June 14, 2001
The Wisdom Fund

A Beacon, Not An Empire

by Jon Basil Utley

WASHINGTON, DC - As Washington and China move towards possible war, an Australian has forewarned Americans about how the British Empire lasted so long.

England, observes Owen Harries in the Spring 2001 National Interest, was the "only hegemon that did not attract a hostile coalition against itself. It avoided that fate by showing great restraint, prudence and discrimination in the use of its power in the main political arena - by generally standing aloof and restricting itself to the role of balancer of last resort. In doing so it was heeding the warning given it by Edmund Burke, just as its era of supremacy was beginning: 'I dread our own power and our own ambition. I dread being too much dreaded.'"

Notes Harries, "I believe the United States is now in dire need of such a warning."

Instead of understanding such warnings, however, America is forging a world alliance against itself. Russia is now allying with China and India and Iran against American hegemony. Much if not most of the Muslim world fears and hates American policies, if not Americans. Europe is going neutral and America's Asian allies want no part in a conflict between China and America. New embassies are built like Star Wars' fortresses and the U.S. Navy has fearfully cut back shore leave in much of the world.

How did the "world's only super power" become so isolated and afraid for its citizens overseas?

The "Wolfowitz Doctrine" is named for No. 2 man at the Defense Department and key Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld confidant Paul Wolfowitz - former director of the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies, known for his support of NATO expansion and the attack on Serbia.

As the New York Times summed it, Wolfowitz's doctrine argues that America's political and military mission should "ensure that no rival superpower is allowed to emerge. With its focus on this concept of benevolent domination by one power, the Pentagon document articulates the clearest rejection to date of collective internationalism." Its core thesis, described by Ben Wattenberg in the April 12 Washington Times, is "to guard against the emergence of hostile regional superpowers, for example, Iraq or China. ... America is No. 1. We stand for something decent and important. That's good for us and good for the world. That's the way we want to keep it."

Unfortunately, many foreigners compare it to the old General Motors claim, "What's good for GM is good for America." Even though there is truth to the claim of Americans' fundamental decency, since Athenian times democracies have been unable to run empires. Foreign policy is made in response to sensationalist TV news and domestic politics, not with a view to national interests, but rather for money and votes for the next election. Witness NATO expansion with all its negative consequences for Russian relations and resultant high-tech arming of China. It was promised in the Midwest by Clinton during the 1996 campaign to gain votes from Americans of East European descent.

Imagine how long the Roman empire would have lasted if there had been a Visigoth or Egyptian lobby pushing its agenda on Roman foreign policy. The Roman Empire resulted in the end of the Roman republic and freedom. The English empire failed when the electoral franchise grew so much that voters could thwart the elites' rule. Still, many conservatives - who argue that the government can't run a nursery - have fallen for the concept that it can run the world.

Further confusing American interests, there are also elements in Washington that look at real or imagined threats abroad with great favor. The old military-industrial complex has grown to become the overwhelming military-industrial-congressional establishment. Its power is reflected by the difficulty of closing unnecessary bases and the wasteful weapons purchasing process, as evidenced by ordering weapons before they are fully tested, e.g. the ill-fated Osprey helicopter, manufactured in 42 states and congressional districts. Yet we imagine wars without casualties, with exciting "bang bang" for TV, and with no hurtful consequences for our homeland. Foreigners are not going to oblige us, but more likely will wage wars of terrorism from unknown quarters, possibly even with horrendous biological weapons which are fast being developed.

Ruling the world is not even a "conservative" position. "First," writes William Ruger for Reason, "it is a policy that will threaten rather than preserve many of America's traditional values, such as individual liberty, small government and anti-militarism. As most historians point out, war and preparing for war are the soils that nurture the growth of state power, burdensome taxation, conscription, and militarism. If American conservatism should stand for anything, it should be the goal of limited government. Yet the primacist policies (of empire) here guarantee the opposite: a leviathan." The first "cost" of empire will be the loss of many of our own freedoms and prosperity.

Yet many conservatives are showing a passion for confrontation with China nearly comparable to that in England before World War I, when street demonstrations demanded war with Germany. Indeed another parallel can be drawn for America. England's efforts to prevent Germany from gaining its "place in the sun," its "Wolfowitz Doctrine," led to the end of the British Empire and its "superpower" status, even though it "won the war." After 1914, for nearly half a century, most Englanders then lived in poverty.

In many ways China's ascendancy today is comparable to that of Germany back then; so also did the English think that World War I would be over fast and without great pain. And for what? Answering those "crying Wolfowitz," Craig Smith points out in the May 15 New York Times, China and Taiwan are actually thriving together - not the image one gets from many "conservative" publications.

To preserve our own freedoms and best serve the rest of the world, our foreign policy should be non-interventionist, non-threatening and non-militaristic. With economic strength and a politics of fairness and non-intervention, we can prosper and keep our own freedom. We don't need an empire and empire won't bring us security. America is simply incapable of any other consistent foreign policy.

America should be a beacon, because it can't be a competent policeman.

[Mr. Utley is Robert A. Taft Fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute. He was formerly a foreign correspondent in South America for Knight Ridder Newspapers, has written for the Harvard Business Review and Washington Post, and was formerly a director of Accuracy in Media, a contributing editor to Conservative Digest and affiliated with many conservative organizations.]

"Democracy in America was never the same as Liberty in Europe. In Europe Liberty was a great life-throb. But in America Democracy was always something anti-life. The greatest democrats, like Abraham Lincoln, had always a sacrificial, self-murdering note in their voices. American Democracy was a form of self-murder, always. Or of murdering somebody else... The love, the democracy, the floundering into lust, is a sort of by-play. The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted." -- D.H. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature

"Values You May NOT Want To Teach Children", The Wisdom Fund, September 12, 1996

[When Bush speaks of freedom as God's gift to humanity, does he mean the First Amendment freedom of Larry Flynt to produce pornography and of Salman Rushdie to publish The Satanic Verses, a book considered blasphemous to the Islamic faith? If the Islamic world rejects this notion of freedom, why is it our duty to change their thinking? Why are they wrong?

. . . The great moral and cultural threats to our civilization come not from outside America, but from within. We have met the enemy, and he is us. The war for the soul of America is not going to be lost or won in Fallujah.

Unfortunately, Pagan America of 2004 has far less to offer the world in cultural fare than did Christian America of 1954. Many of the movies, books, magazines, TV shows, videos and much of the music we export to the world are as poisonous as the narcotics the Royal Navy forced on the Chinese people in the Opium Wars.

A society that accepts the killing of a third of its babies as women's "emancipation," that considers homosexual marriage to be social progress, that hands out contraceptives to 13-year-old girls at junior high ought to be seeking out a confessional better yet, an exorcist rather than striding into a pulpit like Elmer Gantry to lecture mankind on the superiority of "American values."--Patrick J. Buchanan, "What Does America Offer the World?",, May 19, 2004]

[The father of Nick Berg - the US civilian beheaded in Iraq - has sent a message of support to the Stop the War Coalition.--"Berg father backs anti-war stance", BBC, May 19, 2004]

[While the circumstances surrounding both the video and Nick Berg's last days have been the source of substantive speculation, both Simpson and Nordby perceived it as highly probable that Berg had died some time prior to his decapitation. A factor in this was an apparent lack of the "massive" arterial bleeding such an act initiates.--Ritt Goldstein, "Berg beheading: No way, say medical experts", Asia Times, May 22, 2004]

[But then, it's an article of faith in our public discourse that we wage war differently from our enemies. At present, we luxuriate in our moral superiority over thugs who behead the innocent, but all along we have deemed ourselves civilized warriors in Iraq. We have based that opinion on our methods, which permit us to deny the death we have wrought, and our motives, which let us justify it.

. . . we must admit that the killing of an unknown Iraqi child by the push of a button miles away is no less immoral than the televised slaughter of an American adult by a butcher's knife.--Michael Takiff, "They Behead; We Do It With Smart Bombs", Los Angeles Times, July 4, 2004]

Copyright © 2001 Jon Basil Utley - All Rights Reserved
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