America: Neocon Nation or Empire?

Ross Douthat helpfully links to and analyzes a piece by Robert Kagan (noted neoconservative) in the Washington Post. Kagan’s article in many ways is a summation his book Dangerous Nation.

Douthat writes:

There is a broad sense in which I agree with Robert Kagan’s essay on our “Neocon Nation” in the latest issue of the surprisingly-interesting new World Affairs. I agree with his contention that neoconservatism is not an alien virus injected into the American political bloodstream by a cabal of perfidious ex-Trotskyite Straussians; rather, it’s a particular manifestation of an interventionist spirit in American affairs that runs all the way back to the founding era. And I agree, as well, with his argument that this spirit continues to dominate our politics, and probably will continue to do so – that the post-Iraq rediscovery of various forms of non-interventionism, realism and anti-imperialism on the part of the American center-left is likely to be temporary, that many of the Iraq War’s current crop of conservative critics discovered their aversion to spreading democracy by force of arms only well after things went badly in Iraq (Kagan singles out George Will, effectively, on this point), and that in a fundamental sense, “in 2008, as in almost every election of the past century, American voters will choose between two variations of the same worldview.”

Now I’d like to agree and disagree (in part) with Douthat’s observation (and by extension Kagan). The broad theme that this interventionist strain exists right from the beginning of America is in fact correct.

If you want this argument made much more briliantly I recommend Jim Garrison’s America as Empire. Unfortunately since Garrison commits the unforgivable sin of bringing in spirit to the discussion, it is not known and/or excluded from discussion in these circles. Just so happens Garrison is this week’s guest on Integral Naked discussing this very topic (subscription required, first month free).

Garrison’s argument is that the US is an empire and had within it strains leading in this direction from the beginning. Thomas Jefferson engaged the US in its first (and certainly not last) war in the Middle East. Monroe was already teling Europe to stay out of the entire Western Hemisphere in the 1820s!!!Lincoln was sending troops abroad during the Civil War for God’s sake. Garrison brilliantly relates this arc to a founding myth of America in Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis.

So that brings us to today. Garrison then shows historically that emipres that survive and thrive for long periods do so by bringing benefits to the populaces. He focuses particularly on Rome and its extending of citizenship, common language/currency across the Empire.

And this brings us back to my disagreement with Douthat (and again Kagan). The neoconservative (under Bush) agenda on doing “empire on the cheap”, democracy promotion, unilateralism, and preventive war (not pre-emptive, preventive war) is in fact part of a Trotsky-ite Jacobin heritage. From supposedly conservatives. The biggest disaster of Bush’s tenure (amongst many many many others) is that he has dissolved the bonds that the US help build in the post WWII world (again paralleling with Rome).

The US has to help build a new contract similar to the WWII system (NATO, UN, IMF, World Bank, WTO). Those structures are in many regards outmoded, but simply pulling out of them (like our nuclear agreements with Russia) plus a diplomatic posture that states that talking to the US is an award for good behavior (see Gaza Hamas, North Korea, Iran, Syria, amongst many) leaves the US most in danger than dangerous seems to me.

Published in: on April 13, 2008 at 7:37 pm  Leave a Comment  
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