Yes, that's what I said. Oh sure, I use the term a lot, and so do other commentators – but when you get right down to it the “American Empire”, per se, does not exist. There's an empire all right, but it's not American – assuming it ever was. I guess if you go back to those heady post-World War II days, it would be possible to demonstrate a kind of paradoxical American empire, which involved sending out troops to occupy, to a greater or lesser degree, nearly every non-Warsaw Pact country in Europe, as well as good chunks of East Asia and, on occasion, Latin America. And these occupations would invariably be accompanied by overwhelmingly generous donations of food, clothing, shelter, etc. from "the American people" -- although if they ever got a chance to vote on this, I'm not aware of it.
This was followed, all too soon, by the “Ugly American” era, where a world war no longer sufficed as an excuse; now we were all over Latin America and poking around in other parts of Africa and Asia – which, of course, eventuated in the Vietnam war, which I guess was the high water mark of American Empire activity between World War II and now. Not forgetting Korea, of course... and the war there, which technically is still on, at least resulted in a lasting 50-50 split between North and South Korea, unlike Vietnam, which resulted in a 100-0 split.
But are these really the signs of empire in the classical sense? Let's think about this for a moment. If you take the other great empires in history – especially the colonial empires headed up by various European powers – you will find a number of things. For instance:
Does traditional empire-building involve attempts to transplant the colonial power's form of government, intact, to the colony? No – the Europeans knew better. Colonial governments were much more authoritarian than the home government, and what little self-determination was left to the colony was more or less a direct extension of its pre-colonial system – typically a monarchy of some sort. The European powers seldom felt any urge to dethrone the native king, and install a president, premier, prime minister, etc. in his place. They simply left local affairs to the pre-existing local government, and ran the country's foreign affairs (which were 99% about trade and military bases, after all) from the colonial government house, and everyone was happy – more or less. Contrast this with the curious American habit (or at least pretense) of “spreading democracy” -- which either turns out to be impossible, or, when it actually happens, it results in the “wrong” people being elected, at which point we have to go back and start over. So those earmarks of traditional colonization – leaving local governments intact (vs. “regime change”) and ruling the rest at least semi-wisely from the colonial headquarters – are missing for us.
How about on the economic side – i.e., trade? Down through history, the flow of goods between colonizer and colony has been overwhelmingly of one sort – raw materials are shipped from the colony to the colonial power, and finished goods are shipped back. And who winds up with all the profits from this exchange? The colonial power, i.e. its merchants, officials, and politicians – and its people, if they're lucky, through a trickle-down effect. What do _we_ get in exchange for our colonial exertions? Yes, some raw materials... but, more often these days, finished products. But the subject states turn out to be not such a great market for _our_ finished products (the few that remain), and so our empire-like holdings actually wind up constituting a new economic liability (aside from all the expenses associated with invasion and occupation). Now, would a traditional colonial power have tolerated this? Not for a moment! The whole idea of colonialism was to enrich the colonial power, and if it didn't there was something serious wrong. When's the last time we could argue that we were “enriched” through the fruits of empire? Maybe back in the 60s, when we were talking about literal fruits – bananas and such. But ever since, the cost of holding on to these places, with all their revolutions and insurrections... and now terrorist activity... has vastly exceeded the payoff. It's the classic “white elephant” scenario writ larger.
And speaking of the military, what does it take to subdue the country of our choice these days, and keep it subdued? Many men, and much materiel – and you'll notice that these are not one-time costs. We spend just as much to stay in a place as we did to invade and conquer it – all according to plan, of course, since nothing irritates a Pentagon budget planner more than unpredictability in the “out years”. In their ideal world, every budget (or “line”) item extends out into the indefinite future on a level basis... which means that if we need to shift funding from “invasion” costs to “occupation” costs, we will – there is always something that money can be squandered, er, spent, on. (This, by the way, is one of the main rationales for "nation building" -- the fact that _something_ has to be done with all that money; it simply wouldn't do to give it back to the taxpayer.)
And what about that most intangible of all qualities for a nation, respect? And dignity? The old European colonial powers were respected... held in awe... and, yes, feared at times. But they were seldom despised, except in the waning days, and not always even then. But every new venture into foreign entanglements for us involves firing up the Ugly American machinery again... and right now, we're considered an evil empire by the entire Arab/Moslem world, and someone to not turn one's back on in plenty of other places (Eastern Europe, Latin America, etc.). How many times, for example, were the British, or French, ever considered “out of control” in their empire-building efforts – even when they were? We seem to be out of control virtually all the time. Did anyone “non-understand” what the British and the French were doing? Heck no, colonialization is as old as history... it's just about the easiest transaction between countries to understand – more so than war, even (although they certainly overlap). On the other hand, how many people really understand what the U.S. is trying to do in Iraq, or Afghanistan? Foreigners don't... most of our own citizens don't... many of our leaders don't... the president may not even understand. So one of the earmarks of the American Empire at this time, in contrast to other empires throughout history, is its sheer absurdity.
What else can be said? The traditional empires seem to have had the support of most of the citizenry of the colonial power (except for the most hard-core pacifists and indifferentists). They could see the advantages, which were many – and the down side was usually confined to the dusty, flea-bitten, fever-ridden battlefields and outposts of the colony, which were not pictured 24-7 on TV and the Internet. Contrast this with today, when at least a substantial minority of Americans believes that the twin wars are a mistake and a hoax, and want us out of those pestholes ASAP. They can see the advantages – which do not exist for the average person. To paraphrase The Mommas and The Poppas, nobody's gettin' fat except the arms makers and international financiers.
So... when it comes to the empire game, we apparently just can't hack it. It's trashing our economy and our morale, corrupting our politics, and turning us into a rogue state as far as most of the world is concerned. And it's also severely eroding the freedom of American citizens, both at home and abroad. But yet we persist, against all reason. And why? Well, it's because the American Empire really isn't our empire at all – it's the empire of the globalists, the internationalists, the rootless, anti-nationalistic bankers and financiers, the multi-national arms makers... even the Neocons and their counterparts overseas, who, collectively, could not care less about the welfare of the U.S. or its citizens. Oh, they will mouth words to keep people signed on, but when you study their actions, you realize that they are anything but patriots – they use the U.S., and its gullible citizenry, to further their ends... but who benefits? Certainly not the man on the street; all he sees is the current pain and misery. The fact that the economic crisis/recession/what have you is, more and more, showing signs of having been planned, and manipulated, and engineered, from the outset should offer a clue – nations are suffering, people are suffering, but the internationalists are happy as pigs in stuff. The deeper you probe into the cast of characters behind the crisis, the more you find that they are, in fact, enjoying themselves tremendously... and, as far as they're concerned, the “crisis” can go on indefinitely.
So it's really their empire, and the U.S. -- and its government, and the military – are, basically, servants and patsies. The bright line that seems to have been drawn between the U.S. and the Arab/Moslem world, for example, is more a line of convenience for the Regime than the real thing. It pays to set the U.S. up as a scapegoat, but when you see who is profiting, it certainly has nothing to do with the U.S. per se. Now, there is, undoubtedly, a genuine line between the Regime – taken on the international level – and the Arab/Moslem world. There is, likewise, a line between the Regime and Russia, and between it and China – although these are by no means as clear-cut, and there is more room for negotiation. On the world map, the Regime is one nexus, and the Arab/Moslem world another. China and its allies is another, and it overlaps with the Arab/Moslem in the case of Iran, for instance. Then we have Russia, which seems to be operating more or less as a lone wolf these days, although it certainly has plenty of residual “interests” elsewhere. Then we have the places that, apparently, have yet to picked for a team – most of Latin America, most of sub-Saharan Africa, and a few places in Asia. (Japan and South Korea... and, OK, Taiwan... are firmly in our camp). These are the fault lines at present, and of course the “uncommitted” are constantly being wooed, seduced, and fought over – but at least not with the fervor that marked the Cold War. (Heck, we would have gone into Venezuela or Bolivia in a heartbeat as soon as Chavez or Morales got in, in the old days. But maybe this is less a matter of principle than of residual PTSD from Cuba.) And there are, certainly, places in the world that are no longer considered worth fighting over – like most of sub-Saharan Africa – as long as we can bribe a few mercenaries to keep the shipments of strategic raw materials coming.
But again, I keep saying “we” when what I really mean is the Regime. The marching orders come down from high and land on the president's desk every morning... and on the desks of certain key Congressmen. And, since nearly all of them were put in place by the Regime, they don't dare disobey, no matter how obviously damaging the action is going to be. Their main job is to dream up alibis.
What it amounts to is that the U.S., even though it seems, at times, to be a colonial power, is really a higher-order colony itself... the colonial power being the Regime, or whatever you choose to call it. And that Regime knows no loyalty except to itself – and values individual life and liberty not a whit. It is the ultimate faceless organization which, I'm sure, even eats its own at times. And this is not to say that it doesn't have ideals... or even principals of a sort. But those are distorted way beyond what the average person would see as right or desirable – they are, rather, a roadmap to keeping a thing, or entity, alive – not an association of free men.