Since WWII the US has effectively functioned as an empire. The Cold War gave our worldwide system of military bases and authoritarian proxies a veneer of respectability, especially coupled with our oft described mission of spreading freedom and democracy. The disappearance of the Soviet Union has changed the pretense even as our empire expanded. The War on Terror was a godsend to the mainstreaming of empire, with neoconservatives comfortable enough to gloat following the invasion of Iraq.
The problem is what happens on the periphery of an empire always leaks into the core. Running an empire is messy business involving all kinds of dark dealings and evil decisions. Progressives who supported Obama so strongly don’t want to admit this: the President is the manager of our empire with all the duties that entails.
The leakage is starting to become more and more obvious. Its no accident that as our empire struggles to maintain control, the same terrible policies deployed on the periphery, from structural adjustments, to torture, to counterinsurgency are increasingly deployed against American citizens.
It’s therefore useful to understand some of the truths evident to the managers of empire, free from the ubiquitous PR–beacon of freedom, spreader of democracy, nation standing taller, yadda, yadda, that’s been drilled into our heads. George Kennan, a Cold War intellectual bluntly summarized some of these in a policy planning study in 1948.
“We have 50% of the worlds wealth but only 6.3% of its population…Our real task in the coming period is devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain the position of disparity…We should cease talk about vague and unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts.”
Kennan was talking about Asia, but these concepts are increasingly being applied in advanced western countries by their elites against their own citizens. I think a big part of OWS is that Americans are discovering that how we’ve been treating brown people over there is how they will be treated. The phrase “chickens coming home to roost” hold more than a little irony.