- “Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way”
Between the relative failings of the Afghanistani government and the relative success of Ben Affleck’s latest foray into filmmaking, some not untoward attention has been given to the decline of what used to be one of America’s greatest strengths. And while certainly most of the national attention span regarding the country’s alleged decline has been devoted to the fall from the role of economic global superpower, the fact remains that nowadays the United States is dreadful at nation building.
Of course, both the practice of imperialism and the slow loss of one’s touch with it is far from a uniquly American phenomenon. What is unique is the fact that, unlike other Western nations with a history of colonialism, the United States is still trying to make it work. England seems to be perfectly happy with it’s now purely ritualistic empire, Spain is far more concerned with its floundering economy, and the Dutch simply aren’t in any position whatsoever to try and topple and foreign government. America, however, seems more than happy to send soldiers (or operatives) to foreign lands.
And it certainly used to work. Ever since the Monroe Doctrine, when the 5th president delcared to Europe, “Hands off the New World” America has assumed a protectorate status. While this certainly eventually turned into “using the Cia to overthrow Central American governments and establish authoritarian governments clothing stores would later be named after,” there are a few cases where it actually worked. Most notably, the country’s heavy occupation of and involvement with the former Axis nations after World War 2 turned Germany and Japan not only into two of America’s largest allies in Europe in Japan, but also into economic powerhouses with high standards of living.
So what went wrong? Since the end of the Second World War, America has not succesfully built any nations. The most clear failure in American history would be the invasion of Vietnam, but that could be argued as less of bad imperialism (bad in the poorly-done sense of the word, not the more obvious morally-wrong sense) and more as a lost war. The most clear case of failed nation building, and most curiously opposite to recent events in Egypt, is America’s attempted puppeting of Iran. In that case, America installed a secular, authoritarian government which was then overthrown by religous popular revolt. Perhaps using this as an example of what not to do, America supported Egypt’s democratic revolt, which resulted in the election of a religous party that was then overthrown by an ostenisbly secular police revolt. A curous mirroring of the past events in Iran.
There is another, far more unlikely parallel to the police coup in Egypt. After the Ruso-Chinese-American liberation of Korea from Japan (or, if you believe his version, the entirely Kim Il-Sung led revolution) , the America-backed President Rhee grew increasingly despotic during his quasi-democratic reign, eventually leading to a military coup against him. What happened next is rather surprising. Instead of returning to a traditionalistic way of life, the military government brought in Western economists. South Korea, which once lagged behind the North in economic development, surged ahead to become the economic powerhouse and exporter of pop standards we know it as today. Is the same likely to happen in Egypt? Almost certainly not. But the precedent is there.