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Bomb for your Band

By Matthew Yglesias on March 5, 2007 at 11:49 pm

"Bomb for your Band"

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With a little help from Glenn Greenwald, Jim Henley’s been reading an old 1998 New Republic article by Condoleezza Rice’s new “counselor,” Eliot Cohen. It’s all about how we must reject the dogmas of the past and embrace the new imperial future:

One cannot separate the so-called “soft power” of the United States–the global dominance of its culture, beginning with its language–from its military strength.

Rock fans around the world listen in English; so do fighter pilots. The same information technologies that make the Internet a decidedly American phenomenon provide the nervous systems of American military power. Free trade rests on common consent, to be sure, but would it exist absent America’s military dominance?

Henley has some fun with the apparent claim here that American popular music is popular because of our military might. It is, of course, well known that the Beatles and the Rolling Stones became so popular in the 1960s because the British Empire was then at its peak.

It’s the trade element of this, however, that’s truly pernicious. Cohen would like us to believe that basic commerce and prosperity require us to join him down the path where “citizen and soldier alike must brace themselves for the occasional imperial fiasco” and “accept the uncomfortable notion that they are wielding military power in a way that is historically unusual for a country that has long viewed empires with proper republican suspicion.” There is, however, just no reason whatsoever to believe this. If we stopped seeking to coercively dominate the Middle East then . . . all those Japanese cars would just disappear from the dealerships? International capital flows would stop? China would shut down the iPod factories? Europeans would turn their back on Coca-Cola? I mean, yes, the US navy and allied military forces need to be strong enough to prevent pirates from ruling the high seas but this has approximately nothing to do with the imperial vision Cohen and co. have in mind.

Realistically, the imperialist conception of world affairs is inimicable to the spirit of commerce which requires us not to see politics as an endless series of zero-sum standoffs in which power is used to facilitate parasitic exploitation. In the domestic sphere, this is the difference between the mentality of the businessman and that of the gangster. Internationally, we see the trader versus the conquistador; the liberal spirit of international cooperation versus the grim gaze of the imperialist.

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