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America’s impatient imperialism

20Michael Ignatieff, Empire Lite: Nation-Building in Bosnia, Kosovo, 
and Afghanistan.
Toronto: Penguin Canada, 2003. 134 + viii pages.

by John Matthew Barlow

In Empire Lite, Ignatieff points out the rather obvious, at least to Canadian observers: that the United States has an empire. But he goes on to analyze what this means, noting that without actual colonies and possessions, the American version is vastly different from the grand imperial projects of the Romans and the old European nations. Nor does he necessarily mean that the Americans have an economic empire. Rather,

It is empire lite, hegemony without the burden of direct administration and the risks of daily policing. It is an imperialism led by a people who remember that their country secured its independence from an empire, and who have often thought of their country as the friend of anti-imperial struggles everywhere. It is an empire, in other words, without consciousness of itself as such. But that does not make it any less of an empire, that is, an attempt to permanently order the world of states and markets according to its national interests.

Ignatieff also dismisses the notion that this is an empire that has been built on lofty ideals of humanitarianism, arguing that the United States, whose power is the dominant force behind any activity undertaken by the United Nations or other governments or agencies, has constructed this empire lite for imperial reasons: to consolidate, assert and maintain its world hegemony and leadership and ensure its own security. He also notes that in taking on the terrorists, the United States, “the most carefree empire in history,” has now engaged itself in a military campaign with no discernible end. And Ignatieff cautions that “an endless war on terror tempts the empire to overstretch, and when it overstretches, it becomes vulnerable.”

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John Matthew Barlow


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