World history is filled with empires, e.g. the Roman and Byzantine empires, the European colonial empires, various ancient Iranian empires, the Arab Caliphate and Ottoman Empire, the Soviet Union to name a few. These historic empires have one thing in common: they no longer exist. As the lifecycle of empire wanes, rather than being a benefit to the home country, sustaining empire becomes more expensive than it is worth.
While the US economy and military remain the largest in the world, the economy is faltering and losing its vitality. Chalmers Johnson, a CIA analyst who became a critic of the agency and author of a series on US Empire, writes:
“Thirty-five years from now, America’s official century of being top dog (1945-2045) will have come to an end; its time may, in fact, be running out right now. We are likely to begin to look ever more like a giant version of England at the end of its imperial run, as we come face-to-face with, if not necessarily to terms with, our aging infrastructure, declining international clout, and sagging economy.”
The US began as a colony of European empires, especially of England, and then evolved into its own North American Empire. Thomas Jefferson called the United States an “empire of Liberty” when he purchased the Louisiana Territory in 1803. As “Manifest Destiny” took root, the US stole land of Indigenous peoples, appropriated Texas and Oregon and then went onto California. The Mexican War and Texas cessation took 55% of Mexico’s pre-1836 territory including lands in present day California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming as well as Texas through its cession from Mexico.
The modern US Empire has its roots in the Spanish-American War when the US occupied Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines and in the two World Wars. Since World War II, the United States has been a growing global imperial power at war—somewhere—every year. Seymour Melman wrote in March of 2003: “Now, at the start of the twenty-first century, every major aspect of American life is being shaped by our Permanent War Economy.” This has been a prime cause of the hollowing out of the domestic economy.
Rather than fixing the infrastructure, which the American Society of Civil Engineers ranks in its annual report card as a D+, the federal government’s “financing is lavished without stint to promote every kind of war industry, and foreign investing by U.S. firms.” As Seymour points out “there is no public ‘space’ for dialogue on how to improve the quality of our lives. Such topics are subordinate to ‘how to make war.’”
Economy and Empire
An empire must keep its client states happy as well as its transnational corporations profitable. This has resulted in a foreign policy designed for corporate interests and foreign oligarchs. The Wikileaks documents show US secrecy often hides crimes, abuses and unethical behavior linked to corporate interests; it also hides actions of a government that operates not for the public interest but for the profits of transnational corporations; and that is why secrecy is often unnecessary. We see this most glaringly in the rigged trade agreements being negotiated in secret except for hundreds of corporate advisers who work with the US Trade Representative in writing the agreements.
The flood of migrants coming from Central America is blowback from US foreign policy in the region. Just as NAFTA undermined the Mexican economy, Central American trade agreements have done the same for that region. Further, US support for brutal governments who impoverish their people and support for coups against governments that try to create greater equity have made these nations very difficult to live in. Even US drug policy adds to the misery in these countries. People desperate to survive come North in the hopes of finding a better life. While some cities, most recently Vancouver, seek to become sanctuary cities that protect immigrants, the Obama administration takes the approach of criminalization and deportation.