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American Imperialism and Modern Conflicts

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Read the sample research paper provided by Ultius on Imperialism and how it relates to Modern U.S. conflicts to find out why the country is following in the footsteps of predecessors like Genghis Khan and others. 

Imperialism Relating to Modern U.S. Military Conflicts

Imperialism is a policy and practice that has essentially existed as long as human civilization. From the Assyrian Empire to the conquests of Genghis Khan, from the legendary Roman Empire to the vast expansion of the British Empire; nations that have adopted imperialistic policies have risen and fallen throughout history. Alexander III of Macedonia, famously known as Alexander the Great, conquered most of the known western world at the height of Greek imperialism. As a political philosophy and agenda, imperialism has proven to be a failure. Many nations, empires, monarchies and combined governments have attempted and failed at conquering the world. This is because the logistics of holding rule over an ever-expanding territory is just not sustainable. This is especially true when imperial empires are in a state of continual warfare, often on several fronts, as they historically have been.

The aspect of transporting supplies and personnel needed to wage lengthy wars over a long distance has historically not been feasible without the support of local populations. Countless imperial empires have fallen because of this very concept; Nazi Germany being an example. Imperialism itself is difficult to define, as acting in ways that can be considered imperialistic does not definitively conclude that a nation is in fact imperial. It is not a title based on opinion and the analysis of historical events. Rather; it is the intentions behind the government of a nation that define whether or not it can be called “imperial”.

America as an Imperial Nation

In today’s world many assert that the United States is in fact an imperial nation and is currently engaging in imperial wars. “the distinguishing characteristic of ‘small wars’ is not their scope or their duration but their purpose. Great powers wage ‘small wars’ not to defend themselves but to assert control over foreign populations. Denominating an operation ‘Iraqi Freedom’ or ‘Enduring Freedom’ does not alter that reality. Historically, that is ‘small wars’, are imperial wars.” (Bacevich, 141) While I agree that the purpose defines the war, I disagree with Bacevich's assertion that the purpose behind the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is to control the population. Indeed since 2008, when The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism was written, there have been dramatic changes in the military operation in Iraq. “Operation Iraqi Freedom” has come to an end, and instead has been given the name “Operation New Dawn”.  

When the US initiated the war, the primary purpose was to dismantle Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction program, which at the time was thought to be essential to the defense of the United States. Intelligence agencies across the world contributed to the conclusion that there were stockpiles of WMDs in Iraq. The secondary purpose was the removal of the brutal dictator Saddam Hussein from power. The objective after the war initiated was to secure the nation from islamic extremists, while the Iraqi people decided on their own future,  and eventually transitioned into being responsible for their own security. The purpose of Operation Iraqi Freedom was never at any point to control the population or gain control of their territory.

Operation Iraqi Freedom

The United States achieved every goal in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Upon discovering the lack of a threatening weapons of mass destruction program, the focus shifted immediately on accomplishing objective two. Saddam has gone into hiding during the initial “Shock and Awe” bombing campaign of Iraq, and therefore had no control over his control. This effectively achieved objective two, although many consider the defining moment of this accomplishment to be when US forces captured Saddam. He was later tried and executed by the Iraqi government.  The US then shifted it's entire resources in Iraq on the third objective. “As a result, the president continued, 'Today the people of Iraq and Afghanistan are building a secure and permanent democratic future.'” (Bacevich, 145) Operation New Dawn is symbolic of that, as the US has withdrawn its significant fighting force and a new democratic Iraqi government has been formed. It consists of Iraqis, whom were voted in by the Iraqi people. The intention of the United States was to protect its own people as well as help others, and not to gain territory or control over a population, which makes the operations in Iraq non-imperialistic.

In Afghanistan, very similar purposes have defined Operation Enduring Freedom. “The initial post-September 11 action by the United States in that country was of course not a downgrading of democracy concerns but a sudden step forward, through the ouster of the fundamentalist Taliban regime.” (Carothers, 88) The reasons for the invasion of Afghanistan were: to kill or capture members of the terrorist group al-Qaeda who were responsible for the terrorist attacks of September 11th, to remove the Taliban regime (which harbored these terrorists) from power, and to let the Afghani people form a government of their own and rebuild their war torn country. “No matter how pressing are the other fronts of the war against  al-Qaeda (such as the increasingly worrisome  situation in northern Pakistan), the United States must fulfill the  responsibilities for reconstruction that came with its invasion of Afghanistan.” (Carothers, 88) Since the invasion: countless members of al-Qaeda have been killed or captured including their leader Usama bin Laden, the Taliban have been removed from power, and the Afghani people have elected a new democratic government. Buildings, schools, roads, and hospitals have been built for the people. None of these accomplishments describe the sort of imperialistic purposes that Bacevich claims the United States has intentions of, or historical examples of imperialism.

The Government's Intentions Matter

It is the intentions behind the government of a nation that define whether or not it can be called “imperial”. In his book The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism, Bacevich asserts his opinion that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are not to defend the United States of America from harm, but to gain control over the populations of the nations'. In his description of the “small wars” in which we are conducting, he insinuates that the United States has an ulterior motive of imperialism. However, his examples of the current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan fail to match the criteria for “imperial wars” in which he himself creates.  As opposed to imperial empires of the past, the US has not attempted to force religion and culture down the throats of the nations in which it has invaded. Instead, in it's modern conflicts, it has only brought freedom from the oppression of ruthless regimes. The demonstrations of free, legitimate elections in these nations alone, are a testament to the anti-imperialistic nature of the United States and its military operations.

Works Cited

Bacevich, A. J.. The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism. 1. ed. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2008. Print.

Carothers, Thomas. "Promoting Democracy and Fighting Terror." foreign affairs 82.1 (2003): 

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