Obama’s Contributions to a Dying Empire

News Abroad

Fran Shor teaches at Wayne State University and is the author of the recently published Routledge Press book, Dying Empire: U.S. Imperialism and Global Resistance.

Old habits die hard, especially imperialist ones. Imperial imperatives, whether economic, geopolitical, or ideological, persist because the ruling elites are dependent on them. In order to conceal imperialist objectives, presidents and other leaders of the US political class rely on the rhetoric of national security and America’s supposed benevolent global purpose.

And, so, with President Obama’s announcement of sending 30,000 more US troops to Afghanistan, the cadets at West Point and the viewing public once more heard that our national security was at stake. A spreading “cancer,” threatening to metastasize throughout Afghanistan and Pakistan, had to be militarily extirpated. Conveniently overlooking the correlation between the growth of a Pashtun insurgency and US occupation, Obama tried to wrap his rhetoric in the resonances of 9/11 and the longer shadow of US-sponsored global security. No mention of the politics of pipelines, only the “noble struggle for freedom.”

Once more an imperial mission was hidden behind an ideological smokescreen. Yet, this continuing military intervention, even with a well-timed exit strategy, cannot stop the inexorable march of declining US global hegemony. It is proving more difficult to round-up an international posse for this so-called “reluctant sheriff.” Although Obama made obtuse allusions to NATO allies in Afghanistan, many countries are pulling out, the most recent being Canada and the Netherlands.

In Afghanistan and Pakistan, civilian casualties from US drone attacks continue, even in the face of universal condemnation by human rights organizations. All of Obama’s rhetorical skills cannot hide these hideous facts on the ground. Added to these egregious war crimes are other instances of on-going US arrogance from refusing to sign the landmine treaty to expanding military bases in Colombia.

When Obama cites, as he did in his West Point address, US criticism of tyranny, he pointedly neglects Colombia’s abysmal human rights record. Alluding briefly to the “fraud” of the recent Afghanistan presidential election, Obama ignores the endemic corruption and tyranny of US allies among Tajik warlords. In Honduras, while Obama seemed to signal opposition to the brutal coup against Zelaya, he eventually reconciled US policy with support for an illegitimate presidential election there.

From Latin America to the Middle East and South Asia, the US is more and more a declining and isolated power, alienated from the aspirations of people throughout these regions. Beyond the growing geopolitical isolation, the Obama Administration’s Wall Street economic orientation is on the defensive against erstwhile allies like England and France and major investors like China. Even the 2008 US National Intelligence Council’s report on Global Trends in 2025 predicted declining US power and constrained leverage.

For all Obama’s efforts to use “smart” power to navigate during this period of decline, he cannot, as a member of the political class, acknowledge that decline and eschew, in the process, an imperial agenda. At best, he may try to find ways to bargain with the inevitable death of the empire. But bargaining, as psychologist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross noted in her classic study of death and dying, is a temporary and last-ditch effort to escape the inevitable. For historian Eric Hobsbawm, “the age of empires is dead. We shall have to find another way of organizing the globalized world of the twenty-first century.” And we will have to do it against those elite forces, whether neo-conservative or neo-liberal, that are incapable of ending their self-appointed imperial missions.

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Donald Wolberg - 12/6/2009

It is fortunate that we have the right to say what we wish, and we understand that to find the brilliant, we must tolerate the silly. Mr. Schor, of course, is so unusually silly, as to be mired in the meaninglessness of his own words. He is divorced from much that makes sense, for whatever reason, political perspective or lack of imagination, of what history is and is not, and especially what the American experience means. But he can freely express his views. One will not find Mr. Schor expressing admiration for the exceptionalism of this Nation, so different from a world of ignorance and lack, but that too is his right. One onlky hopes Mr. Schor is not so ill informed in his classroom and does aloow free expression of his students.

Edmond Dantes - 12/5/2009

“Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.” Winston Churchill

Andrew D. Todd - 12/5/2009

People with sensitive natures should not read this page, as the language is, as always, more than a bit salty. They are talking about Alexander, and about Temujin (*), and about Kipling, and "Sod THAT for a game of soldiers."


(*) Genghis Khan is Mongol for High King. There was a Genghis Khan approximately every hundred and fifty years from 200 BC to 1600 AD.

Arnold Shcherban - 12/4/2009

"For the life of me" I can't understand
how the mainellos of this country cannot realize that providing wholesale apologies for every US war of aggression and crimes of its client states (or calling them regrettable "mistakes") they (mainellos) become the communists on the right.

Ronald Dale Karr - 12/4/2009

"Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." Dr. Johnson

Mike A Mainello - 12/3/2009

This is the only way you will sell any books.

For the life of me I can't understand how these misguided professors get jobs and hold them.

The coup in Honduras was legal and within the laws of its constitution.

Violence in Columbia has plummeted and there leader is extremely popular with his people.

I do agree with the author, we are a dying empire as long as President Obama is in charge. Remember after 4 years of Carter we had 8 years of Reagan. Here's hoping he can't do too much damage before he is voted out.

Raul A Garcia - 12/3/2009

Good criticism but misses the shared responsibilites- Colombia,Pakistan, Russia, and many other countries have and are taking various responses to the two cited disturbances- narco-terrorism and extremist religious/nationalist/ethnic insurgencies. To categorically dismiss them out of hand and posit a weakened empire- to which I agree to a point is a sound evaluation- is one weakness in this argument. I agree with Ms. Reyes that hardly ever are critiques balanced and admit widespread atrocities and culpabilities by many players. There is irony of course in Obama's ramp-up in Afghanistan similarity with Bush's surge in Iraq, and the statement of linkages with AlQaida whereas a few short years ago it was dismissed by the Democrats now in power.

Nancy REYES - 12/2/2009

Who are you rooting for?

FARC? Ignore the millions who demonstrated against their atrocities in Colombia.

You see all the civilians killed by the US but ignore the many more civilians killed by bombs from terrorists, or the hundreds of thousands of women whose lives are threatened by poor medical care and lack of education because the Taliban doesn't educate women nurses or midwives.

Obama is busy weakening the US, so you should be happy.

John Connally - 12/2/2009

“War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse.” John Stuart Mill

Arnold Shcherban - 12/2/2009

Right on the point, Professor!