Until recently, I was a card-carrying imperialist. Many Americans are willing to identify themselves as hawks, patriots, and conservatives. A dwindling minority still call themselves neoconservatives. I've never heard anyone willingly embrace the label "imperialist" besides me. It is clear to me, however, that the United States is currently an empire. I used to think this was a good thing both for America and for the world, but now, I'm not so sure.
The U.S. has hundreds of thousands of military personnel deployed at 820 different bases and installations in 135 different countries. There are only 203 countries in the entire world. Two out of every three nations host at least some U.S. military presence. Currently, seven nations are home to more than 9,000 U.S. troops. Three of those nations, Japan, Germany, and South Korea, have hosted no less than 10,000 troops a piece for the last sixty years. Two more nations, Iraq and Afghanistan, are being occupied by a combined 200,000 American military personnel engaged in active combat operations against enemy forces. The governments of both of these nations were created under the supervision of our military and diplomatic corps, and these governments owe their continued existence to our protection.
If that's not an empire, will someone please tell me what is? Basically, the U.S. has troops positioned throughout the globe to counter any conceivable action by any international power, great or small, that might seriously harm its interests. The sun does not rise and set on land under the American flag as it once did for the British. Rather, American spy satellites rise and set on land under EVERY flag.
In some instances, U.S. military intervention has benefited the world. It brought an end to Hitler's Reich, one of the most serious threats to human freedom and even to human life that the world has ever seen. The Nazi Party was only able to take power in Germany, though, because the European "Entente" nations imposed brutal and humiliating conditions on Germany after the United States helped them win World War I. Likewise, the Soviet Union was a grave threat to freedom and prosperity everywhere, but would it have grown as large and powerful as it did had the Nazi war machine's assault not forced it to rapidly industrialize and militarize (with a good deal of help from Uncle Sam)? I think I see a pattern developing...
Here's the deal: many of the most urgent international crises that American power has "solved" would never have occurred or would have been far less serious had the United States not misapplied its military power at an earlier time. If we had stayed out of World War I and let the Germans hold their own against the British and French, the resulting stalemate or even German victory would not have put the Entente in a position to impose its harsh punishment on the Germans. The Germans would not have suffered total economic collapse and international humiliation, and Adolf Hitler would never have been able to ride the wave of German resentment to power.
Germany would also not have conquered and oppressed the Entente nations had the U.S. not intervened. First, since the war was basically a stalemate before the United States entered the fray, the Germans, Austro-Hungarians, and Ottomans would more likely have forced the British and French to come to a mutually acceptable cease-fire arrangement than won an outright victory over them. Second, even if the "other side" had won in WWI, the Germans and Austro-Hungarians weren't oppressive totalitarians like the Nazis and Soviets. They were a lot like France and Britain, but with different languages and colonies in different places. Had they won, the German side would likely have taken a few colonies from their foes, demanded some monetary reparations for their losses, gloated about winning the war, and then left the Entente alone.
Before the U.S. decided to fight for the Entente, America had offered diplomatic and even material support to both sides. Ever greedy, early American monopolists were eager to profit off of the war no matter who they sold to. We only entered the World War I because some in the government thought we would gain international power and prestige by making one set of combatants subject to us and the other set indebted to us. Instead, we helped set the stage for World War II and possibly the rise of Communism.
Unfortunately, we may be putting ourselves in a similar predicament today. Saddam Hussein was a bad man, but he at least hated the Iranians more than he hated us. He had already fought Iran to a standstill once, and his continued leadership in Iraq held the Iranians at bay. Now, with him gone, will whatever government we leave behind in Iraq be able to resist the combination of aid and coercion that the mullahs in Tehran are sure to apply? Similarly, we wrested the Taliban from power in Afghanistan, but as Hamid Karzai is well aware, they could very well retake the country once we leave.
What's even worse is that we drove the Taliban into Pakistan and forced them to deepen their relationship with the Islamofascist members of Pakistan's intelligence forces in order to survive. If the fanatics eventually gain full power in Pakistan, we might one day see a nuclear-armed alliance of Revolutionary Iran and Taliban-controlled Afghanistan and Pakistan. Let's not forget about Turkey, which has been subtly rattling the Jihad saber as well with its support of the "freedom flotilla" that breached Israel's blockade of Gaza last summer. Who wants to see some religious lunatic gain power in a radicalized Middle East, conquer every oil-producing nation in the area, arm the increasingly radical Muslim populations in Europe for an uprising, and then proclaim a "Global Islamic Caliphate" and declare war on the West? Not me. Unfortunately, thanks to our half-hearted and incoherent military efforts in the Middle East, this might happen.
I'm not saying that we should never have invaded Afghanistan. I am saying that we should probably never have invaded Iraq. Whatever we "should have" done, though, we definitely need to be more careful with our military in the future.