It is tempting to either embrace or reject the description of the United States as an ‘empire‘ due to the clear rhetorical weight of this term. Partisan wrangling on these grounds is sure to continue, and even to intensify. It is not, however, the only basis upon which discussion can be pursued.
A global power, it might be plausibly suggested, tends inevitably to the erosion of its domestic political space. As globalization is advanced under its auspices, distinctions between domestic and international concerns — ultimately uncertain in any case — become increasingly unpersuasive. Globalized capital and talent markets operate with least friction where they intersect the world’s economic core, while international division of labor, trade, migration, and cultural exchange wash over traditional localities. In the final analysis, the very notion of political domesticity survives only as a residual rebuke to the project of global ‘flattening‘.
While it can be convenient for moralists to interpret hegemonic power as a bad decision, it’s far closer to a fate (and in very definite respects a tragic one). Any suggestion that America might have chosen not to lead the world is more of an appeal to sentiment and tactical partisan positioning than to realism. History has its tides, and eventually they change.
America’s presently-ongoing Ferguson turmoil underscores the trend to political de-domestication of the metropolis, through an explicit collapse of social order into a problematic of ‘4GW‘ (or ‘Fourth Generation Warfare’). Twitter is congested with observations of police militarization, friction-free transmission of equipment from US expeditionary forces into the hands of its domestic law enforcement agencies, and advisories from international irregular armies on best-practice for dealing with counter-insurgency operations. Beyond the partisan excitement, and euphoric tribalism, there is a recognition of broken boundaries, and the consolidation of an integrated US security machinery that no longer finds the discrimination between foreign and domestic enemies of practical use.
This phenomenon, as such, has no unambiguous partisan implications. Even were critique of the Empire unique to the left (which it is not), the application of an essentially domestic political optic (partisan choice) to a matter of world-historic deep structure would remain a laughable error. The fate of America is not an American problem, at least, not exclusively. It concerns the order of the world.
Willard’s words from Apocalypse Now are prophetic:
“Someday this war’s gonna end”. That’d be just fine with the boys on the boat. They weren’t looking for anything more than a way home. Trouble is, I’d been back there, and I knew that it just didn’t exist anymore.
ADDED: Re-importation of the ‘new military urbanism’. It quotes Foucault:
… while colonization, with its techniques and its political and juridical weapons, obviously transported European models to other continents, it also had a considerable boomerang effect on the mechanisms of power in the West, and on the apparatuses, institutions, and techniques of power. A whole series of colonial models was brought back to the West, and the result was that the West could practice something resembling colonization, or an internal colonialism, on itself …