Empires Then and Now
By Paul Craig Roberts
March 27, 2012 "Information
Clearing House" --- Great empires, such as
the Roman and British, were extractive. The empires succeeded,
because the value of the resources and wealth extracted from
conquered lands exceeded the value of conquest and governance. The
reason Rome did not extend its empire east into Germany was not the
military prowess of Germanic tribes but Rome’s calculation that the
cost of conquest exceeded the value of extractable resources.
The Roman empire failed, because Romans exhausted manpower and
resources in civil wars fighting amongst themselves for power. The
British empire failed, because the British exhausted themselves
fighting Germany in two world wars.
In his book, The Rule of Empires (2010), Timothy H. Parsons replaces
the myth of the civilizing empire with the truth of the extractive
empire. He describes the successes of the Romans, the Umayyad
Caliphate, the Spanish in Peru, Napoleon in Italy, and the British
in India and Kenya in extracting resources. To lower the cost of
governing Kenya, the British instigated tribal consciousness and
invented tribal customs that worked to British advantage.
Parsons does not examine the American empire, but in his
introduction to the book he wonders whether America’s empire is
really an empire as the Americans don’t seem to get any extractive
benefits from it. After eight years of war and attempted occupation
of Iraq, all Washington has for its efforts is several trillion
dollars of additional debt and no Iraqi oil. After ten years of
trillion dollar struggle against the Taliban in Afghanistan,
Washington has nothing to show for it except possibly some part of
the drug trade that can be used to fund covert CIA operations.
America’s wars are very expensive. Bush and Obama have doubled the
national debt, and the American people have no benefits from it. No
riches, no bread and circuses flow to Americans from Washington’s
wars. So what is it all about?
The answer is that Washington’s empire extracts resources from the
American people for the benefit of the few powerful interest groups
that rule America. The military-security complex, Wall Street,
agri-business and the Israel Lobby use the government to extract
resources from Americans to serve their profits and power. The US
Constitution has been extracted in the interests of the Security
State, and Americans’ incomes have been redirected to the pockets of
the 1 percent. That is how the American Empire functions.
The New Empire is different. It happens without achieving conquest.
The American military did not conquer Iraq and has been forced out
politically by the puppet government that Washington established.
There is no victory in Afghanistan, and after a decade the American
military does not control the country.
In the New Empire success at war no longer matters. The extraction
takes place by being at war. Huge sums of American taxpayers’ money
have flowed into the American armaments industries and huge amounts
of power into Homeland Security. The American empire works by
stripping Americans of wealth and liberty.
This is why the wars cannot end, or if one does end another starts.
Remember when Obama came into office and was asked what the US
mission was in Afghanistan? He replied that he did not know what the
mission was and that the mission needed to be defined.
Obama never defined the mission. He renewed the Afghan war without
telling us its purpose. Obama cannot tell Americans that the purpose
of the war is to build the power and profit of the military/security
complex at the expense of American citizens.
This truth doesn’t mean that the objects of American military
aggression have escaped without cost. Large numbers of Muslims have
been bombed and murdered and their economies and infrastructure
ruined, but not in order to extract resources from them.
It is ironic that under the New Empire the citizens of the empire
are extracted of their wealth and liberty in order to extract lives
from the targeted foreign populations. Just like the bombed and
murdered Muslims, the American people are victims of the American
Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for
Economic Policy and associate editor of the Wall Street Journal. He
was columnist for Business Week, Scripps Howard News Service, and
Creators Syndicate. He has had many university appointments. His
internet columns have attracted a worldwide following.
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