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Bill Orton
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May 13, 2003

George, Victoria & The Big A's 'bush wars'

by Bill Orton

In a recent nationally syndicated column, writer Jay Bookman wrote that we are on the verge of publicly announcing a new American empire.

Bookman's column -- "Now, open talk of empire," which appears locally in the May 11th "Commentary" of the OC Register -- points out that with U.S. troops in more than 130 nations, permanent bases in roughly 40 of those and basing rights in many more, America's imperial potential has never been greater.

Empire requires effort, wrote Bookman, but our leaders are "rhetorically embracing the difficult work ahead while shrinking from the actual task itself."

Perhaps it's time we instruct aspiring neo-colonialists and imperial leaders what they must do to make the world ready for America's red-hot branding iron.

Empire, you say? Oh, tut, tut.

True, never before in our 227-year post-colonial history have we sought to hold a single land or to brutally exploit the resources or people of another nation -- at least, not without installing a friendly government to invite us in first.

Never before did we oppose world opinion to control a conquered nation. Even the occupation of Japan and Germany after World War II, remember, were carefully negotiated arrangements between the superpowers. (Good thing, as each lasted nearly a decade.)

But now, no less influential a voice on the right than Bill Kristol -- the Chief of Staff to Vice President Quayle and editor of the Weekly Standard -- says, "If people want to say we're an imperial power, fine."

If you believe Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld, America is a power on the rise, beholden to no international agreements nor required to listen to the objections of anyone around the globe.

So let's assume that the Kristol crowd is right, and this President wants to use a Texas cattle iron to mark portions of the world with "The Big A" brand.

If we're going branding new lands, shouldn't we tell aspiring every neo-colonialist worth their salt to pack a duffle bag, ask for some metal on their shoulders and catch the next plane west headed towards Baghdad?

As with the last major empire at its height -- England, under Queen Victoria -- the subjects who will play the yeoman's role in shaping this new realm must be "out there," out in the "colonies..." making things work.

In the long-run, it's not the military that shapes empire, as most imperial fights are "bush wars." (Equal adversaries seldom battle head-on, but play out some version of The Great Game.)

Lasting colonial legacies are etched by civil administrators, those bureaucrats and retired generals who run conquered lands in the name of the empire.

So, wanna-be colonialists take note: get a commission or a letter from a powerful friend, hop a plane and join Gen. Jay Garner (oop, he got fired... better look for the new guy) and the civilian Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance in Bagdhad. If you can find it. They don't have phones yet. You might have to try their old place, at the Kuwait City Hilton.

In the larger picture, our leaders ought to consider the needs that empire requires.

Yes, we have bases and rights for more, but empire demands more than that. Empire demands that we own or absolutely control all the real estate.

If our leaders are serious about empire, they better lay down their real estate plans now, because without completely reliable places to land jets, dock ships and station troops, we're not going to be colonial masters for long.

It was not for nothing that the saying went: "The sun never sets on the British Empire." Their far-flung islands and other colonial holdings were often merely coaling stations for the fleets dispatched to keep order. But without fuel, the empire falls. (Say, that sounds familiar.)

Certainly, we'll need a larger Reserve and National Guard. No need to beef up the full-time armed services. Too expensive. Just call up firefighters, police, students and other citizen-soldiers, like we did with Iraq. (More than 220,000 of the service personnel in Iraq were Guard or Reserve troops.)

To carry all those citizen-soldiers into instant action, "The Big A" team will need more planes. Lots more.

Even before 9/11, Mr. Rumsfeld declared, after a "full-force review," that we were "a division down and short on airlift."

We should probably look at doubling or tripling -- at least - our airlift capability. Otherwise, we'll have to keep good relations with Germany, the only other nation in the world with airlift capability that rivals our own.

Proper airlift could dramatically cut the time needed to move people and materiel into place for imperial bush wars. Expansion of the C-17 fleet, for example, would allow whole divisions to move by air, speed that will become ever more essential if we are to snuff the emerging challenges to our colonial ambitions.

Of course this costs money. But don't forget, our last extravagant military buildup (between 1981 and 1992) was paid for almost entirely by running up the national debt. And this administration certainly knows how to pour out red ink. Why, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, we're about to break the record on deficit spending with no end in sight.

Don't forget more homeland defense, because after each bush war, there's going to be more nuts out to strike back. Somehow we won the Cold War without permanently surrendering our freedom and liberties, but why not just kiss 'em goodbye now.

You ask, is empire worth all this?

Are we any safer after spending hundreds of billions year after year for more troops, more planes, more real estate and more Patriot Act crackdowns?

I'd say, "no." To me, this is the wrong direction for America.

But if our current leaders are going to reverse 227 years of American foreign policy, than they better drop the news on us now. The American people deserve better then to be led blindly into imperialism and colonialism.

Mr. President, show us if your branding irons are in the fire. Give your fellow Americans the chance for a full and vigorous debate over "The Big A" colonial ambitions.

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Bill Orton, 40, is a writer and historian living in Seal Beach, California with his wife and daughter.

Bill Orton is a writer and historian living in Long Beach, California.