Sunday, November 27, 2005

From TomDispatch
a project of the Nation Institute

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Tomgram: Jonathan Schell, Welcome to Camp Quagmire

On the cusp of that most American of holidays, Jonathan Schell offers us a "tour" of the American empire -- the global Pax Americana that wasn't -- and asks a simple question: Where exactly are the monuments of that empire? If it is now threatened with collapse, what exactly did it build?

I was Schell's editor on his book
The Unconquerable World (published in the spring of 2003), and so, well before the Bush adminstration invaded Iraq, I had no doubt that our attempt to occupy an oil-rich land in the heart of the Middle East was bound to fail disastrously. No one who read Schell's exploration of the last three centuries of organized violence (and the hesitant birth of non-violent possibilities on our planet) could have assumed less. He and I often discussed the nature of the American empire and even exchanged letters on the subject at Tomdispatch back in early 2004 (Jonathan Schell on the empire that fell as it rose).

For his latest Nation magazine "Letter from Ground Zero" -- which the editors of that publication have been kind enough to let Tomdispatch post -- I can't think of a better introduction than some eerily prophetic passages from The Unconquerable World.

(Then, when you've also read his latest Nation column, take a brief whirl with me past various American imperial ziggurats and ruins.) While assessing the Bush administration's urge for global domination and its belief in what he had already dubbed "disarmament wars" meant to stop nuclear proliferation on the planet, Schell wrote:

"Even if we suppose that the United States will complete the transition from a republic to an empire, there are powerful reasons to believe that it will fail to realize its global ambitions, whether idealistic or self-interested. Any imperial plan in the twenty-first century tilts against what have so far proved to be the two most powerful forces of the modern age: the spread of scientific knowledge and the resolve of peoples to reject foreign rule and take charge of their own destinies. If the history of the last two centuries is a guide, neither can be bombed out of existence…

"It's difficult to believe that the passion for self determination will be any easier to suppress than the spread of destructive technology… Historically, imperial rule has rested on three kinds of domination -- military, economic, and political. The United States enjoys unequivocal superiority in only one of these domains -- the military, and here only in the conventional sphere…

"Most important, in the political arena, the United States is weak, precisely because in the contemporary world military force no longer translates easily into political rule. ‘Covenants, without the sword, are but words,' Hobbes said. Since then, the world has learned that swords without covenants are but empty bloodshed. The Romans in ancient times were able to convert military victories into lasting political power. The United States today cannot.

In the political arena, the lesson of the world revolt -- that winning military victories may sometimes be easy but building political institutions in foreign lands is hard, often impossible -- still obtains. The nation so keenly interested in ‘regime change' has small interest in ‘nation-building' and less capacity to carry it out.

The United States is mistrusted, often hated, around the world. If it embarks on a plan of imperial domination, it will be hated still more. Can cruise missiles build nations? Does power st! ill flow from the barrel of a gun -- or from a B-2 bomber? Can the world in the twenty-first century really be ruled from 35,000 feet? Modern peoples have the will to resist and the means to do so. Imperialism without politics is a naive imperialism. In our time, force can win a battle or two but politics is destiny."

Now set out to tour the failed imperium with Jonathan Schell as your guide.

The Fall of the One-Party Empire
By Jonathan Schell

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