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The Empire Has No Clothes
U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed
By Ivan Eland
Independent Institute
Oakland, California
HC, 294 pages US$24.95
ISBN: 0-9459-9998-4

The rise of the American empire

By Steven Martinovich
web posted January 17, 2005

The Empire Has No Clothes: U.S. Foreign Policy ExposedStudents of history are often amazed how empires sometimes came into being almost accidentally. Rome, during its early Republican years, often grew by being attacked by its neighbours and vanquishing them. The Victorian British originally sought to protect trade and overseas interests before waking up one day and realizing that they controlled a quarter of the world's land, people and all of its oceans. Others, of course, are a more deliberate project: an attempt to create a world of their making. Whether their motives are benevolent or otherwise, the end result is always the same, the fall.

Though it might come as some surprise to Americans, they long ago embarked on the building of an empire and also face the prospect of the eventual lose of their power -- sooner, in fact, than they think. Decades ago the United States abandoned its traditional hatred of foreign entanglements, alliances and a large standing military and now fings itself with a global empire. That's the charge that Ivan Eland makes in The Empire Has No Clothes: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed, the clearest, most cogent and strongest case against America's interventionist foreign policy to come from either the political left or right in recent years.

Eland argues that the United States started down the road to empire with the 1898 Spanish-American War and some subsequent adventures in Latin and Central America during the early 1990s. It wasn't until the 1950s, however, that the American empire became a reality. Thanks to the Cold War, the United States entered into a vast number of alliances, built and maintained a large, permanent standing military and employed force to protect what it considered its interests. Rather than pursue the centuries old policy of acting as an "off-shore balancer" -- essentially remaining politically and military neutral unless there was an absolute need to do otherwise -- America has pursued a policy of direct and indirect intervention.

As a result of this abandonment of the founding fathers' views on foreign policy, writes Eland, the United States has built an informal empire. With its military it protects nations, such as those in Europe, that could easily do so itself. It stations forces across the planet in a bid to influence both enemies and allies. It meddles in the affairs of other nations in attempts to stabilize regions. It engages in wars that change the balance of power among nations, regions and even globally.

Empires are built to benefit a nation but Eland argues that the United States receives nothing from its empire. Resources that could be used by Americans in the economy are instead diverted through taxation to pay for a massive military force. Though nations like Japan and those in Europe have been protected for decades by American military power, they have never fully opened their economies to investment and trade. Intervention in the affairs of other nations results in "blowback." The events of September 11, 2001, for example, were the direct result of American meddling in the Middle East, not for what America represents.

The greatest danger, however, is for Americans themselves. Eland argues that the founding fathers crafted their view on foreign policy to protect Americans from the natural desire of leaders to make a name for themselves via war. Large standing armies give leaders the resources necessary to make war -- paid for by the blood and taxes of citizens. Leaders often use wartime to infringe upon the liberties of the citizenry, gain increased powers for themselves and generally do harm to the Constitution.

Eland uses The Empire Has No Clothes to address Americans of all political stripes to reject the interventionist foreign policy that has dominated American political life for over five decades. Although a conservative, he has few kind words for the Bush administration and its foray into Iraq, global stationing of forces in what he considers a poorly fought war on terrorism and attacks on American liberties. He also cautions the political left, however, that using military force for ostensibly humanitarian grounds is little different. These missions are virtually always failures and typically make the situation worse.

The Empire Has No Clothes argues that America must withdraw its soldiers from across the planet, reduce the size of its military -- by half, he believes -- and distance itself from foreign quarrels and alliances. The United States should focus its attention on a few narrow parts of the world and prepare itself economically for the eventual rise of competitors like China, India and perhaps Russia. With a far smaller footprint globally, says Eland, America would be at less risk of terrorist attack and return to the days when its example -- not its firepower -- was the reason why nations became democratic.

Eland has crafted a convincing rebuttal to those who support the use of American power overseas, regardless of whether they believed in the velvet glove of the Clinton administration or the fist enclosed in it that is being employed by the Bush administration. Eland's belief that the American empire is a danger not only to the world, but Americans themselves, will be a difficult one for many believe -- but even harder to dismiss. Ultimately, history will decide the fate of the world's newest empire, as it has done for each of its predecessors. Thanks to Eland, America can avoid the fate of so many before it.

Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.

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