Sunday, August 10, 2003
This Liberal Empire - 10th August 2003, 13.24

The current dominant position of the United States in world affairs is described with a plethora of terms that reflect the concerns and assumptions of the commentator. The two most controversial descriptions are empire and hegemony, with their history of Marxist and Gramscian ideological theorising.

Robert Kaplan errs on the side of Empire, and unlike most of his contemporaries, prefers to understand the mechanics of system of governance. He argues that the future of liberal imperialism, as exercised by the United States, revolves around policy as decided on the ground through interagency cooperation. In areas where US troops and diplomats are deployed, policy will probably be decided by the local commanders; for example, General Abizaid in the Middle East. They can implement strategy, whereas local ambassadors are focussed on their individual postings and vulnerable, as political appointees, to changes of administration. United States foreign policy is now a concern of the armed forces, and represents an increase in their political power, that has not yet fully registered in the domestic arena. Washington is beginning to resemble the Empire that its founders saw as the corruption of Republican virtue.

Kaplan constructs ten rules for ensured success:

Based partly on these extensive travels, Kaplan has come up with a list of "Rules for Managing the World":

1. Produce More Joppolos
2. Stay on the Move
3. Emulate Second-Century Rome
4. Use the Military to Promote Democracy
5. Be Light and Lethal
6. Bring Back the Old Rules
7. Remember the Philippines
8. The Mission is Everything
9. Fight on Every Front
10. Speak Victorian, Think Pagan

In essence, these rules are an articulation of power on a global scale. Have the best men possible on the ground; be everywhere; use American citizens—foreign and native born; use the military to further democracy; do a lot with a little; covert means and dabbling in moral ambiguity are sometimes necessary; a country united under one name may need more than one policy; the mission cannot be forgotten or compromised; sell the product; be idealistic, but know that realism wins the day.

With the many strands of liberal internationalism and moral direction that permeate American thinking on foreign policy, and appeal so strikingly to parts of New Labour, it is inevitable that Kaplan's long-term objective is a self-regulating global civil society, where all powers limit themselves:

I think it's a good thing that we should only be the preeminent power for a few decades. I can't in detail describe the world that's going to come next, simply because it hasn't happened yet. I foresee a global system in a few decades that will very roughly resemble the Han Empire that emerged in China in around the second or third century BC. The Han Empire, which governed much of today's China, was not a dictatorship ruled from a central capital. In the beginning, at least, it represented a grand harmony of diverse peoples and systems that despite all their power struggles found out that it was in their self interest to limit their own power for the sake of the greater whole. So while a single country didn't emerge, a loose web of agreements emerged that was a system, even though it wasn't a central government.

The sole alternative detailed is just another picture of European hypocrisy and makes one wonder when US commentators will move beyond this tired analysis of the French.

I think a world operated by the French, the Germans, and the Russians would have a kind of realpolitik that is more of the seventeenth century than the twentieth century. It would be so cold-blooded, and yet it would be dressed up with self-righteous moral statements, like the "world community" and "every country is sovereign." The result would be that some horrible dictators would flourish. And remember, Russia is not really a democracy. Germany has never really exhibited much wisdom in foreign affairs. If you look at how the French have operated in sub-Saharan Africa, how they operated supporting the Serbs in the Balkans, you will see that despite all the statements, their actual operations on the ground in many parts of the world have been, by any moral standards, worse than ours.

As we don't have an independent foreign policy, or even dreams of one, the UK doesn't merit a reference. Just about sums us up.


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