Chapter Excerpt: The Making of the American Empire
The process of establishing an American Empire during and after World War II was not – as has been postulated (by those who even admit there is such a thing as an 'American Empire') – an 'accident' of history, something America seemingly stumbled into as a result of its unhindered economic growth and military-political position as arbiter of world peace and prosperity. A vast literature has developed in the academic realm and policy circles – particularly within Political Science and the think tank community, respectively – which postulates a notion of 'American empire' or 'American hegemony' as accidental, incidental, benevolent, reluctant, and desirable.
Robert Kagan is a prominent American neoconservative historian. He is a Senior Fellow at the prestigious think tank, the Brookings Institution, was a founder of the neoconservative think tank, the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), formerly worked at the State Department in the Reagan administration under Secretary of State, George Shultz, and served for over a decade as a Senior Associate with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and is, of course, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Kagan has written a great deal on the notion of American hegemony. As he wrote in the journal, Foreign Policy, in 1998, "the truth about America's dominant role in the world is known to most clear-eyed international observers." This truth, according to Kagan, "is that the benevolent hegemony exercised by the United States is good for a vast portion of the world's population." Samuel Huntington, another Council member and prominent American strategist, wrote that, "A world without U.S. primacy will be a world with more violence and disorder and less democracy and economic growth than a world where the United States continues to have more influence than any other country shaping global affairs." This "Benevolent Empire" – as Kagan titles his article – rests on such fundamental ideas as the notion "that American freedom depends on the survival and spread of freedom elsewhere," and that, "American prosperity cannot occur in the absence of global prosperity." For half a century, Kagan wrote, Americans "have been guided by the kind of enlightened self-interest that, in practice, comes dangerously close to resembling generosity."
Sebastian Mallaby, a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, former Editorial Board Member and columnist at the Washington Post as well as correspondent and bureau chief for The Economist, wrote in the journal Foreign Affairs, that "empire's are not always planned," referring to America as "The Reluctant Imperialist." Lawrence Summers, another prominent economist, politician, and policy-maker for the Clinton and Obama administrations, referred to America as "history's only nonimperialist superpower." Niall Ferguson, a prominent British liberal economic historian, has written extensively on the open acknowledgement of "American Empire," but stipulates, as he did in his book Colossus, "that the United States is an empire and that this might not be wholly bad." Referring to America as an "Unconscious Colossus," Ferguson stressed that, "a self-conscious American imperialism might well be preferable to the available alternatives." Ferguson in fact stresses the need for Americans to "recognize the imperial characteristics of their own power today [writing in 2005] and, if possible, to learn from the achievements and failures of past empires." This, Ferguson felt, would reduce the so-called "perils" of being an "empire in denial."
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., famed American liberal historian and adviser to President Kennedy, wrote that the United States enjoys "an informal empire – military bases, status-of-forces agreements, trade concessions, multinational corporations, cultural penetrations, and other favors," yet, contends Schlesinger, "these are marginal to the subject of direct control," and instead, "far from ruling an empire in the old sense," America "has become the virtual prisoner of its client states." Some other commentators referred to America as a "virtual" or even "inadvertent" imperial power.
The notion of America as a "reluctant imperialist" or a "benevolent empire" is not a new one. This has been the mainstay within the academic literature and policy-planning circles to both advocate for and justify the existence of American domination of the world. The concept of the reluctant, yet benevolent great power presents an image of a dutiful personage coming to the aid of those in need, following the responsibility which is derived from great power; that America's rise to economic prominence – also seen as the product of free and democratic initiative and ideals (thus negating America's long history of being a slave state and subsequently a brutal industrial society) – was the precursor to America being thrown the title of 'global power,' and with that title bestowed upon it – like a child-king still unsure of his own abilities to rule – took up the activities of a global power with a desire to bring the rest of the world the same altruistic truths and enlightened ideals which made America flourish so; that America's gift to the world was to spread freedom and democracy, in the economic, political, and social spheres. This myth has been a constant foundation for the advocacy and justification of empire. Its importance rests most especially on the ideals and global public opinion which prevailed as the great European empires waned and ultimately collapsed through two World Wars.
The colonized peoples of the world had had enough of empire, had suffered so immeasurably and consistently under its tutelage, that the concept of empire was so discredited in the eyes of the world's majority as to be incapable of justifying in the formal imperial-colonial sense. At home, America's domestic political situation and public opinion had been largely isolationist, seeking to refrain from an expansive foreign policy, leading many American presidents and strategists to bemoan the struggle for empire beyond the continent on the reluctance of the American people and Congress to pursue aggressive expansionism (save for the expansion across the continent, wiping out Native American populations for American Lebensraum and the slow, increasing expression of trans-sovereign rights in Latin America, long considered "America's backyard").
World War II, then, presented a new opportunity, and a new challenge for America in the world. The opportunity was to become the worlds most powerful empire history had ever witnessed; the challenge, then, was to justify it in explicitly anti-imperial rhetoric. America, thus, was not a reluctant or accidental empire, nor, for that matter, a benevolent one. America was chosen to be an empire; it was strategised, discussed, debated, planned and implemented. The key architects of this empire were the bankers and corporations which arose out of America's Industrial Revolution in the late 19th century, the philanthropic foundations they established in the early 20th century, the prominent think tanks created throughout the first half of the 20th century, and the major academics, strategists and policy-makers who emerged from the foundation-funded universities, institutes, think tanks, and the business community, and who dominated the corridors of power in the planning circles that made policy.
No sooner had World War II begun than American strategists began calling for a new global American empire. Henry R. Luce, a Yale graduate and founder of Time Magazine, Life, and Fortune, was among America's most influential publishers in the first half of the 20th century. A strong supporter of the Republican Party and virulent anti-Communist, Luce was also a staunch advocate of fascism in Europe – notably Mussolini's Italy and Nazi Germany – as a means of preventing the spread of Communism. In 1941, Luce wrote a famous article in Life entitled, "The American Century," in which he stated that, "the 20th Century must be to a significant degree an American Century." Luce wrote that America has "that indefinable, unmistakable sign of leadership: prestige." As such, unlike past empires like Rome, Genghis Khan, or Imperial Britain, "American prestige throughout the world is faith in the good intentions as well as the ultimate intelligence and ultimate strength of the whole American people." Luce felt that the "abundant life" of America should be made available "for all mankind," as soon as mankind embraces "America's vision." Luce wrote:
It must be a sharing with all peoples of our Bill of Rights, our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution, our magnificent industrial products, our technical skills. It must be an internationalism of the people, by the people and for the people… We must undertake now to be the Good Samaritan of the entire world.
While Luce was perhaps the first theorist to posit the specific concept of "the American Century," the actual work done to create this century (or at least the latter half of it) for America was chiefly initiated by the Council on Foreign Relations, and the prominent strategist Dean Acheson, among others. As Germany invaded Poland in 1939, Dean Acheson delivered a speech at Yale entitled, "An American Attitude Toward Foreign Affairs," in which he articulated a vision of America in the near future, and as he later recalled, it was at the time of delivering this speech that Acheson began "work on a new postwar world system." Acheson declared in his speech that, "Our vital interests… do not permit us to be indifferent to the outcome" of the wars erupting in Europe and Asia. The causes of the war, according to Acheson, were in "the failure of some mechanisms of the Nineteenth Century world economy," which resulted in "this break-up of the world into exclusive areas for armed exploitation administered along oriental lines." Recreating a world peace, posited Acheson, would require "a broader market for goods made under decent standards," as well as "a stable international monetary system" and the removal of "exclusive preferential trade agreements." Essentially, it was an advocacy for a global liberal economic order as the means to world peace, and without a hint of irony, Acheson then called for the immediate establishment of "a navy and air force adequate to secure us in both oceans simultaneously and with striking power sufficient to reach to the other side of each of them." Dean Acheson was also closely involved in the Council on Foreign Relations' plans for the shaping of the post-War world order.
The Council on Foreign Relations and the 'Grand Area'
Before America had even entered the war in late 1941, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) was planning for America's assumed entry into the war. The CFR effectively undertook a policy coup d'état over American foreign policy with the Second World War. When war broke out, the Council began a "strictly confidential" project called the War and Peace Studies, in which top CFR members collaborated with the US State Department in determining US policy, and the project was entirely financed by the Rockefeller Foundation. The War and Peace Studies project had come up with a number of initiatives for the post-War world. One of the most important objectives it laid out was the identification of what areas of the world America would need to control in order to facilitate strong economic growth. This came to be known as the "Grand Area," and it included:
Latin America, Europe, the colonies of the British Empire, and all of Southeast Asia. Southeast Asia was necessary as a source of raw materials for Great Britain and Japan and as a consumer of Japanese products. The American national interest was then defined in terms of the integration and defense of the Grand Area, which led to plans for the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank and eventually to the decision to defend Vietnam from a Communist takeover at all costs.
In 1940, the Council on Foreign Relations also began a wide-ranging study of the war-time economic needs of the United States (prior to U.S. entry into the war), called the Financial and Economic Experts, which divided the world into four main blocs: continental Europe (which was dominated by Germany at the time), the U.S. –Western hemisphere, the United Kingdom and its colonial and commonwealth nations, and the Far-East-Pacific Area, including Japan, China, and the Dutch East Indies. The study compiled a list of each region's main imports and exports. Upon completion of the study in the fall of 1940, the Council sent its conclusions and policy recommendations to President Roosevelt and the State Department. The conclusions stated that the United States needed larger export markets for its products, and specifically that the U.S. needed "living space" (or as the Nazi German state referred to it, Lebensraum) throughout the Western hemisphere and beyond, as well as trade and "economic integration" with the Far East and the British Empire/Commonwealth blocs. The report stated bluntly, "as a minimum, the American 'national interests' involved the free access to markets and raw materials in the British Empire, the Far East, and the entire Western hemisphere."
This was the foundation for the Grand Area designs of the Council in the post-War world. The Grand Area project emphasized that for America to manage the "Grand Areas" of the world, multilateral organizations would be needed to help facilitate "appropriate measures in the fields of trade, investment, and monetary arrangements." The study further emphasized the need to maintain "military supremacy" in order to help facilitate control of these areas. As the Council's 1940 report to the U.S. State Department stated: "The foremost requirement of the United States in a world in which it proposes to hold unquestioned power is the rapid fulfillment of a program of complete re-armament," which would "involve increased military expenditures and other risks."
While the Grand Area project was made and designed for the United States during World War II, it included plans for the post-War world, and included continental Europe in its designs following the assumed defeat of Germany. Thus, as economist Ismael Hossein-Zadeh wrote, "making the Grand Area global." The idea behind the "Grand Area" was "even more grandiose – one world economy dominated by the United States," and the study itself suggested that the Grand Area "would then be an organized nucleus for building an integrated world economy after the war." As Shoup and Minter wrote in their study of the Council, Imperial Brain Trust, "the United States had to enter the war and organize a new world order satisfactory to the United States." Benevolent, indeed.
Following Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entry into the War, the Council concluded as early as 1941 that the defeat of the Axis powers was simply a matter of time. As such, they were advancing their plans for the post-War world, expanding the Grand Area to:
include the entire globe. A new world order with international political and economic institutions was projected, which would join and integrate all of the earth's nations under the leadership of the United States. The Unification of the whole world was now the aim of the Council [on Foreign Relations] and government planners.
As a part of this planning process, the U.S. Department of State formed the Advisory Committee on Postwar Foreign Policy in late December of 1941, of which the first document that was produced, "stressed the danger of another world depression and the need to provide confidence in world economic stability." Thus, "the United States had to be involved with the internal affairs of the key industrial and raw materials-producing countries." A key question in this was, as one postwar planner articulated, "how to create purchasing power outside of our country which would be converted into domestic purchasing power through exportation." The idea was about "devising appropriate institutions" which would fulfill this role, ultimately resting with the formation of the IMF and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (later known as the World Bank). The postwar planners had to continually construct an idea of an international order, directed by the United States, which would not so easily resemble the formal colonial period or its methods of exerting hegemony.
Recommendations of the Council suggested that such new international financial institutions were necessary in terms of "stabilizing currencies and facilitating programs of capital investment for constructive undertakings in backward and underdeveloped regions." These plans included for the establishment of an International Reconstruction Finance Corporations and an "international investment agency which would stimulate world trade and prosperity by facilitating investment in development programs the world over." These plans were drafted in recommendations and given to President Roosevelt and the Department of State.
One Council member suggested that, "It might be wise to set up two financial institutions: one an international exchange stabilization board and one an international bank to handle short-term transactions not directly concerned with stabilization." Thus, the Council drafted in 1941 and 1942 plans that would result in the formation of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which formally emerged from the 1944 Bretton Woods Conference, an event that is commonly acknowledged as the "birthplace" of the World Bank and IMF, thus ignoring their ideological origins at the Council on Foreign Relations two-to-three years prior. The internal department committees established in the Department of State and Treasury were well represented by Council members who drew up the final plans for the creation of these two major institutions.
Whereas the League of Nations had been a major objective of the Rockefeller Foundation and Carnegie Corporation-funded Council on Foreign Relations following World War I, so too was the United Nations near the end of World War II. A steering committee consisting of U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull and five Council on Foreign Relations members was formed in 1943. One of the Council members, Isaiah Bowman,
suggested a way to solve the problem of maintaining effective control over weaker territories while avoiding overt imperial conquest. At a Council [on Foreign Relations] meeting in May 1942, he stated that the United States had to exercise the strength needed to assure "security," and at the same time "avoid conventional forms of imperialism." The way to do this, he argued, was to make the exercise of that power international in character through a United Nations body.
The "secret steering committee," later called the Informal Agenda Group, undertook a series of consultations and meetings with foreign governments which would be essential in creating the new institution, including the Soviet Union, Canada, and Britain, and the Charter of the United Nations was subsequently decided upon with the consent of President Roosevelt in June 1944. The Informal Agenda Group was made up of six individuals, including Secretary of State Cordell Hull. All of them, with the exception of Hull, were Council members. President Roosevelt had referred to them as "my postwar advisers," and aside from formal policy recommendations, they "served as advisers to the Secretary of State and the President on the final decisions." By December 1943, a new member was added to the Group, Under Secretary of State Edward R. Stettinius, Jr., who was not only a Council member, but was also a former top executive at United States Steel and was the son of a partner in the J.P. Morgan Bank. After the Group had drafted the recommendations for a United Nations body, Secretary Hull had asked three lawyers to rule on its constitutionality. The three lawyers he chose were Charles Evan Hughes, John W. Davis, and Nathan L. Miller. Both Hughes and Davis were Council members, and John Davis was even a former President of the Council and remained as a Director. John D. Rockefeller Jr. subsequently gifted the United Nations with $8.5 million in order to buy the land for its headquarters in New York City.
 Robert Kagan, "The Benevolent Empire," Foreign Policy (No. 111, Summer 1998), page 26.
 Ibid, page 28.
 Sebastian Mallaby, "The Reluctant Imperialist: Terrorism, Failed States, and the Case for American Empire," Foreign Affairs (Vol. 81, No. 2, March-April 2002), page 6.
 Ibid, page 2.
 Niall Ferguson, "The Unconscious Colossus: Limits of (& Alternatives to) American Empire," Daedalus (Vol. 134, No. 2, On Imperialism, Spring 2005), page 21.
 Ibid, pages 21-22.
 Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., "The American Empire? Not so Fast," World Policy Journal (Vol. 22, No. 1, Spring 2005), page 45.
 Michael Cox, "Empire by Denial: The Strange Case of the United States," International Affairs (Vol. 81, No. 1, January 2005), page 18.
 Geir Lundestad, "'Empire by Invitation' in the American Century," Diplomatic History (Vol. 23, No. 2, Spring 1999), page 189.
 Bruce Cumings, "The American Century and the Third World," Diplomatic History (Vol. 23, No. 2, Spring 1999), page 356.
 Ibid, pages 358-359.
 Joan Roelofs, Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism (New York: State University of New York Press, 2003), page 74.
 Ismael Hossein-Zadeh, The Political Economy of U.S. Militarism (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), pages 43-45.
 Ibid, page 45.
 Ibid, page 46.
 Laurence H. Shoup and William Minter, Imperial Brain Trust: The Council on Foreign Relations and United States Foreign Policy(Authors Choice Press, New York: 2004), page 118.
 Ismael Hossein-Zadeh, The Political Economy of U.S. Militarism (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), page 48.
 Ibid, pages 49-51.
 Laurence H. Shoup and William Minter, Imperial Brain Trust: The Council on Foreign Relations and United States Foreign Policy(Authors Choice Press, New York: 2004), pages 166-167.
 Ibid, pages 168-169.
 Joan Roelofs, Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism (New York: State University of New York Press, 2003), page 159.
 Ismael Hossein-Zadeh, The Political Economy of U.S. Militarism (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), page 51.
 Laurence H. Shoup and William Minter, Imperial Brain Trust: The Council on Foreign Relations and United States Foreign Policy(Authors Choice Press, New York: 2004), pages 169-171.
 Joan Roelofs, Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism (New York: State University of New York Press, 2003), page 160.