REGARDLESS OF WHO succeeds George W. Bush, the incumbent US president will have to deal with an emboldened Pentagon, an engorged military-industrial complex, an empire of bases, and a fifty-year-old tradition of not revealing to the public what the US military establishment costs or the kinds of devastation it can inflict. History teaches us that the capacity for things to get worse is limitless. Roman history suggests that the short, happy life of the American republic may be coming to its end – and that turning it into an openly military empire will not, to say the least, be the best solution to that problem.
One common response to this view is that the United States is actually a “good empire” like the one from which it gained our independence in 1776. Whatever its faults and flaws, contemporary America – like England in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries – is said to be a source of enlightenment for the rest of the world, a natural carrier of the seeds of “democracy” into benighted and oppressed regions, and the only possible military guarantor of “stability” on the planet. We are, therefore, said to be the “cousins” and inheritors of the best traditions of the British empire – which was, according to this highly ideological construct, a force for unalloyed good despite occasional unfortunate and unavoidable lapses.
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