The Evil Empire

(Letters, p. 16, Foreign Policy Magazine, March/April 2006)

Michael Mandelbaum's paean to the "benign hegemon" ("David's Friend Goliath," January/February 2006), the United States, is a classic, self-congratulatory text. This dangerous school of thought asserts that the stability of the empire is good for the dominated.

Try telling that to Third-World citizens who live on the edge of poverty, or as refugees from civil wars, because the United States backs cooperative despots. Since 1945, the United States has conducted its relations with the developing world on the principle that elites who cooperate with its economic, military, and covert policies receive cash and guns, while those who fail to do so face destabilization or even invasion.

From Angola to Zaire - with Liberia, Somalia, and Sudan in between - civil wars involving U.S. clients have devastated African economies, leaving millions dead and millions more displaced. As the leading supplier of arms and training to nondemocratic regimes, the United States continues to create the conditions for such disasters.

Exceptionalism, the belief that one's nation is uniquely altruistic in its motivations and beneficial in its ministrations, ought to be a disease of the body politic, not academia. It is certainly comforting for Americans to be told that "the alternative to the role the United States plays in the world…would make the world a far more dangerous and less prosperous place." But it is a false dichotomy that neglects the billions of people who live in poverty. A more meaningful choice is between U.S. dominance and solidarity with other peoples and nations. Choosing solidarity requires a reduction in U.S. military power, an end to support for dictators, and economic strategies that allow true competition.

Caleb Stewart Rossiter

Assistant Professor, School of International Service, American University, Washington, D.C.