- The Washington Times - Monday, June 28, 2004

AMERICA’S INADVERTENT EMPIRE

William E. Odom and Robert Dujarric

Yale University Press, $30, 285 pages

Several years ago, I was at a conference in London. I took an evening to do some exploring. Taking the underground to Piccadilly Circus, I tried to find a traditional English pub for fish and chips.

I couldn’t find one. There in the cultural heart of the former British empire, all one could see was McDonalds, Burger King, Pizza Hut and an occasional sushi establishment. The fashions worn by the thronging crowds were American, as was the music blaring from almost every club. The British invasion of the 1960s had been reversed.

At that moment, I came to the same conclusion that the authors of “America’s Inadvertent Empire” skillfully articulate: America dominates the world in ways that the traditional empires of the past never could.

Lt. Gen. William Odom and Robert Dujarric have accounted for American culture’s unique dominance in virtually all facets of life over the vast majority of the globe. This power is academic, scientific, economic and military. The fact that it did not come about by a conscious decision on the part of American political leaders is the genesis of the “inadvertent” portion of the title.

Indeed, this dominance is not only inadvertent, but probably could not be reversed even if we wanted it to be.

The authors make the argument that nations such as China and Russia also have similar (or superior) raw materials to become mega-powers. That they have not, and America has, is in the authors’ view a function of our development of a mature liberal democracy.

This does not mean liberal in the Ted Kennedy sense of the word, or democracy in the Athenian mold. It is defined by Messrs. Odom and Dujarric as a state in which the elites agree that the words of the democratic constitution are indeed law and must be treated as such, even when it is distasteful to the elites to do so.

The authors argue that this freedom encourages the type of creativity that allows us to hold sway over business, science, academic inquiry and military technology. Other countries have more enlightened constitutions on paper than our own, but they remain autocracies because the elites only follow them when it suits their purposes.

The law in such societies is always subject to interpretation not based on precedent, but on perceived self-interest among the policy-making elites. Communist China is a poster child for this type of system; Russia is in danger of becoming one.

There are chapters on each of the areas of American dominance, ranging from the military to education, that support the authors’ main theme. For the most part, they make their argument lucidly and succinctly. I, for one, agree with them. Others will not.

Dedicated Communists will cite a capitalist conspiracy by an unholy alliance of the Trilateral Commission, the Council on Foreign Relations and American industrialists to control the world. The truth is that we are not capable of the kind of long-range centralized planning that would bring this about.

Americans are skilled tacticians, but poor grand strategists. We lag far behind in actual political and diplomatic exploitation of our power than in exerting it on a day-to-day basis.

If the authors are right, the job of building a liberal democracy in Iraq will take years, possibly decades. Mr. Odom’s recent pronouncement on the “Today” show that we shouldn’t even try to build one will detract from his credibility; however, it is hard to argue with his point that Iraq is a long way off.

That said, you have to start someplace. With Mr. Odom’s approach,theBritish wouldn’t have gotten very far beyond the Magna Carta, and we certainly wouldn’t have advanced much further than the Articles of Confederation in this country.

The authors are well qualified to write a book like this one. Mr. Odom is a former head of the National Security Agency and a retired Army lieutenant general. Mr. Dujarric is a fellow on the Council on Foreign Relations.

But their book has a major flaw. When Mr. Odom, who was a military intelligence officer, strays into the area of military analysis he tends to confirm the popular opinion that military intelligence is indeed an oxymoron.

For example, his unsubstantiated prejudice against amphibious operations is unwarranted and out of place in this particular venue. It detracts from what is otherwise an engaging book.

“America’s Inadvertent Empire” does a good job of explaining how we got to be a hyper-power. It is less persuasive in describing what we can or should do with our power.

Gary Anderson is a retired Marine Corps officer who lectures on the Revolution in Military Affairs at George Washington University.

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