by Binoy Kampmark
April 21, 2015
Dr. Binoy Kampmark
was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.
He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.
is supposed to solve
not cause them."
The American Conservative
May 1, 2010
Nothing upsets those drunk on imperialist virtue than the fact it
might end. Such romances with power do have a use-by-date, going off
like old fruit. Eventually, the crippling contradictions will win
through in the end.
The days of the US empire are numbered -
but then again, they always were.
The recent round of spring meetings at the
Fund and the World Bank flutter with suggestions that American
economic power is being shaded, be it by the republic's own
dysfunction, or the emergence of other powers like China.
"People can't be too public about
these things," argues Arvind Subramanian, chief economic advisor
to the Indian government, "but I would argue this is the single
most important issue at these spring meetings." 
This would come as a surprise for some.
The various theorists on international theory, many slumming at
Weekly Standard, form the praetorian guard of arm chair defenders of
American virtue and power.
Max Boot, writing a piece for the
magazine in October 2001, typified this by arguing that the attacks
of the previous month were,
"a result of insufficient American
involvement and ambition; the solution is to be more expansive
in our goals and more assertive in their implementation."
problem is Barack Obama.
They see the Obama administration as a regime in retreat, which is
the theme of Bret Stephens near fictional work.
America in Retreat: The New
Isolationism and the Coming World Disorder already gives its readers
two issues to stumble over:
The first issue.
For Stephens, the Obama retreat is
reflected by the choice made by the president when he,
"came to office determined to scale
down America's global commitments for the sake of what he likes
to call 'nation building at home'." 
Stephens assiduously ignores the vast,
expansive and dangerous robotic reach of American power, typified by
remote drone strikes, the backing of proxy regimes and such
negotiating endeavors as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
If only the isolationism argument was true.
President Warren Harding, in 1921, is said to have placed the
US on the pathway to isolationism with his anti-League of Nations
stance, and the winding down of the post-war military machine.
"Vast expenditure without proper
consideration for results," he warned, "is the inevitable fruit
Wars, rather than being the efficient
earners for a state, were wasteful enterprises.
Avoid those security alliances that
become, more often than not, stifling and awkward embraces.
Therein was born the myth of American insularity, one of considered
geopolitical withdrawal. Such an assessment would ignore continued
US involvement in the international financial system - as indeed,
the biggest creditor economy - and its engagement in various
international organizations, including, to a limited degree, the
This was Washington without the fangs.
But Stephens, like his colleagues of that most myopic brand of
history - the idea of empire - can see no reason for America to
retreat from anything.
Take, for instance, the
the Middle East.
"There was no strategic or even
political requirement to get out of Iraq once we had succeeded
in pacifying the country."
The efforts of such pacification
continue to linger in their destructive toll, though armchair
militarists get goggle-eyed when it comes to the empirical world.
Conservative columnist George Will
was left wondering what the missing factor was in the state building
process and came to a simple, if impossible conclusion.
"Iraq is just three people away from
democratic success. Unfortunately, the three are George
Washington, James Madison, and John Marshall."
Then comes the issue of disorder, which
takes the contractarian idea that, to achieve order in the
international system, deals must be made with
hegemons, whether you
want to or not.
Stability is something gained by bedding
the brute across the ocean, and smaller states need to cozy up
to bigger ones with tarted up appeal.
This system of perceived order was deemed a matter of virtue rather
than good, old fashioned avarice on the part of the great power.
"By dampening great-power
competition and giving Washington the capacity to shape regional
balances of power," argues Stephen M. Walt, "primacy contributed
to a more tranquil international environment." 
Tranquility, however, remains a matter
Empires do check into the old home, get on the non-solids and
eventually die from natural causes. Yet Stephens is cautious to
suggest that, while America is in retreat, it "is not in decline."
This is in stark contrast to others,
like Christopher Lane of the George Bush School of Government and
Public Service at Texas A&M University, who sees the US as,
"increasingly unable to play the
hegemon's assigned role."
In any case, a power dedicated to
causing more mayhem than policing stability doesn't deserve any
titles in the hegemonic department.
The otherwise war loving David Frum had
to concede after Obama pushed the US into another conflict in 2011
"Three wars is a lot, even for the
In Layne's final summation,
"The epoch of American dominance is
drawing to a close, and international politics is entering a
period of transition: no longer unipolar but not yet fully
When the curtains will be finally drawn
on the act that is American empire is not for anybody to say, though
the clock ticks with its usual grinding music. The nature of its
power will continue to change, with other powers emerging from the
The question will be whether such a
process takes place slowly, or whether the empire ages