American imperialism

This article will address the topic of American imperialism from different perspectives, in order to provide a broad and complete vision of this matter. Historical, cultural, social and scientific aspects related to American imperialism will be analyzed, with the aim of providing the reader with a detailed and enriching overview. Different opinions and approaches will be explored to encourage reflection and debate, with the intention of expanding knowledge and promoting a deeper understanding of American imperialism. Through this article, we aim to offer a global and enriching vision that invites reflection and critical thinking.

1898 political cartoon: "Ten thousand miles from tip to tip." referring to the expansion of American domination (symbolized by a bald eagle) from Puerto Rico to the Philippines following the Spanish–American War; the cartoon contrasts this with a map showing the significantly smaller size of the United States in 1798, exactly 100 years earlier.
Map of the United States and directly controlled territories at its greatest extent from 1898 to 1902, after the Spanish–American War

American imperialism is the expansion of American political, economic, cultural, media, and military influence beyond the boundaries of the United States of America. Depending on the commentator, it may include imperialism through outright military conquest; military protection; gunboat diplomacy; unequal treaties; subsidization of preferred factions; regime change; economic or diplomatic support; or economic penetration through private companies, potentially followed by diplomatic or forceful intervention when those interests are threatened.

The policies perpetuating American imperialism and expansionism are usually considered to have begun with "New Imperialism" in the late 19th century, though some consider American territorial expansion and settler colonialism at the expense of Indigenous Americans to be similar enough in nature to be identified with the same term. While the United States has never officially identified itself and its territorial possessions as an empire, some commentators have referred to the country as such, including Max Boot, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., and Niall Ferguson. Other commentators have accused the United States of practicing neocolonialism—sometimes defined as a modern form of hegemony—which leverages economic power rather than military force in an informal empire; the term "neocolonialism" has occasionally been used as a contemporary synonym for modern-day imperialism.

The question of whether the United States should intervene in the affairs of foreign countries has been a much-debated topic in domestic politics for the country's entire history. Opponents of interventionism have pointed to the country's origin as a former colony that rebelled against an overseas king, as well as the American values of democracy, freedom, and independence. Conversely, supporters of interventionism and of American presidents who have been labelled as “imperialists” — most notably are Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk, William McKinley, Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, and William Howard Taft — have justified their interventions in (or whole seizures of) various countries by citing the necessity of advancing American economic interests, such as trade and debt management; preventing European intervention (colonial or otherwise) in the Western Hemisphere, manifested in the anti-European Monroe Doctrine of 1823; and the benefits of keeping "good order" around the world.

History

Overview

U.S. westward expansion–portions of each territory were granted statehood since the 18th century.
A New Map of Texas, Oregon, and California, Samuel Augustus Mitchell, 1846

Despite periods of peaceful co-existence, wars with Native Americans resulted in substantial territorial gains for American colonists who were expanding into native land. Wars with the Native Americans continued intermittently after independence, and an ethnic cleansing campaign known as Indian removal gained for European American settlers more valuable territory on the eastern side of the continent.

George Washington, a founding father and first president of the United States, began a policy of United States non-interventionism which lasted into the 1800s. The United States promulgated the Monroe Doctrine in 1823, in order to stop further European colonialism in the Latin America. Desire for territorial expansion to the Pacific Ocean was explicit in the idea of manifest destiny. The giant Louisiana Purchase was peaceful, but the annexation of 525,000 square miles (1,360,000 km2) of Mexican territory was the result of the Mexican–American War of 1846. A minority advocated annexation of the whole Mexico but the majority of the Senate opposed. Some attempted to expand pro-U.S. republics or U.S. states in Mexico and Central America, the most notable being filibuster William Walker's Republic of Baja California in 1853 and his intervention in Nicaragua in 1855. Senator Sam Houston of Texas even proposed a resolution in the Senate for the "United States to declare and maintain an efficient protectorate over the States of Mexico, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, and San Salvador." The idea of U.S. expansion into Mexico and the Caribbean was popular among politicians of the slave states, and also among some business tycoons in the Nicarauguan Transit (the semi-overland and main trade route connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans before the Panama Canal). President Ulysses S. Grant attempted to annex the Dominican Republic in 1870, but failed to get the support of the Senate.

Non-interventionism was wholly abandoned with the Spanish–American War. The United States acquired the remaining island colonies of Spain, with President Theodore Roosevelt defending the acquisition of the Philippines. The U.S. policed Latin America under Roosevelt Corollary, and sometimes using the military to favor American commercial interests (such as intervention in the banana republics and the annexation of Hawaii). Imperialist foreign policy was controversial with the American public, and domestic opposition allowed Cuban independence, though in the early 20th century the U.S. obtained the Panama Canal Zone and occupied Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The United States returned to strong non-interventionist policy after World War I, including the Good Neighbor policy for Latin America. After fighting World War II, it administered many Pacific islands captured during the fight against Japan. Partly to prevent the militaries of those countries from growing threateningly large, and partly to contain the Soviet Union, the United States promised to defend Germany (which is also part of NATO) and Japan (through the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security Between the United States and Japan), which it had formerly defeated in war and which are now independent democracies. It maintains substantial military bases in both.

The Cold War reoriented American foreign policy towards opposing communism, and prevailing U.S. foreign policy embraced its role as a nuclear-armed global superpower. Though the Truman Doctrine and Reagan Doctrine the United States framed the mission as protecting free peoples against an undemocratic system, anti-Soviet foreign policy became coercive and occasionally covert. United States involvement in regime change included overthrowing the democratically elected government of Iran, the Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba, occupation of Grenada, and interference in various foreign elections. The long and bloody Vietnam War led to widespread criticism of an "arrogance of power" and violations of international law emerging from an "imperial presidency," with Martin Luther King Jr., among others, accusing the US of a new form of colonialism.

Many saw the post-Cold War 1990–1991 Gulf War as motivated by U.S. oil interests, though it reversed the illegal invasion of Kuwait. After the September 11 attacks in 2001, questions of imperialism were raised again as the United States invaded Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban (which harbored the attackers) and Iraq in 2003 (which the U.S. incorrectly claimed had weapons of mass destruction). The invasion led to the collapse of the Iraqi Ba'athist government and its replacement with the Coalition Provisional Authority. Following the invasion, an insurgency fought against Coalition forces and the newly elected Iraqi government, and a sectarian civil war occurred. The Iraq War opened the country's oil industry to US firms for the first time in decades and many argued the invasion violated international law. Around 500,000 people were killed in both wars as of 2018.

In terms of territorial acquisition, the United States has integrated (with voting rights) all of its acquisitions on the North American continent, including the non-contiguous Alaska. Hawaii has also become a state with equal representation to the mainland, but other island jurisdictions acquired during wartime remain territories, namely Guam, Puerto Rico, the United States Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands. (The federal government officially apologized for the overthrow of the Hawaiian government in 1993.) The remainder of acquired territories have become independent with varying degrees of cooperation, ranging from three freely associated states which participate in federal government programs in exchange for military basing rights, to Cuba which severed diplomatic relations during the Cold War. The United States was a public advocate for European decolonization after World War II (having started a ten-year independence transition for the Philippines in 1934 with the Tydings–McDuffie Act). Even so, the US desire for an informal system of global primacy in an "American Century" often brought them into conflict with national liberation movements. The United States has now granted citizenship to Native Americans and recognizes some degree of tribal sovereignty.

1700s–1800s: Indigenous American Wars and manifest destiny

Caricature by Louis Dalrymple showing Uncle Sam lecturing four children labeled Philippines, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Cuba, in front of children holding books labeled with various U.S. states and territories. A black boy is washing windows, a Native American sits separate from the class, and a Chinese boy is outside the door. The caption reads: "School Begins. Uncle Sam (to his new class in Civilization): Now, children, you've got to learn these lessons whether you want to or not! But just take a look at the class ahead of you, and remember that, in a little while, you will feel as glad to be here as they are!"

Yale historian Paul Kennedy has asserted, "From the time the first settlers arrived in Virginia from England and started moving westward, this was an imperial nation, a conquering nation." Expanding on George Washington's description of the early United States as an "infant empire", Benjamin Franklin wrote: "Hence the Prince that acquires new Territory, if he finds it vacant, or removes the Natives to give his own People Room; the Legislator that makes effectual Laws for promoting of Trade, increasing Employment, improving Land by more or better Tillage; providing more Food by Fisheries; securing Property, etc. and the Man that invents new Trades, Arts or Manufactures, or new Improvements in Husbandry, may be properly called Fathers of their Nation, as they are the Cause of the Generation of Multitudes, by the Encouragement they afford to Marriage." Thomas Jefferson asserted in 1786 that the United States "must be viewed as the nest from which all America, North & South is to be peopled. The navigation of the Mississippi we must have. This is all we are as yet ready to receive.". From the left Noam Chomsky writes that "the United States is the one country that exists, as far as I know, and ever has, that was founded as an empire explicitly".

A national drive for territorial acquisition across the continent was popularized in the 19th century as the ideology of manifest destiny. The policy of settlement of land was a foundational goal of the United States of America, with one of the driving factors of discontent with British rule originating from the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which barred settlement west of the Appalachian Mountains. As part of the desire of Manifest Destiny to open up land for American settlement came campaigns in the Great Lakes region which saw the United States fight the Northwestern Confederacy resulting in the Northwest Indian War. Subsequent treaties such as the Treaty of Greenville and the Treaty of Fort Wayne (1809) resulted in a rise of Anti-American sentiment among the Native Americans in the Great Lakes region, which helped to create Tecumseh's Confederacy which was defeated by the end of the War of 1812. The Indian Removal Act of 1830 culminated in the deportation of 60,000 Native Americans in an event known as the Trail of Tears, where up to 16,700 people died in an act of ethnic cleansing. The deportation of Natives West of the Mississippi, resulted in significant economic gains for settlers. For example, the Arkansas firm, Byrd and Belding earned up to $27,000 in two years through supplying food. The policy of Manifest Destiny would continue to be realized with the Mexican–American War of 1846, which resulted in the cession of 525,000 square miles (1,360,000 km2) of Mexican territory to the United States, stretching up to the Pacific coast. The Whig Party strongly opposed this war and expansionism generally.

Following the American victory over Mexico, colonization and settlement of California would begin which would soon lead to the California genocide. Estimates of total deaths in the genocide vary greatly from 2,000 to 100,000 dead. The discovery of Gold in California resulted in an influx of settlers, who formed militias to kill and displace Indigenous peoples. The government of California supported expansion and settlement through the passage of the Act for the Government and Protection of Indians which legalized the enslavement of Native Americans and allowed settlers to capture and force them into labor. California further offered and paid bounties for the killing of Native Americans.

Indian land as defined by the Treaty of Fort Laramie

American expansion in the Great Plains resulted in conflict between many tribes West of the Mississippi and the United States. In 1851, the Treaty of Fort Laramie was signed, which gave the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes territory from the North Platte River in present-day Wyoming and Nebraska southward to the Arkansas River in present-day Colorado and Kansas. The land was initially not wanted by White settlers, but following the discovery of gold in the region, settlers began to pour into the territory. In 1861, six chiefs of the Southern Cheyenne and four of the Arapaho signed the Treaty of Fort Wise which saw the loss of 90% of their land. The refusal of various warriors to recognise the treaty resulted in white settlers starting to believe that war was coming. The subsequent Colorado War would result in the Sand Creek Massacre in which up to 600 Cheyenne were killed, most of whom were children and women. On October 14, 1865, the chiefs of what remained of the Southern Cheyennes and Arapahos agreed to live south of the Arkansas, sharing land that belonged to the Kiowas, and thereby relinquish all claims in the Colorado territory.

Map showing the Great Sioux Reservation and current reservations

Following the victory of Red Cloud in Red Cloud's War over the United States, the Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868) was signed. This treaty led to the creation of the Great Sioux Reservation. However, the discovery of gold in the Black Hills resulted in a surge of White settlement in the region. The gold rush was very profitable for the White settlers and the American government, with just one of the Black Hill Mines yielding $500 Million in gold. Attempts to purchase the land failed, and the Great Sioux War began as a result. Despite initial success by Native Americans in the war's first few battles, most notably the Battle of the Little Bighorn, the United States eventually won and ended the reservation, carving it up into smaller reservations. The reservation system did not just serve as a way to facilitate American settlement and expansion of land, but also enriched local merchants and businesses who held significant economic power over the Native tribes. Traders would often accept payment for goods via annuity money from land sales contributing to further poverty.

In the South-West, various settlements and communities had been established thanks to profits from the American Civil War. In order to maintain revenue and profit, settlers often waged war against native tribes. By 1871, the settlement of Tucson for example had a population of three thousand, including saloon-keepers, traders and contractors who had made fortunes during the Civil War and were hopeful of continuing their profits with an Indian war. Desire to fight resulted in the Camp Grant Massacre of 1871 where up to 144 Apache were killed, most being women and children. Up to 27 Apache children were captured and sold into slavery in Mexico. In the 1860s, the Navajo faced deportation in an attempted act of ethnic cleansing under the Long Walk of the Navajo. The "Long Walk" started at the beginning of spring 1864. Bands of Navajo led by the Army were relocated from their traditional lands in eastern Arizona Territory and western New Mexico Territory to Fort Sumner. Around 200 died during the march. During the march, New Mexican slavers, assisted by the Ute often attacked isolated bands, killing the men, taking the women and children captive, and capturing horses and livestock. As part of these raids, a large number of slaves were taken and sold throughout the region.

Starting in 1820, the American Colonization Society began subsidizing free black people to colonize the west coast of Africa. In 1822, it declared the colony of Liberia, which became independent in 1847. By 1857, Liberia had merged with other colonies formed by state societies, including the Republic of Maryland, Mississippi-in-Africa, and Kentucky in Africa.

President James Monroe presented his famous doctrine for the western hemisphere in 1823. Historians have observed that while the Monroe Doctrine contained a commitment to resist colonialism from Europe, it had some aggressive implications for American policy, since there were no limitations on the US's actions mentioned within it. Historian Jay Sexton notes that the tactics used to implement the doctrine were modeled after those employed by European imperial powers during the 17th and 18th centuries. From the left historian William Appleman Williams described it as "imperial anti-colonialism."

Big Foot's camp three weeks after Wounded Knee Massacre; with bodies of four Lakota Sioux wrapped in blankets in the foreground

In the older historiography William Walker's filibustering represented the high tide of antebellum American imperialism. His brief seizure of Nicaragua in 1855 is typically called a representative expression of Manifest destiny with the added factor of trying to expand slavery into Central America. Walker failed in all his escapades and never had official U.S. backing. Historian Michel Gobat, however, presents a strongly revisionist interpretation. He argues that Walker was invited in by Nicaraguan liberals who were trying to force economic modernization and political liberalism. Walker's government comprised those liberals, as well as Yankee colonizers, and European radicals. Walker even included some local Catholics as well as indigenous peoples, Cuban revolutionaries, and local peasants. His coalition was much too complex and diverse to survive long, but it was not the attempted projection of American power, concludes Gobat.

The Indian Wars against the indigenous peoples of the Americas began in the colonial era. Their escalation under the federal republic allowed the US to dominate North America and carve out the 48 contiguous states. This can be considered to be an explicitly colonial process in light of arguments that Native American nations were sovereign entities prior to annexation. Their sovereignty was systematically undermined by US state policy (usually involving unequal or broken treaties) and white settler-colonialism. Furthermore, following the Dawes Act of 1887 native american systems of land tenure and communal ownership were ended, in favour of private property and capitalism. This resulted in the loss of around 100 Million acres of land from 1887 to 1934.

1890s–1900s: New Imperialism and "The White Man's Burden"

This cartoon reflects the view of Judge magazinen regarding America's imperial ambitions following McKinley's quick victory in the Spanish–American War of 1898. The American flag flies from the Philippines and Hawaii in the Pacific to Cuba and Puerto Rico in the Caribbean.

A variety of factors converged during the "New Imperialism" of the late 19th century, when the United States and the other great powers rapidly expanded their overseas territorial possessions. One of these factors was the prevalence of overt racism, notably John Fiske's conception of "Anglo-Saxon" racial superiority and Josiah Strong's call to "civilize and Christianize." The concepts were manifestations of a growing Social Darwinism and racism in some schools of American political thought.

Early in his career, as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Theodore Roosevelt was instrumental in preparing the Navy for the Spanish–American War and was an enthusiastic proponent of testing the U.S. military in battle, at one point stating "I should welcome almost any war, for I think this country needs one." Roosevelt claimed that he rejected imperialism, but he embraced the near-identical doctrine of expansionism. When Rudyard Kipling wrote the imperialist poem "The White Man's Burden" for Roosevelt, the politician told colleagues that it was "rather poor poetry, but good sense from the expansion point of view." Roosevelt proclaimed his own corollary to the Monroe Doctrine as justification, although his ambitions extended even further, into the Far East.

Scholars have noted the resemblance between U.S. policies in the Philippines and European actions in their colonies in Asia and Africa during this period. By one contrast, however, the United States claimed to colonize in the name of anti-colonialism: "We are coming, Cuba, coming; we are bound to set you free! We are coming from the mountains, from the plains and inland sea! We are coming with the wrath of God to make the Spaniards flee! We are coming, Cuba, coming; coming now!" Filipino revolutionary General Emilio Aguinaldo wondered: "The Filipinos fighting for Liberty, the American people fighting them to give them liberty. The two peoples are fighting on parallel lines for the same object."

Industry and trade were two of the most prevalent justifications of imperialism. American intervention in both Latin America and Hawaii resulted in multiple industrial investments, including the popular industry of Dole bananas. If the United States was able to annex a territory, in turn they were granted access to the trade and capital of those territories. In 1898, Senator Albert Beveridge proclaimed that an expansion of markets was absolutely necessary, "American factories are making more than the American people can use; American soil is producing more than they can consume. Fate has written our policy for us; the trade of the world must and shall be ours."

One of the New York Journal's most infamous cartoons, depicting Philippine–American War General Jacob H. Smith's order "Kill Everyone over Ten," from the front page on May 5, 1902

American rule of ceded Spanish territory was not uncontested. The Philippine Revolution had begun in August 1896 against Spain, and after the defeat of Spain in the Battle of Manila Bay, began again in earnest, culminating in the Philippine Declaration of Independence and the establishment of the First Philippine Republic. The Philippine–American War ensued, with extensive damage and death, ultimately resulting in the defeat of the Philippine Republic.

The United States' interests in Hawaii began in the 1800s with the United States becoming concerned that Great Britain or France might have colonial ambitions on the Hawaiian Kingdom. In 1849 the United States and The Kingdom of Hawaii signed a treaty of friendship removing any colonial ambitions Great Britain or France might have had. In 1885, King David Kalākaua, last king of Hawaii, signed a trade reciprocity treaty with the United States allowing for tariff free trade of sugar to the United States. The treaty was renewed in 1887 and with it came the overrunning of Hawaiian politics by rich, white, plantation owners. On July 6, 1887, the Hawaiian League, a non-native political group, threatened the king and forced him to sign a new constitution stripping him of much of his power. King Kalākaua would die in 1891 and be succeeded by his sister Lili'uokalani. In 1893 with support from marines from the USS Boston Queen Lili'uokalani would be deposed in a bloodless coup. Hawaii has been under US control ever since and became the 50th US state on August 21, 1959 in a joint resolution with Alaska.

Stuart Creighton Miller says that the public's sense of innocence about Realpolitik impairs popular recognition of U.S. imperial conduct. The resistance to actively occupying foreign territory has led to policies of exerting influence via other means, including governing other countries via surrogates or puppet regimes, where domestically unpopular governments survive only through U.S. support.

A map of "Greater America" c. 1900, including overseas territories

The Philippines is sometimes cited as an example. After Philippine independence, the US continued to direct the country through Central Intelligence Agency operatives like Edward Lansdale. As Raymond Bonner and other historians note, Lansdale controlled the career of President Ramon Magsaysay, going so far as to physically beat him when the Philippine leader attempted to reject a speech the CIA had written for him. American agents also drugged sitting President Elpidio Quirino and prepared to assassinate Senator Claro Recto. Prominent Filipino historian Roland G. Simbulan has called the CIA "US imperialism's clandestine apparatus in the Philippines".

The U.S. retained dozens of military bases, including a few major ones. In addition, Philippine independence was qualified by legislation passed by the U.S. Congress. For example, the Bell Trade Act provided a mechanism whereby U.S. import quotas might be established on Philippine articles which "are coming, or are likely to come, into substantial competition with like articles the product of the United States". It further required U.S. citizens and corporations be granted equal access to Philippine minerals, forests, and other natural resources. In hearings before the Senate Committee on Finance, Assistant Secretary of State for Economic Affairs William L. Clayton described the law as "clearly inconsistent with the basic foreign economic policy of this country" and "clearly inconsistent with our promise to grant the Philippines genuine independence."

1918: Wilsonian intervention

American troops marching in Vladivostok during the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War, August 1918

When World War I broke out in Europe, President Woodrow Wilson promised American neutrality throughout the war. This promise was broken when the United States entered the war after the Zimmermann Telegram. This was "a war for empire" to control vast raw materials in Africa and other colonized areas, according to the contemporary historian and civil rights leader W. E. B. Du Bois. More recently historian Howard Zinn argues that Wilson entered the war in order to open international markets to surplus US production. He quotes Wilson's own declaration that

Concessions obtained by financiers must be safeguarded by ministers of state, even if the sovereignty of unwilling nations be outraged in the process... the doors of the nations which are closed must be battered down.

In a memo to Secretary of State Bryan, the president described his aim as "an open door to the world". Lloyd Gardner notes that Wilson's original avoidance of world war was not motivated by anti-imperialism; his fear was that "white civilization and its domination in the world" were threatened by "the great white nations" destroying each other in endless battle.

Despite President Wilson's official doctrine of moral diplomacy seeking to "make the world safe for democracy," some of his activities at the time can be viewed as imperialism to stop the advance of democracy in countries such as Haiti. The United States invaded Haiti on July 28, 1915, and American rule continued until August 1, 1934. The historian Mary Renda in her book, Taking Haiti, talks about the American invasion of Haiti to bring about political stability through U.S. control. The American government did not believe Haiti was ready for self-government or democracy, according to Renda. In order to bring about political stability in Haiti, the United States secured control and integrated the country into the international capitalist economy, while preventing Haiti from practicing self-governance or democracy. While Haiti had been running their own government for many years before American intervention, the U.S. government regarded Haiti as unfit for self-rule. In order to convince the American public of the justice in intervening, the United States government used paternalist propaganda, depicting the Haitian political process as uncivilized. The Haitian government would come to agree to U.S. terms, including American overseeing of the Haitian economy. This direct supervision of the Haitian economy would reinforce U.S. propaganda and further entrench the perception of Haitians' being incompetent of self-governance.

In World War I, the US, Britain, and Russia had been allies for seven months, from April 1917 until the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia in November. Active distrust surfaced immediately, as even before the October Revolution British officers had been involved in the Kornilov Affair, an attempted coup d'état by the Russian Army against the Provisional Government. Nonetheless, once the Bolsheviks took Moscow, the British government began talks to try and keep them in the war effort. British diplomat Bruce Lockhart cultivated a relationship with several Soviet officials, including Leon Trotsky, and the latter approved the initial Allied military mission to secure the Eastern Front, which was collapsing in the revolutionary upheaval. Ultimately, Soviet head of state V.I. Lenin decided the Bolsheviks would settle peacefully with the Central Powers at the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. This separate peace led to Allied disdain for the Soviets, since it left the Western Allies to fight Germany without a strong Eastern partner. The Secret Intelligence Service, supported by US diplomat Dewitt C. Poole, sponsored an attempted coup in Moscow involving Bruce Lockhart and Sidney Reilly, which involved an attempted assassination of Lenin. The Bolsheviks proceeded to shut down the British and U.S. embassies.

Tensions between Russia (including its allies) and the West turned intensely ideological. Horrified by mass executions of White forces, land expropriations, and widespread repression, the Allied military expedition now assisted the anti-Bolshevik Whites in the Russian Civil War, with the US covertly giving support to the autocratic and antisemitic General Alexander Kolchak. Over 30,000 Western troops were deployed in Russia overall. This was the first event that made Russian–American relations a matter of major, long-term concern to the leaders in each country. Some historians, including William Appleman Williams and Ronald Powaski, trace the origins of the Cold War to this conflict.

Wilson launched seven armed interventions, more than any other president. Looking back on the Wilson era, General Smedley Butler, a leader of the Haiti expedition and the highest-decorated Marine of that time, considered virtually all of the operations to have been economically motivated. In a 1933 speech he said:

I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it...I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street ... Looking back on it, I feel that I could have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.

1920s–1930s: American Imperialism Between Wars

America Entering the Middle East

Following World War I, the British maintained occupation of the Middle East, most notably Turkey and portions of formerly Ottoman territory following the empire's collapse. The occupation led to rapid industrialization, which resulted in the discovery of crude oil in Persia in 1908, sparking a boom in the Middle Eastern economy. The oil industry of the United States began to grow following World War I, causing an increased desire to enter the Middle East. In 1919, US oil companies from New York and New Jersey tried to enter the Mesopotamia-Palestine region but were barred by the San Remo Resolution, a League of Nations agreement that divided up majority claims of Middle Eastern oil between France and Britain. The following year, the US State Department challenged the resolution using the Open Door Policy, allowing more American oil companies to enter the Middle East. The British resisted the United States' entry into the Middle East but opened the Turkish oil trade to the US to mitigate competition in 1928.

By the 1930s, the United States had cemented itself in the Middle East via a series of acquisitions through the Standard Oil of California (SOCAL), which saw US control over Saudi oil. The oil rights were soon transferred to California-Arabian Standard Oil Company (CASOC), a company based out of Delaware, and recorded the acquisition in United States Dollar. This transaction cemented the measure of oil using USD, switching from the British Pound, increasing the United States' influence over the Middle East.

It was clear to the US that further expansion in Middle Eastern oil would not be possible without diplomatic representation. In 1939, CASOC appealed to the US State Department about increasing political relations with Saudi Arabia. This appeal was ignored until Germany and Japan made similar attempts following the start of World War II. GRO's influence in the Middle East continued to grow throughout the 1940s, following the United States' entry into WWII and their protection of Saudi Arabian oil.

1941–1945: World War II

At the start of World War II, the US had multiple territories in the Pacific. The majority of these territories were military bases like Midway, Guam, Wake Island and Hawaii. Japan's surprise attack on Pearl Harbor was what ended up bringing the United States into the war. Japan also launched multiple attacks on other American Territories like Guam and Wake Island. By early 1942 Japan also was able to take over the Philippine islands. At the end of the Philippine island campaign the general MacArthur stated "I came through and I shall return" in response to the Americans losing the island to the Japanese. The loss of American territories ended the decisive Battle of Midway. The Battle of Midway was the American offensive to stop Midway Island from falling into Japanese control. This led to the pushback of American forces and the recapturing of American territories. There were many battles that were fought against the Japanese which retook both allied territory as well as took over Japanese territories. In October 1944 American started their plan to retake the Philippine islands. Japanese troops on the island ended up surrendering in August 1945. After the Japanese surrender on September 2, 1945, the United States occupied and reformed Japan up until 1952. The maximum geographical extension of American direct political and military control happened in the aftermath of World War II, in the period after the surrender and occupations of Germany and Austria in May and later Japan and Korea in September 1945 and before the United States granted the Philippines independence on July 4, 1946.

The Grand Area

In an October 1940 report to Franklin Roosevelt, Bowman wrote that "the US government is interested in any solution anywhere in the world that affects American trade. In a wide sense, commerce is the mother of all wars." In 1942 this economic globalism was articulated as the "Grand Area" concept in secret documents. The US would have to have control over the "Western Hemisphere, Continental Europe and Mediterranean Basin (excluding Russia), the Pacific Area and the Far East, and the British Empire (excluding Canada)." The Grand Area encompassed all known major oil-bearing areas outside the Soviet Union, largely at the behest of corporate partners like the Foreign Oil Committee and the Petroleum Industry War Council. The US thus avoided overt territorial acquisition, like that of the European colonial empires, as being too costly, choosing the cheaper option of forcing countries to open their door to American business interests.

Although the United States was the last major belligerent to join the Second World War, it began planning for the post-war world from the conflict's outset. This postwar vision originated in the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), an economic elite-led organization that became integrated into the government leadership. CFR's War and Peace Studies group offered its services to the State Department in 1939 and a secret partnership for post-war planning developed. CFR leaders Hamilton Fish Armstrong and Walter H. Mallory saw World War II as a "grand opportunity" for the U.S. to emerge as "the premier power in the world."

This vision of empire assumed the necessity of the US to "police the world" in the aftermath of the war. This was not done primarily out of altruism, but out of economic interest. Isaiah Bowman, a key liaison between the CFR and the State Department, proposed an "American economic Lebensraum." This built upon the ideas of Time-Life publisher Henry Luce, who (in his "American Century" essay) wrote, "Tyrannies may require a large amount of living space freedom requires and will require far greater living space than Tyranny." According to Bowman's biographer, Neil Smith:

Better than the American Century or the Pax Americana, the notion of an American Lebensraum captures the specific and global historical geography of U.S. ascension to power. After World War II, global power would no longer be measured in terms of colonized land or power over territory. Rather, global power was measured in directly economic terms. Trade and markets now figured as the economic nexuses of global power, a shift confirmed in the 1944 Bretton Woods agreement, which not only inaugurated an international currency system but also established two central banking institutions—the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank—to oversee the global economy. These represented the first planks of the economic infrastructure of the postwar American Lebensraum.

FDR promised: Hitler will get lebensraum, a global American one.

1947–1952: Cold War in Western Europe: "Empire by invitation"

Protest against the deployment of Pershing II missiles in Europe, The Hague, Netherlands, 1983

Prior to his death in 1945, President Roosevelt was planning to withdraw all U.S. forces from Europe as soon as possible. Soviet actions in Poland and Czechoslovakia led his successor Harry Truman to reconsider. Heavily influenced by George Kennan, Washington policymakers believed that the Soviet Union was an expansionary dictatorship that threatened American interests. In their theory, Moscow's weakness was that it had to keep expanding to survive; and that, by containing or stopping its growth, stability could be achieved in Europe. The result was the Truman Doctrine (1947). Initially regarding only Greece and Turkey, the NSC-68 (1951) extended the Truman Doctrine to the whole non-Communist world. The United States could no longer distinguish between national and global security. Hence, the Truman Doctrine was described as "globalizing" the Monroe Doctrine.

A second equally important consideration was the need to restore the world economy, which required the rebuilding and reorganizing of Europe for growth. This matter, more than the Soviet threat, was the main impetus behind the Marshall Plan of 1948.

A third factor was the realization, especially by Britain and the three Benelux nations, that American military involvement was needed.[clarification needed] Geir Lundestad has commented on the importance of "the eagerness with which America's friendship was sought and its leadership welcomed.... In Western Europe, America built an empire 'by invitation'"

At the same time, the U.S. interfered in Italian and French politics in order to purge elected communist officials who might oppose such invitations. Eventually the United States would develop Operation Gladio across multiple nations in Europe. This would see US support provided to far-right organisations in Italy and Turkey during the Years of Lead (Italy) and the period of Political violence in Turkey (1976–1980) as part of Counter-Guerrilla.

1950–1959: Cold War outside Europe

The end of the Second World War and start of the Cold War saw increased US interest in Latin America. Since the Guatemalan Revolution, Guatemala saw the expansion of labour rights and land reforms which granted property to landless peasants. Lobbying by the United Fruit Company, whose profits were affected by these policies, as well as fear of Communist influence in Guatemala culminated in the USA supporting Operation PBFortune to overthrow Guatemalan President Jacobo Árbenz in 1952. The plan involved providing weapons to the exiled Guatemalan military officer Carlos Castillo Armas, who was to lead an invasion from Nicaragua. This culminated in the 1954 Guatemalan coup d'état. The subsequent military junta assumed dictatorial powers, banned opposition parties and reversed the social reforms of the revolution. The USA would continue to support Guatemala through the Cold War, including during the Guatemalan Genocide in which up to 200,000 people were killed. After the coup, American enterprises saw a return of influence in the country, in both the public level of government but also in the economy.

On the March 15, 1951 the Iranian parliament, passed legislation that was proposed by Mohammad Mosaddegh to nationalize the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, which gained significant revenues from Iranian oil, more so than the Iranian government itself. Mosaddegh was elected Prime Minister by the Majlis later in 1952. Mosadeggh's support by the Tudeh as well as a boycott by various businesses against the nationalised industry resulted in fears by the United Kingdom and the United States that Iran would turn to Communism. America would officially remain neutral, but the CIA supported various candidates in the 1952 Iranian legislative election.

In late 1952, with Mosaddegh remaining in power, the CIA launched Operation Ajax with support by the United Kingdom to overthrow Mosaddegh. The coup saw an increase in power of the monarchy, which went from a constitutional monarchy to an authoritarian nation. In the aftermath of the coup, the Shah agreed to replace the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company with a consortium—British Petroleum and eight European and American oil companies. In August 2013, the U.S. government formally acknowledged the U.S. role in the coup by releasing a bulk of previously classified government documents that show it was in charge of both the planning and the execution of the coup, including the bribing of Iranian politicians, security and army high-ranking officials, as well as pro-coup propaganda.

In 1958, the Cuban Revolution saw the ouster of the US-backed Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. The United States of America had significant influence over the economy of Cuba. By 1950, US investors owned 44 of the 161 sugar mills in Cuba, and slightly over 47% of total sugar output. By 1906, up to 15% of Cuba was owned by American landowners. This consisted of 632,000 acres of sugar lands, 225,000 acres of tobacco, 700,000 of fruits and 2,750,000 acres of mining land, along with a quarter of the banking industry. After Fidel Castro became president of Cuba, fears of Communist influence in Cuba resulted in the CIA training an army which aimed to invade Cuba, install Jose Miro Cardona as president, and protect American interests in the region. The subsequent Bay of Pigs Invasion failed to achieve any of its aims. The failure of America to topple Castro resulted in Operation MONGOOSE which aimed to overthrow the government of Cuba. The operation utilised economic warfare via an embargo against Cuba, "to induce failure of the Communist regime to supply Cuba's economic needs", a diplomatic initiative to isolate Cuba, and psychological operations "to turn the peoples' resentment increasingly against the regime." The embargo against Cuba by the USA continues to this day.

1945-1970: Asia-Pacific and "imperial internationalism"

Outside of Europe, American imperialism was more distinctly hierarchical "with much fainter liberal characteristics." Cold War policy often found itself opposed to full decolonization, especially in Asia. The United States' decision to colonize some of the Pacific islands (which had formerly been held by the Japanese) in the 1940s ran directly counter to America's rhetoric against imperialism. General Douglas MacArthur described the Pacific as an "Anglo-Saxon lake." At the same time, the U.S. did not claim state control over much mainland territory but cultivated friendly members of the elites of decolonized countries—elites which were often dictatorial, as in South Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia, and South Vietnam.

In Korea, the U.S. occupied the Southern half of the peninsula in 1945 and dissolved the Socialist People's Republic of Korea. After which, the USA quickly allied with Syngman Rhee, leader of the fight against the People's Republic of Korea that proclaimed a provisional government. There was a lot of opposition to the division of Korea, including rebellions by communists such as the Jeju uprising in 1948 and further Communist partisans in the Korean War. The Jeju Uprising was violently suppressed and led to the deaths of 30,000 people, the majority of them civilians. North Korea invaded South Korea in June 1950, starting the Korean War. With National Security Council document 68 and the subsequent Korean War, the U.S. adopted a policy of "rollback" against communism in Asia. John Tirman, an American political theorist has claimed that this policy was heavily influenced by America's imperialistic policy in Asia in the 19th century, with its goals to Christianize and Americanize the peasant masses. In the following conflict, the USA oversaw a large bombing campaign over North Korea. A total of 635,000 tons of bombs, including 32,557 tons of napalm, were dropped on Korea.

In Vietnam, the U.S. eschewed its anti-imperialist rhetoric by materially supporting the French Empire in a colonial counterinsurgency. Influenced by the Grand Area policy, the U.S. eventually assumed military and financial support for the South Vietnamese state against the Vietnamese communists following the first First Indochina war. The US and South Vietnam feared Ho Chi Minh would win nationwide elections. They both refused to sign agreements at the 1954 Geneva Conference arguing that fair elections weren't possible in North Vietnam. Beginning in 1965, the US sent many combat units to fight Viet Cong and North Vietnamese soldiers in South Vietnam, with fighting extending to North Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. During the war Martin Luther King Jr. called the American government "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today." Initially based on stopping the spread of Communism into South Vietnam, the war and its motivations slowly began to lose its momentum in justifying the damage the war was causing to both sides. Particularly on the home front, where by 1970, two thirds of the American public advocated against the war.

The Vietnam War also saw expansion of conflict into neighbouring Laos and Cambodia. Both of which saw extensive bombing campaigns under Operation Barrel Roll, which made Laos "the most heavily bombed nation in history", Operation Menu and Operation Freedom Deal.

After the deaths of six generals in the Indonesian Army, which Suharto blamed on the Communist Party of Indonesia and a failed coup attempt by the 30 September Movement, an Anti-Communist purge began across the country led by Suharto and the army. The subsequent killings resulted in the deaths of up to 1,000,000 people. Though some estimates claim a death toll of 2 or 3 Million. Ethnic Chinese, trade unionists, teachers, activists, artists, ethnic Javanese Abangan, ethnic Chinese, atheists, so-called "unbelievers", and alleged leftists were also among targeted groups in the killings. Geoffrey B. Robinson, professor of history at UCLA, argued that powerful foreign states, in particular the United States, Great Britain and their allies, were instrumental in facilitating and encouraging the Indonesian Army's campaign of mass killing, and without such support, the killings would not have happened. The political changes that came with the mass-killings not only resulted in the purge of the Communist Party, but also a shift in Indonesia's foreign policy towards the West and capitalism. Furthermore, the mass-killings resulted in the expansion of American markets into Indonesia. By 1967, companies such as Freeport Sulphur, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, General Electric, American Express, Caterpillar Inc., StarKist, Raytheon Technologies and Lockheed Martin, began to explore business opportunities in Indonesia. Declassified documents released by the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta in October 2017 stated that the U.S. government had detailed knowledge of the massacres from the start. The documents revealed that the U.S. government actively encouraged and facilitated the Indonesian Army's massacres to further its geopolitical interests in the region.

1970 Onwards: Operation Condor and Latin American regime change

By the late 1960s, the United States had more than one million soldiers in 30 countries, was a member of four regional defense alliances and an active participant in a fifth, had mutual defense treaties with 42 nations, was a member of 53 international organizations, and was furnishing military or economic aid to nearly 100 nations across the face of the globe.

From 1968 until 1989, the United States of America supported a campaign of political repression and state terrorism involving intelligence operations, CIA-backed coup d'états, and assassinations of left-wing and socialist leaders in South America as part of Operation Condor. It was officially implemented in November 1975 by the right-wing dictatorships of the Southern Cone of South America in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Uruguay, and Paraguay with substantial US support.

In 1970, Salvador Allende of the Socialist Party of Chile won election against the independent Jorge Alessandri and Christian Democrat Radomiro Tomic. After the inauguration, there was a period of social and political unrest between the Congress of Chile, which was dominated by right-wing parties, and the Chilean left. Economic warfare was waged by Washington. U.S. President Richard Nixon had promised to "prevent Allende from coming to power or to unseat him" via damaging the Chilean economy.

On 11 September 1973, President Allende was overthrown by the Chilean Armed Forces, which brought to power the neoliberal regime of Augusto Pinochet. The United States government funded and supported the coup. By 1970 the U.S. manufacturing company ITT Corporation had owned 70% of Chitelco (the Chilean Telephone Company). During the election the CIA had used ITT to hide the source of United States funding to Allende's opponents. A document released by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 2000 revealed that the CIA supported Pinochet and the military junta after Allende's overthrow and that it made many of Pinochet's officers into paid contacts of the CIA or U.S. military.

Before the coup, more than 300 Chilean and foreign companies had been nationalized without payment by the Allende government. Among these companies, about 40 had American investment. By October 1973 Crown Cork and Seal Company was returned to its former management, and within the first two weeks of the coup most companies that had been nationalized were placed back into the hands of their former private managers.

In a 1976 Argentine coup d'état, the Argentine Armed Forces overthrew President Isabel Perón, who had been elected in the 1973 presidential election, thus starting the military dictatorship of General Jorge Rafael Videla. The coup and the military dictatorship were supported by the U.S. government. In the aftermath of the coup and the ensuing Dirty War, companies like Ford Motors profited from the military dictatorship through the arrest, torture, and disappearing of up to 30,000 workers and trade unionists. For example, in 1975 Ford's Argentina subsidiary reported a profit margin of -18%, but by 1977 it was 10%.

In 2019, the Bolivian political crisis saw allegations that America had supported Far-Right anti-Morales forces in a coup against the socialist Bolivian government. Following the coup, Evo Morales stated that America had supported the coup in order to have easy access to Bolivia's Lithium reserves, which are among the largest in the world. Multiple American officials supported the deposition of Morales, such as Mike Pompeo who said "The United States applauds Bolivian Senator Jeanine Anez for stepping up as interim president of state to lead her nation through this democratic transition". These sentiments were echoed by the Biden administration. Bolivian ministers such as Arturo Murillo received bribes from several American citizens for contracts to supply Tear gas and other weapons, laundered from American banks.

1990 Onward: War on Terror and Action in the Middle East

In 1990, Iraq under the Ba'athist government of Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. Despite reported statements by then US Ambassador, April Glaspie that "We have no opinion on your Arab-Arab conflicts" and that "the Kuwait issue is not associated with America", the USA following condemnation of Iraq by the United Nations, prepared for military action in the Gulf. Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt argued that Saddam approached the U.S. to find out how it would react to an invasion into Kuwait. They argued that Glaspie's comment that "'e have no opinion on the Arab–Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait' and that the U.S. State Department had earlier told Saddam that Washington had 'no special defense or security commitments to Kuwait.' Resulted in the USA effectively giving Iraq a green light.

The subsequent Gulf War saw no further fighting for over five months after Iraq annexed Kuwait. During this interim period there was a build-up of American, French and British troops in Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile a series of United Nations resolutions first demanded an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait, then imposed economic sanctions on Iraq, and finally set a deadline for Iraqi withdrawal pending military action. 3,664 Iraqi civilians were killed during the war with up to 1,500 of whom died in the Amiriyah shelter bombing. Overall civilian fatalities in Iraq caused by damage to infrastructure and access to food and water due to United States bombing campaigns reached 100,000. Another source of controversy within the Gulf War was the Highway of Death. During the American-led coalition offensive in the war, American, Canadian, British and French aircraft and ground forces attacked retreating Iraqi military personnel attempting to leave Kuwait on the night of February 26–27, 1991 in compliance with the original UN Resolution 660 of August 2, 1990, and that the column included Kuwaiti hostages and refugees Former United States Attorney General Ramsey Clark argued that these attacks violated the Third Geneva Convention, Common Article 3, which outlaws the killing of soldiers who "are out of combat".

Professor George Klay Kieh Jr. argued that part of the motivation for the Gulf War was derived from a desire to distract from the various crisis' in America at the time, such as the Keating Five, national debt rising to $3 Trillion, an increasing trade deficit, unemployment, rising crime and growing wealth inequality. He also argued that other very significant motivating factors for the war were strategic factors, such as a fear of subsequent invasion of Saudi Arabia and other Pro-American monarchies in Arabia. Iraqi control over the Gulf region was also feared to harm access to the United States to a major corridor of international trade. Professor Kieh also argued for various economic factors behind the invasion. The Bush Administration calculated that Iraq's annexation of Kuwait would result in it controlling up to 45% of global oil production and since major banks such as Bank of America had significant stakes in the oil industry (various Gulf states saved more than $75 Billion in American banks), there were fears of a potential economic crisis due to the annexation.

In 2003, the United States under the leadership of George W. Bush invaded Iraq. A large part of the rationale for the invasion came from allegations of Iraq possessing Weapons of Mass Destruction, as well as a conspiracy theory that Iraq supported Al-Qaeda. The 9/11 Commission concluded there was no evidence of any relationship between Saddam's regime and al-Qaeda. No stockpiles of WMDs or active WMD program were ever found in Iraq. Estimates of how many died as a result of the war vary, ranging from 151,000 to more than 1 Million. The Iraq War was successful in ousting Saddam Hussein and the end of the Ba'athist government, but quickly collapsed into a period of insurgency. Though the war officially ended in 2011, the insurgency continued culminating in the rise of the Islamic State in both Syria and Iraq. The Iraq War and the subsequent sectarian conflict and instability has been credited as a reason for the rise of ISIS in the 2010s.

American companies benefited from the war in Iraq. Indicted defense contractor Brent R. Wilkes was reported to be ecstatic when hearing that the United States was going to go to war with Iraq. "He and some of his top executives were really gung-ho about the war," said a former employee. "Brent said this would create new opportunities for the company. He was really excited about doing business in the Middle East." One of the top profiteers from the Iraq War was oil field services corporation, Halliburton. Halliburton gained $39.5 billion in "federal contracts related to the Iraq war". Furthermore, of the $14 Trillion spent by the Pentagon after the start of the War on Terror, between a third and a half went to defence contractors. By 2013, contractors in Iraq had reaped $130 Billion in profits.

The invasion of Iraq and subsequent Coalition Provisional Authority began to dismantle Iraq's Centrally Planned Economy. Paul Bremer, chief executive the Coalition Provisional Authority of Iraq, planned to restructure Iraq's state owned economy with free market thinking. Bremer dropped the corporate tax rate from around 45% to a flat tax rate of 15% and allowed foreign corporations to repatriate all profits earned in Iraq. Opposition from senior Iraqi officials, together with the poor security situation, meant that Bremer's privatization plan was not implemented during his tenure, though his orders remained in place. CPA Order 39 laid out the framework for full privatization in Iraq and permitted 100% foreign ownership of Iraqi assets and strengthened the positions of foreign businesses and investors. Critics like Naomi Klein argued that CPA Order 39 was designed to create as favorable an environment for foreign investors as possible, which would allow American corporations to dominate Iraq's economy.

Also controversial was CPA Order 17 which granted all foreign contractors operating in Iraq immunity from "Iraqi legal process," effectively granting immunity from any kind of suit, civil or criminal, for actions the contractors engaged in within Iraq. CPA Order 49 also provided significant tax cuts for corporations operating within Iraq by reducing the rate from a maximum of 40% to a maximum of just 15% on income. Furthermore, corporations who collaborated with the CPA were exempted from having to pay any tax.

Access to Iraqi oil has been credited as a significant motivating factor behind the war, with Iraq claiming that $150 Billion of oil was stolen from Iraq after the war. General John Abizaid, CENTCOM commander from 2003 to 2007, said of the Iraq war: "first of all I think it's really important to understand the dynamics that are going on in the Middle East, and of course it's about oil, it's very much about oil and we can't really deny that". However, oil as a rationale for the war has been criticised by various commentators such as Economist Gary S. Becker who stated in 2003 that "if oil were the driving force behind the Bush Administration's hard line on Iraq, avoiding war would be the most appropriate policy".

In 2001, following 9/11 the United States led a multinational invasion of Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. The stated goal was to dismantle al-Qaeda, which had executed the attacks under the leadership of Osama bin Laden, and to deny Islamist militants a safe base of operations in Afghanistan by toppling the Taliban government. Before the invasion, in an address to a joint session of the US Congress on September 20, 2001, George W. Bush demanded that the Taliban deliver Osama bin Laden and destroy bases of al-Qaeda. Following a period of airstrikes on Afghanistan, the Taliban offered to surrender Osama bin Laden to a neutral state if proof of his involvement was given and if airstrikes on Afghanistan ceased. Despite these offers, US military action began soon after, and the War started officially on 7 October 2001 as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. The invasion made rapid gain for the next two months, and the coalition captured Kabul on November 13 and toppled the Taliban by December 17. However, the Taliban continued to fight an insurgency over the next 20 years. In 2021, the Taliban recaptured Kabul and won in Afghanistan.

Private military contractors gained significant profits from the war in Afghanistan. By 2020, the United States had 22,562 contract personnel in Afghanistan which was almost twice the number of American troops.

In 2011, as part of the wider Arab Spring, protests erupted in Libya against Muammar Gaddafi, which soon spiralled into a civil war. In the ensuing conflict, a NATO-led coalition began a military intervention in Libya to implement United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973. While the effort was initially largely led by France and the United Kingdom, command was shared with the United States, as part of Operation Odyssey Dawn. According to the Libyan Health Ministry, the attacks saw 114 civilians killed and 445 civilians wounded.

Scholars like Matteo Capasso have argued that the intervention was the final conclusion in a wider war on Libya since the 1970s via 'gunboat diplomacy, military bombings, international sanctions and arbitrary use of international law'. Capasso argued that the war in Libya acted to strip Libya of its autonomy and resources and the 'overall weakening and fragmentation of the African and Arab political position, and the cheapening and/or direct annihilation of human lives in Third World countries'.

Strategy

U.S. military alliances

The architect of Containment, George Kennan, designed in 1948 a globe-circling system of anti-Russian alliances embracing all non-Communist countries of the Old World. The design was met by the US administration with enthusiasm. Disregarding George Washington's dictum of avoiding entangling alliances, in the early Cold War the United States contracted 44 formal alliances and many other forms of commitment with nearly 100 countries, most of the world countries. Some observers described the process as "pactomania."

The first Cold-War collective alliance was the Rio Pact in 1947, followed by NATO in 1949. Dozens of bilateral formal alliances and informal defensive partnerships were added. Most of the Cold-War alliances remain intact, and NATO vastly expanded in the post-Cold War period. Shortly after the Cold War, US Secretary of Defense, Dick Cheney, promised that the United States will maintain its alliances "in Europe, Asia/Pacific, Middle East/Persian Gulf, Latin America, and elsewhere." "Remarkably, commented one observer, not much is left for 'elsewhere.'" In 1995, of 192 UN member states, 84 were allied with America. In terms of combined GDP, this was a ratio of almost 17 to 1 versus Russia, up from 1.8 to 1 versus the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

In the 2010s, the network comprised approximately 70% of both the world defense spending and of the nominal World Gross Product. With few exceptions, countries with the nominal per capita GDP above the world average, formally or informally, ally with the United States. The adversaries combined for less than 15% of the world defense spending.Moreover, by contrast to most US alliances, these adversaries avoid entangling in military alliances along the principle of attack on one meaning attack on all. The last of such alliances is the CSTO founded in 1992 and, as of 2024, including Russia and four former Soviet Republics. The unipolarity of the alliance configuration is unprecedented in world history. The global network of alliances became the defining feature of the US foreign policy. The Pentagon was called the "Mecca" of national defense ministers.

These are not alliances in the Westphalian sense characterized by balance of power and impermanence. Instead, they were associated with the Roman client system during the late Republic. Scholars label the US network of alliances as "hub-and-spokes" system where the United States is the "hub." Spokes do not directly interrelate between and among themselves, but all are bound to the same hub. The "hub-and-spokes" analogy is used in the comparative studies of empires. By contrast to earlier empires, however, the American "imperial" presence was largely welcome. Although all earlier empires, especially persistent empires, were in a measure by bargain, cooperation and invitation, in the post-1945 world this took an extreme form. Disregarding national pride, large number of states, some of them recent great powers, "surrender their strategic sovereignty en mass." They host hegemonic bases, partly cover the expenses for running them, integrate their strategic forces under the hegemonic command, contribute 1-2% of their GDP to those forces, and tip military, economic and humanitarian contributions in case of the hegemonic operations worldwide.

U.S. military bases

U.S. military presence around the world in 2007. As of 2013, the U.S. had many bases and troops stationed globally. Their presence has generated controversy and opposition.
  More than 1,000 U.S. troops
  100–1,000 U.S. troops
  Use of military facilities
Combined Air and Space Operations Center (CAOC) at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, 2015

During World War II, Franklin Roosevelt promised that the American eagle will "fly high and strike hard." But he can only do so if he has safe perches around the world. Initially, the Army and Navy disagreed. But the leading expert on "flying high and striking hard," Curtis LeMay, endorsed: "We needed to establish bases within reasonable range; then we could bomb and burn them until they quit." After the War, a global network of bases emerged. NCS-162/2 of 1953 stated: "The military striking power necessary to retaliate depends for the foreseeable future on having bases in allied countries." The bases were defined as nation's strategic frontier defining a sphere of American inviolate military predominance. Chalmers Johnson argued in 2004 that America's version of the colony is the military base. Chip Pitts argued similarly in 2006 that enduring U.S. bases in Iraq suggested a vision of "Iraq as a colony."

In his New Frontier speech in 1960, John F. Kennedy noted that America's frontiers are on every continent. Circling the Sino-Soviet bloc with bases resulted in a network of global dimensions. Contemplating its genesis, an observer wondered: What two places in the world have less in common than the frozen Thule and tropical Guam half a way around the world? Both happened to be principal operating areas of the Strategic Air Command. On Guam, a common joke had it that few people other than nuclear targeters in Kemlin know where their island is.

While territories such as Guam, the United States Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa, and Puerto Rico remain under U.S. control, the U.S. allowed many of its overseas territories or occupations to gain independence after World War II. Examples include the Philippines (1946), the Panama Canal Zone (1979), Palau (1981), the Federated States of Micronesia (1986), and the Marshall Islands (1986). Most of them still have U.S. bases within their territories. In the case of Okinawa, which came under U.S. administration after the Battle of Okinawa during the Second World War, this happened despite local popular opinion on the island. In 2003, a Department of Defense distribution found the United States had bases in over 36 countries worldwide, including the Camp Bondsteel base in the disputed territory of Kosovo. Since 1959, Cuba has regarded the U.S. presence in Guantánamo Bay as illegal.

As of 2024, the United States deploys approximately 160,000 of its active-duty personnel outside the United States and its territories. In 2015 the Department of Defense reported the number of bases that had any military or civilians stationed or employed was 587. This includes land only (where no facilities are present), facility or facilities only (where there the underlying land is neither owned nor controlled by the government), and land with facilities (where both are present). Also in 2015, David Vine's book Base Nation, found 800 U.S. military bases located outside of the U.S., including 174 bases in Germany, 113 in Japan, and 83 in South Korea. The total cost was estimated at $100 billion a year.

According to The Huffington Post, "The 45 nations and territories with little or no democratic rule represent more than half of the roughly 80 countries now hosting U.S. bases. ... Research by political scientist Kent Calder confirms what's come to be known as the "dictatorship hypothesis": The United States tends to support dictators in nations where it enjoys basing facilities."

Similarly, associates American author Robert D. Kaplan, the Roman garrisons were established to defend the frontiers of the empire and for surveillance of the areas beyond. For Historian Max Ostrovsky and International Law scholar Richard A. Falk, this is contrast rather than similarity: "this time there are no frontiers and no areas beyond. The global strategic reach is unprecedented in world history phenomenon." "The United States is by circumstance and design an emerging global empire, the first in the history of the world." Robert Kagan inscribed over the map of US global deployments: "The Sun never sets."

Unified combatant command

Unified combatant command map

The global network of military alliances and bases is coordinated by the Unified combatant command (UCC). As of 2024, the world is divided between six geographic "commands." The origins of the UCC is rooted in World War II with its global scale and two main theaters half-a-world apart. As in the case of military alliances and bases, the UCC was founded to wage the Cold War but long outlived this confrontation and expanded.

Dick Cheney, who served as Secretary of State during the end of the Cold War, announced: "The strategic command, control and communication system should continue to evolve toward a joint global structure…" The continuation of the strategic pattern implied for some that "the United States would hold to its accidental hegemony." In 1998, the UCC determined the Soviet "succession": the former Soviet Republics in Europe and the whole of Russia were assigned to the USEUCOM and those of the Central Asia to the USCENTCOM. USEUCOM stretched from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

In 2002, for the first time, the entire surface of the Earth was divided among the US commands. The last unassigned region—Antarctica—entered the USPACOM which stretched from Pole to Pole and covered half of the globe; the rest of geographic commands covered the other half. Historian Christopher Kelly asked in 2002: What America needs to consider is "what is the optimum size for a non-territorial empire." His colleague, Max Ostrovsky, replied: "Precisely that year, the UCC supplied a precise answer: 510 million km2…"

Canadian Historian, Michael Ignatieff, claims that the UCC map conveys the idea of the architecture underlying the entire global order and explaining how this order is sustained. The US national defense evolves into global defense. The Quadrennial Defense Review of 2014 refers to "our global Combatant Commanders," that is "our" and "global" at the same time. These Commanders exercise heavy international influence and sometimes are associated with the Roman proconsuls (chapter "'Empire' and alternative terms" below).

"Command," translated into Latin, renders "imperium." The Romans used the word "command" for their sphere of rule containing nominally independent states. Later, the word "imperium" lost its original meaning of "command" and obtained the meaning of "empire."

Factors

American exceptionalism

On the cover of Puck published on April 6, 1901, in the wake of gainful victory in the Spanish–American War, Columbia—the National personification of the U.S.—preens herself with an Easter bonnet in the form of a warship bearing the words "World Power" and the word "Expansion" on the smoke coming out of its stack.

On the ideological level, one motif for the global leadership is the notion of American exceptionalism. The United States occupies a special position among the nations of the world in terms of its national credo, historical evolution, and political and religious institutions and origins. Philosopher Douglas Kellner traces the identification of American exceptionalism as a distinct phenomenon back to 19th-century French observer Alexis de Tocqueville, who concluded by agreeing that the U.S., uniquely, was "proceeding along a path to which no limit can be perceived". As a Monthly Review editorial opines on the phenomenon, "In Britain, empire was justified as a benevolent 'white man's burden.' And in the United States, empire does not even exist; 'we' are merely protecting the causes of freedom, democracy and justice worldwide." Fareed Zakaria stressed one element not exceptional for the American Empire—the concept of exceptionalism. All dominant empires thought they were special.

Economic interests

1903 cartoon, "Go Away, Little Man, and Don't Bother Me", depicts President Roosevelt intimidating Colombia to acquire the Panama Canal Zone.
In 1899, Uncle Sam balances his new possessions which are depicted as savage children. The figures are Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Cuba, Philippines and "Ladrone Island" (Guam, largest of the Mariana Islands, which were formerly known as the Ladrones Islands).

A "social-democratic" theory says that imperialistic U.S. policies are the products of the excessive influence of certain sectors of U.S. business and government—the arms industry in alliance with military and political bureaucracies and sometimes other industries such as oil and finance, a combination often referred to as the "military–industrial complex." The complex is said to benefit from war profiteering and looting natural resources, often at the expense of the public interest. The proposed solution is typically unceasing popular vigilance in order to apply counter-pressure. Chalmers Johnson holds a version of this view.

Alfred Thayer Mahan, who served as an officer in the U.S. Navy during the late 19th century, supported the notion of American imperialism in his 1890 book titled The Influence of Sea Power upon History. Mahan argued that modern industrial nations must secure foreign markets for the purpose of exchanging goods and, consequently, they must maintain a maritime force that is capable of protecting these trade routes.

A theory of "super-imperialism" argues that imperialistic U.S. policies are not driven solely by the interests of American businesses, but also by the interests of a larger apparatus of a global alliance among the economic elite in developed countries.[citation needed] The argument asserts that capitalism in the Global North (Europe, Japan, Canada, and the U.S.) has become too entangled to permit military or geopolitical conflict between these countries, and the central conflict in modern imperialism is between the Global North (also referred to as the global core) and the Global South (also referred to as the global periphery), rather than between the imperialist powers.[citation needed] A conservative, anti-interventionist view as expressed by American journalist John T. Flynn:

The enemy aggressor is always pursuing a course of larceny, murder, rapine and barbarism. We are always moving forward with high mission, a destiny imposed by the Deity to regenerate our victims, while incidentally capturing their markets; to civilise savage and senile and paranoid peoples, while blundering accidentally into their oil wells.

Security

The last period of the US Isolationist policy ended with the World War II. Due to the progress of military technology, it was argued, the Oceans stopped protecting. Ever since, this War is invoked as a lesson for permanent involvement in world politics. Harry Truman, John Kennedy and Bill Clinton repeated close versions of this lesson. If hostile powers are not checked from the beginning, the paradigm tells, they would gain control over vaster resources and eventually the United States would have to fight them when they are stronger.

The focus of this policy is on Eurasia. Since Alfred Thayer Mahan and until Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski, the American geopolitical school claims it vital to prevent the Eurasian land mass from coming under control of any single power or combination of powers. Some scholars explain the Cold War by geopolitics rather than ideology. They stress that the US grand strategy designed for the Cold War long outlived the Soviet Communism.

September 11 is another example of security crisis which triggered greater intervention as well as unleashed mass publications on the "American Empire" accompanied by heated debates (see "Post-September-11 debates" below). The pattern of increasing involvement responding to security crises or threats is known as "defensive imperialism" in the Roman studies and Historian Max Ostrovsky applied the concept also to Qin and the United States. All three, he finds, began with isolationism using geographic barriers and gradually built their empires responding to growing external threats. The three strategic transformations are analogous—from isolationism to hegemony to empire—with the modern process being currently uncompleted.

Views of American imperialism

U.S. foreign policy debate

Annexation is a crucial instrument in the expansion of a nation, due to the fact that once a territory is annexed it must act within the confines of its superior counterpart. The United States Congress' ability to annex a foreign territory is explained in a report from the Congressional Committee on Foreign Relations, "If, in the judgment of Congress, such a measure is supported by a safe and wise policy, or is based upon a natural duty that we owe to the people of Hawaii, or is necessary for our national development and security, that is enough to justify annexation, with the consent of the recognized government of the country to be annexed."

Prior to annexing a territory, the American government still held immense power through the various legislations passed in the late 1800s. The Platt Amendment was utilized to prevent Cuba from entering into any agreement with foreign nations and also granted the Americans the right to build naval stations on their soil. Executive officials in the American government began to determine themselves the supreme authority in matters regarding the recognition or restriction of independence.

Historian Donald W. Meinig says imperial behavior by the United States dates at least to the Louisiana Purchase, which he describes as an "imperial acquisition—imperial in the sense of the aggressive encroachment of one people upon the territory of another, resulting in the subjugation of that people to alien rule." The U.S. policies towards the Native Americans, he said, were "designed to remold them into a people more appropriately conformed to imperial desires."

A map of Central America, showing the places affected by Theodore Roosevelt's Big Stick policy

Writers and academics of the early 20th century, like Charles A. Beard, in support of non-interventionism (sometimes referred to as "isolationism"), discussed American policy as being driven by self-interested expansionism going back as far as the writing of the Constitution. Many politicians today do not agree. Pat Buchanan claims that the modern United States' drive to empire is "far removed from what the Founding Fathers had intended the young Republic to become."

In Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, the political activist Noam Chomsky argues that exceptionalism and the denials of imperialism are the result of a systematic strategy of propaganda, to "manufacture opinion" as the process has long been described in other countries. One of the earliest historians of American Empire, William Appleman Williams, wrote, "The routine lust for land, markets or security became justifications for noble rhetoric about prosperity, liberty and security."

Andrew Bacevich argues that the U.S. did not fundamentally change its foreign policy after the Cold War, and remains focused on an effort to expand its control across the world. As the surviving superpower at the end of the Cold War, the U.S. could focus its assets in new directions, the future being "up for grabs," according to former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Paul Wolfowitz in 1991.

Since 2001, Emmanuel Todd assumes the U.S. cannot hold for long the status of mondial hegemonic power, due to limited resources. Instead, the U.S. is going to become just one of the major regional powers along with European Union, China, Russia, etc. Reviewing Todd's After the Empire, G. John Ikenberry found that it had been written in "a fit of French wishful thinking."

Debate after September 11, 2001

American occupation of Mexico City in 1847
Ceremonies during the annexation of the Republic of Hawaii, 1898

Following September 11, publications on the "American Empire" grew exponentially, accompanied by heated debates. Harvard historian Charles S. Maier states:

Since September 11, 2001 ... if not earlier, the idea of American empire is back ... Now ... for the first time since the early Twentieth century, it has become acceptable to ask whether the United States has become or is becoming an empire in some classic sense."

Harvard professor Niall Ferguson states:

It used to be that only the critics of American foreign policy referred to the American empire ... In the past three or four years , however, a growing number of commentators have begun to use the term American empire less pejoratively, if still ambivalently, and in some cases with genuine enthusiasm.

French political scientist Philip Golub argues:

U.S. historians have generally considered the late 19th century imperialist urge as an aberration in an otherwise smooth democratic trajectory ... Yet a century later, as the U.S. empire engages in a new period of global expansion, Rome is once more a distant but essential mirror for American elites ... Now, with military mobilisation on an exceptional scale after September 2001, the United States is openly affirming and parading its imperial power. For the first time since the 1890s, the naked display of force is backed by explicitly imperialist discourse.

Following the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the idea of American imperialism was re-examined. In November 2001, jubilant marines hoisted an American flag over Kandahar and in a stage display referred to the moment as the third after those on San Juan Hill and Iwo Jima. All moments, writes Neil Smith, express U.S. global ambition. "Labelled a War on Terrorism, the new war represents an unprecedented quickening of the American Empire, a third chance at global power."

On October 15, 2001, the cover of Bill Kristol's Weekly Standard carried the headline, "The Case for American Empire". Rich Lowry, editor in chief of the National Review, called for "a kind of low-grade colonialism" to topple dangerous regimes beyond Afghanistan. The columnist Charles Krauthammer declared that, given complete U.S. domination "culturally, economically, technologically and militarily", people were "now coming out of the closet on the word 'empire'". The New York Times Sunday magazine cover for January 5, 2003, read "American Empire: Get Used To It". The phrase "American empire" appeared more than 1000 times in news stories during November 2002 – April 2003.

A leading spokesman for America-as-Empire, British historian A. G. Hopkins, argues that by the 21st century traditional economic imperialism was no longer in play, noting that the oil companies opposed the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. Instead, anxieties about the negative impact of globalization on rural and rust-belt America were at work, says Hopkins:

These anxieties prepared the way for a conservative revival based on family, faith and flag that enabled the neo-conservatives to transform conservative patriotism into assertive nationalism after 9/11. In the short term, the invasion of Iraq was a manifestation of national unity. Placed in a longer perspective, it reveals a growing divergence between new globalised interests, which rely on cross-border negotiation, and insular nationalist interests, which seek to rebuild fortress America.

The CIA's extraordinary rendition and detention program – countries involved in the Program, according to the 2013 Open Society Foundation's report on torture

Harvard professor Niall Ferguson concludes that worldwide military and economic power have combined to make the U.S. the most powerful empire in history. It is a good idea he thinks, because like the successful British Empire in the 19th century it works to globalize free markets, enhance the rule of law and promote representative government. He fears, however, that Americans lack the long-term commitment in manpower and money to keep the Empire operating. Head of the Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard University, Stephen Peter Rosen, maintains:

A political unit that has overwhelming superiority in military power, and uses that power to influence the internal behavior of other states, is called an empire. Because the United States does not seek to control territory or govern the overseas citizens of the empire, we are an indirect empire, to be sure, but an empire nonetheless. If this is correct, our goal is not combating a rival, but maintaining our imperial position and maintaining imperial order.

The U.S. dollar is the de facto world currency. The term petrodollar warfare refers to the alleged motivation of U.S. foreign policy as preserving by force the status of the United States dollar as the world's dominant reserve currency and as the currency in which oil is priced. The term was coined by William R. Clark, who has written a book with the same title. The phrase oil currency war is sometimes used with the same meaning.

When asked on April 28, 2003, on Al Jazeera whether the United States was "empire building," Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld replied, "We don't seek empires. We're not imperialistic. We never have been." Many – perhaps most – scholars[who?] have decided that the United States lacks the key essentials of an empire. For example, while there are American military bases around the world, the American soldiers do not rule over the local people, and the United States government does not send out governors or permanent settlers like all the historic empires did. Harvard historian Charles S. Maier has examined the America-as-Empire issue at length. He says the traditional understanding of the word "empire" does not apply, because the United States does not exert formal control over other nations or engage in systematic conquest. The best term is that the United States is a "hegemon." Its enormous influence through high technology, economic power, and impact on popular culture gives it an international outreach that stands in sharp contrast to the inward direction of historic empires.

World historian Anthony Pagden asks, Is the United States really an empire?

I think if we look at the history of the European empires, the answer must be no. It is often assumed that because America possesses the military capability to become an empire, any overseas interest it does have must necessarily be imperial. ...In a number of crucial respects, the United States is, indeed, very un-imperial.... America bears not the slightest resemblance to ancient Rome. Unlike all previous European empires, it has no significant overseas settler populations in any of its formal dependencies and no obvious desire to acquire any. ...It exercises no direct rule anywhere outside these areas, and it has always attempted to extricate itself as swiftly as possible from anything that looks as if it were about to develop into even indirect rule.

A U.S. soldier stands guard duty near a burning oil well in the Rumaila oil field, Iraq, April 2003.

In the book Empire (2000), Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri argue that "the decline of Empire has begun". Hardt says the Iraq War is a classically imperialist war and is the last gasp of a doomed strategy. They expand on this, claiming that in the new era of imperialism, the classical imperialists retain a colonizing power of sorts, but the strategy shifts from military occupation of economies based on physical goods to a networked biopower based on an informational and affective economies. They go on to say that the U.S. is central to the development of this new regime of international power and sovereignty, termed "Empire", but that it is decentralized and global, and not ruled by one sovereign state: "The United States does indeed occupy a privileged position in Empire, but this privilege derives not from its similarities to the old European imperialist powers, but from its differences." Hardt and Negri draw on the theories of Baruch Spinoza, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, and Italian Autonomist Marxists.

Geographer David Harvey says there has emerged a new type of imperialism due to geographical distinctions as well as unequal rates of development. He says there have emerged three new global economic and political blocs: the United States, the European Union, and Asia centered on China and Russia.[verification needed] He says there are tensions between the three major blocs over resources and economic power, citing the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the motive of which, he argues, was to prevent rival blocs from controlling oil. Furthermore, Harvey argues that there can arise conflict within the major blocs between business interests and the politicians due to their sometimes incongruent economic interests. Politicians live in geographically fixed locations and are, in the U.S. and Europe,[verification needed] accountable to an electorate. The 'new' imperialism, then, has led to an alignment of the interests of capitalists and politicians in order to prevent the rise and expansion of possible economic and political rivals from challenging America's dominance.

Naval Base Guam in the U.S. territory of Guam

"Empire" and alternative terms

In one point of view, United States expansion overseas in the late 1890s has indeed been imperialistic, but that this imperialism is only a temporary phenomenon, a corruption of American ideals, or the relic of a past era. Historian Samuel Flagg Bemis argues that Spanish–American War expansionism was a short-lived imperialistic impulse and "a great aberration in American history," a very different form of territorial growth than that of earlier American history. Historian Walter LaFeber sees the Spanish–American War expansionism not as an aberration, but as a culmination of United States expansion westward.

Thorton wrote that " imperialism is more often the name of the emotion that reacts to a series of events than a definition of the events themselves. Where colonization finds analysts and analogies, imperialism must contend with crusaders for and against." Liberal internationalists argue that even though the present world order is dominated by the United States, the form taken by that dominance is not imperial. International relations scholar John Ikenberry argues that international institutions have taken the place of empire.

Classics professor and war historian Victor Davis Hanson argues that the U.S. does not pursue world domination, but maintains worldwide influence by a system of mutually beneficial exchanges. He dismisses the notion of an American Empire altogether, with a mocking comparison to historical empires: "We do not send out proconsuls to reside over client states, which in turn impose taxes on coerced subjects to pay for the legions. Instead, American bases are predicated on contractual obligations — costly to us and profitable to their hosts. We do not see any profits in Korea, but instead accept the risk of losing almost 40,000 of our youth to ensure that Kias can flood our shores and that shaggy students can protest outside our embassy in Seoul."

The existence of "proconsuls", however, has been recognized by many since the early Cold War. In 1957, French Historian Amaury de Riencourt associated the American "proconsul" with "the Roman of our time." Expert on recent American history, Arthur M. Schlesinger, detected several contemporary imperial features, including "proconsuls." Washington does not directly run many parts of the world. Rather, its "informal empire" was one "richly equipped with imperial paraphernalia: troops, ships, planes, bases, proconsuls, local collaborators, all spread wide around the luckless planet." "The Supreme Allied Commander, always an American, was an appropriate title for the American proconsul whose reputation and influence outweighed those of European premiers, presidents, and chancellors." U.S. "combatant commanders ... have served as its proconsuls. Their standing in their regions has usually dwarfed that of ambassadors and assistant secretaries of state."

Enlargement of NATO

Harvard professor Niall Ferguson calls the regional combatant commanders, among whom the whole globe is divided, the "pro-consuls" of this "imperium." Günter Bischof calls them "the all powerful proconsuls of the new American empire. Like the proconsuls of Rome they were supposed to bring order and law to the unruly and anarchical world." In September 2000, Washington Post reporter Dana Priest published a series of articles whose central premise was Combatant Commanders' inordinate amount of political influence within the countries in their areas of responsibility. They "had evolved into the modern-day equivalent of the Roman Empire's proconsuls—well-funded, semi-autonomous, unconventional centers of U.S. foreign policy." The Romans often preferred to exercise power through friendly client regimes, rather than direct rule: "Until Jay Garner and L. Paul Bremer became U.S. proconsuls in Baghdad, that was the American method, too".

Another distinction of Victor Davis Hanson—that US bases, contrary to the legions, are costly to America and profitable for their hosts—expresses the American view. The hosts express a diametrically opposite view. Japan pays for 25,000 Japanese working on US bases. 20% of those workers provide entertainment: a list drawn up by the Japanese Ministry of Defense included 76 bartenders, 48 vending machine personnel, 47 golf course maintenance personnel, 25 club managers, 20 commercial artists, 9 leisure-boat operators, 6 theater directors, 5 cake decorators, 4 bowling alley clerks, 3 tour guides and 1 animal caretaker. Shu Watanabe of the Democratic Party of Japan asks: "Why does Japan need to pay the costs for US service members' entertainment on their holidays?" One research on host nations support concludes:

A convoy of U.S. soldiers during the American intervention in the Syrian civil war, December 2018

At an alliance-level analysis, case studies of South Korea and Japan show that the necessity of the alliance relationship with the U.S. and their relative capabilities to achieve security purposes lead them to increase the size of direct economic investment to support the U.S. forces stationed in their territories, as well as to facilitate the US global defense posture. In addition, these two countries have increased their political and economic contribution to the U.S.-led military operations beyond the geographic scope of the alliance in the post-Cold War period ... Behavioral changes among the U.S. allies in response to demands for sharing alliance burdens directly indicate the changed nature of unipolar alliances. In order to maintain its power preponderance and primacy, the unipole has imposed greater pressure on its allies to devote much of their resources and energy to contributing to its global defense posture ... is expected that the systemic properties of unipolarity–non-structural threat and a power preponderance of the unipole–gradually increase the political and economic burdens of the allies in need of maintaining alliance relationships with the unipole.

Increasing the "economic burdens of the allies" was one of the major priorities of former President Donald Trump. Classicist Eric Adler notes that Hanson earlier had written about the decline of the classical studies in the United States and insufficient attention devoted to the classical experience. "When writing about American foreign policy for a lay audience, however, Hanson himself chose to castigate Roman imperialism in order to portray the modern United States as different from—and superior to—the Roman state." As a supporter of a hawkish unilateral American foreign policy, Hanson's "distinctly negative view of Roman imperialism is particularly noteworthy, since it demonstrates the importance a contemporary supporter of a hawkish American foreign policy places on criticizing Rome."

Political theorist Michael Walzer argues that the term hegemony is better than empire to describe the U.S.'s role in the world. Hegemony is distinguished from empire as ruling only external but not internal affairs of other states. Political scientist Robert Keohane argues a "balanced and nuanced analysis is not aided ... by the use of the word 'empire' to describe United States hegemony, since 'empire' obscures rather than illuminates the differences in form of governance between the United States and other Great Powers, such as Great Britain in the 19th century or the Soviet Union in the twentieth". Other political scientists, such as Daniel Nexon and Thomas Wright, argue that neither term exclusively describes foreign relations of the United States. The U.S. can be, and has been, simultaneously an empire and a hegemonic power. They claim that the general trend in U.S. foreign relations has been away from imperial modes of control.

Proponents

Political cartoon depicting Theodore Roosevelt using the Monroe Doctrine to keep European powers out of the Dominican Republic

Max Boot defends U.S. imperialism, writing, "U.S. imperialism has been the greatest force for good in the world during the past century. It has defeated communism and Nazism and has intervened against the Taliban and Serbian ethnic cleansing." Boot used "imperialism" to describe United States policy, not only in the early 20th century but "since at least 1803." This embrace of empire is made by other neoconservatives, including British historian Paul Johnson, and writers Dinesh D'Souza and Mark Steyn. It is also made by some liberal hawks, such as political scientists Zbigniew Brzezinski and Michael Ignatieff.

Scottish-American historian Niall Ferguson argues that the United States is an empire and believes that this is a good thing: "What is not allowed is to say that the United States is an empire and that this might not be wholly bad." Ferguson has drawn parallels between the British Empire and the global role of the United States in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, though he describes the United States' political and social structures as more like those of the Roman Empire than of the British. Ferguson argues that all of these empires have had both positive and negative aspects, but that the positive aspects of the U.S. empire will, if it learns from history and its mistakes, greatly outweigh its negative aspects.

Role of Women in American Imperialism

Within the United States, women played important roles in both advocating for and protesting against American imperialism. Women's organisations and prominent figures actively supported and promoted the expansion of American influence overseas and saw imperialism as an opportunity to extend American values, culture, and civilization to other nations. These women believed in the superiority of American ideals and saw it as their duty to uplift and educate what they often perceived as 'lesser' peoples. By endorsing imperialist policies, women aimed to spread democracy, Christianity, and Western progress to territories beyond American borders: their domestic advocacy created a narrative that framed imperialism as a mission of benevolence, wherein the United States had a responsibility to guide and shape the destiny of other nations.

During the era of American imperialism, women played a significant role in missionary work. Missionary societies sent women to various parts of the world, particularly in Asia, Africa, and the Pacific, with the aim of spreading Christianity and Western values. These women saw themselves as agents of cultural and religious transformation, seeking to "civilize" and "Christianize" indigenous populations. Their missionary efforts involved establishing schools, churches, hospitals, and orphanages in imperial territories; through these institutions, women aimed to improve the lives of local people, provide education, healthcare, and social services. Their work intertwined religious and imperialistic motives, as they believed that the spread of Christianity and Western values would uplift and transform the "heathen" populations they encountered.

Women played a crucial role in educational and social reform initiatives within imperial territories during the era of American imperialism. They established schools, hospitals, and orphanages, aiming to improve the lives of indigenous populations – initiatives reflecting a belief in the superiority of Western values and a desire to assimilate native cultures into American norms. Women also sought to provide education, healthcare, and social services that aligned with American ideals of progress and civilisation, and by promoting Western education and introducing social reforms, they hoped to shape the lives and future of the people they encountered in imperial territories. These efforts often entailed the imposition of Western cultural norms, as women saw themselves as agents of transformation and viewed indigenous practices as in need of improvement and "upliftment".

Women also played important roles as nurses and medical practitioners during the era of American imperialism. Particularly during the Spanish–American War and subsequent American occupations, women provided healthcare services to soldiers, both American and local, and worked to improve public health conditions in occupied territories. These women played a vital role in caring for the wounded, preventing the spread of diseases, and providing medical assistance to communities affected by the conflicts. Their work as nurses and medical practitioners contributed to the establishment of healthcare infrastructure and the improvement of public health in imperial territories. These women worked tirelessly in often challenging conditions, dedicating themselves to the well-being and recovery of those affected by the conflicts.

While some women supported American imperialism, others actively participated in anti-imperialist movements and expressed opposition to expansionist policies. Women, including suffragettes and progressive activists, were critical of the imperialist practices of the United States. They challenged the notion that spreading democracy and civilization abroad could be achieved through the oppression and colonization of other peoples. These women believed in the principles of self-determination, sovereignty, and equality for all nations. They argued that true progress and justice could not be achieved through the subjugation of others, emphasising the need for cooperation and respect among nations. By raising their voices against imperialism, these women sought to promote a vision of global justice and equality.

Ultimately women's activism played a significant role in challenging and shaping American imperialism. Throughout history, women activists have been at the forefront of anti-imperialist movements, questioning the motives and consequences of U.S. expansionism. Women's organisations and prominent figures raised their voices against the injustices of imperialism, advocating for peace, human rights, and the self-determination of colonised peoples. They criticized the exploitation and oppression inherent in imperialistic practices, highlighting the disproportionate impact on marginalised communities. Women activists collaborated across borders, forging transnational alliances to challenge American dominance and promote global solidarity. By engaging in social and political activism, women contributed to a more nuanced understanding of imperialism, exposing its complexities and fostering dialogue on the ethical implications of empire.

Moreover, sexuality and attitudes towards gender roles and behaviour played an important role in American expansionism. Regarding the war in Vietnam, the idea of American 'manliness' entered the conscience of those in support of ground involvement, pushing ideas of gender roles and that manly, American men shouldn't avoid conflict. These ideas of sexuality extended as far as President Johnson, who wanted to be presented as a 'hero statesman' to his people, highlighting further the affect of gender roles on both American domestic attitudes as well as foreign policy.

American media and cultural imperialism

McDonald's in Saint Petersburg, Russia

American imperialism has long had a media dimension (media imperialism) and cultural dimension (cultural imperialism).

In Mass Communication and American Empire, Herbert I. Schiller emphasized the significance of the mass media and cultural industry to American imperialism, arguing that "each new electronic development widens the perimeter of American influence," and declaring that "American power, expressed industrially, militarily and culturally has become the most potent force on earth and communications have become a decisive element in the extension of United States world power."

In Communication and Cultural Domination, Schiller presented the premier definition of cultural imperialism as

the sum processes by which a society is brought into the modern world system and how its dominating stratum is attracted, pressured, forced, and sometimes bribed into shaping social institutions to correspond to, or even promote, the values and structures of the dominating centres of the system.

In Schiller's formulation of the concept, cultural imperialism refers to the American Empire's "coercive and persuasive agencies, and their capacity to promote and universalize an American 'way of life' in other countries without any reciprocation of influence." According to Schiller, cultural imperialism "pressured, forced and bribed" societies to integrate with the U.S.'s expansive capitalist model but also incorporated them with attraction and persuasion by winning "the mutual consent, even solicitation of the indigenous rulers."

Newer research on cultural imperialism sheds light on how the US national security state partners with media corporations to spread US foreign policy and military-promoting media goods around the world. In Hearts and Mines: The US Empire's Culture Industry, Tanner Mirrlees builds upon the work of Herbert I. Schiller to argue that the US government and media corporations pursue different interests on the world stage (the former, national security, and the latter, profit), but structural alliances and the synergistic relationships between them support the co-production and global flow of Empire-extolling cultural and entertainment goods.

Some researchers argue that military and cultural imperialism are interdependent. Every war of Empire has relied upon a culture or "way of life" that supports it, and most often, with the idea that a country has a unique or special mission to spread its way of life around the world. Edward Said, one of the founders of post-colonial theory, said,

... so influential has been the discourse insisting on American specialness, altruism and opportunity, that imperialism in the United States as a word or ideology has turned up only rarely and recently in accounts of the United States culture, politics and history. But the connection between imperial politics and culture in North America, and in particular in the United States, is astonishingly direct.

International relations scholar David Rothkopf disagrees with the notion that cultural imperialism is an intentional political or military process, and instead argues that it is the innocent result of economic globalization, which allows access to numerous U.S. and Western ideas and products that many non-U.S. and non-Western consumers across the world voluntarily choose to consume. Many countries with American brands have incorporated these into their own local culture. An example of this would be the self-styled "Maccas," an Australian derivation of "McDonald's" with a tinge of Australian culture.

International relations scholar Joseph Nye argues that U.S. power is more and more based on "soft power," which comes from cultural hegemony rather than raw military or economic force. This includes such factors as the widespread desire to emigrate to the United States, the prestige and corresponding high proportion of foreign students at U.S. universities, and the spread of U.S. styles of popular music and cinema. Mass immigration into America may justify this theory, but it is hard to know whether the United States would still maintain its prestige without its military and economic superiority., In terms of soft power, Giles Scott-Smith, argues that American universities:

acted as magnets for attracting up-and-coming elites, who were keen to acquire the skills, qualifications and prestige that came with the 'Made in the USA' trademark. This is a subtle, long-term form of 'soft power' that has required only limited intervention by the US government to function successfully. It conforms to Samuel Huntington's view that American power rarely sought to acquire foreign territories, preferring instead to penetrate them — culturally, economically and politically — in such a way as to secure acquiescence for US interests.

Matthew Fraser argues that the American "soft power" and American global cultural influence is a good thing for other countries, and good for the world as a whole. Tanner Mirrlees argues that the discourse of "soft power" used by Matthew Fraser and others to promote American global cultural influence represents an "apologia" for cultural imperialism, a way of rationalizing it (while denying it).

American Expansion through Artistic Expression

America's imperial mission was the subject of much critique and praise to the contemporary American, and this is evident through the art and media which emerged in the 1800s as a result of this expansion. The disparities in the art produced in this period show the differences in public opinion, thus allowing us to identify how different social spheres responded to America's imperial endeavors.

Landscape painting by Edward D. Nelson - A View to the River, 1861

The Hudson River School, a romantic-inspired art movement which emerged in 1826 at the height of nineteenth-century American expansion depicted sublime landscapes and grand natural scenes. These paintings which admired the marvels of unexplored American territory emphasized this idea of America as a promised land. Common themes explored among paintings within the Hudson River School include: discovery; exploration; settlement and promise.

These themes were recurrent in other displays of artistic expression at this time. John Gast, famously known for his 1872 painting titled American Progress similarly displays themes of discovery and the hopeful prospects of American expansion. Notions of manifest destiny is also emulated in art created in this time, with art often used to justify this belief that the White Man was inevitably destined to spread across the American continent.

See also

References

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Sources

Further reading

  • Bacevich, Andrew (2008). The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism. Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-8050-8815-1.
  • Bacevich, Andrew J., "The Old Normal: Why we can't beat our addiction to war", Harper's Magazine, vol. 340, no. 2038 (March 2020), pp. 25–32. "In 2010, Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, declared that the national debt, the prime expression of American profligacy, had become 'the most significant threat to our national security.' In 2017, General Paul Selva, Joint Chiefs vice chair, stated bluntly that 'the dynamics that are happening in our climate will drive uncertainty and will drive conflict." (p. 31.)
  • Bacevich, Andrew J., "The Reckoning That Wasn't: Why America Remains Trapped by False Dreams of Hegemony", Foreign Affairs, vol. 102, no. 2 (March/April 2023), pp. 6–10, 12, 14, 16–21. "Washington... needs to... avoid needless war... and provide ordinary citizens with the prospect of a decent life.... The chimera of another righteous military triumph cannot fix what ails the United States." (p. 21.)
  • Boot, Max (2002). The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power. Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-00721-X.
  • Brown, Seyom (1994). Faces of Power: Constancy and Change in United States Foreign Policy from Truman to Clinton. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-09669-0.
  • Burton, David H. (1968). Theodore Roosevelt: Confident Imperialist. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. ASIN B0007GMSSY.
  • Callahan, Patrick (2003). Logics of American Foreign Policy: Theories of America's World Role. New York: Longman. ISBN 0-321-08848-4.
  • Daalder, Ivo H.; James M. Lindsay (2003). America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution. ISBN 0-8157-1688-5.
  • Fulbright, J. William; Seth P. Tillman (1989). The Price of Empire. Pantheon Books. ISBN 0-394-57224-6.
  • Gaddis, John Lewis (2005). Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of Postwar American National Security Policy (2nd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-517447-X.
  • Hampf, Michaela (2019). Empire of Liberty (in German). De Gruyter Oldenbourg. ISBN 978-3-11-065774-6.
  • Hansen, Suzy, "Twenty Years of Outsourced War" (review of Phil Klay, Uncertain Ground: Citizenship in an Age of Endless, Invisible War, Penguin Press, 2022, 252 pp.; and Phil Klay, Missionaries, Penguin, 2020, 407 pp.), The New York Review of Books, vol. LXX, no. 16 (19 October 2023), pp. 26–28. "Klay remains transfixed by the idea that in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in all contemporary American wars, there have been not only no definable diplomatic or political objectives, but also no definable military objectives. No one has any clue what they're fighting for or even 'clear benchmarks of success.' That means that there is no obvious enemy, or that one's perception of the enemy keeps shifting. 'If you think the mission your country keeps sending you on is pointless or impossible and that you're only deploying to protect your brothers and sisters in arms from danger,' Klay writes, 'then it's not the Taliban or al-Qaeda or ISIS that's trying to kill you, it's America.'" (p. 28.)
  • Hardt, Michael; Antonio Negri (2001). Empire. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-00671-2. online
  • Hudson, Michael (2021). Super Imperialism. The Economic Strategy of American Empire (Third ed.). Islet. ISBN 978-3981826098.
  • Immerwahr, Daniel, "Fort Everywhere: How did the United States become entangled in a cycle of endless war?" (review of David Vine, The United States of War: A Global History of America's Endless Conflicts, from Columbus to the Islamic State, University of California Press, 2020, 464 pp.), The Nation, 14/21 December 2020, pp. 34–37.
  • Immerwahr, Daniel (2019). How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 978-0-374-17214-5.
  • Johnson, Chalmers (2000). Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire. New York: Holt. ISBN 0-8050-6239-4.
  • Johnson, Chalmers (2004). The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic. New York: Metropolitan Books. ISBN 0-8050-7004-4.
  • Kerry, Richard J. (1990). The Star-Spangled Mirror: America's Image of Itself and the World. Savage, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 0-8476-7649-8.
  • Krugman, Paul, "The American Way of Economic War: Is Washington Overusing Its Most Powerful Weapons?" (review of Henry Farrell and Abraham Newman, Underground Empire: How America Weaponized the World Economy, Henry Holt, 2023, 288 pp.), Foreign Affairs, vol. 103, no. 1 (January/February 2024), pp. 150–156. "The dollar is one of the few currencies that almost all major banks will accept, and... the most widely used... As a result, the dollar is the currency that many companies must use... to do international business." (p. 150.) "ocal banks facilitating that trade... normally... buy U.S. dollars and then use dollars to buy . To do so, however, the banks must have access to the U.S. financial system and... follow rules laid out by Washington." (pp. 151–152.) "But there is another, lesser-known reason why the commands overwhelming economic power. Most of the world's fiber-optic cables, which carry data and messages around the planet, travel through the United States." (p. 152.) "he U.S. government has installed 'splitters': prisms that divide the beams of light carrying information into two streams. One... goes on to the intended recipients, ... the other goes to the National Security Agency, which then uses high-powered computation to analyze the data. As a result, the can monitor almost all international communication." (p. 154) This has allowed the U.S. "to effectively cut Iran out of the world financial system... Iran's economy stagnated... Eventually, Tehran agreed to cut back its nuclear programs in exchange for relief." (pp. 153–154.) " few years ago, American officials... were in a panic about Huawei... which... seemed poised to supply 5G equipment to much of the planet giv China the power to eavesdrop on the rest of the world – just as the has done.... The learned that Huawei had been dealing surreptitiously with Iran – and therefore violating U.S. sanctions. Then, it... used its special access to information on international bank data to that 's chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou (... the founder's daughter), had committed bank fraud by falsely telling the British financial services company HSBC that her company was not doing business with Iran. Canadian authorities, acting on a U.S. request, arrested her... in December 2018. After... almost three years under house arrest... Meng... was allowed to return to China... But by the prospects for Chinese dominance of 5G had vanished..." (pp. 154–155.) Farrell and Newman, writes Krugman, "are worried about the possibility of overreach. f the weaponizes the dollar against too many countries, they might... band together and adopt alternative methods of international payment. If countries become deeply worried about U.S. spying, they could lay fiber-optic cables that bypass the . And if Washington puts too many restrictions on American exports, foreign firms might turn away from U.S. technology." (p. 155.)
  • Lears, Jackson, "The Forgotten Crime of War Itself" (review of Samuel Moyn, Humane: How the United States Abandoned Peace and Reinvented War, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2021, 400 pp.), The New York Review of Books, vol. LXIX, no. 7 (April 21, 2022), pp. 40–42. "After September 11 no politician asked whether the proper response to a terrorist attack should be a US war or an international police action. Debating torture or other abuses, while indisputably valuable, has diverted Americans from 'deliberating on the deeper choice they were making to ignore constraints on starting war in the first place.' ar itself causes far more suffering than violations of its rules." (p. 40.)
  • Lundestad, Geir (1998). Empire by Integration: The United States and European Integration, 1945–1997. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-878212-8.
  • Odom, William; Robert Dujarric (2004). America's Inadvertent Empire. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-10069-8.
  • Tobar, Héctor, "The Truths of Our American Empire" (review of Jonathan Blitzer, Everyone Who Is Gone Is Here: The United States, Central America, and the Making of a Crisis, Penguin Press, 523 pp.), The New York Review of Books, vol. LXXI, no. 7 (18 April 2024), pp. 43–44, 46. "Blitzer... illustrates the timidity and opportunism of the US political class, which has repeatedly blocked reforms that would allow an orderly and safe flow of workers and their families across the border. After all, our postpandemic economy remains desperately short of workers.... ven if every unemployed person in found work, roughly three million jobs would go unfilled." (p. 44, 46.) "The use and abuse of immigrant labor as tools of nation building and race engineering is a long-established element of the American normal. Only if you step outside of history does it look like a 'crisis.'" (p. 46.)
  • Todd, Emmanuel (2004). After the Empire: The Breakdown of the American Order. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-13103-2.
  • Tooze, Adam, "Is This the End of the American Century?", London Review of Books, vol. 41, no. 7 (4 April 2019), pp. 3, 5–7.
  • Tremblay, Rodrigue (2004). The New American Empire. Haverford, PA: Infinity Pub. ISBN 0-7414-1887-8.
  • Wertheim, Stephen, "Iraq and the Pathologies of Primacy: The Flawed Logic That Produced the War Is Alive and Well", Foreign Affairs, vol. 102, no. 3 (May/June 2023), pp. 136–52. "Washington is still in thrall to primacy and caught in a doom loop, lurching from self-inflicted problems to even bigger self-inflicted problems, holding up the latter while covering up the former. In this sense, the Iraq war remains unfinished business for the United States." (p. 152.)
  • Zepezauer, Mark (2002). Boomerang!: How Our Covert Wars Have Created Enemies Across the Middle East and Brought Terror to America. Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press. ISBN 1-56751-222-4.

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