We Don’t Do Empire

Bernard Porter is unconvinced by American denials of a new imperialism and finds comparisons – as well as important differences – with the British experience.

The similarities between modern American ‘imperialism’ and the old British kind are too glaring to be ignored. Partly this arises from the fact that so much of the former is taking place in parts of the world, like Afghanistan and Iraq, where the British imperial bootprint can still be clearly seen. Even some Americans’ denial of it – ‘We don’t do empire’, in the words of Donald Rumsfeld – chimes in with certain illusions the Victorian British had. One can imagine Gladstone saying the same thing during the Midlothian election campaign of 1879, for example, or even, three years later, while British troops were on their way to Egypt to crush the uprising of Ahmed Arabi, an army officer who had overthrown the khedive.

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