Middle East Expert Challenges U.S. Empire at St. Michael's

COLCHESTER Phyllis Bennis, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington D.C. and an acclaimed Middle East expert, confronted the United States Empire at St. Michaels College last Tuesday in the third and final lecture in the series, For the Soul of the Nation: Re-thinking the Role of the United States in the World. Ms. Bennis observed that foreign policy of the United States fits into the well-worn grooves of traditional imperial control dating back thousands of years. Every empire has the goal of control of people, resources and territory, she noted. However, several key differences are readily apparent in the modern American system of imperial control, she claimed. For example, unlike the Roman or British Empires, the United States does not maintain a tight regimen of colonial or vassal states that directly fill the coffers of the federal government. Rather, the United States maintains a series of lily pad military basesbetween 750 and 1,000 worldwideto allow the frog (the U.S. military) to jump quickly and decisively around the globe to ensure the friendliness of these host nations to private American business, she argued. This terminology, reminiscent of a walk in the woods, diverts the publics attention from the true nature of these bastions of empire, she noted. The government thinks that if they make something sound cute, they can get away with it, she quipped. The latest armed outposts are being constructed in Iraq, of course, with 4 city-sized fortresses roughly the size of Burlington supporting a network of ten smaller bases throughout the country, she claimed. Does this sound like the work of a government who is intending to pack up and leave? I dont think so, she exclaimed. Unfortunately, Ms. Bennis sees little hope in any political shuffles which might occur next November. All three major democratic candidates are committed to maintaining a significant American military presence in Iraq well into the future, she observed. The Iraq War is merely the point of a spear driving toward greater U.S. control and domination in the Middle East, she claimed. But, this policy of asserting control over the regions resources is a bi-partisan effort. This war is not just Bush and Cheneys war, but also Congress war. The contemporary system of American imperialism was formally adopted by Bush administration as the National Security Strategy, issued to Congress by the White House on September 17, 2002. This doctrine grew out of the work of the Project for the New American Century, a non-profit organization located in Washington D.C. that is, in the organizations own words, dedicated to a few fundamental propositions: that American leadership is good both for America and for the world; and that such leadership requires military strength, diplomatic energy and commitment to moral principle. The organizations emphasis on hegemonic U.S. domination of the worlds economic and military spheres in a post-Cold War world was deemed too radical at the time of the organizations founding in 1997, Ms. Bennis observed. She noted that several papers issued by the organization claimed that the United States would have to suffer another Pearl Harbor before such a doctrine could take hold of U.S. foreign policy. Now, with 9/11 as their constant rallying cry, the neo-conservative forces of the country are able to push American imperialism to new heights around the world and in the Middle East in particular, she said. With a two historical examples that emphasized the commonalities of American imperialism with other empires that have risen and fall, Ms. Bennis pointed out the hypocrisy of the United States insistence on the promotion of democracy and human rights throughout the world, while simultaneously engaging in pre-emptive war and endless military occupation. Two thousand years ago, she told, the Greeks conquered the small island of Mylos to ensure the stability of their own golden age of democracy. The Greek historian Thucydides recalled that when the Melians asked their conquerors, What about democracy? the Athenians responded, For us there is democracy; for you, there is the law of empire. Similiary, the Roman historian Tacituswho followed the Roman Army on many campaigns as it marched through the countryside, laying waste to entire villages and culturesobserved that, The Romans brought devastation, but called it peace. That is what our government is doing now, she concluded. And it is our job to stop it.

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