projection capabilities” around the world.
Imagine, if you will, a parallel world in which the Chinese military budget is larger than those of the rest of the world put together. The Chinese High Command identifies, as one of the major “threats,” American military forces capable of invading Cuba or Central America. One of the Chinese planners’ contingencies for “defending against aggression” is the projection of Chinese military force into the Caribbean to defeat an American attack on its neighbors. The Chinese leadership regularly rebukes the United States, with its military budget roughly a tenth as large as China’s, for possessing military forces “far beyond its legitimate defensive needs.” The Chinese “Defense Posture” for the Caribbean region is designed to counter the immense “threat” presented by the possibility that the United States might be able to fight back if attacked.
Sound like something out of Looking Glass World? Change the names and it’s the world we live in.