Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Democracy v. Empire

Historian Chalmers Johnson is guest-blogging over at TPM Cafe to talk about his new book with the provocative title Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic.

His thesis is essentially that America's imperial ambitions, like those of so many empires before us, will ultimately doom America to either dictatorship or bankruptcy.

And while I don't entirely share his rather gloomy view (though he makes a compelling argument for it, and is clearly much, much smarter than your humble CaliBlogger), I do like how he formulates the current American dilemma:

As a form of government, imperialism does not seek or require the consent of the governed. It is a pure form of tyranny. The American attempt to combine domestic democracy with such tyrannical control over foreigners is hopelessly contradictory and hypocritical. A country can be democratic or it can be imperialistic, but it cannot be both.

His post should, of course, absolutely be read in full to appreciate the depth of his arguments, but the above point well illustrates something I've always felt regarding our current entanglement in Iraq.

That lacking any overwhelming provocation so necessary to muster a democratic country's will to war, we would never be willing to make the very real national sacrifices necessary to winning it.

Many armchair generals on the right have (rightly) criticized the war effort as the result of Rumsfelds determination to do this war on the cheap. What they fail to realize is that Rumsfeld had no other choice.

As we now know to a certainty, Saddam Hussein never posed a level of threat to this country that would unify it in the manner that, say, Pearl Harbor did in WWII. And such unity is a prerequisite for war in a democratic republic.

Sure it's easy to gain support from armchair chickenhawks when their biggest sacrifice is to pop for a frigging yellow ribbon bumper sticker to slap on their SUVs.

But clearly there was never enough support for this invasion to get people to pay more for gas, or even put off a tax cut.

And a draft? Get serious.

So, devoting the level of resources required to both eliminate Hussein and pacify the population of Iraq not only didn't happen, but could NEVER have happened.

And this case in point shows why I'm more optimistic than professor Johnson.

That while the US remains a democracy, however tenuously under the current regime, the major depredations required of aspiring empire-builders (read neo-cons) will prove impossible.

Such thought though should not be cause for complacency. It should instead emphasize the urgency of protecting our democratic institutions from would-be Caesars.

For failure to do so may well doom an American Empire to a fate like those of all the empires before us.

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