The United States: From Liberalism to Global Imperialism

Monday, October 10, 2011

Cyrus Faizee
Expert on Middle East & US Affairs

Despite Obama’s claims about helping democratic trends in the world to thrive, realities on the ground show that the United States is no more the country which pursued Jeffersonian ideas which would wait for emerging nations to yearn for “democracy” before rushing to their help. Unlike all important revolutions, such as the French revolution, which aimed to present themselves as “pristine” and “universal” to the world, the United States has opted for “isolationism” due to the special situation that it has helped to create. A glance at Monroe Doctrine will show that through most of its history, the United States has preferred isolationism.

During the Cold War, the United States followed a different policy and tried to play a more active role in international system. Although internationalism was a value for the liberal system which sought to promote its norms to the whole world, at the hands of conservative politicians, it turned into an opportunity for domination over the world. As put by Charles Krauthammer, it was transformed into a “mission.” That transformation reminds us of Schumpeter’s view about transformation of capitalism. He believed that warmongering is not natural to human beings, but human beings became warriors in order to avoid of being perished and that trait has lingered in them.  (1) Conservatives have proven that they are capable of adorning politics with myths and symbolism to impart “special sanctity” to politics and easily produce a commodity they call “sacrifice.” However, it was a mistake on the part of liberal politicians who gradually mixed “liberal internationalism” with military intervention under the Clinton’s rule which subsequently gave birth to Bush’s “world leadership” idea. His son, Bush Jr., easily gave voice to the idea for which Democrats had already claimed credit. In fact, overemphasis on the sanctity of “internationalism” instead of “liberal internationalism” by liberals, created “vital center” ideology which finally pushed the United States toward “unipolar moment” and a new form of imperialism. (2)

When Obama was elected, as a result of bitter criticism of conservatives’ views, the world was hopeful that the new administration would adopt a different policy or, at least, come up with a more desirable form of “liberal internationalism.” After about three years and publication of three important strategic documents and after witnessing performance of the new American government, it is not difficult to see that Obama Administration is treading the path of its predecessors, though by using a “softer” language. As put by Joseph Nye, the United States has grown “smarter” and this means that the country has been forced by exigencies of time to act in a softer way. (3) As envisaged by Nye, the United States uses “soft” and “hard” approaches wherever and whenever the need arises. The choice between two options, however, is a very delicate one and allows for the United States to become “smarter.”

As criticism soared of the United States’ budget deficit and pubic debts, the latter exceeding the country’s gross domestic product, the government announced it would review its defense strategy and cut defense budget. This raised hopes that the United States would go back to its “more liberal” state. The Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, was supposed to make drastic cut to the Defense Department’s budget. They were also expected to give up certain very advanced, but also very expensive, technologies and withdraw US troops from Afghanistan and Iraq. Now, a different tune is being heard: the defense budget for 2010 has exceeded 700 billion dollars which is even higher than the former president Reagan’s budget for his so-called “Star Wars” initiative. (4) They say the budget will be better regulated, but this does not mean a substantial cut. Instead, more money will be channeled into projects and measures that aim to increase the United States’ power. Withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan does not seem very serious in the light of new security agreements that have been signed with those countries. The United States may even position its forces in other countries. Now, both Panetta and Obama are more aggressive than any time before. Once a staunch supporter of defense budget cut, Panetta is now attuned to defense contractors when he announces that a defense budget cut would be detrimental to the United States. Obama has also taken two concrete steps by firstly announcing that he would veto establishment of an independent Palestinian state at the UN Security Council and secondly pursuing regime change in Syria. Thus he has gone back to the aggressive ways which were common to his predecessors.

Although David Lake has doubts about correctness of the phrase “American Empire” and believes that the United States got close to “imperialism” only under Bush (5), in my opinion, Obama Administration has developed a ravenous appetite for the expansion of his country’s “global hegemony” or as put by Obama himself, “global leadership.” (6) A review of the United States practical policies and the aforesaid documents would reveal that the United States pursues global hegemony, but has made two important changes to it. Firstly, the language used in Washington’s foreign policy is “softer” than any time before. Secondly, to make up for Bush’s mistakes, he resorts to Clinton’s policies which are now a reference for the understanding of Obama’s foreign policy approaches. Less importance is attached to multilateralism and when used by American leaders, it means to put the heavy burden of the American leadership on frail shoulders of other countries. Except for new American “imperialism” I see no better description for this state of affairs.


(1) Joseph A. Schumpeter, Economics and Sociology of Capitalism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991), Chap. 2

(2) Arthur M. Schlesinger, Vital Center: The Politics of Freedom (Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, 1998)

(3) See: United States’ New Strategy in the Muslim World, which is another article by the author as it appeared in 46th issue of Strategic Studies in the Muslim World quarterly

(4) Many analysts have noted that the United States’ defense budget is bigger than total defense budgets in the entire world.

(5) David A. Lake, “A New American empire?”, (accessed October 8, 2011); available at

(6) Barak Obama, “Renewing American Leadership”, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 86, No. 4 (July/August 2007), 2-16

More By Cyrus Faizee:

*Charging Iran with Supporting Al-Qaeda: 

*Leaving Afghanistan: US’ New Regional Policy:’_New_Regional_Policy.htm

*Saudi Arabia Expecting Revolutionary Developments:

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