Re: American Imperialism?

From: Technotranscendence (
Date: Sun Mar 19 2000 - 09:39:00 MST

On Saturday, March 18, 2000 10:47 PM Zero Powers
> The problem with this discussion, perhaps, is carelessness with
> I agree 100% that the US is "interventionist." I don't think *anyone*
> denies that. But "interventionism" and "imperialism" are not
> interchangeable terms.

I would agree here. But I would add that if one constantly intervenes, one
is imperializing. The US intervention in WW1, e.g., was a mere
intervention. The US came in on the Anglo-French side in the conflict, but
did not stay after the war was over and there was over two decades of US
non-involvement in the region. (However, during this period of
"isolationism" by today's standards, the US did interefere in the affairs of
many a Latin American nation and was fighting an insurrection in the
Phillipines. So, it's more like the isolationism of the 1920s and 1930s was
in regards to Europe -- not the whole world.)

> If the thrust of your position is that the US should
> let the pendulum swing back a bit toward isolationism, I might not
> necessarily disagree (although I have not fully considered the issue as it
> has not specifically been raised in this thread). But regardless of
> or not you are a fan of US foreign policy the plain fact is that
> "imperialism" is an untrue, unfair and perjorative description of US

The rumors are untrue. US foreign policy has hardly every been
isolationist, especially from Spanish American war on. Surely, on a
comparative scale, the US in the 19th century had few treaties and was not
involved in a lot of far off wars. That's perhaps the closest the US came
to isolationism in its history.

Also, I don't imperialism is an unfair charge, if we stick to the definition
I offered several posts ago -- controlling another nation.

> You are not actually claiming that non-US citizens are more informed about
> US foreign policy than Americans, are you? If you are, I must beg to
> differ. Freedom of the press is one of our most cherished rights, and our
> press is not shy in the least about putting Government policy (foreign or
> otherwise) in a less than flattering light.

This statement is good for the high school civics class, but the real world
is different. Yes, the US has freedom of expression almost unprecedented
elsewhere -- except when it comes to pornography or funding political
campaigns.:) But Americans generally don't see the effect of US foreign
policy and the things they do see from the major news organizations,
including NPR and PBS, are usually tailored for specific responses. Sadly,
most TV and radio new programs and newspapers in the US, tend to accept the
State Department's press releases as news items and the final word on the

Witness how little Media criticism there was of the Persian Gulf War, the
continued bombing of Iraq, and the recent NATO attack on Serbia. In fact,
aside from some of the libertarian print Media (e.g., _Liberty_, which is an
opinion magazine NOT a news journal), which is so small it's almost a joke,
the only major new outlet that had a critical line toward the latter two
happenings (the bombings of Iraq and Serbia) was WBAI, which is extremely
marginal. Even NPR and PBS -- which are, sad to say, the best of the breed
of mainstream news -- either ignored (in the case of Iraq) or cheerleaded on
(in the case of Serbia) the attacks.

WBAI not only interviewed people from the other side, but had on historians
and journalists who worked on the Balkans for years if not decades.
Granted, a lot of this was slanted to be pro-Serbia, but it was refreshing
to hear a real alternative. And that one was, to my knowledge, the only
alternative that could reach a large audience -- and then it was only a
radio audience and not one available everywhere. (Some WBAI affiliates are
in a very precarious financial and legal situation. The FCC is seeking to
revoke some of their licenses.)

> This is called foreign policy. It's using your clout (political,
> or military) to induce your neighbors to act in your best interest.
> nation does it (or tries, or wants to do it). But since the US has the
> clout it is usually the most successful at having other nations comply
> its wishes. Again, like it or no, this simply is not imperialism.

I agree that it's natural to use foreign policy tools to "induce your
neighbors to act in your best interest." This is the way of the world and I
don't think our discussion is going to change that. However, what is called
the "best interest" of any nation is usually NOT that nation's best
interest, but the interest of whatever small group has the reigns of the
foreign policy power at that time. Thus, we see, the recent bombings of the
Sudan and Afghanistan -- to get some exiled Saudi terrorist -- were
uncannily done when the President was down in the polls. I don't think it
was in the interest of the American people to bomb those places. It,
however, did appear to be in the interest of one man who had some popularity
problems at the time.

I would go further to say that it is also NOT in the best interest of any
nation to promote the use of force, which is 90% of the US foreign policy
tool kit, to settle disputes. That's a very short range policy. It only
works as long as one is powerful enough to enforce one's views on everyone
else. The lesson it teaches one's neighbors is "might makes right." And
history is full of examples of hegemons and imperial powers basically
creating their own enemies. Much better to spread the rule of law or, at
least, not to always get one's way because one's neighbors are also
powerful, then to succeed so well that there's no respect for the rule or
law and no allies to turn to.


Daniel Ust

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