THE BLOG
11/20/2014 09:40 am ET Updated Jan 20, 2015

What Makes Washington 'Imperial'?

John Burdumy via Getty Images

Sometimes, to see the big picture you need to focus on the smallest part of it, as Nick Turse does in the latest of his dispatches on the U.S. military in Africa, "The Outpost That Doesn't Exist in the Country You Can't Locate." He takes a look at that military in Chad. Yep, I said "in Chad." At least 99 percent of Americans are undoubtedly unfamiliar with that landlocked African country and most of the remaining 1 percent have no idea that the U.S. military is already deeply involved in that (if you don't happen to be Chadian) obscure land.

It's easy enough to link the word "imperial" to the United States in a lazy fashion. But if imperial has any meaning in the post-colonial 21st century, it certainly means that the (super)power in question has an active interest in attempting to control significant swathes of the planet. In fact, there has never been a power, no matter how "great," that has, in such a militarized way, tried to put its stamp of control on so much of Planet Earth.

It has, for instance, garrisoned the Greater Middle East from the Chinese border in Central Asia to the Balkans in an unprecedented fashion. For decades, it considered the Pacific Ocean an "American lake" and garrisoned islands across it in a similarly unprecedented fashion. Between 1945 and 1973, it fought two wars in Asia, at the cost of millions of lives, leading to a still-unresolved stalemate in Korea and a defeat in Vietnam; from 1980 to the present, it has fought a barely interrupted war in Afghanistan and since 1990, three wars in Iraq. It has also conducted air strikes in countries ranging from Pakistan and Yemen to Syria and Somalia, intervened disastrously in Lebanon and Libya, among other places, and come to the edge of war (while launching a "cyberwar") in Iran. And that doesn't even exhaust the list of conflicts.

In recent months, the U.S. has "pivoted" (the term of the moment) back to Iraq even as it has been quietly bolstering its already impressive military strength in a "pivot" to Asia. At the same time, with a remarkable lack of publicity or media attention, it has begun pivoting into Africa. Americans know next to nothing about this (unless they've been reading the last two years of reporting on the subject by Nick Turse TomDispatch.com) and yet the U.S. military is now in one fashion or another involved with 49 of the 54 countries on that continent.

If you need evidence that Washington's intentions are indeed imperial and that the White House and the Pentagon consider just about every patch of land on the planet to be the business of this country, and fertile soil for that military, then spend a little time "in" Chad today. Once you've absorbed just how involved our military already is there, you can multiply those efforts across Africa, across the Middle East where they only intensify, and across Asia where they are also ramping up, and you'll begin to take in a heavily garrisoned planet of war on which the U.S. remains (however haplessly) the unipolar power. And tell me that, when you've considered the small picture and the big one, we're not talking about imperial Washington.