I have no personal memories of Alfred Sherman [tribute], who died earlier this week. Anyone who accepts a knighthood is suspect in my book. But I find it hard not to admire his refusal to toe the line intellectually or politically. In the 1990s he was highly critical of the US/UK interventionism in the Balkans. In a May 2000 article for the 'paleoconservative' Chronicles magazine, titled 'The Empire of the New Millennium', on American ambitions for the 21stC, he wrote, I think, prophetically about the storms to come.
The power and prestige of America is in the hands of people who will not resist the temptation to invent new missions, lay down new embargoes, throw new bombs, and fabricate new courts. For the time being, they control the United Nations, the World Bank, most of the world's high-tech weapons, and the vast majority of the satellites that watch us from every quadrant of the skies. This is the opportunity they sense, and we must ask what ambitions they will declare next.
The United States did not plan its empire or global hegemony any more than the British did. In the 19th century it expanded westward relentlessly, killing Indians, expelling all European powers (British, French, Spanish) and taking land from Mexico in a stage-managed war; but that expansion was "national," not imperial.
But then, a century ago, McKinley acquired colonial possessions (and killed hundreds of thousand of civilians in the process, in the Philippines). In the ensuing half-century two world wars and Korea established America as a global power. Kennedy's disastrous foray into Indochina seemed to indicate the limits of the empire, but the lessons of that trauma appear to have been inexplicably unlearned within a generation. Kennedy's costly boast that he would fight communism the world over has long since been exceeded by Secretary of State Albright's promise to set the whole world to rights, by force where necessary, without reference to other states.
Instead of rediscovering the virtues of traditionally defined, enlightened self-interest in the aftermath of its hands down cold war victory, America's foreign policy elites are more intoxicated than ever by their own concoction of "benevolent global hegemony" and "indispensable power."
In the short term there is no countervailing force on the horizon. [..]
A law of history is that power tends to generate countervailing power. We do not know how this will come about. We can do little more than guard against arrogance and overextension and minimize the pointless sacrifices they usually entail. The opponents of globalism and interventionism should be proud to have taken part in this endeavor.
It wasn't until four months later that the Project for a New American Century published its notorious Rebuilding America's Defenses report [pdf.] (the one in which it suggested that a 'catastrophic and catalyzing event' could quicken the desired revolutionary transformation in America's global posture). But Sherman could already divine which way the American wind was turning, and he wrote about it, and I respect him for that. (I wonder what he thought of 9/11 and the war against whatever.) He was an interesting man. [Via Political Theory Daily]