American economic power to break the Empire’s will.rnWhen, therefore, Mr. Gorbachev announced his troop withdrawals,rnit was apparent that the turn had come. Not onlyrnhad the Russians no more stomach for that fight, they hadrnlost the support of their long-suffering population. The North-rnWest frontier of what is now Pakistan had been an outpost ofrnthe British Empire because the passes of Afghanistan give accessrnto the sub-continent and to the Indian Ocean. The czarsrnhad cast eyes of desire on Afghanistan, and the communists,rnwho saw the whole subcontinent as a vacuum waiting to bernfilled, could read a map as well as their predecessors. Hencernthe Russian retreat from Afghanistan was portentous; the restrnwas a matter of time. One could speculate that the unravelingrnmight take one year, two, or ten, or that it would be fasterrnrather than slower because time itself seems to have acceleratedrnin recent years; but one knew that m any case it was mevitable.rnWhat then seemed problematic, and remains so,rnwas the reaction of America.rnPresident Reagan’s role was a departure from nearly fiftyrnyears of American polic’. Like most Americans, Franklin RooscNcltrndisliked and suspected the British Empire and thoughtrnboth Britain and the world would be friendlier without it. Hernalso thought that the Russians, though uncouth and mvstcrious,rnespoused a recognizable version of his own ideas of socialrnprogress. American wealth sa’ed Stalin, and American complaisancernand indirect subsidy prescred his successors throughrnthe long period of exasperated, hostile, and reluctant cooperationrnthat some publicist witli a knack for paradox called tliern”cold war. ” He might just as well have called it the “hotrnpeace.” Nowadavs wc are expected to be grateful to the coldrnwarriors for keeping that hostile peace, even though throughoutrnthe period one could not help noticing that the supposedlyrndeadlv rivals were agreed on some fundamental points—thatrnsince each, unlike former imperia, claimed to embody thernpopular will, it followed that the world was waiting for one ofrnthem to assume sovereignty of it and inaugurate the millennium.rnA fight to the finish being ruled out by physics andrnmetaphvsics, the rival empires came to an accommodation:rneach would hang on to what it had, limiting acc|uisition andrnloss to the peripherics.rnEven so, these mighty opposites were reluctant to use theirrnown forces, preferring to act through surrogates when possible.rnThey were also pathetically eager to like, admire, and congratulaterneach other and very early on invented the “culturalrnexchange” as a means of doing so as often as possible. In thisrnwa, and without ever calling it that, America became an imperialrnstate with all the trappings: immense naval, military,rnand diplomatic establishments abroad; a huge bureaucracy tornkeep the state militarily and ideologically prepared at home.rnEarlier in the century, European Christians, among them Belloc,rnChesterton, and Bernanos, had diagnosed the tendency ofrndemocracies to drift in their own way and at their own speedrntoward totalitarianism. The postwar transformation of Americarninto what it called with evasive self-congratulation a “superpower”rnseemed to bear them out, espcciallv as evidence beganrnto accumulate of behind-the-scenes cooperation with the socalledrnenemy. It was more important to men like Nixon andrnKissinger that America and Russia should agree to maintainrnstability in their spheres of influence than that some hotheadedrnenthusiast should point out their differences.rnBy that standard, Ronald Reagan was a hotheaded enthusiastrnwho loathed communism and despised big government.rnHe had no intention of cooperating with the Russians, andrnhe meant to dismantle as much of his own government asrnpossible. Unfortunately, he was also a sentimentalist, unwillingrnto understand that the “big government” he despised wasrnonly the proximate cause of the deterioration of American lifernand that the real cause was the imperial state in which sornmuch local, political, and patriotic capital, including his own,rnwas invested. Whether necessarv or unnecessary, a masqueradernor a reality, that 45-year-long engagement of America inrnEurope and Asia had levied an immense toll on the Americanrnpeople—and no one had ever candidly told them so. Severalrntimes they balked at the load. Twice they elected conservativernPresidents to deliver them from wars thev were allowed to diernin but not to win. Then they elected Ronald Reagan becausernthey felt insulted and impotent, and he seemed to share theirrnfeelings. Each time, however, the people’s resistance turned tornthe politicians’ advantage; there was a mutual indulgence ofrnfeeling, some adjustments were made, and the truth remainedrnuntold.rnAmerica’s venture into imperialism might have been tolerable,rnex’cn touched with nobility, had it been honest.rnLet us take the pessimistic view and agree that, given currentrnestimates of the balance of forces, John Kennedy had no alternativernto backing down over Berlin and Lyndon Johnsonrnhad no alternative to “escalating” the war in Vietnam insteadrnof winning it. Let us agree that the prospects were for a longrngame of attrition. Let us even agree that the Americans,rnwhether by accident, design, or the guidance of Providence,rnplayed the game brilliantly. Why then did the politicians notrnhave the guts, brains, or realism to describe it properly? PresidentrnKennedy’s hollow Churchillian rhetoric about sacrificernwas bad enough, especially for those who remembered therncircumstances of the original. But we touched bottom whenrnPresident Johnson entered the money markets and mortgagedrnthe country to avoid telling the truth about the cost of Vietnamrnand his Great Society.rn7nd how those costs have grown! The stor- of America’srnimperial debt is like a mutual fund advertisement in reverse:rnborrow a billion toda, owe a trillion tomorrow. When thernBerlin Wall finally opened, Chancellor Kohl of West Germanyrnis said to have telephoned President Bush to thankrnAmerica. And well he might. Inflation, debt, riots, unemployment,rnruined cities and factories. Third World standardsrnof transportation and other civic amenities: the American sacrificernin this imperial game has been immense—and possiblyrnmortal.rnThe contradiction in President Reagan’s policy was that,rnapparently without realizing it, he was an imperialist abroadrnand an anti-imperialist at home. Did he really think thatrnAmerican worid hegemony was a luxury middle America couldrnafford, like a second house, a third ear, and a fourth televisionrnset? I lis Democratic opponents, by contrast, were and arcrnimperialists at home and anti-imperialists abroad, incapable ofrnunderstanding that the government that played at empirernoverseas was equally imperial at home, that the huge expansionrnin domestic government was the corollary of the expansionrnoverseas. It is an iron rule of empire that the hrst conquest anrnimperial state makes is of its own citizenry. We now have anrnimmense bureaucracy based on the premise that citizens arernclients of the state. Most of the federal budget consists ofrnpayments to individuals under the guise of “entitlements,” a fi-rnFEBRUARY 1993/17rnrnrn