Sands of Empire: Missionary Zeal, American Foreign Policy, and the Hazards of Global Ambition

Sands of Empire: Missionary Zeal, American Foreign Policy, and the Hazards of Global Ambition

by Robert W. Merry

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In Sands of Empire, veteran political journalist and award-winning author Robert W. Merry examines the misguided concepts that have fueled American foreign policy since the end of the Cold War. The emergence in the George W. Bush administration of America as Crusader State, bent on remaking the world in its preferred image, is dangerous and self-defeating,

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In Sands of Empire, veteran political journalist and award-winning author Robert W. Merry examines the misguided concepts that have fueled American foreign policy since the end of the Cold War. The emergence in the George W. Bush administration of America as Crusader State, bent on remaking the world in its preferred image, is dangerous and self-defeating, he points out. Moreover, these grand-scale flights of interventionism, regime change, and the use of pre-emptive armed force are without precedent in American history.

Merry offers a spirited description of a powerful political core whose ideas have replaced conservative reservations about utopian visions — these neocons who "embrace a brave new world in which American exceptionalism holds sway," imagining that others around the globe can be made to abandon their cultures in favor of our ideals. He traces the strains of Wilsonism that have now merged into an adventurous and hazardous foreign policy, particularly as described by William Kristol, Francis Fukuyama, Max Boot, and Paul Wolfowitz, among others. He examines the challenge of Samuel Huntington's supposition that the clash of civilizations defines present and future world conflict. And he rejects the notion of The New York Times's Thomas L. Friedman that America is not only the world's role model for globally integrated free-market capitalism, but that it has a responsibility to foster, support, and sustain globalization worldwide.

From the first president Bush to Clinton to the second Bush presidency, the United States has compromised its global leadership, endangered its security, and failed to meet the standard of justified intervention, Merry suggests. The country must reset its global strategies to protect its interests and the West's, to maintain stability in strategic areas, and to fight radical threats, with arms if necessary. For anything less than these necessities, American blood should remain in American veins.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Foreign policy debates are settled in two ways: in the tangible world by apparent success and failure, and in the mind by philosophical discourse. This important book gets at the philosophical underpinnings of an otherwise banal foreign policy debate, and in so doing, it bears the essentials of what we're really arguing about."

— Leslie H. Gelb, President Emeritus, Council on Foreign Relations

"Bob Merry goes for the gut issue in Sands of Empire — what kind of America is fighting today's war against Islamic terrorism, and does this war have a coherent intellectual and cultural foundation? People will agree or disagree with Merry's conclusions, but he's asking the right questions."

— David Ignatius, associate editor and columnist, The Washington Post

"Bob Merry has laid bare the bankruptcy of the historical and philosophical neoconservative argument that so powerfully drives our current national strategy. Anyone interested in the integrity and likely success of our foreign policy should read — no, study — his critique."

— General Montgomery C. Meigs (ret.), Lewis A. Bantle Chair at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University and NBC military analyst

"In Sands of Empire, Bob Merry, a great political reporter, has written a provocative and truly thoughtful book. Merry subjects to rigorous criticism the assumptions of both Democrats and Republicans that since the end of the Cold War have forged U.S. foreign policy. Bob Merry and Sands of Empire will make many of the most powerful Washington policymakers furious, will make every reader think anew, and will help ignite a needed national debate about the vital interests of the United States."

— Mark Shields, syndicated columnist and political analyst on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer

"Robert Merry writes with clarity and common sense, a deep sense of history, and a sure feel for the complexities and foibles of human nature. His book is a timely and disturbing warning against American hubris."

— Evan Thomas, assistant managing editor of Newsweek and author of John Paul Jones

Publishers Weekly
The president and publisher of Congressional Quarterly leads readers through two major tunnels of U.S. foreign policy, which he calls "the Idea of Progress" (aka "the End of History") and the "Cyclical View of History." "Progress" purports that Western liberal democracy is the best and final form of government. "Cyclic," on the other hand, emphasizes the importance of each individual civilization's culture combined with the innate irrationality of human nature, and says, la Spengler, Toynbee and (more recently) Samuel P. Huntington, that any drive to impose one civilization's values upon another is likely to end in disaster. Elucidations of the latter philosophy, with which Merry sympathizes, are among the book's most passionate passages. Merry argues that the cyclical view is often and unwisely overlooked, while the persistent (and, he says, false) idea of progress continues to be widely regarded. He explains how progress disastrously guided the Bush administration's planning and forays in Iraq, and just as easily provided the rationale for failed U.S. humanitarian incursions in Somalia and the Balkans. Merry's succinct, provocative analysis of U.S. responses to world events isn't groundbreaking, but it is well articulated and deeply felt. Agent, Flip Brophy. (June 8) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

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Simon & Schuster
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Sands of Empire

Missionary Zeal, American Foreign Policy, and the Hazards of Global Ambition
By Robert W. Merry

Simon & Schuster

Copyright © 2005 Robert Merry
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-7432-6667-6

Chapter One

Globalization and the End of History

In 1910, a starry-eyed British economist named Norman Angell published a book called The Great Illusion, positing the notion that war among the industrial nations had become essentially obsolete. "How," he asked, "can modern life, with its overpowering proportion of industrial activities and its infinitesimal proportion of military, keep alive the instincts associated with war as against those developed by peace?" The book was an instant smash, translated into eleven languages and stirring something of a cult following throughout Europe. "By impressive examples and incontrovertible argument," wrote Barbara Tuchman in her narrative history The Guns of August, "Angell showed that in the present financial and economic interdependence of nations, the victor would suffer equally with the vanquished; therefore war had become unprofitable; therefore no nation would be so foolish as to start one."

At major universities throughout Britain, study groups of Angell acolytes sprang up. Viscount Esher, friend and confidant of the king, traveled widely to spread the gospel that "new economic factors clearly prove the inanity of aggressive wars." Such wars, he suggested, would spread "commercial disaster, financial ruin and individual suffering" on such a scale that the very thought of them would unleash powerful "restraining influences." Thus, as he told one military audience, the interlacing of nations had rendered war "every day more difficult and improbable."

In recounting all this, Tuchman barely conceals her contempt for Angell and Esher, which seems understandable given the carnage unleashed upon the European continent just four years after Angell's volume began its massive flow through bookstores. And yet there's something remarkably durable about the Angell thesis. In 1930, a year when the memory of World War I's rivers of blood must have been vivid in European minds, the king of England gave him a knighthood. Three years later he won the Nobel Peace Prize for his earnest agitations for world tranquillity. And in 1999, nearly ninety years after The Great Illusion appeared, a prominent New York Times columnist, Thomas L. Friedman, pronounced Angell's thesis to be "actually right," although he leavened his endorsement with a bow to Thucydides' observations about the causes of war.

All this poses a question: to what can we attribute the durability of Angell's discredited thesis and its reemergence after nearly a century filled with global conflict? The answer lies in the convergence of two developments of significance to Western thought - one distant and occurring over centuries, the other recent and bursting forth with stunning rapidity. The recent development was the West's Cold War victory over the Soviet Union in 1989 after nearly a half century of eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation. The distant development was the emergence of that seminal Western concept, the Idea of Progress.

This convergence is reflected in two publishing events of deep significance in America's recent intellectual life. One was the 1989 publication, in an obscure scholarly journal called The National Interest, of that essay by Francis Fukuyama entitled "The End of History?" Fukuyama, then a functionary on the State Department's planning staff but now a prominent academic, posited the notion that the West's coming Cold War victory represented "the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government." Borrowing from Hegel, he said this represented "the end of history" in that the ideological struggles of the ages had reached absolute finality, with profound benefit to the cause of world peace. It was a bombshell article, stirring debates that still reverberate among academics and intellectuals.

The other publishing event was the 1999 publication of Thomas Friedman's The Lexus and the Olive Tree, an analysis and celebration of what he called "the new era of globalization," characterized by the triumph of Western-style democratic capitalism and by greater prospects for global tranquillity than ever before in history. Friedman's book was widely reviewed, generated abundant favorable comment, and spent several months on the New York Times bestseller list. One reviewer called it "[perhaps] the first indispensable book of the new millennium."

These two efforts to explain the post-Cold War world reflect a fundamental reality of current Western thinking - namely, that the Idea of Progress remains for many the central underlying philosophical precept and the wellspring for much of what we see today in the way of perceptions, outlooks, predictions, and convictions. Both "The End of History?" and The Lexus and the Olive Tree are distillations of the Idea of Progress, applied to the post-Cold War world. And both embrace the mischievous corollary and the two great contradictions of the Progress concept. The mischievous corollary suggests that progress can alter fundamental human nature. The contradictions are, first, the notion that this inexorable progress can actually stop at a perceived end point of history; and, second, the persistent underlying idea of Eurocentrism, the perceived superiority and universality of Western ideas and ideals.

Francis Fukuyama, the son of a Congregational minister and religion professor, grew up in a middle-class housing development on Manhattan's Lower East Side. At Cornell, he majored in classics and lived at a residence called Telluride House, a haven for philosophy students who enjoyed sitting around and discussing the great thinkers. After Cornell it was on to Yale, where he did graduate work in comparative literature, and then to Paris to further his literary studies. But he became alienated from what he considered the postmodern nihilism of the prominent scholars there, and he redirected his focus toward the tangible world of geopolitics. Three years later he had a Ph.D. from Harvard in political science, with a specialty in Middle Eastern and Soviet politics.

Upon getting the doctorate he joined the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, where he spent several years writing papers of informed speculation on the fine points and likely implications of Soviet foreign and military policy. Then in early 1989, just before he was to join the State Department's planning staff, he delivered a lecture at the University of Chicago that sought to place the day's geopolitical events in a broad perspective. Owen Harries, editor of The National Interest (just four years old at the time, with a circulation of 5,600), read the speech and considered it precisely the kind of attention-grabbing analysis he wanted. Running to ten thousand words and appearing in the summer issue, it instantly thrust Fukuyama into the role of intellectual celebrity.

Fukuyama's embrace of the Idea of Progress is manifest in his provocative title, in his declaration that Western democratic capitalism represents the final destination point of human civic development, and in his belief in the universality of Western political ideals. But more fundamental is his reliance on the philosophy and dialectic of Hegel, the great nineteenth-century German philosopher.

Penetrating Hegel and his thinking is not an easy task. Irving Kristol, the neoconservative intellectual, calls Hegel "the most unreadable of our great philosophers." But more than anyone else Hegel established the history of philosophy as an important area of study. Robert Nisbet calls him "without question the preeminent philosopher of the nineteenth century." Kristol calls him "along with Kant the greatest philosopher of modernity." Aiming to develop a field of philosophy that would integrate the thinking of all his great philosophic predecessors, he posited the notion that these predecessors represented so many states of mind, each signifying a particular stage in the development of the human spirit toward ever greater levels of maturity.

Thus he was crucial to the development of the Idea of Progress. "In no philosopher or scientist of the nineteenth century," writes Nisbet, "did the idea of progress ... have greater weight than in Hegel's thought. There is scarcely a work in Hegel's voluminous writings that is not in some fashion or degree built around the idea of becoming, of growth and progress." In his essay replying to the Fukuyama article, Kristol offers a penetrating analysis of Hegel and his significance to Fukuyama's End of History thesis. On one level, he writes, Hegel's outlook was rather conventional in that he viewed history as an evolution from the more simple to the more complex and from the more naive to the more sophisticated. "All this," he writes, "was familiar to the eighteenth century under the rubric of Progress."

But Hegel went further, suggesting that this evolution represented a destiny determined by an inner logic - "an inner dialectic, to be more precise" - of which the historical actors were themselves ignorant. Thus, it was left to Hegel to reveal this whole inner dialectic and this destiny. "From a metaphysical point of view," writes Kristol, "this accession of self-consciousness by a German professor represented an achievement of the universe itself, of which humanity is the thinking self-conscious vehicle." In other words, before Hegel came upon the scene the various philosophers hammered away at their various bits of thinking, not knowing how they all fit together. But now they had the benefit of Hegel's dialectic showing how these fragments fit together and showing further how they would continue to develop into the future. Thus the history of philosophy now could be regarded as a kind of cultural evolution "whose inner dialectic," writes Kristol, "aimed always at increments of enlightenment - an evolution which we, from the privileged heights of modernity, can comprehend as never before."

This was breathtaking. And soon it wasn't just the history of philosophy that came under the spell of the Hegelian dialectic, but history itself. As Kristol points out, the idea that history is a human autobiography in which events gradually and inexorably mature into modernity serves as the underpinning for nearly all of today's historical inquiry, which assumes, he writes, "that we have the intellectual authority to understand the past as the past failed to understand itself." And this heady, self-congratulatory thinking inevitably captured Western politics as well. "After Hegel," writes Kristol, "all politics too becomes neo-Hegelian." Hegel saw the modern constitutional state and its liberal social order as the end point and the final purpose of history. But he realized that this end point resided largely in the realm of theory and that, in the practical world, the evolution was ongoing. "Now," writes Kristol, "Mr. Fukuyama arrives to tell us that, after almost two centuries, the job has been done and that the United States of America is the incarnation we have all been waiting for."

Viewing the Fukuyama thesis through such a prism, it is easy to see why he stirred such interest and controversy. In his essay, Fukuyama identifies Hegel as "the first philosopher to speak the language of modern social science." That's because he pioneered the idea of man as the product of his concrete historical and social environment and not, as earlier natural right theorists had suggested, a collection of more or less fixed "natural" attributes. This is precisely where Hegel embraced the concept of the malleability of human nature. And this is where Fukuyama did likewise.

As Fukuyama sees it, this perception of human nature is fundamental to the inescapable modern view of mankind. He writes: "The notion that mankind has progressed through a series of primitive states of consciousness on his path to the present, and that these stages corresponded to concrete forms of social organization ... [culminating in] democratic-egalitarian societies, has become inseparable from the modern understanding of man." In other words, we're all Hegelians now.

Fukuyama moves from his Hegelian analysis to the question of whether the modern world harbors any fundamental "contradictions" that cannot be resolved in the context of what he calls the "universal homogenous state" of liberal democracy. The End of History, after all, represents a state of human development in which no such contradictions can emerge because we have reached "the common ideological heritage of mankind." But to make his point he runs through the possibilities.

First, communism. Fukuyama wrote prior to the profound events of 1989 that marked the end of the Cold War - the massive exodus of East bloc citizens through Hungary and into Austria in late summer; the Soviet loss of nerve in the face of this display of defiance; the consequent disintegration of the Soviets' Eastern European empire; and the dramatic demolition of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany. Thus he was prescient in seeing that Soviet communism was disintegrating and that it posed no serious alternative to Western democracy. "The Soviet Union could in no way be described as a liberal or democratic country," writes Fukuyama. "But at the end of history it is not necessary that all societies become successful liberal societies, merely that they end their ideological pretensions of representing different and higher forms of human society."

Next he looked at the "Asian alternatives," with similar results. The Fascism of Imperial Japan had been smashed, and postwar Japan had created a consumer culture "that has become both a symbol and an underpinning of the universal homogenous state." In other Asian societies economic liberalism was ushering in varying degrees of political liberalism. And even China had abandoned the strictures of Marxism-Leninism in an effort to foster growing prosperity. China was a long way from accepting the Hegelian formula, Fukuyama suggested. "Yet the pull of the liberal idea continues to be very strong as economic power devolves and the economy becomes more open to the outside world."

Fukuyama notes the speculation of some that the Soviet disintegration could usher in a threatening wave of Russian nationalism. He dismisses this as "curious" on the ground that it assumes unrealistically that the evolution of the Russian consciousness had "stood still" during the Soviet interregnum. Similarly, he dismisses the idea that nationalism or ethnic zeal could emerge from any quarter to pose a serious threat to the universal homogenous state.

As for Islamic fundamentalism, he concedes that Islam has indeed offered a theocratic state as a political alternative to Western liberalism.


Excerpted from Sands of Empire by Robert W. Merry Copyright © 2005 by Robert Merry. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

Robert Merry is the editor of The National Interest. He has been a Washington correspondent for The Wall Street Journal and the executive editor of the Congressional Quarterly. He has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard, The National Review, The American Spectator, and The National Interest. He has appeared in Meet the Press, Face the Nation, Newsmakers, and many other programs. He lives in McLean, Virginia.

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