There are those, especially on the Left, who see modern America, as running an Empire. Basically, they are confusing America’s role after World War II as a major and only player after the fall of Soviet Communism on the world diplomatic stage. Of course, some even mention the Manifest Destiny as being a phase of Empire but expansion is not empire. Empire conquers and rules diverse peoples and uses conquest as a means to fund the Empire and is under control of a powerful King or Czar or leader in the strict sense. Soviet Russia denuded Eastern Europe after WWII; U.S. had the Marshall Plan to revitalize Western Europe: one acting as Empire the other beneficently. The fact is Democracies are particularly bad at running empires.
The primary reason the world isn't predominantly Fascist or Communist is due to fact America, representative democracy, is the most powerful country in the world. It destroyed its enemies in unconditional war and then re-built them as democratic governments. Hitler might have been overthrown by his military as was Mussolini if not for the unconditional surrender doctrine. Roosevelt impulsively arrived at the doctrine at the Casablanca Conference in 1942.The American Democracy was able to summon resources of the society nothing like monarchies could and once summoned they won't countenance half messages. Total unconditional surrender it was and the destruction that accompanied it.
American’s viewed its critical role in the First World War naively; it wasn't to preserve the British Empire's standing in the world, it was told, but to make the world safe for democracy which it did the former but not the latter. The results were just the opposite: with the rise of Fascism in Italy, Nazism in Germany and Communism in Russia. At the outbreak of World War II in the West, in six weeks French Republic fell like a house of cards, barely fighting for itself in the face of the Panzers' Blitzkrieg. Hitler viewed the vitality of democracies in this light and the light of the weak Weimar Republic so unsure of itself, that the Nazi’s took over. And so he viewed the USA with its 20th largest army in the world. Much to his chagrin the American Republic still confident and self assured mustered a vast military machine unlike any in history. The arsenal of Democracy leveled his Dritte Reich.
Now America views itself as a hotbed of racism and bigotry with a history of land grabbing/theft from the native peoples. After the Vietnam War it began to question itself like a drunk after a binge. And it began to question itself and its role as leader in the World. These are questions democracies are very hesitant and frankly very bad at answering.
Let’s face it, Democracies are incapable of running an empire. And left wing attestations or rather illusions that America is running one are wrong headed and silly. Each nation we subdue or influence, we insist our democratic republic view over it. Much like Iran with the Shah, pro American and Western, we shrank from support deeming it oppressive and non democratic. The alternative is Radical fundamentalist revolution just as authoritarian and instead of a pro-American Western leaning regime, virulently opposed to the Great Satan America, and we are left with an enemy not a friend. And Iraq, highly authoritarian and repressive, nonetheless the most modern state in that part of the region, where Christians were free from attack and women were granted rights not given under Islamic Sharia, we destroy militarily and now we are left to clean up at the tune of $500 billion. Diplomacy anyone?
But Democracies only react to crisis. Failure to see the rise of Hitler and Soviet Communism before WWII is one glaring example. Soviet communism much to Hitler’s surprise was able to wage war better than Germany; it could summon even more society's resources to carry on war than Nazi's could. All economic resources were husbanded. When Nazi Germany overran Eastern Russia an area the size of Western Europe, Soviet Russia responded by moving 1500 businesses East beyond the Urals and continued making armaments, guns, tanks, planes. Military justice was draconian; there’s a saying that it took a very brave man to be a coward in the Soviet Army, some thousands were shot in the battle of Stalingrad alone. During the battle, to cross the Volga to get over to Stalingrad was almost suicide in the face of German attacks but to remain was certain summary execution by the Soviet Army. Anyway where was I?
The most extensive empire in history was the British Empire of which U.S. freed itself with much assistance from the French Royalty. The sun was said never set on it at its greatest extent. These folks knew how to run one. Even after WWI they acquired dominion in the Middle East. In fact they carved up the Ottoman Empire that collapsed after WWI, creating the countries like Iraq and Jordan out of its remains, making the world safe for the British Empire. The British had few qualms about knocking heads. The suppressing of the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857 in India saw summary execution of captured soldiers and sympathetic civilians by the thousands. This meant the official beginning of the Indian Empire, prior to which the British ruled through the East Indian Company, since the British Government was responsible for putting down Indian sub-continents revolt with its numerous Princely states, client states, etc.
British used disaffected minorities as their enforcers, such as the Singh’s in India, the Tutsi’s in East Africa, the Sunni’s in Iraq. Case in point the British ran India, a country of 300 millions, with some 300 hundred thousands. Compare this with American in Iraq with it's 150 Thousands to attempt to subdue a country of 17 millions in the 21st Century. To run an empire it’s best to play smart; U.S. wants to waylay a country as it did in the Iraq wars but this is extremely costly: very stupid. An empire would have spent something less than 500 billion to reduce Iraq. For that much Saddam Hussein could have been paid to leave, or have someone see that Saddam, the madman, come upon an accident. But that wouldn’t have been cricket, but you don’t build empires by playing cricket. Or they might have used Israel to do their bidding but of course that’s not really possible either since the several billions dollar subsidy to Israel each year can’t be done as something contingent but guaranteed to keep a voting block happy. Basically, America has no idea how to run one, as it shouldn’t I realize, but not obvious to the left, Michael Moore included, who see America as this sinister monster.
America is playing world policeman because they found out that planes and aircraft carriers, missiles and warheads cross oceans. As a citizen I would be delighted to have this chore be taken over by someone else. But who? China? Russia? Europe no longer has the will. The next time Saudi Arabia gets invaded (40-50% of known oil reserves) i.e. when Iraq moved into Kuwait they were spitting distance from Saudi Arabia and several other Oil producing countries. America sits on its hands and watches oil be captive to a madman, right? Yes, and there are those who would say we go back to the wind mill and the bicycle. Yes, but the transition would be very, very difficult for a populace used to comfort and ease. Politically it ain’t gonna happen. Political heads would roll. You see it would be crisis time. War America does very well, but empires aren’t run on crisis but decision making of the supreme ruler/emperor. We are talking about running an empire not just winning wars; for empire countries have to be pacified not necessarily transformed into miniature America’s. America’s representative democracy can’t react. Neither could France in the face of Nazi Germany in 1934 when Germany occupied the de-militarized Alsace region fought over since the 30 Years War ending in 1648, when the French took it. Confronted at the time, Hitler's aggression, using cardboard tanks, would have been seen as the bluff it was and his regime would have collapsed.