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Modern-Day American Imperialism: The Middle East and Beyond part 1

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I’ve been asked to talk about modern-day American imperialism. That’s a rather challenging task. In fact, talking about American imperialism is rather like talking about triangular triangles. The United States is the one country that exists, as far as I know, and ever has, that was founded as an empire explicitly. According to the founding fathers, when the country was founded it was an “infant empire.” That’s George Washington. Modern-day American imperialism is just a later phase of a process that has continued from the first moment without a break, going in a very steady line. So, we are looking at one phase in a process that was initiated when the country was founded and has never changed. The model for the founding fathers that they borrowed from Britain at that time was the Roman Empire. They wanted to emulate it. I’ll talk about that a little. Even before the Revolution, these notions were very much alive. Benjamin Franklin, 25 years before the Revolution, complained that the British were imposing limits on the expansion of the colonies. He objected to this, borrowing from Machiavelli. He admonished the British (I’m quoting him), “A prince that acquires new territories and removes the natives to give his people room will be remembered as the father of the nation.” And George Washington agreed. He wanted to be the father of the nation. His view was that “the gradual extension of our settlement will as certainly cause the savage as the wolf to retire, both being beasts of prey, though they differ in shape.” I’ll skip some contemporary analogs that you can think of. Thomas Jefferson, the most forthcoming of the founding fathers, said, “We shall drive them [the savages] -- We shall drive them with the beasts of the forests into the stony mountains,” and the country will ultimately be “free of blot or mixture”— meaning red or black. It wasn’t quite achieved, but that was the goal. Furthermore, Jefferson went on, “Our new nation will be the nest from which all America, north and south, is to be peopled,” displacing not only the red men here but the latin--the spanish-speaking population to the south and anyone else who happened to be around. There was a deterrent to those glorious aims, mainly Britain. Britain was the most powerful military force in the world at the time, and it did prevent the steps that the founding fathers attempted to take. In particular, it blocked the invasion of Canada. The first attempted invasion of Canada was before the Revolution, and there were several others later, but it was always blocked by British force, which is why Canada exists. The United States did not actually recognize Canada’s existence until after the First World War. Another goal that was blocked by British force was Cuba. Again, the founding fathers regarded the taking over of Cuba as essential to the survival of the infant empire. But the British fleet was in the way, and they were too powerful, just as the Russians blocked John F. Kennedy’s invasion. However, they understood that sooner or later it would come. The great grand strategist John Quincy Adams, the sort-of intellectual father of manifest destiny, pointed out in the 1820s that we just have to wait. He said that Cuba will sooner or later fall into our hands by the laws of political gravitation, just as an apple falls from the tree. What he meant is that over time the United States would become more powerful, Britain would become weaker, and the deterrent would be overcome, which in fact finally happened. And we should not ignore these early events. They are very much related to current history. That’s made very clear by scholarship on current affairs. A major scholarly work on the Bush Doctrine (George W Bush doctrine), the preemptive war doctrine, the major work, is by John Lewis Gaddis, the most respected historian of the Cold War period. It’s on the roots of the Bush Doctrine. And he traces it right back to John Quincy Adams, who is his hero—the great grand strategist. In particular, to Andrew Jackson’s invasion of Florida, which conquered Florida from the Spanish. . That was strongly approved by then Secretary of State Adams in a famous state paper in which he advocated the principle of preemptive war on the basis of the thesis that expansion is the path to security. So if we want to be secure (after all, we want to defend ourselves), we have to expand--at that time expand into Florida. We were being threatened by what were called runaway slaves and lawless Indians, who were in the way. They were threatening us by their existence, by barring our expansion. And as Gaddis points out, there’s a straight line from that to George Bush. And now “expansion is the path to security” means we take over the world, we take over space, take over the galaxy. There’s no limit to how much you have to expand to guarantee security, and that’s been the principle from the beginning.

Video Details

Duration: 9 minutes and 27 seconds
Country: United States
Language: English
Genre: None
Views: 130
Posted by: sgentile on Apr 20, 2010

Discours énoncé par Noam Chomsky à l’Université de Boston le 17 mars 2009. Transcription par Steve Lyne.

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