Niall Ferguson is a historian and an excellent writer. In 2004, Time Magazine named him as one of the most influential people in the world. In his book, Colossus: Rise and Fall of the American Empire, Ferguson argues that America is an empire. He supported the invasion of Iraq, opposed the New Deal, and supported the cutting of federal spending. Colossus is an attempt to persuade Americans that the United States has the power to become a global empire, stronger than Britain was in the nineteenth century. He claims that “many parts of the world would benefit from a period of American rule” (Ferguson 2004, p. 2). Moreover, Ferguson suggests that the United States should assert direct rule over countries that require external authority. Even though Colossus is intelligent and the conducted research is of high quality, the United States is not capable of becoming a liberal empire.
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The fundamental idea of the book is that the United States is and has already been an empire. Ferguson argues that the United States has conquered many countries economically. Now the United States should rebuild these countries and turn them into economic partners. Furthermore, Ferguson notes that only a small per cent of Middle East countries are democracies. The U.S. harassed the Arab countries. When the U.S. got involved in the Israel conflict, oil issues, and terrorism initiatives, it has become a world empire. Ferguson does not strive to understand why America is an empire. On the contrary, he investigates why Americans experience problems with gaining recognition of their imperial status.
Historically, the United States risked the lives of millions in the defense of perceived national interests. Ferguson explains that empire denotes the extension of other civilizations by military force to rule over peoples. Ferguson persuades the reader that for some countries some form of imperial governance might be better than full independence. However, it is not clear why the decision making power should be concentrated in the hands of the United States. Ferguson overestimates the ability of the United States to solve global problems. He writes that “Bosnia and Kosovo have shown that American military leadership was the only effective solution to such challenges” (Ferguson 2004, p. 164).
Neither European Union nor China can rival U.S. military power. American government widely applies military intervention abroad and it appears that nothing can stop the further expansion of American influence. Notably, Ferguson notes that the policy of deception is necessary. For example, deception is the only “effective policy to be applied to Iraq because there is popular opposition to a foreign occupation” (Ferguson 2004, p. 219). The opposition should be, of course, squashed by violence. Ferguson does not pay attention to the fact that the United States uses violence to spread its empire. Moreover, numerous references to the British Empire as a model of idea ruling are backed up with the enslaving and brutality on its subjects. Nevertheless, Ferguson ignores the use of violence as a contradiction to liberalism.
In addition, Ferguson suggests that the United States has the potential to succeed in building a liberal empire if efforts are targeted. However, Ferguson does provide an analysis of economic problems currently faced by the United States. In particular, he notes that the fall of America’s empire may be caused not by terrorists, but by the fiscal crisis of the welfare state of the United States. As Bush noted on the war in Iraq, “the government of Iraq, and the future of your country, will soon belong to you… You will end a brutal regime… so that Iraqis can live in security” (Ferguson 2003, p. 1). This speech of President Bush was delivered to the American people. He, as the President of the American Empire, granted the power to decide on the lives of other people into the hands of his nation.
Ferguson emphasizes that America has never been an empire; it is the only great power in history that could become the strongest empire, however, it refused. Moreover, Ferguson assumes that other countries fought in foreign lands and remained to exploit. Americans, on the contrary, want nothing more than to return home, they do not occupy new territories, they have a liberal mission. From this standpoint, Americans do not strive to create an empire, they do leadership instead. However, there is enough evidence to point out that Americans do pursue their own interest while fighting with other nations and intervening in their domestic issues. The war in Iraq, for example, gave the United States an opportunity to control significant oil reserves. Thus, the ambitions of the Americans are not liberalistic but rather purely economic.
Notably, Ferguson notes that “nothing symbolized better the humiliation of the East than the Western military intervention” (2006, p. 1). There is an evident lack of consistency in the arguments provided by Ferguson. He argues for a liberal empire and claims that Americans seek no gains in their interventions. However, true liberalization is never accompanied by humiliation while intervention does not make oppressed people happy. Undoubtedly, the United States is one of the strongest countries in the world: it has a stable economy, strong politics, and advanced military. The combination of these three factors empowers the United States to control all global markets. Despite Ferguson’s attempt, the intervention into domestic issues of other countries should not be justified with liberation claims.
Ferguson makes a mistake when he notes that the Americans do not understand their power and capability to become a liberal empire, equal to the British and Roman empires. This note is wrong because the Americans do have a clear vision of their authority in deciding on global issues. There is no other country in the world able to change the course of action without prior negotiation with other communities. Returning to the war in Iraq, the American government made a strong decision to go into war with Iraqis; it was an act of revenge justified with an honourable mission to end terrorism and backed up with economic interest to gain power over oil reserves. It is not clear whether the Americans were led by honourable mission or economic interests.
The United States have the power to become an empire, however, not liberal but rather the one founded on dictatorships. The Americans are not interested in establishing global peace or promoting the development of poor countries. Moreover, the majority of Americans do not care about the situation in other countries. Personal happiness and financial wellbeing are the driving forces of an average American. Every person has the right to promote his/her own interests. While Ferguson strives to persuade his readers of the liberal intentions of the United States, it is clear that the true mission of the American liberal empire is to widen the scope of control over the less developed world.
Notably, Ferguson forgets about the American War for Independence when the Americans united in the struggle against British rule. From an American standpoint, the Americans had the right to fight for their economic and political independence because the ruling of the British Empire was wrong. However, from the British standpoint, the Americans simply rebelled. If the British had a military advantage over the Americans, the results of the war would be different. Ferguson, on the contrary, argues that the American empire is completely different to the British because Americans do not oppress the nations they conquer. However, Iraqis were not asked whether they want to have a democratic government; they were not consulted on the issue of oil reserves. The Americans brought destruction and it might take several decades to rebuild Iraq. Terrorism roots in Iraq were eliminated, however, the interests of the Iraqis were not taken into account at all. It is not liberalism, it is a pure dictatorship.
While Ferguson tries to persuade the readers that the United States is reluctant to become involved in military operations, the historical evidence suggests that the U.S. rather than the Soviet Union or China were the causes of the Korean War. It means that some of the arguments made by Ferguson are weakly supported with historical evidence. In addition, Ferguson suggests that in order to become an effective imperial power, the American political leaders had to overthrow the Constitution in the 1950s and establish a form of military rule. There are no liberal intentions in this note. Ferguson urges for the American empire, however, there is an evident lack of liberal foundation.
The establishment of a direct empire is not possible in the modern world. None of the powerful countries is willing to give up its independence for the sake of economic or other benefits. The American empire will never be established despite all efforts. The Americans do shape the economic and political landscape of the world, however, the emerging powers such as the European Union will not allow the creation of the American empire. Moreover, the Americans stress the idea that they seek to bring democracy and economic prosperity to other countries but democracy is an opposite side of militarism. Taking into account that Ferguson supports militarism, there is no democratic basis.
If to imagine a modern empire, it will come into existence as long as the benefits of power over a foreign nation exceed the costs of oppression and as long as the benefits of accepting domination by a foreign nation exceed the costs of resistance. History suggests that the imperial form of governance has never been beneficial for the oppressed people. Under imperial governance, the rights of the oppressed are denied while the interests of the conquerors are advanced. The American empire will never be liberal because Ferguson argues in support of militarism and oppression.
In conclusion, the United States is capable of becoming a global empire. Today the Americans have the authority to decide on the key global issues without any negotiations with representatives of other countries. Nevertheless, the establishment of the liberal empire is not possible. Ferguson promotes militarism as a tool to gain control over less-developed nations. While the justification for imperial governance is the spread of democracy, the Americans are not capable of contributing to the economic, political, or social advancement of oppressed nations. The war in Iraq is a perfect example of how the Americans justified their quest for economic gains with an honourable mission to bring democracy to Iraqis. The real intention of the American leaders is not to help the rest of the world but to gain as much power as they can.
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Ferguson, N. (2003). Hegemony or Empire? Foreign Affairs. Web.
Ferguson, N. (2004). Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire. Penguin Press.
Ferguson, N. (2006). Empire Falls. The Vanity Fair. Web.