L. Neil Smith's
Number 297, November 14, 2004

"Where can we go from here?"

America's Ideologues of Empire
by Greg Flanagan

Special to TLE

Extremist elements of the Bush administration have carried American foreign policy outside of mainstream thinking, according to Jeffrey Freyman, professor of political science at Transylvania University. He spoke about "America's Ideologues of Empire" at a Kentucky teach-in on election issues organized by the non-partisan Peace and Justice Coalition on Lexington Community College's campus. (1)

Freyman outlined the traditional conflicting ideologies that influence American foreign policy: for example, the mentality of "isolationism," which sought to follow George Washington's advice of staying out of foreign entanglements and instead focus on strictly domestic matters.

As the course of world events has led away from that kind of thinking, two competing systems of policy emerged. Some people believe the United States should "lead by example" and promote world peace and order through a moralistic approach of respecting the sovereignty and rights of other peoples and by upholding international law. These policymakers view American economic influence and trading partnerships as a way to work with other countries but they reject economic imperialism and military interventionism.

Another approach places "nationalist interests" above all but is realistic and seeks to maintain a balance of power where the U.S. would intervene only when vital national security and economic interests are involved and would not seek world domination. They do not believe that it's possible to maintain global dominance nor is it desirable.

This policy involves being very selective and realistic in choosing where best to use U.S. resources and the military in a limited way that achieves national policy objectives but does not result in permanent entanglements that lead to empire building. For this policy to be effective, credibility is key, Freyman emphasized.

By maintaining credibility, sometimes just the threat of U.S. intervention can accomplish policy objectives. For that reason, intervention must not be pursued recklessly if it's likely to lead to failed objectives and diminishing support and respect for the U.S. around the world. Therefore, it may be preferable to work through the United Nations or with other countries, using diplomacy backed up by a credible military threat to accomplish policy goals.

"National interest" theory has become the mainstream thinking on foreign policy, it was the policy pursued by former President George H.W. Bush and by retired Gen. Colin Powell who articulated his doctrine as a guide for future military interventions.

Powell supports working multi-laterally with other countries and through the United Nations when possible. The U.S. should only act unilaterally when vital national interests are at stake and all other means have been exhausted. A military intervention must meet certain requirements, according to the "Powell Doctrine," which include; an honest and complete accounting by the president of the issues and objectives involved; the support of the majority of the American people; the support of Congress and the military; and there must be a realistic military strategy that defines objective goals that are likely to lead to victory. There must be a realistic assessment of the enemy military forces and the reaction of their civilian population. Once a military operation is underway, it must be fought with a commitment of using the full force required to achieve victory as quickly as possible, and there must be a determined and realistic exit strategy. (2)

"Differences among nations and their governments are inevitable," Powell noted. "But our differences should not be equated with American unilateralism or American isolationism." Powell stated in a State Department E-Journal (4) that the U.S. should "always endeavor to achieve international agreement ...(by) working intensively with allies and partners on every continent." (2)

Freyman claims that the current war in Iraq violated most of those principles. He said when Secretary of State Colin Powell had to read a statement of President Bush's argument for intervention in Iraq before the United Nations, Powell at first balked at reading it because it violated his own principles. Nevertheless, he performed as instructed.

Some senior officials in former President Bush's administration have denounced President Bush's policies in the current Iraq war, including former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft who, before the invasion, wrote; (5) "there is scant evidence to tie Saddam to terrorist organizations, and even less to the Sept. 11 attacks. Indeed Saddam's goals have little in common with the terrorists who threaten us, and there is little incentive for him to make common cause with them." He realized that: "An attack on Iraq at this time would seriously jeopardize, if not destroy, the global counterterrorist campaign we have undertaken," and "likely would have to be followed by a large-scale, long-term military occupation" a "go-it-alone strategy" which would make "any military operations correspondingly more difficult and expensive." However, Scowcroft said the most serious cost would be "a serious degradation in international cooperation with us against terrorism." (2)

Freyman believes these "Ideologues of Empire," which include Vice-President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Perle, former chairman of the Defense Policy Board and Paul Wolfowitz, the US deputy defence secretary, are pursuing a systematic policy of empire building with the goal being nothing less than world domination.

Such a mentality is antithetical to mainstream American thought. These policy makers believe in not only pursuing world dominance but they believe that the United States already possesses a level of military and economic superiority that allows for dominance, and, Freyman said, they "believe it's sustainable."

Iraq is just one country on a list of up to fifty nations that Dick Cheney warned "could be targeted for a range of action, from financial and diplomatic to military" reported Ewen MacAskill, diplomatic editor for The Guardian. (2) (3)

These neo-conservatives reject balance of power theories and believe that the U.S. does not need multilateral cooperation or U.N. approval to act, nor does vital national security interests need to be proven.

While many conservatives deny their policies are imperialistic, there is an increasing hubris on the part of some who openly espouse the virtues of empire and believe that a U.S. empire is uniquely benevolent. Charles Krauthammer, a neo-conservative spokesman, believes that this is a "uni-polar moment" in history for the United States, meaning that there is a window of opportunity for building a world empire.

Freyman maintains that not only was the Bush administration wrong about its reasons for the invasion, he claims they ignored CIA and military intelligence information that had warned against such unrealistic expectations, just as they ignored information that failed to produce evidence of weapons of mass destruction. Therefore, Freyman states, Bush asked for other sources to produce information he could use as propaganda to justify an invasion of Iraq.

There are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and administration prospects for a quick victory followed by overwhelming popular support by the liberated Iraqi population has not occurred. Freyman also thinks Bush was unrealistic about the prospects for democracy in Iraq and for international support.

Freyman reckons the U.S. now faces a dilemma in which there are two options, either to "make things worse by staying" or to "make things worse by leaving." He noted that there is currently no exit strategy, because he believes, "we were not intended to leave." He considers the invasion to be "based on theory" rather than on sound strategy or even vital national interests.


1 - The teach-in on election issues was organized by the Peace and Justice Coalition, a student organization, on Monday, Oct. 25, in the lobby of LCC's Academic Tech building.

2 - Those quotes and commentary were not included in the Teach-In presentation.

3 - Other countries could face US military action: Up to 50 states are on blacklist, says Cheney - by Ewen MacAskill, diplomatic editor; The Guardian (United Kingdom): November 17, 2001

4 - "American Internationalism" Electronic Journal of the Department of State. Volume 8, Number 1, Aug 2003

5 - Don't Attack Saddam. It would undermine our antiterror efforts—by Brent Scowcroft; The Wall Street Journal, opinionjournal.com: August 15, 2002

Greg Flanagan is a journalism major and the assistant editor of the college newspaper the LCC Courier in Lexington, Ky. He wrote this article about a professor's speech on campus.

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