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« NC counties vs Fannie and Freddie | Main | Looking up »

Jul 18, 2012


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Dave Ribar

It's useful to keep all of these foreign bases in mind when you hear dire warnings of how the possible (likely?) sequestration of defense funds over the next decade will harm the U.S. economy.

Andrew Brod

Those are going to be some pretty small multipliers.


Except that US contractors do the work, overbill, rebill, and make out like bandits. Of course they sequestor the money in overseas bank accounts. So, these two factors offset each other.

Andrew Brod

In other words, those are going to be some pretty small multipliers.

Bill Yaner

Roman Empire redux.

Hate to over simplify, but the parallels are striking.

David Wharton

"Roman Empire Redux". Indeed. I deplore the way the U.S. sends its magistrates to rule the countries where it has military bases, beheading the conquered ruling class by the hundreds in public, burning their cities and fields, enslaving and selling for profit the native populations, and opening their towns to rapine and plunder by the enlisted men. Not to mention those gaudy triumphs where our generals parade the booty of far-off lands through Washington, marching the conquered leaders in chains through the Mall before taking them down to the Capitol basement to be strangled. In that last one, the sight of General Petraeus, his face painted red and wearing his purple cloak, followed by a half-mile retinue of Special Forces soldiers was particularly repugnant, though there was some satisfaction at watching Saddam Hussein stumbling along in rags behind him before they crucified him and his soldiers all along Pennsylvania Avenue. And those weeks of gladiatorial displays, with W. and Laura watching from their skybox, and the public feasting that followed -- no wonder nothing gets done in Washington! The smell of the thousands of cattle slaughtered and burned in offering to Mars Ultor on the steps of the Supreme Court was quite nauseating. But given that after WWII President Eisenhower flooded the Mall and put on a re-creation of the Battle of Midway, what would you expect?


Your over the top sarcasm is sophomoric, Dr Wharton. To be clear, our rape and plunder of Iraq was limited to the theft of their oil, which, while unstated publicly, everyone knows was the objective of invading it.

Andrew Brod

Yeah, but you've got to admit, claiming "Roman Empire redux" in the presence of a classics professor is like waving a red flag in front of a bull. You're gonna get a response.

Ed Cone

Oil was an underlying, not proximate, cause of our ill-advised Mesopotamian adventure. And the object was not the theft of their oil, but its free flow at market prices, the preservation of which by military means if necessary has been US doctrine since Carter. No real mystery there.

Also, DW: Nice work, makes me want to reread I, Claudius. But you know what he means, florid though the metaphor may be. Imperial ambition and overstretch are real problems, and ones that concern real conservatives.

David Wharton

I think cheri was being ironic, too.


Oh yes, empire was a major cause of the fall of the empire. One reason for that was the resulting devaluation of citizenship. We wouldn't be doing that in the United States, would we?


The sun never sets on our lily pads.

Bill Yaner

At the risk of setting him off again (though the history lesson enjoyed) I'm thinking also of a professional army detached from the Roman citizenry who could pay money or even give a slave to avoid service. I'm thinking of porous borders becoming increasingly impossible to police giving rise to a defensive and rigid bureaucracy whose own survival became its overriding goal. And I'm thinking of their steadily increasing concentration of i population into richer and poorer through a corrupt tax system.

And so I says to myself, "Gee, that sounds familiar."


So when does the Battle of Americanople begin? Are the Islamogoths fully assembled?

David Wharton

Spag, I would say that the Roman Empire survived as long as it did by spreading citizenship rights, not by limiting them. Julius Caesar started it by enrolling Senators from Cisalpine Gaul, and the practice continued throughout imperial times. The Romans were remarkably good at integrating conquered peoples by giving them representation in Roman government.

To address your point more seriously, Bill (hope you didn't mind my tongue-in-cheek riffing on your comment), I don't think having a (mostly) volunteer army after the time of Gaius Marius was as dangerous to the Roman Republic as was allowing generals, starting with Sulla, and quickly followed by Pompey and Caesar, to raise their own armies. Since the armies were dependent on their generals for pay and retirement benefits, they naturally were willing to follow them (the generals) when they decided to turn on each other and on the Senate. Our Founders, having read Plutarch, Caesar, and Tacitus when they were schoolboys, were quite well aware of this danger, and so required that our soldiers take an oath to uphold the Constitution, and put the military under strict civilian control. I think this system is working quite well, and whatever imperialist encroachments you see as dangerous now can be squarely laid at the feet of our civilian administration's foreign policy.

As to the concentration of wealth and a corrupt tax system, yes, we have that in common with ancient Rome -- and with the vast majority of other societies in the world.

I'm a bit vague on what you mean by "porous borders". Mexico & Canada?

At any rate, our system of bases around the world, whether objectionable or not, are very different from Roman garrisons in their basic purpose and function.

Ed Cone

So, incredible as it may seem, an ancient civilization was not point-for-point the same as our own!

But imperial ambition and imperial overstretch are timeless problems.

And as the linked article says, lack of public knowledge of what we're doing is a problem, too.

Bill Yaner

No problem at all with the tongue in cheek, David, I give it out as much as anyone and should be able to take it without being offended.

And yes, I guess you could see some similarity with our Mexican border. But more to the point - and to the point of the linked article - our own style of expansion via 1,200 garrisons worldwide creates a de facto border situation around each one, however the military defines that. We've seen them, for example, carve up Afghanistan several times now into supposedly secure zones, contested zones, and bad ass zones, then launch out with a major offensive to gain or regain ground all over the place. Talk about porous.

Maybe a better parallel would be Great Britain at the height of her empire (and hubris), defending numerous "borders" simultaneously in the Near East, northern Africa, India, China, etc. We look back now and think, "What were they thinking?" - as historians will no doubt wonder about our own imperial ambitions one day.

Bill Yaner

Half a league, half a league, Half a league onward, All in the valley of Death Rode the six hundred. "Forward, the Light Brigade! "Charge for the guns!" he said: Into the valley of Death Rode the six hundred.

-- Alfred, Lord Tennyson, "The Charge of the Light Brigade"


DW, sure as far as putting bodies in the bleachers, but what home team were they pulling for? Eventually the unique culture is lost, loyalties divide along many different lines, and apathy sets in. A number of scholars believe that devaluing citizenship was a contributing factor.

I don't think we disagree that was a result of an ever expanding empire.

BTW, did you know Lou Fike from Guilford ?

David Wharton
We've seen them, for example, carve up Afghanistan several times now into supposedly secure zones, contested zones, and bad ass zones, then launch out with a major offensive to gain or regain ground all over the place. Talk about porous.
Right on the money there, Bill. I'm teaching Caesar's De Bello Gallico to a graduate class right now, and the tactical parallels to Afghanistan are alarmingly similar, though the overall strategic goals differ.

"Imperial ambition and imperial overreach" are vague and loaded terms, empty of meaning unless we talk about specific policy goals and the proper role of the military in achieving them. The linked article (which I only skimmed) seemed long on hyperbole, short on analysis. But of course I agree that it's good for the press to report accurately on our military.

Spag, yes indeed the Roman "home team" changed almost completely over 12 centuries, though much of the work being done now on post-Roman Europe emphasizes the continuity between the Empire and the Middle Ages. It's not possible for cultural change not to happen; it's happened dramatically in our lifetime. The dominant WASP culture of our grandparents' day is senescent and the overconfident Boomers who took their place are showing themselves to be incapable of running our affairs. The Mexicans who come here illegally to work their butts off worry me a lot less than feckless homegrown lads like James Johnson and Tim Geithner. Cultural rot is spreading from Cambridge and New Haven, not Juarez.

David Hoggard

Now and again, this blog offers excellent stuff. This thread is one of those.

"The dominant WASP culture of our grandparents' day is senescent and the overconfident Boomers who took their place are showing themselves to be incapable of running our affairs."

Truer words cannot be written.


I knew I'd seen that article somewhere. Sorry.


"Cultural rot is spreading from Cambridge and New Haven, not Juarez."

Hear, hear.

Ed Cone

DW, I don't mean either term (imperial ambition or imperial overreach) to be vague or loaded, although neither has a mathematically-calibrated definition.

The former seems self-evident, given our history from manifest destiny through the current era of preemptive wars and global intervention. We've replaced military occupation of subjugated lands (except where we haven't) with softer methods, but when push comes to shove we reserve the right to act like a hegemonic power. One might argue that this is in the American interest, but arguing that it's not happening is a tougher row to hoe.

The latter I'd credit to Paul Kennedy's The Rise and Fall of Great Powers, and view through the lens of numerous historical examples. It seems impossible to deny as a possibility, and (check the unpaid bills from our current adventures) difficult to deny as a reality.

The line about New Haven and Cambridge probably deserves a hat tip to Bill Buckley, but while I share your lack of Juarezophobia it seems a bit glib nonetheless. Surely the rivals to universities -- "thinktanks" and others -- deserve their share of suspicion, especially for people who use "Obamacare" as a curseword.

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