Transcript: Niall Ferguson on Colossus: The Price of America's Empire | Oct 09, 2004

Niall Ferguson stands on a small stage and addresses an unseen audience. He’s in his early forties, clean-shaven, with short wavy brown hair. He’s wearing a beige suit, white shirt, and pin-dotted black tie.

He says OVER THE LAST
TWO OR THREE MONTHS, I HAVE
DEBATED AND DISCUSSED THE
AMERICAN EMPIRE IN THE MOST
DIVERS SETTINGS.
I'VE ARGUED ABOUT IT ON THE
UPPER WEST SIDE OF NEW YORK,
I'VE ARGUED ABOUT IT IN THE
NAVAL WAR COLLEGE, IN NEWPORT,
RHODE ISLAND, I'VE DEBATED
AMERICAN EMPIRE IN WASHINGTON,
D.C., AND IN THE MOST
EXTRAORDINARILY HIPPY BOOKSTORE
IN CALIFORNIA, AND I'VE DEBATED
NOT ONLY IN THE UNITED STATES,
BUT ABROAD AS WELL.
A FEW WEEKS AGO, I WAS IN
GERMANY, DEBATING AMERICAN
EMPIRE IN BERLIN AND MUNICH, AND
IN THE LAST COUPLE OF WEEKS,
I'VE SPENT MOST OF MY TIME
TALKING ABOUT THE SELF SAME
SUBJECT IN THE UNITED KINGDOM.
BUT CANADA...

A caption appears on screen. It reads "Niall Ferguson. Author. ‘Colossus: The price of America’s Empire.’ Donner Canadian Foundation Lecture Series. June 8, 2004."

Niall says CANADA IS
SPECIAL WHEN IT COMES TO ANY
DISCUSSION OF AMERICAN POWER FOR
REASONS I NEED HARDLY EXPLAIN TO
A CANADIAN AUDIENCE.
I NOTICED IN THE NEWSPAPER
TODAY, THAT THE NASTIEST THING
MAUDE BARLOW OF THE COUNCIL OF
CANADIANS COULD FIND TO SAY
ABOUT STEPHEN HARPER WAS, AND I
QUOTE, “THAT A VOTE FOR HIM
WOULD BE A VOTE FOR GEORGE BUSH.”
THIS SEEMS TO
ME TO BE SYMPTOMATIC OF A MOOD
IN CANADA THAT HAS BEEN
GATHERING IN FORCE AND IN
INTENSITY THROUGHOUT THE
PRESIDENCY OF GEORGE W. BUSH.
A MOOD THAT DARKENED PERCEPTIBLY
IN THE COURSE OF LAST YEAR AS A
RESULT OF THE -- I HESITATE TO
CALL IT ANGLO-AMERICAN, BECAUSE
IT WAS SOMEWHAT BROADER THAN
THAT, BUT AMERICAN LED INVASION
OF IRAQ, WHICH CANADA
CONSPICUOUSLY DISTANCED ITSELF
FROM.
IT IS NOT EASY HAVING A BIG
NEIGHBOUR, I KNOW THIS AS A
SCOTSMAN.
BUT SELDOM IN SCOTTISH HISTORY
HAVE WE SUFFERED AN INDIGNITY
QUITE LIKE THE ONE THAT YOU
SUFFERED YESTERDAY.
TO HAVE...
[Audience laughter]
TO HAVE A CANADIAN TEAM LOSE AT
ICE HOCKEY TO A TEAM FROM FLORIDA...
THAT SEEMS TO ME AN INDIGNITY
COMPARABLE IN SCALE WITH A
SCOTTISH TEAM LOSING TO AN
ENGLISH TEAM AT CABER TOSSING.
[Audience laughter]
IN THE PREVAILING MOOD OF ANTI-
AMERICANISM, WHICH I SHOULD
EMPHASISE, IN SOME WAYS CAN BE
ENCOUNTERED IN THE UNITED STATES
ITSELF.
OFTEN THE MOST INTENSE HOSTILITY
TOWARD AMERICAN POLICY IS
EXPRESSED NOT IN BERLIN, NOT IN
PARIS, AND NOT EVEN IN TORONTO,
BUT IN FACT, IN SAN FRANCISCO,
AND YES, IN NEW YORK.
IN THIS TIME OF EXTRAORDINARILY
HEATED DEBATE ON AMERICAN
FOREIGN POLICY, IT IS IMPORTANT
TO BEAR IN MIND NOT ONLY THE
NEGATIVE BUT ALSO THE POSITIVE
ASPECTS OF WHAT THE AMERICANS
PREFER TO CALL HEGEMONY.
AS WE'VE ALREADY HEARD, THIS
FOUNDATION, THE DONNER
FOUNDATION, WHICH HAS SPONSORED
THIS LECTURE SERIES AND A GREAT
MANY OTHER MUCH BETTER WORKS
THAN A LECTURE BY NIALL
FERGUSON, WAS FOUNDED BY AN
AMERICAN.
WILLIAM H. DONNER WAS BORN IN
COLUMBUS INDIANA.
HE WAS, IN MANY WAYS, A CLASSIC
PRODUCT OF THAT EXTRAORDINARY
EXPLOSION OF INDUSTRIAL ACTIVITY
THAT PROPELLED THE UNITED STATES
TO THE FOREFRONT OF THE WORLD
ECONOMY.
HE MOVED TO MONTREAL ONLY AFTER
HE HAD RETIRED AS ONE OF THE
MOST SUCCESSFUL STEEL BARONS OF
HIS GENERATION.
FOR US, WHETHER WE ARE BRITISH,
CANADIAN OR INDEED, AMERICAN, TO
DISPARAGE THE UNITED STATES IN
TOO MONOCHROMATIC A WAY, SEEMS
TO ME ALWAYS TO BE DANGEROUS,
AND WHAT STRUCK ME FORCIBLY OVER
THE PAST FEW WEEKS, HAS BEEN THE
DIFFICULTY--
THE DIFFICULTY OF CONSTRUCTING
AN ARGUMENT ABOUT THIS SUBJECT,
WHICH IS BALANCED.
I WAS ESPECIALLY SHOCKED, LADIES
AND GENTLEMEN, BY THE ATTITUDE
OF ALMOST UNVARNISHED,
UNQUALIFIED HOSTILITY TO THE
UNITED STATES THAT CURRENTLY
PREVAILS IN BERLIN.
BERLIN OF ALL CITIES, WHICH WAS
SAVED FROM THE STALINIST YOKE,
AT LEAST IN PART BY NONE OTHER
THAN THE UNITED STATES.
WE NEED TO UNDERSTAND THE
AMERICAN COLOSSUS, NOT TO
DEMONISE IT, WE NEED TO ANALYSE
IT, AND THAT'S WHAT I WANT TO DO
THIS EVENING.
I WANT TO BEGIN WITH A
QUOTATION.
ITS' ONE OF THE EPIGRAPHS OF MY
BOOK, “COLOSSUS,” AND IT COMES
FROM SECRETARY OF DEFENCE DONALD
RUMSFELD IN AN INTERVIEW THAT HE
GAVE LAST FEBRUARY -- IN
FEBRUARY OF LAST YEAR.
“WE'RE NOT A COLONIAL POWER.
WE'VE NEVER BEEN A COLONIAL
POWER,” DECLARED SECRETARY
RUMSFELD.
“WE DON'T TAKE OUR FORCE AND GO
AROUND THE WORLD AND TRY AND
TAKE OTHER PEOPLE'S REAL ESTATE
OR OTHER PEOPLE'S RESOURCES,
THEIR OIL.
THAT'S NOT HOW DEMOCRACIES
BEHAVE.”
DECLARATIONS LIKE THIS HAVE
CHARACTERISED THE BUSH YEARS
ALMOST FROM THE VERY OUTSET.
IT HAS BECOME A LEITMOTIF OF THE
RHETORIC OF THE BUSH
ADMINISTRATION, THAT THE UNITED
STATES IS NOT, HAS NEVER BEEN,
AND COULD NEVER BE AN EMPIRE.
ONLY THE OTHER DAY, IN APRIL,
WHEN HE GAVE A PRESS CONFERENCE
AT THE WHITE HOUSE, AT A TIME
WHEN IT WAS OBVIOUS THAT THE
SITUATION IN IRAQ WAS
DETERIORATING VERY RAPIDLY,
PRESIDENT BUSH, ONCE AGAIN
REITERATED, “THE UNITED STATES
IS NOT,” HE SAID, “AN IMPERIAL POWER.”
IN COLOSSUS,
I SUGGEST THAT THIS IS A
CONDITION THAT CAN BE DIAGNOSED,
ALMOST A PSYCHOLOGICAL
CONDITION.
I CALL IT IMPERIAL DENIAL.
BECAUSE YOU
SEE, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, BY
ANY MEANINGFUL HISTORICAL
MEASURE, BY ANY MEASURE OF
EMPIRE THAT IS HISTORICALLY
VALID, THE UNITED STATES NOT
ONLY IS AN EMPIRE TODAY, IT HAS
BEEN AN EMPIRE FROM ITS VERY
INCEPTION.
AND THE ONLY STRANGE THING ABOUT
THE AMERICAN EMPIRE, WHICH I
ESTIMATE IS ABOUT THE 68th
EMPIRE IN RECORDED HISTORY --
THE ONLY STRANGE THING ABOUT IT,
THE THING THAT MAKES IT REALLY
DIFFERENT, FROM OTHER EMPIRES IS
THAT IT IS THE FIRST EMPIRE IN
HISTORY THAT HAS SYSTEMATICALLY
DENIED ITS OWN EXISTENCE.
MOST EMPIRES PROCLAIM THEIR
IMPERIAL GREATNESS, THEY'RE
PROUD OF IT, THEY TRUMPET IT,
THEY BUILD MONUMENTS TO IT.
THE UNITED STATES IS THE FIRST
EMPIRE IN HISTORY THAT REFUSES
TO ACKNOWLEDGE ITS OWN EXISTENCE
AS AN EMPIRE.
ONE OF THE THINGS I TRY AND DO
IN THE BOOK IS TO TELL THE
HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES IN
THE OPENING CHAPTER, AS THE
HISTORY NOT OF AN EXCEPTIONAL
EXPERIMENT IN REPUBLICAN
INSTITUTIONS AND DEMOCRACY, BUT
AS THE HISTORY OF JUST ANOTHER,
PERFECTLY NORMAL EMPIRE.
AND THIS IS NOT DIFFICULT TO DO,
BECAUSE THE FOUNDING FATHERS
THEMSELVES AGREED FROM THE VERY
OUTSET OF THEIR REVOLT AGAINST
BRITISH IMPERIAL RULE, THAT THE
UNITED STATES THEY WERE CREATING
WOULD HAVE TO BE AN EMPIRE.
THEY ALL USED THE “E” WORD.
JEFFERSON USED IT WHEN HE SPOKE
OF AN EMPIRE OF LIBERTY.
HAMILTON USED IT AND SAW MUCH
MORE CLEARLY THAT THE UNITED
STATES WOULD HAVE TO BE AN
EMPIRE IN THE BRITISH SENSE OF
THE WORD, TO SURVIVE.
WASHINGTON SAW THE UNITED STATES
AS A NASCENT EMPIRE.
MADISON USED THE “E” WORD, TOO.
AND THROUGHOUT THE 19th CENTURY,
AMERICANS MADE NO SECRET OF THE
FACT THAT THE EXPANSION OF WHAT
HAD ONCE BEEN 13 BRITISH
COLONIES ACROSS THE NORTH
AMERICAN CONTINENT WAS AN
IMPERIAL UNDERTAKING, IT WAS
MANIFEST DESTINY THAT THE UNITED
STATES SHOULD EXPAND FROM SEA TO
SHINING SEA.
BY 19th CENTURY STANDARDS, WHAT
THE UNITED STATES WAS DOING WAS
QUITE NORMAL.
IT WAS PRECISELY WHAT TSARIST
RUSSIA WAS DOING ON THE OTHER
SIDE OF THE WORLD, AS IT
EXPANDED FROM MUSCOVY INTO THE
CAUCUSES AND OUT ACROSS THE
SIBERIAN STEPPE.
THE DIFFERENCE WAS IN PART, THAT
THE UNITED STATES ENCOUNTERED SO
LITTLE RESISTANCE TO ITS
EXPANSION, OR RATHER, THE
RESISTANCE THAT IT ENCOUNTERED
WAS GENERALLY VERY WEAK.
I SAY GENERALLY BECAUSE THERE
WAS AN EXCEPTION.
CONQUEST CERTAINLY OF THE
INDIGENOUS PEOPLES OF NORTH
AMERICA WAS SOMETHING THAT THE
CITIZENS OF THE UNITED STATES
FOUND A GREAT DEAL EASIER TO
UNDERTAKE, ONCE THEY WERE
LIBERATED FROM THE RESTRAINT OF
BRITISH RULE.
THAT, INDEED WAS ONE OF THE
WHOLE POINTS OF THE AMERICAN
REVOLUTION, TO BREACH THE
TREATIES THE BRITISH HAD REACHED
WITH THE NATIVE AMERICANS.
BUT THE INTERESTING THING ABOUT
AMERICA'S EXPANSION, OR RATHER
THE EXPANSION OF THE UNITED
STATES, HAS BEEN THE EXTENT TO
WHICH IT WAS ACHIEVED NOT JUST
BY FORCE, BUT ALSO, IN A VERY
AMERICAN WAY, BY PURCHASE.
IF YOU ADD UP THE TOTAL
EXPENDITURE OF THE UNITED STATES
ON THE ACQUISITION OF TERRITORY
IN THE COURSE OF THE 19th
CENTURY, ADD UP HOW MUCH IT PAID
TO ACQUIRE WHAT WAS KNOWN AS
LOUISIANA, BUT WAS IN FACT A
GREAT DEAL MORE IN 1803, TEXAS,
CALIFORNIA, ALASKA, ULTIMATELY,
THE TOTAL COMES TO VERY NEARLY
100 MILLION dollars.
IT HAS TO BE ONE OF THE GREAT
REAL ESTATE BARGAINS IN ALL
HISTORY THAT THE UNITED STATES
WAS ABLE TO ACQUIRE CALIFORNIA
AND TEXAS AT SUCH KNOCK DOWN
PRICES, SOMETHING LIKE 20
MILLION dollars EACH, FROM THE HAPLESS MEXICANS.
BUT THE INTERESTING THING ABOUT
THE EXPANSION OF THE UNITED
STATES IS ITS NORTHERN LIMIT,
WHICH IS, WHEN YOU LOOK AT IT
FROM THE DISTANCE OF THE BRITISH
ISLES, A VERY MYSTIFYING THING.
THE AMERICANS, OR RATHER, THE
CITIZENS OF THE UNITED STATES, I
HAVE TO BE VERY CAREFUL WHAT I
CALL THEM HERE, INTENDED
ORIGINALLY THAT THE OTHER
BRITISH COLONIES IN NORTH
AMERICA SHOULD JOIN THEIR UNION.
BUT AS YOU ALL KNOW, THEY DID
NOT.
ATTEMPTS TO MAKE THEM JOIN BY
FORCE FAILED, MOST CONSPICUOUSLY
IN 1812.
BUT AS LATE AS 1851, MELVILLE
COULD WRITE IN ONE OF THE MORE
AMUSING ASIDES IN HIS WONDERFUL
NOVEL “MOBY DICK,” THAT IT WAS
ONLY A MATTER OF TIME UNTIL THE
UNITED STATES WOULD, AND I
QUOTE, “PILE CUBA UPON CANADA.”
HENRY CABOT LODGE WAS ONLY ONE
OF MANY MID 19th CENTURY
AMERICANS WHO ASSUMED THAT IN
DUE COURSE, THE CANADIAN STATES
AS THEY SAW THEM, WOULD JOIN THE
UNION.
IT DIDN'T HAPPEN.
INSTEAD CANADA ITSELF UNITED,
BECAME THE COUNTRY WE KNOW
TODAY.
AND THAT LINE ACROSS THE 49th
PARALLEL WITH ITS QUIRKY LINE
AROUND THE GREAT LAKES, EXISTS
TO THIS DAY.
THIS MORNING
I SPOKE AT HARVARD UNIVERSITY ON
THIS SUBJECT, AND I SAID TO AN
AUDIENCE THAT WAS MANIFESTLY
SHOCKED, THAT THE PARTITION OF
BRITISH NORTH AMERICA WAS ONE OF
THE ENDURING FACTS OF MODERN
HISTORY.
I DON'T THINK
ANYBODY IN THAT AUDIENCE HAD
EVER THOUGHT OF THE EXISTENCE OF
SEPARATE STATES IN NORTH AMERICA
AS CANADA AND THE UNITED STATES
AS A PARTITION.
BUT IT IS, ONE OF THE GREAT AND
MOST PEACEFUL PARTITIONS THAT
THE BRITISH EMPIRE HAS LEFT AS A
LEGACY TO THE MODERN WORLD.
INCIDENTALLY THAT AUDIENCE WAS
SHOCKED BY SOMETHING ELSE THAT I
SAID.
I POINTED OUT THAT THE D-DAY
INVASION THAT WE HAVE ALL BEEN
COMMEMORATING THESE PAST FEW
DAYS WAS A BRITISH, CANADIAN,
AMERICAN OPERATION.
I THINK MOST PEOPLE IN MY
AUDIENCE IN CAMBRIDGE THIS
MORNING HAD NO IDEA OF THE SCALE
OF THE CANADIAN CONTRIBUTION TO
D-DAY.
AND YOU SEE, THAT IS VERY
SYMPTOMATIC OF AMERICAN DENIAL.
I OFTEN HAVE THE IMPRESSION WHEN
I'M IN THE UNITED STATES, OF A
COLLECTIVE SUSPENSION OF
DISBELIEF.
AMERICANS OF THE SENSE OF
CITIZENS OF THE UNITED STATES,
ACT ALMOST AS IF CANADA DOES NOT
EXIST, HAS PLAYED NO ROLE IN THE
WORLD WARS.
ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF THIS STRANGE
ASSUMPTION OF AMERICAN
EXCEPTIONALISM IN THE SENSE OF
THE UNITED STATES, IS A MATTER
OF PUNCTUATION.
I CAN'T RESIST TELLING YOU THIS,
BECAUSE IT AMUSED ME SO MUCH.
MY NEW BOOK “COLOSSUS” IS THE
FIRST BOOK THAT HAS BEEN EDITED
PRIMARILY IN NEW YORK RATHER
THAN IN LONDON.
WHEN I GOT THE PROOFS BACK, I
WAS VERY PUZZLED TO NOTICE
SOMETHING.
AND THAT WAS, EVERY TIME I
ABBREVIATED, UNITED STATES TO
U.S. OR U.S.A., THE COPY EDITOR
HAD INSERTED FULL STOPS, POINTS,
U-DOT-S-DOT, OR U-DOT-S-DOT-A-
DOT, BUT THE SAME COPY EDITOR
HAD NOT DONE THAT IN THE CASE OF
U.N., OR IN THE CASE OF U.K. AND
THIS SEEMED TREMENDOUSLY
INCONSISTENT TO MY OLD FASHIONED
GLASGOW ACADEMICAL MIND.
AND SO I PHONED UP AND I SAID,
“THERE'S A TERRIBLE LAPSE IN THE
WAY THAT YOU'VE DONE THIS,
BECAUSE YOU'VE ONLY PUT POINTS
IN WITH RESPECT TO THE UNITED
STATES, AND YOU'VE FORGOTTEN DO
IT FOR THE UNITED NATIONS AND
THE UNITED KINGDOM.”
“OH NO,” CAME THE REPLY, “THAT
IS OUR HOUSE STYLE.
ONLY THE UNITED STATES GETS
DOTS.”
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE
IMPERIALISM OF ABBREVIATION.
[Audience laughter]
THE BUG PUZZLE ABOUT THE UNITED
STATES, WHEN ONE COMES TO THINK
ABOUT IT HISTORICALLY, IS WHY
THE AMERICANS, CITIZENS OF THE
UNITED STATES STOPPED REGARDING
THEMSELVES OVERTLY AS AN EMPIRE.
THEY DID IT THROUGHOUT THE 19th
CENTURY.
IN 1898, WHEN THEY WENT TO WAR
WITH SPAIN AND ANNEXED THE
PHILIPPINES, THEY WERE AS SELF
CONSCIOUSLY IMPERIALISTIC AS ANY
OF THE GREAT EUROPEAN POWERS OF
THAT TIME.
AT SOME POINT THEREFORE, IN THE
20th CENTURY, THE UNITED STATES
WENT OFF THE “E” WORD IN A MOST
DRAMATIC WAY, AND CEASED TO
REGARD ITSELF AS AN EMPIRE.
THE QUESTION IS WHEN.
I SUGGEST IN THE BOOK, THAT IT
MUST HAVE BEEN DURING THE WAR IN
THE PHILIPPINES THAT ENSUED.
IT WAS A DIRTY WAR, NOT A WAR
THAT THE UNITED STATES EXPECTED
TO FIGHT.
YOU'LL BE SURPRISED TO HEAR THAT
THE UNITED STATES HAD EXPECTED
ITS TROOPS TO BE GREETED BY THE
FILIPINOS AS NOT CONQUERORS, BUT
LIBERATORS, AND STRANGELY ENOUGH
THEY WERE NOT.
PARTICULARLY ON THE ISLANDS
POPULATED BY MUSLIMS, THERE WAS
A FEROCIOUS RESISTANCE TO THE
AMERICAN PRESENCE, AND IN THE
BOOK I SUGGEST THAT THE PHASES
OF THIS AMERICAN INTERVENTION
FALL INTO SEVEN DISTINCT STEPS,
AND I'LL READ THEM TO YOU.
SEE IF THEY SOUND FAMILIAR.
NUMBER 1: IMPRESSIVE INITIAL
MILITARY SUCCESS.
NUMBER 2: FLAWED ASSESSMENT OF
INDIGENOUS SENTIMENT.
NUMBER 3: GRADUAL, UNPLANNED
ESCALATION OF FORCES.
NUMBER 4: GROWING DOMESTIC
DISILLUSIONMENT.
NUMBER 5: PREMATURE
DEMOCRATISATION.
NUMBER 6: THE ASCENDENCY OF
DOMESTIC ECONOMIC
CONSIDERATIONS.
NUMBER 7: ULTIMATE WITHDRAWAL.
IT WAS IN THE AFTERMATH OF THE
EMBARRASSMENT OF THE PHILIPPINES
OCCUPATION, THAT THE FORMER
IMPERIALISTS GAVE THEMSELVES A
MAKEOVER, BEGINNING EVEN WITH
THEODORE ROOSEVELT, WHO IN
EFFECT FORESWORE FUTURE IMPERIAL
AMBITIONS WHEN HE DECLINED TO
ANNEX CUBA.
FROM THAT MOMENT ON, THE UNITED
STATES RESOLVED TO EXERCISE ITS
POWER BY NON-IMPERIAL MEANS, TO
RECAST ITS POWER IN TERMS OF
HEGEMONY, PRIMACY, LEADERSHIP,
YOU NAME IT -- ANYTHING BUT
EMPIRE.
BUT LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, YOU
CAN CHANGE THE LABEL AS MUCH AS
YOU LIKE, EXERCISING POWER IN
FOREIGN COUNTRIES ALWAYS COMES
DOWN, IN THE END, TO EMPIRE.
AND LET ME ILLUSTRATE THAT POINT
WITH A LITTLE ANECDOTE FROM THE
YEAR 1913.
IN 1913, THERE WAS A MILITARY
COUP IN MEXICO.
THE THEN PRESIDENT, A HIGH
MINDED ACADEMIC, WOODROW WILSON,
DISAPPROVED STRONGLY OF THIS
DEVELOPMENT, SINCE HE FELT THAT
MEXICO SHOULD HAVE, AS FAR AS
POSSIBLE, AN AMERICAN STYLE
DEMOCRATIC SYSTEM OF GOVERNMENT.
AS HE WAS FULMINATING, THE
FOLLOWING CONVERSATION TOOK
PLACE BETWEEN THE BRITISH
FOREIGN SECRETARY, SIR EDWARD
GREY, AND THE AMERICAN
AMBASSADOR IN LONDON, WHOSE NAME
WAS PAIGE, AND I QUOTE:
GREY: “SUPPOSE YOU HAVE TO
INTERVENE, WHAT THEN?”
HE WAS A WICKHAMIST, AND SO
PROBABLY DID TALK THAT WAY.
PAIGE: “MAKE THEM VOTE AND LIVE
BY THEIR DECISIONS.
GREY: BUT SUPPOSE THEY WILL NOT
SO LIFE.
PAIGE: WE'LL GO IN AND MAKE 'EM
VOTE AGAIN.
[Audience laughter]
GREY: AND KEEP THIS UP 200 YEARS?
PAIGE: YES, THE UNITED STATES
WILL BE HERE FOR 200 YEARS AND
IT CAN CONTINUE TO SHOOT MEN FOR
THAT LITTLE SPACE UNTIL THEY
LEARN TO VOTE AND TO RULE
THEMSELVES.”
PLUS CA CHANGE, PLUS C'EST LA
MEME CHOSE, AS JOHN KERRY MIGHT
PUT IT.

[Audience laughter]

Niall continues AND YET THIS
EMPIRE IN DENIAL, FOR ALL ITS
MANIFEST FAILINGS, FOR ALL ITS
MANIFEST BUNGLINGS, NOT LEAST IN
CENTRAL AMERICA AND THE
CARIBBEAN IN THE ENSUING
DECADES, HAS HAD ITS TRIUMPHS,
AND WE SHOULD NOT IGNORE THEM.
ITS SUCCESS
IN TRANSFORMING THE ULTIMATE
ROGUE REGIMES, GERMANY AND JAPAN
INTO MODELS OF, YES, WESTERN
DEMOCRACY, CANNOT BE
UNDERESTIMATED AS CONTRIBUTIONS
TO THE STABILITY OF THE MODERN
WORLD.
SIGNAL, EXTRAORDINARY, NEAR
MIRACULOUS CONTRIBUTIONS.
THE TRANSFORMATION OF WESTERN
GERMANY AND JAPAN INTO THE
STATES WE KNOW TODAY WAS NO
ACCIDENT.
IT COULD NOT HAVE HAPPENED, AND
WE SHOULD BE CLEAR ABOUT THIS,
WITHOUT A SUSTAINED COMMITMENT
OF MANPOWER AND FINANCIAL
ASSISTANCE BY THE UNITED STATES.
THOSE WHO IMAGINE WITH THE
BENEFIT OF HINDSIGHT, THAT IT
WAS EASY TO DEMOCRATISE THE
GERMANS AFTER THE HITLER
TYRANNY, THAT IT WAS EASY TO
TRANSFORM JAPAN INTO A WESTERN
STYLE DEMOCRACY, ARE DREAMING.
IN MANY WAYS, THESE WERE FAR
HARDER TASKS THAN THE TASK THE
UNITED STATES HAS SET ITSELF
TODAY.
THINK ALSO OF SOUTH KOREA.
THAT, TOO HAS TO BE ENTERED ON
THE CREDIT SIDE OF THE AMERICAN
EMPIRE'S BALANCE SHEET.
AND LET US NOT FORGET, AS I'M
AFRAID ALL TOO MANY PEOPLE DO
TODAY, AGAIN WITH THE BENEFIT OF
HINDSIGHT, THE EXTRAORDINARY AND
CRUCIAL CONTRIBUTION MADE BY THE
UNITED STATES IN RESISTING THE
AMBITIONS OF THE SOVIET EMPIRE
THAT OTHER GREAT SELF DENYING
EMPIRE OF THE 20th CENTURY,
WHICH WOULD, WITHOUT THE
TENACITY OF THE UNITED STATES,
HAVE VERY SURELY EXPANDED
FURTHER WESTWARDS INTO THE
EUROPEAN CONTINENT THAN IT DID
AFTER 1945.
SO THERE WERE SUCCESSES, HUGE
SUCCESSES, AND YET THERE WERE SO
MANY FAILURES.
THE UNITED STATES HAS TRIED AT
VARIOUS TIMES TO OCCUPY AND
TRANSFORM THE INSTITUTIONS OF
MANY COUNTRIES, PANAMA, A
COUNTRY THAT IS IN FACT
INVENTED, THE DOMINICAN
REPUBLIC, HAITI, PERHAPS THE
MOST EGREGIOUS EXAMPLE OF ABJECT
AND UTTER FAILURE, AND OF COURSE
SOUTH VIETNAM, ANOTHER COUNTRY
THE UNITED STATES INVENTED ONLY
TO BETRAY.
AND ITS EMPIRE HAS NOT ALWAYS
BEEN A DIRECT EMPIRE, BASED ON
FORMAL OCCUPATION.
IT HAS OFTEN BEEN WHAT THE
BRITISH WOULD HAVE CALLED AN
INDIRECT OR INFORMAL, TO BE
PRECISE, EMPIRE, RELYING ON
LOCAL PUPPETS, SUBSIDISED,
SUPPORTED, ARMED, PROTECTED --
THINK OF IRAN, THINK OF CUBA,
THINK OF CHILE, THINK OF
NICARAGUA.
THE BIG QUESTION ONE HAS TO ASK
ONESELF WHEN ONE LISTS THESE
FAILURES IS SIMPLY THIS.
WHY HAS THE UNITED STATES, GIVEN
ITS VAST WEALTH ITS
EXTRAORDINARY MILITARY
CAPABILITIES, AND ITS ALMOST
IRRESISTIBLY ATTRACTIVE POPULAR
CULTURE, WHY HAS THE UNITED
STATES NOT BEEN A MORE
SUCCESSFUL EMPIRE?
WHY SO MANY FAILURES?
WHY SUCH A LONG LIST OF
DISASTERS?
IT SEEMS TO ME THE BEST ANSWER
ONE CAN OFFER TO THIS QUESTION,
IS ARRIVED AT BY COMPARATIVE
MEANS.
ONE OF THE KEY IDEAS I PUT
FORWARD IN “COLOSSUS,” IS THAT
THE UNITED STATES SHARES THE
ASPIRATIONS OF THE BRITISH
EMPIRE OF A CENTURY AGO, BUT
LACKS THE STRUCTURAL CAPABILITY
TO ACHIEVE ITS OBJECTIVES.
WHEN I SAY IT SHARES THE BRITISH
ASPIRATIONS OF A CENTURY AGO,
AUDIENCES IN THE UNITED STATES
THROW UP THEIR HANDS IN
DISBELIEF, INCREDULITY,
AMAZEMENT AND HORROR.
AND YET, WHEN ONE LOOKS AT WHAT
THE BRITISH EMPIRE IN THE TIME
OF MILNER, WAS ASPIRING TO DO,
TO CREATE A GLOBAL ORDER BASED
ON FREE TRADE, TO EXPORT TO A
QUARTER OF THE WORLD'S LAND
SURFACE, BRITISH CONVENTIONS
ABOUT PROPERTY RIGHTS AND NON-
CORRUPT ADMINISTRATION, AND YES,
GRADUALLY TO DEMOCRATISE THOSE
COUNTRIES OVER TIME, AS THE
BRITISH FELT THEY MATURED
POLITICALLY.
THESE OBJECTIVES ARE UNCANNILY
SIMILAR TO THE OBJECTIVES OF THE
UNITED STATES TODAY, AS SET OUT
FOR EXAMPLE IN THE NATIONAL
SECURITY STRATEGY DOCUMENT
PRODUCED BY PRESIDENT BUSH'S
ADMINISTRATION.
WHEN THE BRITISH WENT INTO
BAGHDAD IN THE SPRING OF 1917,
GENERAL F.S. MAUDE ISSUED A
PROCLAMATION THAT EXPLICITLY
DECLARED, WE COME, NOT AS
CONQUERORS, BUT AS LIBERATORS.
LONG BEFORE THE UNITED STATES
DISCOVERED THE RHETORIC OF
FORCIBLE EMANCIPATION, OF
DEMOCRATISATION AT GUNPOINT, THE
BRITISH HAD BEEN DOING IT, AND
HAD DONE IT FOR MANY YEARS.
INDEED, IN MANY WAYS, WHAT THE
UNITED STATES IS TRYING TO DO,
AS PAUL KENNEDY RECENTLY POINTED
OUT IN AN EXCELLENT REVIEW OF MY
BOOK IN “THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF
BOOKS,” IN MANY WAYS WHAT THE
U.S. IS UNWITTINGLY TRYING TO DO
IS PRECISELY WHAT THE BRITISH
FELT THEY HAD TO DO IN THE AGE
OF WHAT THEY CALLED THE GREAT
GAIN.
TO SECURE CONTROL OF THAT
EURASIAN GEOPOLITICAL SPACE
STRETCHING FROM WHAT USED TO BE
CALLED THE NEAR EAST TO THE
HIMALAYAS.
THE GEOPOLITICAL AMBITIONS OF
THIS EMPIRE WOULD HAVE BEEN
INSTANTLY RECOGNISABLE TO THE
GEOPOLITICAL STRATEGISTS OF A
CENTURY AGO.
AND YET THE UNITED STATES IS NOT
IN FACT ABLE TO ACHIEVE THE
SUCCESS THAT THE BRITISH
UNDOUBTEDLY DID ACHIEVE IN THIS
GREAT GAIN -- WHY NOT?
I SUGGEST THAT IT'S BECAUSE THE
UNITED STATES, THE AMERICAN
EMPIRE, IS AFFLICTED BY THREE
FUNDAMENTAL DEFICITS THAT DID
NOT AFFLICT ITS BRITISH
PREDECESSOR.
FIRST IS THE ECONOMIC DEFICIT,
AND THIS IS ONE OF THE CRUCIAL
ARGUMENTS OF THE BOOK.
100 YEARS AGO, THE UNITED
KINGDOM WAS GENUINELY THE
WORLD'S BANKER.
IT WAS IN NET TERMS, A VAST
EXPORTER OF CAPITAL, SENDING THE
SAVINGS OF THE BRITISH ALL OVER
THE WORLD IN VAST QUANTITIES.
TODAY, THE UNITED STATES IS THE
WORLD'S BIGGEST DEBTOR, WITH A
CURRENT ACCOUNT DEFICIT OF
ROUGHLY 5 percent OF GROSS DOMESTIC
PRODUCT.
THE NET LIABILITIES OF THE
UNITED STATES ARE MOUNTING WITH
DIZZYING SPEED.
ALREADY THE NET LIABILITIES
EXCEED 3 TRILLION dollars.
WERE IT NOT FOR HUGE INFLOWS OF
CAPITAL, PARTICULARLY FROM EAST
ASIAN CENTRAL BANKS, THE UNITED
STATES WOULD ALREADY BE IN THE
GRAVEST ECONOMIC DIFFICULTIES.
ONLY THE INTERVENTIONS OF THE
CHINESE AND JAPANESE MONETARY
AUTHORITIES HAVE KEPT U.S.
INTEREST RATES AT THEIR CURRENT
LEVEL IN THE FACE OF A FISCAL
POLICY OF ALMOST GIDDY
IRRESPONSIBILITY.
SO THERE IS
AN ECONOMIC CONSTRAINT AND IT'S
A CONSTRAINT THAT AMERICAN
FISCAL POLICY CONSISTENTLY
WORSENS.
IF ON CALCULATES THE NET
LIABILITIES OF THE MEDICARE AND
SOCIAL SECURITY SYSTEMS, THE
FINANCIAL IMBALANCE WHICH IS AT
THE HEART OF THE AMERICAN
WELFARE STATE, ONE ARRIVES AT A
PRESENT VALUE FIGURE OF THE
ORDER OF 45 TRILLION dollars.
THE FISCAL
IMPLICATIONS OF AMERICAN
DOMESTIC OVERSTRETCH, HAVE ONLY
JUST BEGUN TO DAWN ON AMERICANS
THESE PAST MONTHS.
BUT THAT'S ONLY THE FIRST
DEFICIT.
THE SECOND DEFICIT FROM WHICH
THE AMERICAN EMPIRE SUFFERS, IS
A MANPOWER DEFICIT.
WELL WE SEE THAT VERY CLEARLY IN
IRAQ TODAY, IN THE WAY THAT MORE
AND MORE AMERICAN SERVICE
PERSONNEL ARE BEING PREVENTED
FROM LEAVING THE ARMY AND MARINE
CORPS WHEN THEIR TIME TO LEAVE
IS DUE.
THERE IS A QUIET CONSCRIPTION AT
WORK WITHIN THE AMERICAN
MILITARY TODAY, A CONSCRIPTION
THAT TARGETS THOSE ALREADY
SERVING, BUT DUE TO LEAVE THE
ARMED SERVICES, AND THAT IS NOT
SUFFICING.
I WAS IN THE MIDDLE EAST AT THE
END OF LAST YEAR, AND WAS
FORCIBLY STRUCK BY THE EXTENT TO
WHICH AMERICAN OPERATIONS IN
IRAQ RELY ON WHAT WE IN BRITAIN
CALL WEEKEND SOLDIERS,
RESERVISTS, AND NATIONAL GUARDS
TROOPS.
THAT, OF COURSE WAS ONE OF THE
SORRIER ASPECTS OF THE GHASTLY
EVENTS AT ABU GHRAIB.
THEY WERE CONDUCTED BY
RESERVISTS, THESE ATROCITIES,
THE IMAGES OF WHICH HAVE DONE SO
MUCH TO BRING DISREPUTE UPON THE
UNITED STATES.
BUT THE MANPOWER DEFICIT GOES
MUCH FURTHER THAN THAT.
A FUNDAMENTAL PROBLEM OF ALL
EMPIRES, IS THAT THEY CANNOT BE
BASED ON COERCION ALONE, THEY
CANNOT BE BASED EXCLUSIVELY ON
THE EXPORT OF TROOPS.
THE BRITISH EMPIRE WOULD NOT
HAVE LASTED LONG HAD IT NOT BEEN
FOR THE COLOSSAL NUMBER OF
BRITONS, PARTICULARLY FROM THE
CELTIC PERIPHERY, WHO WERE
WILLING, AND I REGARD MYSELF AS
AN EXAMPLE OF THIS PHENOMENON,
TO LEAVE BEHIND THE RAINY SHORES
OF THEIR YOUTH AND EMIGRATE AND
SETTLE ON THE IMPERIAL
PERIPHERY.
I TOLD THE STORY IN MY LAST
BOOK, “EMPIRE,” OF MY GREAT AUNT
AGNES WHO ENDED UP IN
SASKATCHEWAN IN 1911.
SHE HAD BEEN MISLED INTO
THINKING THAT THE WINTERS THERE
WERE BETTER THAN THEY WERE IN
THE WEST OF SCOTLAND.
[Audience laughter]
SETTLERS ARE THE KEY TO
SUCCESSFUL COLONISATION.
IT'S A TAUTOLOGY.
WHAT ELSE ARE COLONIES BUT
PLACES WHERE PEOPLE SETTLE, LIVE
THEIR LIVES, BRING UP THEIR
FAMILIES, BUT THE UNITED STATES
HAS NO SETTLERS.
IT REMAINS A DESTINATION FOR
IMMIGRANTS, NOT A SOURCE OF
EMIGRATION.
I ONCE SAID TO A FRIEND IN NEW
YORK, THIS WAS LAST YEAR SHORTLY
BEFORE THE IRAQ INVASION, “YOU
KNOW THE TROUBLE WITH YOU
AMERICANS IS THAT YOU DON'T WANT
TO GO AND LIVE IN HOT, POOR
COUNTRIES.”
AND HE REPLIED, “YOU'RE RIGHT, I
NEVER WANT TO GO TO ALABAMA.”
[Audience laughter]
BUT THE MANPOWER DEFICIT AND THE
ECONOMIC DEFICIT ARE NOT THE
MOST SERIOUS OF THE DEFICITS
FROM WHICH THE UNITED STATES
SUFFERS.
THE FATAL DEFICIT FROM WHICH IT
SEEMS TO ME THE AMERICAN EMPIRE
WILL NEVER RECOVER, IS ITS
ATTENTION DEFICIT.
THE UNITED STATES IS THE FIRST
EMPIRE IN HISTORY TO SUFFER FROM
ATTENTION DEFICIT DISORDER.
THE ASSUMPTION, EXTRAORDINARY AS
IT SEEMED TO ME AT THE TIME,
THAT ONE COULD INVADE IRAQ,
OVERTHROW SADDAM HUSSEIN, CREATE
A MARKET ECONOMY, CREATE THE
RULE OF LAW, INTRODUCE
DEMOCRACY, AND BE HOME IN TIME
FOR NOVEMBER 2, 2004, BEGGARS
BELIEF.
HOW COULD ANYBODY SERIOUSLY HAVE
THOUGHT THIS UNDERTAKING COULD
BE COMPLETED IN A MATTER OF 15
MONTHS?
EVEN AMERICAN HISTORY ITSELF
SHOW HOW LONG IT TOOK TO
TRANSFORM WEST GERMANY AND
JAPAN.
IF ONE LOOKED AT THE CONDITION,
AND I DO IN THE BOOK, AT THOSE
SITUATIONS JUST 15 MONTHS AFTER
THE END OF WORLD WAR II, THERE
WAS NO SIGN THEN OF ECONOMIC
MIRACLES.
ON THE CONTRARY THE ECONOMIC
SITUATION IN WEST GERMANY, IN
LATE 1946, WERE FAR WORSE THAN
THE ECONOMIC SITUATION IN IRAQ
TODAY.
WILD UNREALISM, THAT IS THE ONLY
WAY TO DESCRIBE THE PLANNING, IF
THAT INDEED IS WHAT IT WAS, IN
THE DEFENSE DEPARTMENT FOR THE
POST WAR PERIOD IN IRAQ.
AND YET THAT LACK OF REALISM
SEEMS ALMOST TO HAVE BEEN
UNIVERSALLY SHARED THROUGHOUT
AMERICAN SOCIETY.
EVERY TIME I POINT IT OUT, AND I
DID IT REPEATEDLY LAST YEAR,
THAT THE UNITED KINGDOM WAS IN
EFFECT RUNNING IRAQ FROM 1917
UNTIL THE LAST TROOPS LEFT IN
1955, AMERICAN AUDIENCES STEP
BACK IN HORROR AT THE TIME FRAME
THAT IMPLIED, 40 AND 50 YEARS OF
OCCUPATION?
THE METRIC WAS SUPPOSED TO BE
DAYS, MAYBE MONTHS, NOT DECADES.
I WAS IN CALIFORNIA A COUPLE OF
WEEKS AGO, AND SOMEBODY, A VERY
EMINENT BUSINESSMAN ON THE WEST
COAST SAID TO ME, AND IT'S A
CLASSIC EXAMPLE OF THE ATTENTION
DEFICIT DISORDER, JUST BEFORE WE
WENT IN TO LUNCH.
“NIALL,” HE SAID, “HOW CAN WE
SORT OUT IRAQ, IN 30 SECONDS,
PLEASE.”
[Audience laughter]
I SAID, “WELL 30 SECONDS IS
SLIGHTLY LESS THAN EVEN
PRESIDENT BUSH IS EXPECTING IT
TO TAKE.”
SO THE UNITED STATES, THE
AMERICAN EMPIRE, AS I CALL IT,
IS NOT IN ANY SENSE, OTHER THAN
ITS AMBITIONS, A CLONE OF THE
BRITISH EMPIRE.
WHAT DOES IT RESEMBLE?
WHAT EMPIRE IS IT LIKE?
IT SEEMS TO ME THAT IF ANYTHING,
THE AMERICAN EMPIRE IS MORE
ROMAN THAN IT IS BRITISH.
IT'S A REPUBLIC, AND THIS IS AN
IMPORTANT POINT TO BEAR IN MIND.
THE REPUBLICS FACE CERTAIN
CLASSICAL TEMPTATIONS WHEN THEY
EXERCISE POWER FAR FROM THEIR
OWN METROPOLIS.
THE UNITED
STATES SEEMS TO BE TO BE POISED
DANGEROUSLY ON A PRECIPICE, A
POLITICAL PRECIPICE.
ON ONE SIDE THE FAMILIAR
SURROUNDINGS OF THE REPUBLICAN
ORDER, EMBODIED, PERSONIFIED IN
MANY WAYS BY SENATOR KERRY WITH
HIS PATRICIAN COMPLACENCY.
ON THE OTHER
SIDE THERE IS A PRECIPICE.
A PRECIPICE IN WHICH INDIVIDUAL
LIBERTIES COULD QUITE QUICKLY BE
SACRIFICED TO THE PURSUIT OF A
LIMITLESS, BOUNDLESS WAR AGAINST
SHADOWY ENEMIES.
THE WAR AGAINST TERROR AS
INSTRUMENT OF SUBJUGATION AT
HOME MORE THAN ABROAD.
THERE IS AN IMPERIAL QUALITY AN
UNWITTING ONE, BUT NEVERTHELESS
A REAL ONE, TO THE BUSH
ADMINISTRATION.
WE DO, IT SEEMS TO ME, SEE
SHADES OF THE GREAT CRISIS OF
THE ROMAN REPUBLIC.
THE QUESTION IS, WHICH OF THE
WARLORDS WILL BE FIRST ACROSS
THE RUBICON.
THERE IS A ROMAN QUALITY, TOO,
TO THE WAY IN WHICH AMERICAN
SOCIETY HAS ITS BREAD AND ITS
CIRCUSES.
EXCEPT THAT THEY'RE BURGERS AND
THE SUPER BOWL.
IN EFFECT THEY PERFORM THE SAME
FUNCTION AS THE BREAD AND THE
CIRCUSES OF ANCIENT ROME.
THEY DISTRACT.
THEY DISTRACT THE AMERICAN
PUBLIC FROM WHAT IS DONE IN
THEIR NAME FAR AWAY.
AND THERE'S ANOTHER ROMAN
QUALITY TO THIS UNDERTAKING.
THE WAY IN WHICH THE UNITED
STATES SEEKS TO SOLVE ITS
MANPOWER DEFICIT BY RECRUITMENT.
THE ACCELERATED CITIZENSHIP
PROGRAM AVAILABLE TO THOSE WHO
SERVE IN THE AMERICAN ARMED
FORCES IS THE MOST
QUINTESSENTIALLY ROMAN ASPECT OF
THIS STORY TO MANIFEST ITSELF SO
FAR.
JOIN THE LEGIONS, BECOME A
ROMAN-AMERICAN CITIZEN.
DID YOU NOTICE HOW MANY PEOPLE
SERVING IN IRAQ ARE BEING
AWARDED SIMULTANEOUSLY PURPLE
HEARTS AND CITIZENSHIP?
IN ONE CASE THESE WERE EVEN
CONFERRED POSTHUMOUSLY.
BUT IF MY ROMAN PARALLEL IS
RIGHT, THEN THAT RAISES ANOTHER
QUESTION, THE MONTY PYTHON
QUESTION.
YOU MAY REMEMBER IN “LIFE OF
BRIAN,” JOHN CLEESE POSING THE
QUESTION, “WHAT DID THE ROMANS
EVER DO FOR US?”
AND SOMEBODY SAYS, I THINK IT'S
ERIC IDLE, “WELL, THE
AQUEDUCTS.”
“APART FROM THE AQUEDUCTS.”
“WELL THE ROADS.”
“APART FROM THE ROADS.”
“WELL, PUBLIC HEALTH.”
“APART FROM PUBLIC HEALTH.”
YOU GET THE POINT.
WHAT DID THE AMERICANS EVER DO
FOR US, ASK THE GERMANS -- IN
BERLIN, ONLY THE OTHER DAY, I
EFFECTIVELY HAD THAT
CONVERSATION.
APART FROM THE AIRLIFT.
[Audience laughter]
THE PROBLEM IS THAT IT'S VERY
EASY TO CRITICISE THE AMERICAN
EMPIRE, IT'S EASY TO MOCK IT.
IT'S EASY TO BE APPALLED BY IT,
IT'S EASY TO STRIKE POSES OF THE
MOST SATISFYING MORAL
INDIGNATION ABOUT IT.
THE TROUBLE IS, THERE MIGHT BE
SOMETHING WORSE THAN IT.
AND THAT IS WHAT SO MANY OF THE
CRITICS OF AMERICAN POLICY IN
THE MIDDLE EAST LEAVE OUT OF
ACCOUNT.
WHEN THE FRENCH GOVERNMENT SAYS
THAT FULL SOVEREIGNTY MUST
IMMEDIATELY BE CONFERRED, AND
AMERICAN TROOPS MUST IMMEDIATELY
WITHDRAW, WHICH ADMITS MORE
RHETORICAL FLOURISHES IT SEEMS
TO HAVE SAID, THERE'S AN ALMOST
COMPLETE FAILURE TO RECOGNISE
THE DANGER OF FULL SCALE CIVIL
WAR IN IRAQ, A REAL DANGER, THE
IMPLICATIONS OF WHICH, THE
MAGNITUDE OF WHICH, CAN SCARCELY
BE EXAGGERATED.
WHAT HAPPENED IN LEBANON FROM
THE LATE 1970s INTO THE 1980s,
SOMETHING THE AMERICANS WERE
POWERLESS TO STOP, COULD VERY
EASILY REPEAT ITSELF IN IRAQ IF
THE AMERICAN LED COALITION LOSES
CONTROL OF THE SITUATION THERE,
IF PREMATURELY IT HANDS OVER
SOVEREIGNTY, IF PREMATURELY IT
COMES HOME.
THERE WAS LADIES AND GENTLEMEN,
SOMETHING WORSE THAN THE ROMAN
EMPIRE.
IT WAS
CALLED, THOUGH IT'S NOT SO
FASHIONABLE TO CALL IT THAT NOW,
THE DARK AGES.
THE DARK AGES WERE A TIME WHEN
THERE WAS NO EMPIRE, OR RATHER
WHEN ALL THE EMPIRES DECLINED
MORE OR LESS, SIMULTANEOUSLY.
IT WAS A GOOD
TIME TO BE A VIKING.
WELL LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE
VIKINGS OF TODAY ARE MUCH MORE
DANGEROUS THAN THE VIKINGS OF
OLD.
THE TERRORISTS OF TODAY ARE
ARMED WITH WEAPONS MUCH MORE
DEADLY THAN THE LONG BOW AND THE
AXE.
THE SOBERING REALITY IS THAT IF
THE UNITED STATES LOSES ITS
IMPERIAL APPETITE, IF IT HEEDS
ALL THE MANY CALLS TO GO HOME,
TO GIVE UP, TO PULL OUT, TO
RETREAT IN EFFECT, BACK INTO
ISOLATION, THEN WE MAY FIND THE
TRUTH OF THAT OLD SAYING, BE
CAREFUL OF WHAT YOU WISH FOR,
YOU MAY GET IT.
MUCH AS WE ALL HAVE DIFFICULTY
WITH LIVING UNDER OR CLOSE TO AN
AMERICAN EMPIRE, WE SHOULD
RECOGNISE, BE QUIRE CLEAR, THAT
THERE ARE NO VERY CREDIBLE
ALTERNATIVES TO IT IN THE WORLD
TODAY, APART FROM AN INCIPIENT
AND SPREADING ANARCHY.
WE MUST ASK OURSELVES WHAT THE
FUTURE HOLDS IF, AS SEEMS ALL
TOO LIKELY THE AMERICAN GRIP
LOOSENS ON THE MIDDLE EAST,
LOOSENS ON AFGHANISTAN, AND THE
POWERS AROUND OSAMA BIN LADEN
WHO TODAY ARE RATHER LIKE THE
BOLSHEVIKS IN THE EARLY PHASE OF
THEIR CAREER, PERIPHERAL
TERRORISTS, ANARCHISTS WHO NO
ONE EVER TAKES TOO SERIOUSLY.
IF THOSE POWERS EVER GAIN
CONTROL OF SAUDI ARABIA WITH
IT'S VAST OIL RESERVES OR
PAKISTAN WITH ITS NUCLEAR
WEAPONS, WE MAY ALL LOOK BACK
AND SAY, BRING BACK THE ROMANS.
THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

[Long applause]

Watch: Niall Ferguson on Colossus: The Price of America's Empire