There is a strange paradox, which is that the United States is one of the greatest imperial powers ever known, but at the same time almost no American would ever describe their nation as having an empire, either now or in the past. Daniel Immerwahr addresses this contradiction in his recent article, “How the US has hidden its empire,” in the Guardian. This text would be useful both in an “Introduction to International Studies” class, or a “U.S. and the World,” course.
U.S. Foreign Policy
Tom Englehardt. Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World. Preface. Glenn Greenwald. Chicago: Haymarket books, 2014.
Tom Engelhardt’s book Shadow Government is an engagingly written and interesting critique of the U.S. National Security state, which he compares to a religion (p. 6). He begins his work with a colorful description of U.S. military power, which he contrasts with the nation’s military failures. In his eyes, U.S. citizens have abandoned fundamental rights to an unaccountable elite, without any real threat to justify these choices: “Had you been able to time-travel back to the Cold War era to inform Americans that, in the future, our major enemies would be Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Mali, Libya, and so on, they would surely have thought you mad” (p. 39).
A key focus of the book is the vast scale of the U.S. security state, and the virtual autonomy that security agencies have acquired. These organizations no longer conceal their activities behind a veil of “plausible deniability.” Instead, they publicize drone strikes (p. 26-27). His ultimate argument is that the U.S. is a rogue superpower, which has vast powers even though it is ultimately ineffective. Chapter four is titled “Mistaking Omniscience for Omnipotence.” …
Warfare is changing rapidly, with the development not only of drones in the air, but also in other services. For example, the US. navy is increasingly interested in sub-hunting drones as a possible means to hunt other nations’ ballistic missile submarines. What is remarkable, however, is how fast the change has taken place within the U.S. air force. I recently came across this graphic at Contemporary Issues and Geography, which shows the size of the current U.S. drone fleet. Click on the image once to increase it to full size. As this graphic shows, the United States now produces and operates drones at a staggering scale.
Shawn Smallman, 2016.
Few investigative journalists have as impressive a history covering international issues as Seymour Hersh. His current article, Military to Military, in the London Review of Books harshly criticizes current U.S. policy in Syria for being too critical of Russia, too supportive of Turkey, and most of all, unsuccessful. The piece is well worth reading.
Shawn Smallman, Portland State University
Scott Horton’s book Lords of Secrecy is a passionate, angry, well-written and disturbing look at how U.S. national security agencies have undermined congressional oversight, and consistently violated the law. At the core, this book argues that the growth of the national security bureaucracy has outgrown the ability of Congress to provide oversight, and fundamentally threatens democracy. In the aftermath of the appalling and evil attacks in Paris last week, there is currently a clear need for effective intelligence agencies. Horton’s work, however, raises questions about the autonomy of these organizations, and the risks that their work may entail by pervading secrecy throughout our political culture. …