Eric Hobsbawm on American Empire

The following, though written five years ago, still seems relevant enough today to merit quoting. It comes from my favorite contemporary historian, Eric Hobsbawm — specifically his short book On Empire: America, War, and Global Supremacy (New York/London: The New Press, 2008):

“Frankly, I can’t make sense of what has happened in the United States since 9/11 that enabled a group of political crazies to realize long-held plans for an unaccompanied solo performance of world supremacy. I believe it indicates a growing crisis within American society, which finds expression in the most profound political and cultural division within that country since the Civil War, and a sharp geographical division between the globalized economy of the two seaboards, and the vast resentful hinterland, the culturally open big cities and the rest of the country. Today a radical right-wing regime seeks to mobilize “true Americans” against some evil outside force and against a world that does not  recognize the uniqueness, the superiority, the manifest destiny of America. What we must realize is that America global policy is aimed inward, not outward, however great and ruinous its impact on the rest of the world. It is not designed to produce either empire or effective hegemony. Nor was the Donald Rumsfeld doctrine — quick wars against weak pushovers followed by quick withdrawals — designed for effective global conquest. Not that this makes it less dangerous. On the contrary. As is now evident, it spells instability, unpredictability, aggression, and unintended, almost certainly disastrous,n consequences. In effect, the most obvious danger of war today arises from the global ambitions of an uncontrollable and apparently irrational government in Washington.

“How shall we live in this dangerous, unbalanced, explosive world in the midst of major shifting of the social and political, national and international tectonic plates? As for governments, the best other states can do is to demonstrate the isolation, and therefore the limits, of actual U.S. world power by refusing, firmly but politely, to join further initiatives proposed by Washington which might lead to military action, particularly in the Middle East and Eastern Asia. To give America the best chance of learning to return from megalomania to rational foreign policy is the most immediate and urgent task of international politics. For whether we like it or not, America will remain a superpower, indeed an imperial power, even in what is evidently the era of its relative economic decline. Only, we hope, a less dangerous one.” [9/17/09]

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