POLITICS COLOSSUS: THE PRICE OF AMERICA’S EMPIRE By NIALL FERGUSON [Penguin Group, USA, 240PP, 2004]
COLOSSUS argues that the world will be better off when (more crucially, if) Americans recognize the value of their “liberal” hegemony and, in so doing, embrace their imperial responsibilities. Unfortunately, the book often makes unconvincing conclusions, and occasionally concludes without even the attempt at persuasion.
Enthusiastic as Ferguson is about the promises of an American empire, he cannot help but stumble over the Iraq War; he condones its obvious illegality (then again, he defends “hypocrisy” in the service of empire); its uncertain goals; and the increasingly bloody and costly quagmire it has resulted in. For all his talk of the índíspensability of American power, America is only barely hanging onto Iraq, and that partly because the Shi’a majority has not exercised the option of forceful resistance. If American might cannot secure a ravaged former third- world power, but instead faces the demons of overstretchy then we are quite far from laudatory comparisons with Rome.
Nor does Ferguson fear our proximity to the Rubicon. Ferguson forgets that “the price of America’s empire,” like the price of any empire, must be paid by the victors as well. The Bush administration is among the most secretive and supercilious regimes in recent American memory; its responses to criticism betray a worrying indifference to the dignity of “us,” the American people, never mind “them,” those who do not even deserve the right to defend themselves. (Internationally, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay unfortunately seem as ubiquitously American as McDonald’s or MTV.) The xenophobic militarism and smug patriotism, which necessitates and is in turn necessitated by empire, cannot but undermine democracy at home and abroad.
The cost, in other words, is much too high.