America & UK good, Nazis & commies bad....
Robert Kaplan explains why minority rights and good governance often flourish under imperial rule:
Throughout history, governance and relative safety have most often been provided by empires, Western or Eastern. Anarchy reigned in the interregnums. To wit, the British may have failed in Baghdad, Palestine, and elsewhere, but the larger history of the British Empire is one of providing a vast armature of stability, fostered by sea and rail communications, where before there had been demonstrably less stability. In fact, as the Harvard historian Niall Ferguson has argued, the British Empire enabled a late-19th- and early-20th-century form of globalization, tragically interrupted by a worldwide depression, two world wars, and a cold war. After that, a new form of globalization took root, made possible by an American naval and air presence across large swaths of the Earth, a presence of undeniably imperial dimensions. Globalization depends upon secure sea lines of communication for trade and energy transfers: without the U.S. Navy, there’d be no globalization, no Davos, period.
But imperialism is now seen by global elites as altogether evil, despite empires’ having offered the most benign form of order for thousands of years, keeping the anarchy of ethnic, tribal, and sectarian war bands to a reasonable minimum. Compared with imperialism, democracy is a new and uncertain phenomenon. Even the two most estimable democracies in modern history, the United States and Great Britain, were empires for long periods. “As both a dream and a fact the American Empire was born before the United States,” writes the mid-20th-century historian of westward expansion Bernard DeVoto. Following their initial settlement, and before their incorporation as states, the western territories were nothing less than imperial possessions of Washington, D.C. No surprise there: imperialism confers a loose and accepted form of sovereignty, occupying a middle ground between anarchy and full state control.
Ancient empires such as Rome, Achaemenid Persia, Mauryan India, and Han China may have been cruel beyond measure, but they were less cruel and delivered more predictability for the average person than did anything beyond their borders. Who says imperialism is necessarily reactionary? Athens, Rome, Venice, and Great Britain were the most enlightened regimes of their day. True, imperialism has often been driven by the pursuit of riches, but that pursuit has in many cases resulted in a hard-earned cosmopolitanism. The early modern empires of Hapsburg Austria and Ottoman Turkey were well known for their relative tolerance and protection of minorities, including the Jews. Precisely because the Hapsburg imperialists governed a mélange of ethnic and religious groups stretching from the edge of the Swiss Alps to central Romania, and from the Polish Carpathians to the Adriatic Sea, they abjured ethnic nationalism and sought a universalism almost postmodern in its design. What followed the Hapsburgs were mono-ethnic states and quasi-democracies that persecuted minorities and helped ease the path of Nazism.
Kaplan notes that the orders established by relatively benign imperialist rule offered more protection than the United Nations ever could offer. He rejects Obama's postmodern anti-imperialism in favor of what he terms a "tempered imperialism," one where US power provides a security umbrella:
Rome, Parthia, and Hapsburg Austria were great precisely because they gave significant parts of the world a modicum of imperial order that they would not otherwise have enjoyed. America must presently do likewise, particularly in East Asia, the geographic heartland of the world economy and the home of American treaty allies.
But Kaplan wisely rejects trying to rebuild "complex and populous" Islamic societies, as likely beyond our capacity to do so.
Bottom Line. Imperialism has been a dirty word in Western political discourse since the late 19th century. But in the real world a more complex picture emerges. President Obama ardently desires to reduce American influence on the world stage, while letting former rivals increase their influence, along with that of international bodies. His goals are, to be charitable, naive and historically ignorant. American withdrawal is also dangerous, and not only for us and friends. If more wars result, the casualties could include many other countries as well.
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