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America is Not Rome

July 7, 2000

Republican interventionists, along with many would-be imperialists of the political
left, have recently criticized "isolationists of the right" for opposing
the American attempt to become a world empire.

What these critics don't understand is that
America can never be what they want it to be. The United States is
institutionally incapable of running an empire or even being an effective
world policeman. Our military interventions will always be inconclusive,
inconsistent and hypocritical.

In our constitutional government, foreign policy is not made by a few
élites as it was in the British or Roman Empires. In England, the franchise
was limited to property owners and a few percentage points of the
population. Both Britain and Rome had a single, all-powerful legislature.

For America, the written Constitution, and even more so, the Bill of Rights
(neither of which constrained the British nor Roman governments) are
designed specifically for preserving freedom. This is done by dispersing
the centralization of political power necessary for foreign military

The U.S. system works for self-defense, but is woeful for any sustained,
non-vital foreign military interventions. Our democracy also is designed
so that those who "care" control foreign policy. Because most Americans
don't "care," those who do are usually promoting specific, sectarian, and
short-term interests. Once upon a time it was corporations such as United
Fruit or Standard Oil, or the New York banks, which dominated foreign
policy. Today corporate interests come second to television focused
atrocities and domestic pressure groups.

Media Wars

It is primarily television, often directed by skillful public relations,
which selects the victims of the moment. American goodwill then creates a
groundswell for intervention, which usually ends up causing more misery and
chaos. Clinton's bombing of Serbia left an inconclusive, festering mess in
the Balkans, as well as an economic disaster because of blockaded Danube
River traffic. It frightened the Russians about NATO/U.S. intentions and
stimulated other nations, including China to update their weaponry. The
end was far more deaths and instability than if America had not intervened
militarily in the first place. Generals aren't paid or trained to think
about post-war consequences; they're only job is to "win."

An earlier example of TV terror was the story of 20 babies being thrown out
of incubators in a Kuwait hospital by the Iraqi invaders. It was a lie,
but it helped get us to attack Iraq. Now there are a half million dead
children as a consequence of our bombing sanitation and electric generation
facilities and following it with economic blockade which disallows imports
for reconstruction or even chlorine to purify drinking water.

A smaller example is Haiti. First Washington decimated its peoples'
livelihood with economic sanctions, and then invaded. Today Haitians are
worse off than before the intervention and more dependent upon U.S. aid.
Remember when Haiti was a prime supplier of baseball gloves and equipment
before the embargo? It's fledgling industry never recovered from the
embargo and now other countries' suppliers have replaced it. In Panama too
America invaded and killed to pluck out a President and put him in a
Florida jail, ostensibly because of drug smuggling, which now thrives there
more even than before.

When television tires of a subject, America forgets about it, and walks
away, either abandoning its mission (Haiti, Panama, Somalia) or locking up
the losing nation in a blockade leaving its people in utmost misery (Iraq
and Serbia). As former President Jimmy Carter put it:

The approach the United States has taken recently has been
to devise a solution that best suits its own purposes--- recruit at least
tacit support in which ever forum it can best influence, provide the
dominant military force, present an ultimatum to recalcitrant parties and
then take punitive action against the entire nation to force compliance.
The often tragic result of this final decision is that already oppressed
citizens suffer (even more)..." (NY Times, May 27, 1999)

Yet observes the New Republic, "this (American) Monster is more
like an elephant --bumbling rather than bloodthirsty, oblivious rather than
fierce." (TRB, January 17, 2000) Witness, for example, America's bombing of Serbia's Danube River
bridges (done against French opposition). This has caused billions of
dollars of losses to the struggling Balkan and Black Sea nations, which use
barges for bulk transport. Eastern Europe's major river transport is
paralyzed, yet it's barely reported in America's press and Washington even
tried to prevent rebuilding of the bridges.

Empire and the Rule of Law

A policeman can be effective in two ways. One, as a fair arbiter
who inspires trust and respect and follows a consistent rule of law, as did
Rome and England in their heyday. Secondly, as a feared oppressor of the
neighborhood ruling by terror, force and blackmail. This second way is
very, very expensive and inefficient. America can't be a "fair" policeman
because of the way our foreign policies are made, so more and more of the
world sees us as the "Rogue Superpower," as a Chicago Tribune article put

Washington's foreign policy reeks with hypocrisy. We destroyed
Serbia for refusing to grant de facto independence to Kosovo and because of
its suppression of Albanian insurrection (the mass expulsion of Albanians
is now proven to have begun only after American bombing started). But we
subsidize Turkey while it killed 37,000 Kurds, including bombing them in
Iraq, and removing them from their homes just as the Serbs did to
Albanians. America destroyed Iraq for invading Kuwait, a former province,
and now demands that Iraq be defenseless against its neighbors whom America
arms to the teeth. In Africa we've stood by while millions have been

Foreign nations can't trust Washington--because it's impossible
for Washington to be trustworthy. We decry accused election irregularities
in Latin America, but are silent about dictatorship in Saudi Arabia and
other oil producing states. The list is endless. We pity the Chechens,
but try to starve the Serbs by blockade.

Furthermore, Washington attacked in fundamental violation of
international law. Articles 2(4) and (7) on the UN Charter prohibit
interventions in the domestic jurisdiction of any country and the use of
force by one state against the another. The Geneva Convention prohibits
targeting non-military targets (e.g. a cigarette factory). The Nuremberg
Code forbids starting a war and attacking a sovereign nation that was
innocent of any aggression. The Nato Treaty, Articles 1 and 7, declare it a
defensive organization only committed to force if one of its members is

International law, like most law, although it circumscribes the rich and
powerful, is generally for their benefit by codifying rules for the
protection of establishment power and property. It is President Clinton
who has now undermined it for the foreseeable future, replacing efforts to
establish a rule of law, imperfect as it may be, with brute force. "A
backlash may be brewing, but it is brought on my America's tendency to
treat international norms and treaties as though they should apply to
everyone but itself," wrote Thomas Carothers of the Carnegie Endowment. (Washington Post, January 23, 2000)

Already there are consequences. As Ivan Eland of Cato has written,

About 40 percent of terrorist attacks perpetrated worldwide
have been directed at U.S. targets. It is unusual for a country with
friendly neighbors and no civil war or insurrection to be such a prominent
target for terrorists. We should first ask what motivates terrorists,
state-sponsored and independent, to target the United States..... The U.S.
Commission on National Security/21st Century, (headed by former Senators
Gary Hart and Warren Rudman) answered the question somewhat more honestly
than others in the foreign policy establishment: 'Much of the world will
resent and oppose us, if not for the simple fact of our pre-eminence, then
for the fact that others often perceive the United States as exercising its
power with arrogance and self-absorption...States, terrorists, and other
disaffected groups will acquire weapons of mass destruction and mass
disruption, and some will use them. Americans will likely die on American
soil, possibly in large numbers.'

Foreign Policy Driven by Domestic Politics

NATO expansion was proposed during the last Presidential
election primarily to gain votes among Americans of Polish and other
central European ancestry, particularly in key mid-Western states. The
expansion violated tacit agreements with Russia for its withdrawal from
Eastern Europe and did tremendous damage to the pro-democracy forces inside
Russia. It was the "crowning humiliation" for Russia, said Charles
Fairbanks of Johns Hopkins' Nitze School.

The Armenian American lobby brought about a law which makes it illegal to
send even relief supplies to Azerbaijan which is the key nation for Caspian
oil; our Cuba policy is controlled by Cuban Americans in Miami; we invaded
Haiti to satisfy the Black Caucus in Congress; Albanian and Croatian
descended Americans paid for major public relations efforts to demonize
Serbs (less adept and organized to present their positions) and so on. The
current furor to defend Taiwan doesn't come from nowhere. The Taiwan
government "funds at least 10 lobbying operations in Washington...the most
public of these is $4.5 million for Cassidy and Associates which recently lobbied
Congress for passage of the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act." (The
Washington Post
, March 23, 2000)

The Washington Times (February 25) reports how Indian immigrants, grown
wealthy from the computer business, have helped tilt Washington away from
its traditional favoring of Pakistan. Only the Latin Americans (other than
Cubans) are not yet organized into foreign interests' lobbies, but already
some Mexican American leaders are calling on their brethren to emulate
other ethnic lobbies. This problem of foreign policy was well described in
US News (July 21, 1997), "Multicultural Foreign Policy in Washington---The ship
of state is more likely to be tugged by US ethnic groups than by foreign
money." And now there is television, as Henry Kissinger wrote, "Vigorous
and competitive media have compounded the tendency for foreign policy to
become a subdivision of domestic politics." The American political system
simply has little defense against single interest foreign policy lobbies
pressing for "their" agenda in Congress against an amorphous "general

The pressures were well explained in the recent furor about returning the
Cuban boy, Elian. "You know that if you kick the Cuba issue, you're going to have a bad day,"
said former representative David Skaggs (D-Colo.), who clashed with the
hard line on Havana, and paid for it with lost funding for his district.
"Other than to about 10 members, it doesn't matter that much. [But] when
there are a few people who will die for the issue, and nobody else gets
anywhere close to that, they can have their way." (Washington Post, February 21, 2000)

Even America's Allies Fear Washington

Even nations that try to do everything Washington demands can find it
casually trampling their interests with barely a thought. Stratfor.com,
an excellent intelligence service, writes (December 20, 1999):

"The sheer size of American interests creates a management problem in which
devastating outcomes for other nations is impossible - even if this
was the American goal, which it is frequently not. Policy makers at
the center can't possibly oversee the range of issues being dealt
with. The opportunity for interests inside and outside the United
States to manipulate the decision-making process at the microscopic
level is enormous. While the central thrust of policy is
manageable, the micro level is easily manipulated. The result is a
seemingly random set of policies that make it impossible for many
countries to find a stable, safe standpoint in their relations with
the United States.

"With isolated resistance and accommodation being difficult for many
to exercise, the natural result is coalition-building, designed to
constrain the United States. This is not a simple process and
doesn't operate in a straight line. As the optimal outcome, most
nations want a shift in U.S. policy. It is difficult to even get
American attention on most policy issues relevant to weaker
nations, let alone to generate sufficient threats to motivate the
United States to shift its policies. The virtue of anti-American
coalition-building is not that it builds a coalition, but that it
increases the probability of attracting American attention and
generating sufficient threats to force favorable policy shifts in

"Thus, most countries move into anti-U.S. coalitions less out of a
desire to confront the United States than out of a desire to reach
accommodation with it. For example, the Russians and Chinese both
engaged in anti-American coalition building with each other less
out of a desire to confront the United States than out of a desire
to extract concessions. To some extent this process works. But the
range of demands placed on the United States makes universal, or
even frequent, accommodation impossible."

The recent growing rapprochement between Russia and Germany can similarly be
explained as a consequence of America's roughshod policies in the Balkans
and Iraq. Equally in South America the above happened just weeks ago when
Washington tried to get the Organization of American States to put on
economic sanctions against Peru. That nation had been doing almost
everything Washington wanted, particularly cooperating in the "drug war."
But domestic politics pushed for demanding Peru's release of a captured
American terrorist and questions about a local TV station's ownership. The
other Latin nations all voted against Washington except for Costa Rica.

America Can't be Trusted

Graveyards are littered all over the world with partisans who believed
America's call and then were left abandoned. Most recently this happened
in Kurdish and Shiite Iraq. After Iraq's defeat Washington called upon
them to rebel, but then abandoned them to be crushed by Saddam's Guard.
But it began long ago with the Hungarians' uprising in 1956, called for by
America and then abandoned to slaughter. The Cubans at the Bay of Pigs
were originally promised air support, which was than withdrawn when they
were already at sea going in to attack. In Viet Nam there were abandoned
South Vietnamese, and so on. Typically, a main Israeli argument for
having its massive military establishment is that it dare not rely on

America Can't Mount Insurrections

Mounting or supporting insurrections has been equally bumbling.
Efforts to mount one against Saddam in Kurdistan by the CIA were detailed
in Newsweek (February 23, 1998). It describes the conflicting laws in Washington
forbidding assassinations of foreign leaders, millions of dollars
disappearing into unknown pockets, the abandonment of pro-U.S. guerrillas
and their families, the calling off of attacks at the last minute, and then
the FBI investigating the CIA's personnel. This makes Washington's
efforts at undercover and guerrilla warfare look incompetent and dangerous
to foreign allies. America has tremendous strengths, but mounting secret
operations in foreign nations isn't one of them.

America Can't Keep Secrets

Then there's the problem of military secrets flowing to foreign
nations. We've never been able to avoid it for long. America's strength
is its openness and its recruitment of the best brains from the whole
world. All our great scientific advances leaned heavily on immigrants (the
atom bomb itself came from German Jewish scientists and today most Ph.D.
candidates in the hard sciences are immigrants). Yet all these, now mainly
Chinese and Indians, naturally also have some old allegiances and
ideologies as well to the nations from which they came. Even besides many
immigrants' dual loyalties, Americans can't keep secrets, much less so now
with the Internet. That's another reason why our safest foreign policy is
in not making so many enemies.

America Can't Take Casualties

Elliot Abrams, President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center,
puts it well: "...a superpower willing to bomb but not to fight, willing to
inflict a tremendous amount of pain on others to avoid the slightest risks
to itself, under a leadership more sensitive to poll data than to the moral
considerations involved in deciding which wars are just---that is a picture
that should repel us."

America Can't Plan Ahead

There's always been the absence of post-war planning. America,
when it goes to war, thinks only of "winning," never about what to do
afterwards. The classic answer was by former Secretary of Defense Dick
Cheney during the First Iraq war when he answered at a press conference,
"Well, we haven't thought much about what to do afterwards." With World
War II our post war "policy" objective was mainly to deliver East Europe
and Manchuria (China's industrial heartland) to Soviet communist
occupation. With World War I, we helped destroy Europe and then walked
away. Usually, as in Korea and Vietnam, policy was simply to return to the
status quo.

America's Legal System is Hostile to Empire

Another great weakness, since Clinton, is a "newly hostile legal
system," according to a recent article in Foreign Affairs ("The
Bullied Pulpit," Jan, 2000.) The Supreme Court in 1997 in the Paula Jones
case cleared the way for private suits against sitting Presidents. We are
just beginning to find out what this can mean. American hypocrisy "on the
world stage," argues Foreign Affairs, "Has everything to do with the
weak executive." Also the recent American supported arrests of foreign
leaders, such as Pinochet in England, set the precedent for foreign nations
to arrest American leaders and soldiers for "war crimes" as determined in
their courts. The can of worms has only just been opened on this front and
already there are howls from Congress that Americans must be treated

Losing Our Freedoms

Finally, world empire means tremendous stresses within America
and vast new government intrusions upon our privacy and freedom. As foreign
terrorists and homegrown ones tried to retaliate against our military
actions overseas, Washington would clamp down draconian police measures
upon all the rest of us. Every computer, every telephone, every mailbox
would be subject to government surveillance and reporting. Even without a
major terrorist event the Clinton Crime Bill of 1994, supported by
establishment Republicans, proposed gutting the 4th Amendment to allow
warrantless searches and seizures in anybody's home by federal or even
state police. The proposed law was (barely) stopped by the "Freshmen"
Republicans and "old" Liberals. But efforts continue. Congress has now
granted the FBI new and extraordinary wiretapping laws.

In February 1999, Defense Secretary William Cohen told the Senate
Armed Services Committee that Americans might have to surrender some civil
rights in order to gain more security in the fight against domestic
terrorism. "We need greater intelligence and that means not only
foreign-gathered intelligence but here at home," Cohen said. "That is going
to put us on a collision course with rights of privacy. It's something
that democracies have got to come to grips with -- how much are we going to
demand of our intelligence agencies and how much are we willing to give up
in the way of intrusion into our lives? That is a tradeoff that is going to
have to come."

Already lawmakers are considering legislation that would enhance the use
of military forces in domestic law enforcement capacities. The FY 2000
Defense Authorization Bill, passed by the House, includes provisions that
would provide local law enforcement agencies increased access to military
assets without necessarily having to compensate the Pentagon for their use.
Another law currently proposed by Senator Hatch and the Senate Judiciary
Committee would allow federal police into anybody's home to search their
computers and papers without a warrant or even notice after the fact. It's
been discovered and opposed by Representative Barr of Georgia and activist
Paul Weyrich.

And, of course, there are the costs, hundreds of billions for
military and police forces. Just the Persian Gulf fleet and Air Force cost
$50 billion a year.

In conclusion, the greatest cost of world empire to America would
be the loss of our own freedoms even without terrorist actions. As
economist Ludwig Von Mises argued, "Liberty and empire are incompatible.
A government powerful enough to wage aggressive war on foreign peoples will
also aggress against its own people."

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. The whole world yearns to copy our prosperity and
freedom; young people everywhere yearn to be like Americans (except when we
bomb or starve them). Reaganomics' free market ideas conquered the world.
With economic strength and a politics of fairness and non-intervention we
can prosper and keep our 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 an
effective policeman.

* * * * *

Mr. Utley is the Robert A. Taft Fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute.
He is a graduate of Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service,
studied languages in Europe, and lived 15 years in South America. He was a
foreign correspondent in South America for Knight/Ridder newspapers and now
writes on foreign affairs for WorldNetDaily.com. He has served on the
Board of Directors or Advisory Boards of many conservative organizations
including Accuracy in Media, Council for Inter-American Security,
Conservative Caucus, etc. He is the Editor of againstBombing.com. Send him MAIL.

See also MISES.ORG ON EMPIRE and the best book on this subject, The Costs of War.

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