Published on Tuesday, May 17, 2011 by The Boston Globe
A Declaration of Empire
Proposed law would vastly expand boundaries of
military mission US
The House of Representatives is debating a new definition of
According to its critics (including numerous House Democrats who asked last week that such language be dropped), this seemingly innocuous expansion would, in effect, license an open-ended bleeding of the American battle away from Iraq and Afghanistan to any location in which such vaguely defined associates operate. The two present wars could become three, four, or five, and could shift from the Middle East to Africa, South Asia, or anywhere that a photo, say, of Osama bin Laden hung in the barracks.
But wait a minute. For most of a decade, the
So why is an expanded mandate needed now?
Though the language in the proposed legislation simply affirms what has become White House and Pentagon practice, more than policy is at stake. The law after 9/11 made an implicit claim to global force projection based on an emergency; the new legislation would explicitly reject any time or place limitations on that force. In other words, a seemingly subtle shift marks a movement from the exceptional to the threshold of normal. There is a word for the realm into which that threshold opens
For a time in the Bush era, officials and public intellectuals promoted the idea of American empire, declaring it the duty of the United States to maintain planet-wide dominance through military force for the sake of political order and economic well-being — not only of Americans but of the world. This virtuous purpose would make
America’s war on terrorism, up to and including its climactic assault on the bin Laden compound, has lain bare this superpower double-standard.
Why then does
That the common good requires such exceptionalism has been so taken for granted as to not need acknowledgment, though now the Congress aims to convert informal understanding into official legislation. “Associates” beware! Bin Laden is gone, but the American war party rides high.
But is this the only way? Let’s grant that “invited” US imperialism is mainly benign (which requires leaving aside questions of unfair economic structures abroad, and dehumanizing effects of garrison culture at home). Let’s grant also that contemplated expansions of Pentagon belligerence may successfully defang terrorism (instead of sparking it).
Even so, the more far-reaching consequence of 21st-century American empire will be the final destruction of authentic internationalism — nations bound by the power of agreed democratic law, cross-border systems of checks and balances, all abiding by the same rules, mutually enforced. The destruction, that is, of the only world with a hope of real peace and justice.
© 2011 The
James Carroll, bestselling author of Constantine’s Sword, is a columnist for the Boston Globe and a Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence at
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs