ISIS may be evil, but America's preemptive war against them is just another chapter in American Hegemony

American HegemonyThe greatest burden of great power is self-justification. Now that the United States is to become embroiled in another Middle-East war, a familiar pattern is rearing it’s ugly head to justify American actions and reactions. Empires always have a reason to fight a war.

The newest boogeyman America has to fight in the Middle East is ISIS (ISIL). President Obama recent gave a speech categorized as his war manifesto. Obama basically declared America’s greatness and nobility, and why therefore we must again fight a war to defeat a threat that isn’t even confirmed a threat yet. I’ll get to that point in a minute.

The so-called “threat” from ISIS has stirred Obama into a fervor that plagues the leaders of many great powers. In fact, these great powers actively seek out these threats. Without threats and enemies, then it becomes hard to justify the maintenance and possible expansion of world power.

Ever since the end of World War II, the United States has always needed a great enemy in the world. The old Soviet Union proved a worthy one during the Cold War, and for decades the United States was able to expand its global power at the expense of smaller nations. All interventions and covert actions were justified under the need to deal with the Soviet “threat.”

Remember, the US sponsored some of the most brutal coups and dictatorships in the developing world from 1945-1991. All was necessary and well justified to deal with “threats” to democracy and security. America’s growing dominance in world affairs was only an “added” bonus.

After the collapse of communism and the Eastern Bloc, America went a decade without a great enemy or threat it could label dire enough for mass war making and armament. Milosevic in Serbia served a brief niche, but was in no way a figure of global fear. We never considered the Serbian army a personal threat to us per-say. Then 9/11 comes along. With Osama Bin-Laden and Al Qaeda, at last there arose America’s need for an enemy again.

Whether or not Al Qaeda (much like ISIS now) actually poses a great threat to America is irrelevant. Anyone who follows American politics and foreign policy knows that perception, rather than reality, is key. It doesn’t matter how real the threat is, as long as you make the people believe it is a real threat. In the case of ISIS, we are starting a war against a threat that hasn’t even been confirmed yet.

Essentially, the new war against ISIS is yet another example in America’s preemptive war doctrine. Obama (without approval from Congress or any International Organization) is engaging in a de-facto war against ISIS in both Iraq and now Syria. The reason the war is preemptive is because the Obama Administration has not even stated any evidence of an ISIS intent to attack American targets. Obama theoretically said in his speech: We have to attack ISIS before they become a threat because they aren’t right now, but they are still a big enough threat to go to war… err… America!

The mindset America’s foreign policy makers are trapped in is reminiscent of the same problems faced by a great empire in the past: Rome. You see, Rome’s expansion happened over hundreds of years, and more often than not, the excuse for Roman wars and expansion was to eliminate “threats” to its peace. This could be interpreted many ways. Threats to Roman peace (dominance) could be threats to an ally/client state, direct threats to Roman territory, or merely perceived threats that could arise in the future.

Many episodes of Rome’s history saw wars fought over threats that did not spell life or death for Rome itself, but gave it a great excuse to fight a war and expand its power. Other nations of similar power in history have had similar ideas.

Today, America follows a similar mindset. A threat can be  found around any corner, and without one, it becomes hard to justify global hegemony. Obama is falling into a deadly problem. By engaging in further war in Iraq and Syria, he has demonstrated America can self-justify any action, and use whatever standard it needs to appeal to this justification.

When Russia uses its forces to aid rebels in Ukraine or China positions its forces against islands in the Pacific, the US always rants and goes on about “respecting international law” or “international norms.” Does the US respect these laws and norms as much as it says others should? No, and the point is it doesn’t have to. These norms are rules to be imposed on other nations, not the US. The rational is simple: American Hegemony needs no check or balance, where rules are only guidelines, and any action taken is by definition a just one.

So Russia attacks Ukraine = Horrible Aggressor. US attacks Iraq, Syria, Libya = Defending Democracy.

I have said before, ISIS is a terrible group. But, we only care about this due to the niche ISIS fits for us. Remember, ISIS arose out of American wars and actions in the Middle East. Our invasion of Iraq in 2003 and support for Syrian rebels against Bashar Assad created ISIS, and now we can use our Frankenstein monster to our expansionist advantage.

The issue is that the United States only pretends to care about the rights of nations when it fits the goal. The goal is self-perpetuation. The empire must always have an enemy to exist. Without an enemy, there can be no hegemony. If you can’t find one, make one. This is at least my analysis, of course.

For any great power, the trap of self-justifying hegemony arises often. The United States now falls into this pattern. ISIS is merely a ruse to a larger endgame. As the global hegemon, the United States must perpetuate its need to maintain its global dominance. Some threats are real, while others useful. The Burden of Empire is Self-perpetuating power.


  1. ISIS itself. …although to the Western culture appears to be Barbaric. pretty much the norm in the arena of the Middle East encompassing the Sunni / Shiite / Iraq / Iran cultures and customs…Saudi Arabia beheaded 22 People since July 28….the Iranian militia now in the North assisting the Kurds..have beheaded Sunni village leaders just this week…Haven’t heard Sec Kerry declare War on them….My concern ..Who is Behind the Curtain pushing this New Aggression? ??

  2. Julian,

    Yes and no.

    American involvement in the Middle East is not a stoo-pid imperialism of the Platt Amendment or Philippine annexation type.

    The oil in Saudi Arabia was discovered by an American, your typical midwestern innocent looking for water. Then FDR was apparently wise enough to shower the Saudis with weapons at a time when poor Churchill could only come up with a Rolls Royce or two. It seems to me that American involvement in the region was essentially anti-imperialist — part of the magnificent decades-long effort by the US to dismantle the British Empire.

    This was motivated partly by jealousy among American dummies, of whom there are many, it is true. I think these pale beside the deep historical anti-imperialism which has always been a major part of both the American character and of American policy.

    Israel did not exist yet, and the Balfour Declaration, like Picot-Sikes, and the random assignment of Hijaz and Foobaz to this, that or the other shrouded fakir, was just one of those things the English did at country house weekends. After tennis, with gin and tonic, while the youngsters were having their preprandial adulteries, sort of thing.

    American thinkers, of whom there were a few in those days, some of them, e.g. Harry Dexter White, communists, thought that this was not a joke but a great evil, and should be stopped. They ground away at the problem throughout WWII, and Truman finally showed teeth when he cancelled Britain’s endless credit card shortly after Labour was elected. Sic transit gloria Victoriana, and good for America. A program as magnificent as the Marshall Plan or the recent de-miseration of China.

    To this day Marines are dying in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia to protect Europe’s oil supply, not America’s. America used Texas oil at the beginning of all this, and Venezuelan and Canadian in the later years. Note that the present socialist government of Venezuela was kept in power after it was elected, by the CIA, which protected it not against American imperialism but against Venezuelan caudillo wannabes.

    Israel, the American Jewish vote, and the insane fantasies of the American religious right, are a complicating factor in all of this, and they affect American policy at the margin from time to time.

    On the other hand the Arab Spring — more realistically the Arab percolation, it seems to me — bubbles on. All thoughtful Arabs know that Israel is here to stay, and is a positive factor in the region. The King Khalid plan (“We don’t have to like `the Jews,’ and sometimes ya need a doctor or a money lender in the neighborhood…”) is several Silurian layers down in all the paper on the desk, but somebody will stumble upon it some time.

    My feeling is that Netanyahu has ironically lived up to his totally undeserved reputation as a bumbler. By engineering the recent massive defeat in Gaza — the guy who kills the most civilians loses, under the new rules — he has taken a major step toward the settlement that should have been reached in 1948.

    That it was not done seventy years faster is a reminder that we are just struggling out of that five centuries I call The Gunpowder Years. In 1948, remember, you could still have a ridiculous medieval figure like the Englishman Glubb Pasha playing at policy.



    • I agree with pretty much most of what you stated. Yet, here is where I diverge. America’s idea of empire is a unique and radically different than empires of the past. While past empires usually involved a powerful nation defeating and annexing the territory of smaller and weaker nations. What the US has is very different.

      The American “empire” is not about annexing territory and acting “imperially” as in past traditions (at least not openly).What we have mastered is an empire without territorial expansion, to control a nation without having to occupy it. Iraq is now seen as a failed strategy by the hawks of DC. Direct occupation is too expensive and unpopular. Instead, the old play book is being used: covert, financial blackmail, the classic coup, and if all else fails, perhaps form an internal struggle inside a nation and then launch airstrikes to protect “democracy.” If a state refuses to operate as a client of America, then American does all in its power to destabilize that state until it heels. We don’t have to occupy nations to control them or cause them harm. Where Russia’s interventions are aggression, American ones are noble.

      The empire is more then just a territorial boundary these days.

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