Document Sample
A NEW ROME Powered By Docstoc

It would be a great omission if there were no discussion of the state
of the world after the 12-year war on Iraq. It‟s not so important to
discuss the war as such. What is important is a sober examination of
its broad causes, its resounding implications and its meaning. I intend
to present what I think is such an examination, but I stress that this is
more of a position paper, than a standard lecture. I‟m going to give
away the punch line at the beginning: this is all about a new style of
American empire.

This lecture is entitled „A New Rome?‟ While it is posed as a
question, it is a serious question.

There are points of cross-historical comparison. I might add that it is
not just the political Left that makes the comparison. One
commentator notes that the word „imperialism‟ has re-entered the
language of political science and that it is used with a neutral
connotation. This week‟s reading is a piece by a rightist from Canada.
He makes the comparison directly and has some interesting things to

Here are some of the parallels that he draws (Slide three).

a) Of course the US is the world‟s largest national economy, but its
power in the world is military. As we‟ll see the Europeans remain
substantial economic players, but do not possess anything like the
military power of the US. The amazing thing about US military power
is that it costs 3.5% of the US‟ overall annual wealth (i.e. its GDP) to
sustain. Naturally, this is hundreds of billions of US$. Its economic
vitality allows it to project its military capacity in an imperial manner.

b) Increasingly others look to the US for security. Australia and Britain
are obvious allies. But Canada and Japan also seek the protection of
what might be called a pax Americana. Look at the reach of
America‟s military (back to slide). The US has taken it upon itself to
expand its military might thus relieving other allies of the need to do
so. In return, political and diplomatic support is offered to the US. The
1992 Defence Policy Guidance firmed this up.
c) The US doesn‟t have any formal colonies (Puerto Rico perhaps). It
is not a colonial empire and has never acted like one (even when it
did have a few colonies). But its influence is so great in world affairs
now that it can and does structure international relations. Even the
UN, which is meant to be the world body that governs disputes
between states, is only effective when the US puts its weight behind
it. Rome‟s influence spread beyond its garrisons, inasmuch as it
shaped the character of northern Europe (which it did not control)
simply through the establishment of borders between „civilization‟ and
„barbarianism‟. Likewise, the US attempts to shape those zones of
the world well beyond its continent, such as the Middle East.

This does not guarantee security of course. Much as the Goths and
the Germanic tribes threatened Roman forces (and took them out
often enough), so too did the „Goths‟ of the modern world. Al Queda
breached America‟s borders and attacked its heartland. This can lead
paradoxically to a psychology of vulnerability in the center of the
Empire – a fear of a fatal attack from the peripheries.

There is one further parallel with Rome. In fact, it is a direct
connection. Americans have, since the eighteenth century, been well
versed in the classics of Roman literature, poetry, law and politics.
Classicism, as it is known, has been at the root of American culture
since the development of republicanism and the 1776 Revolution that
set the British packing. Rome was a direct model in this sense for the
Americans keen to assert a virtuous form of government.

The case put forward a comparison of Rome and the US in the 21st
century emerges from the experience of Gulf War II and the failure of
American objectives there. To understand this claim about the US
and Rome, we do need to look more deeply at the US‟ relationship to
the Middle-East and to Europe in recent years.


The causes of the extension of US hegemony over the Persian Gulf
deserve a deeper understanding. They are not as straightforward as
they might seem. Many in the antiwar movement will say that „it‟s the
oil stupid.‟ Without question the oil is a prime mover. The Bush
administration is politically intimate with the petroleum industry.
America‟s industrial economy is dependent on the imported supply of
oil. Petroleum is another sphere of competition with European rivals.
And the Persian Gulf is home to 65% of the world‟s known oil

However, it‟s about more than just the guarantee of the flow of oil for
the US. Events themselves suggest that the agenda is bigger and
has to do with what the US defines as political stability. US foreign
policy defines effective control over the Persian Gulf area as the key
to peace in the Middle East. This might seem to be a periphery to the
US, but even the peripheries are important for this global superpower.
Getting the Palestinians and Israelis to accept a half-baked state of
Palestine would take the edge off that conflict. A general calm
throughout the Middle-East would maximize influence through a wide
corridor that includes the Central Asian republics and runs through to
Turkey. This would be symbolized by a matrix of oil and water
pipelines that would constitute a regional infrastructure.

Without doubt, economic movements play a part, you might say, in
the lead up to the US‟ move to cast hegemony over the Persian Gulf.
The prosperity of the 1990s in the US was quite unexpected. But it
delivered the Bush administration a set of public finances that gave it
the capacity for military mobilization. The Clinton administration ran
significant government budget surpluses, retired some public debt
and watched over a minor economic boom. Clinton left Bush with a
healthy economic balance sheet.

This provided the capacity, but the compulsion to extend the US‟
influence came from the wider international political situation. Rivalry
with Europe is the geo-strategic context of the Iraq conflict. There is
an economic dimension to this too. In 1980 the US and the Western
European powers held roughly equal shares of the world‟s overall
hard capital (otherwise know as foreign direct investment – slide
four). Now the capital held by European capitalists is around two-and-
a-half times that of the US (Slide). But there‟s more. Trade also
centers on Europe to a large degree (Slide). Such economic power
creates an impulse for military power. And this has occurred to
Europe‟s rulers. Consequently, they have been discussing the
development of an alternative military force for Europe. This
discussion has been led by France and Germany. Let‟s step back a
little to examine the background of those discussions.

After the collapse of the USSR and the bureaucratic states of Eastern
Europe in 1989-91, the relationship between Europe and the US
began to undergo a transformation. With the strategic compulsion to
gang together in the NATO alliance removed, power bloc rivalry came
to the surface a good deal more (Slide). The consolidation of the
European Union during the course of the 1990s gave European
nations greater economic solidity. France and Germany began to talk
about a separate military force, to one side of NATO, and to one side
of US influence.

The tensions between European powers and the US were evident
during the wars in the former Yugoslavia, where the US was able to
dictate the terms to Germany and France through direct NATO
involvement. When Bush took office in 2001, he indicated in no
uncertain terms that the US would not tolerate a common approach
amongst European governments to security issues. Also, the US has
exercised its influence over the states of Eastern Europe that joined
the EU after 1998 by supporting their membership of the Union. This
has created an alternative pole to the „Paris-Berlin axis‟ within
Europe. If the US can maintain the divisions within Europe then it will
ensure that there is no united foreign policy approach in the UN and
no unified military force independent of the US.


I want to examine what is new about the shape of the American state.
I‟ll do so under three headings (Slide Five).

1) I‟ll start with the state and the regime. There‟s an important
distinction to make here. The state is a fundamental superstructure of
society. Its life is meant to transcend the workings of any particular
government. So, states have constitutions that in a democracy cannot
be changed except by popular referendum. A regime is not simply a
government, or a group of leaders. It includes their public service,
military, judicial appointees also.
The state is undergoing a change in the US. A) The creation of a
large new security structure The Homeland Defence Agency (Slide).
This amalgam of pre-existing security agencies is a direct response
to the attack on the twin towers in 2001. It is a newly empowered
surveillance and intelligence network with greater capabilities and
resources than its predecessors. B) The military has been cashed up
and has been able to exercise its new armory. Just to give you a
sense of the weaponry deployed in this year‟s war (Slide). The
military also has a renewed status, partly because of the success of
the war, partly because of the fear generated by 9/11. This isn‟t just
reputation, however. The government is ramping up the military as a
force of US society.

There has been an underlying, although not irreversible, shift in the
regime. The Bush administration has brought new elites to the fore.
This is perhaps not unusual, as every new government in the US
places its own cadre, its „own people‟, in positions of influence. Many
then leave with another change of government. There are two
differences this time. Firstly, the hand of the Executive has been
strengthened at the expense of the governing agencies. The FBI,
even the CIA, regularly complain about being ignored by the
politicians. The second factor that is new is that the character of the
elites that have now captured the administration, their attitude to the
rest of the world and their own program for expanding American

I will now outline the anatomy of these elites, but first a comment on
the nature of the analysis I‟m developing. It‟s too easy, facile in fact,
to see conspiracy in all this. The first thing to say is that there is
nothing secretive about all this; there are no hidden agenda. This is
all quite public and in fact it‟s the normal business of politics. What we
are looking at is an elite formation and not an attempt to hoodwink the
American people.

How can this elite be characterized? They are known commonly as
the neo-conservatives or even „neo-cons‟ for short (Slide Six). Let‟s
look at the organizations that comprise this elite formation (Slide)

The main one we‟re concerned with here is the PNAC. Its declared
aim is „to preserve and enhance this “American peace”‟. In 2000 it
released a major report that was part of a piece of lobbying before the
Presidential Elections (Slide). Its advice? This was a lobbying effort in
advance of the Bush election. What has happened since? All of this
has come to fruition. How? It is due to the influence that they‟ve
carved out for themselves in the Administration. Let‟s have a look at
the major figures (o/head)

There are many more, of course. But these are the best known. I‟ll
make some comments about each. Perle is the author is notions of
„total war‟ and „creative destruction‟ (a phrase that he uses in
reference to Middle East strategy). The renowned independent
journalist John Pilger interviewed him in the 1980s, an interview in
which he talked about „total war‟. Pilger thought he was mad. Until
2003, he was in charge of one of the most important committees in
the Pentagon. Rumsfeld you will have seen on TV during the war. On
September 12 2001 (the day after the attacks on New York), he
demanded an attack on Iraq. Other figures in the Administration
blocked him and Afghanistan was attacked instead. Wolfowitz is an
ideological thinker who has been on the margins of the political
establishment for a long time. He was treated as too extreme by the
Clinton administration. Now he has a position of some influence.
Cheney is important, because of his links to the corporate world

Again, let me emphasise: this is not about a conspiracy, but rather it
is a sociological description of the intermeshing of business and
political elites. I‟d also stress that there are countervailing groups in
the government. Another pole of opinion is represented by Colin
Powell, although the differences of opinion on the major issues are
nuances, rather than fundamental differences.

Also, there are the unintended effects of their actions. In Iraq, they
are struggling to maintain order and there is a great deal more
opposition to their presence than they had anticipated. The economic
impact of the war will be felt and may limit their imperial capacity to
wage another such conflict. Let me explain. In the 1990s under
Clinton, the US Treasury ran surpluses. Clinton had budgeted for a
predicted surplus of $5.6 trillion for this decade.

Bush is wracking up deficits instead. After the campaign in
Afghanistan, the deficit ballooned out to US$304 billion. This is
serious. US Congressional Budget Office predicted that a five-year
occupation following the war could cost US$272 billion. In addition,
Bush delivered over $1 trillion in tax cuts, which will further undermine
the US‟ fiscal base and its capacity to mount further military ventures.
These are unpredictable variables.

Nonetheless, we can say that there is an elite that was formerly
marginal to the center of decision-making in US politics that has
captured significant influence. They articulate a vision of American
power that is in my view reminiscent of the Roman Empire. That
vision is not limited to them, but they spell it out coherently as a
political program that they re pursuing.

In the words of Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery, the neo-cons do „not
dream only about a US empire, in the style of the Roman one, but of
an Israeli mini empire under the control of the extreme right and the

What might make the US look like a „new Rome‟? Here I come to the
second point (Slide Seven)

2) The Bush administration is „unilateralist‟ in its attitude to the
international community. This means that it acts with little regard for
the rest of the world (Slide). It disparages the UN when the UN
doesn‟t follow more-or-less US foreign policy. It acts in concert with
its few allies and is happy to ignore other powers that are critical of its
policies (e.g. France). With respect to European powers, the Bush
administration is famous for berating its European friends in the EU
and its allies in NATO.

To some extent this is a product of the post-Cold War world. This is,
in military terms at least, a unipolar power figuration. With the demise
of the USSR, the US was left as the supreme military power, though it
is not supreme economically. It was always likely that some political
constituencies in the US would see the potential power of the state
and would plan to assert that power in foreign policy.

This is evident in the development of the Coalition of the Willing that
would act without the imprimatur of the UN in the recent Gulf War.
This is a contrast with the first Gulf War, where there was a far wider
coalition and UN sanction of the war effort. But there are other
episodes of international negotiation where a unilateralist attitude is
evident (Slide). Refusal to ratify Kyoto; refusal to recognize the
jurisdiction of the ICC for fear that US soldiers may be charged with
war crimes in future conflicts; ABM renegotiated to facilitate „Star
Wars‟; free trade negotiations are bilateral and multilateral, but the
US sets the standard in them (US patents laws become the model for
the rules; the negotiations on trade in services seems to reproduce
the pattern of provision of health, education and infrastructural

To some extent, this has put the brakes on the program of so-called
globalisation that had a good deal of momentum before the 2000
election. The US is cast as the exception to this process, or perhaps
it is presumed to be the standard that all others must follow. There is
a tension between the multilateralism that is implicit in world trade
talks and the US Government‟s program of world leadership. So, the
multilateralism of the Clinton era in the 1990s has given way to the
unilateralism of the Bush doctrine.

This attitude to the rest of the world is universalist. In this sense, we
can plausibly talk about a new Rome. The American government‟s
ambition for the world is that it can be reshaped in its own vision.

3) Civilizational self image is of a Pax Americana, an American peace
guaranteed by American power and global influence. The US is seen
in this vision as the standard bearer of human civilization, i.e. the
apex of the West. Bush expressed this well on 9/11/2002: „The ideal
of America is the hope of all mankind‟. Likewise, Condoleezza Rice
on winning office in 2000: welcome „allies who share American
values…American values are universal.‟ The US is the West,
inasmuch as many of the old Western powers („old Europe‟ in
Rumsfeld‟s terms) will not simply follow the US‟ course of action. The
US has assumed the mantle of civilization in 3 ways (o/head).

i) It does and should, without question it seems, hold the monopoly of
the weapons of mass destruction.
ii) It is seen as the standard for moral judgment in international
matters. To put this another way, what and who „offends‟ the
international community, who the „rogue states‟ are. This seems a
heavy burden to play the role of global cop or global manager, if you
will. This has led America to act like Rome in one way – pre-emptive
offenses are seen as part of a defensive strategy. National security
bureaucrats in the US will articulate this view explicitly. Also, there
always seems to be another front to fight on. Afghanistan, then Iraq –
after that there are other members of the Axis of Evil – Nth Korea,
iii) Its self-declared purpose is to spread democracy. The rhetoric of
the Gulf War is one of freedom and liberation. This has precedents
throughout the history of the country to which the neo-conservatives
refer directly. Thomas Jefferson (the American revolutionary of the
18th century) proclaimed the US an „empire of liberty‟ at a time when it
was barely a republic. Today Jefferson‟s libertarian nation is the pax
Americana responsible for the spread of American values. Much as
Roman values accorded to its citizenry wherever they were in the
Roman world, America‟s libertarian values are meant to reach
beyond its borders. Liberty has been promoted in the idiom of US
foreign policy throughout the 20th century, even when US foreign
policy was isolationist and exhibited the greatest disregard for the rest
of the world (for example in the 1920s/30s). This is part of a long-
standing American self-belief in its Manifest Destiny – an idea
expressed first in the 1820s with regard to US foreign policy. Today,
we can say that the US wishes to stand remote from the world and at
this precise time its talk of liberty is loudest. Its ideal of citizenship still
informs that isolationist stand. While the US may act alone or in
splendid isolation, it wishes to spread its model universally. Its model
is at best one of a limited democracy. It is limited to infrequent
plebiscites about who is to govern, elections that are formality carried
out without a free and lively public sphere.

At home in the US, however, democracy is threatened from within.
The „squeeze‟ on dissent in the US since 9/11 in the public sphere
and in the universities in the US is a worrying indication of this,
although this is by no means a decided matter, but rather an ongoing
battle for a space for independent and critical views. More pernicious
perhaps is the manner in which the fear felt by Americans is being
mobilized to squeeze out alternative views and different options that
might be followed in American and international bodies.

The result? (quote Gore Vidal – Arena no.64)
                          FOUNDERS OF THE PNAC

Richard Perle              Donald Rumsfeld     Dick Cheney         Paul
(chair of the       (US Defence                (US Vice-Pres.)     (Deputy
Defence Sec.)
Defence Policy        Secretary)
Board until recently)

                                   Former CEO Halliburton    (George Schultz –
                                                             Bechtel Board)

Shared By: