This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
I am very concerned about recent foreign policy decisions made by the Trump administration that have alienated once-dependable allies. I believe the decisions have been made based on a gross misreading of history.
It appears that the Trump administration does not understand that the United States was permanently transformed from a sovereign nation to an empire after the fall of the Soviet Union. The problems the United States faces today are the same problems that all emergent empires in the past have faced. Acceptance of this paradigm shift is essential to finding realistic solutions to current problems.
The success of any political entity is based on the exchange of security and well-being for allegiance. Sovereign nations have the luxury of focusing almost exclusively on the parochial needs of its own homogenous and well understood polity. Empires must accommodate the needs a more numerous and heterogeneous citizenry.
Our own security and well-being are now inextricably linked with the security and well-being of our allies. Our military alliances assure access to raw materials and secure trade routes. Our trade agreements bind us in a mutually beneficial web of economic well-being. And our political alliances reinforce the cultural values that promote the universal hope of a better future that sustains the allegiance of a heterogeneous and far-flung citizenry. It is this allegiance that allows our empire to flourish.
Historically, empire has been sustained by tribute paid by subjugated states to the imperial hegemon. The American empire has constructed a unique system of tribute that does not require subject states to submit, force dynastic marriage, impose taxation, exploit the local populace or coerce unfair trade agreements. The American empire is willingly supplied with a luxurious surfeit of cheap manufactured goods in exchange for security and the promise of material well-being. We trade labor for the American Dream.
And, counter to popular belief, the United States must run a trade deficit to maintain liquidity in the international trade system for this dynamic to flourish. If we were ever able to attain a neutral trade balance the entire world economy would most likely collapse.
The three billion members of the empire can only thrive in stable social and political systems that support their means of subsistence and hopes of obtaining the American dream. Only an empire can guarantee this kind of security. For instance, the individual nations bordering China and Russia are overwhelmingly vulnerable to the vastly greater military might of their larger neighbors. Funding the military infrastructure to sustain this defense is impossible without the allegiance and assistance of our allies. The combined efforts of all the countries in the empire that cooperate to defend borders is a sum greater than its parts.
The young men and women of the American military have been dying in the service of empire for well over two decades now. We laud their profound sacrifices and patriotism to the United States without recognizing their greater service to the empire. It is time for this very noble sacrifice in service to half of the human beings on Earth to be recognized. This sacrifice is ennobled by the truth not diminished. The defense of the empire will always require the expenditure of American blood and treasure. This necessity must be faced and addressed realistically.
Finally, a successful transition to empire will require rewriting the social contract within the domestic United States to adapt to increasing economic competition and loss of jobs. And it will require us to directly address the prevailing cultural memes that guide Western culture. It is difficult sometimes to stomach the abusive violations of our basic beliefs in the integrity of the individual and the necessity for justice, as second and third world cultures struggle to emerge into modernity. We must find a way within ourselves to restrain our immediate impulse to punish and hate, and develop an equable patience to slowly nurture these cultures into the possibility of a broader acceptance of humanitarian values.
Larry Carcelli, Ph.D., is an Ogden psychologist with degrees from UCLA and Utah State University and a lifelong interest in history and international relations.