Sure it’s fun,
But costly too;
Telling nations,
What to do.

And you thought Star Wars was just science fiction, right? Ha! Remember how the heroic insurgents were first ferreted out by a drone? Remember how the rulers of the universe were called “The Empire?” Remember their vast force of identical armor-clad soldiers? Remember Darth Vader, the Empire’s evil genius, sounding for all the world like Dick Cheney? But perhaps most of all, remember how the whole Battle Star community, pro-war and pro-peace alike, went up in flames?

The special resonance of Star Wars sprang from the common understanding that this is what powerful nations do. They seek to rule the world or the waves, as the case may be. “The Sun Never Sets,” and all that. Be it Persians, Greeks, Romans, Aztecs, Incas, Ottomans, Mayans, Arabs, French, Germans, Spanish, Russians, Portuguese, or Brits, everyone has the craving to give empire a shot. Even tiny Holland did it. Thank goodness we wrestled New York away from them or we’d all still be struggling to speak Dutch today.

But now it’s our turn, with a new leader sitting in the Oval Throne Room. Of course he’s away a lot, bucking up the troops in Kirkuk, Kabul, or Korea. Or sometimes he’s off menacing malcontents in Persia, Pakistan, or Pyongyang. When you consider that the Pentagon lists 865 bases outside the U.S. proper, it’s a lot of work just keeping track. But somebody’s got to do it.

It’s expensive, too: $1million/year per trooper in Afghanistan. But everyone understands that the price is worth it to control those pipeline routes. Just as it will be well worth it to pay for President Barack Obama’s residual 50,000-troop garrison in Iraq once all the “combat” troops are gone. Not to mention maintenance of the world’s largest embassy. We can’t afford to let anything go sour in Oil Country.

But Honduras? Did we really need to virtually support a military coup just to benefit the banana companies? Well, there’s more to it than that, of course. Latin America has recently been using that subversive tool—voting—to install left-leaning governments. Honduras is our counter-attack. It shows we’ll accept new military rulers if they just have the gumption to take over. OK, so that didn’t quite work out in Venezuela, but we’re still training potential Latin coup leaders like crazy at the School of the Americas in Georgia (now known as the “Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation”), and supporting them at our Army bases in Honduras itself, and now in Colombia. Multinational corporate America is in resurgence in the hemisphere and needs our military protection.

But one big problem remains: cost. As we beef up our military presence in Latin America, Asia, and Africa, we may indeed be increasing our control of world oil, but going bankrupt at the same time. We wouldn’t be the first empire to do that.

Unfortunately, the profits of world conquest no longer flow directly to the public treasury. They enrich oil companies, agribusinesses, chemical manufacturers, pharmaceutical corporations, banks, insurers, brokerages, speculators, mercenaries, arms-makers, lobbyists, etc. Those outfits lavish their earnings on corporate executives and private investors, not the government’s coffers.

The Treasury therefore borrows, until lenders have had enough and seek other more appealing investments. In the end, some empires—like Napoleon’s—are obviously defeated militarily. Others just sort of whimper away in decay, like the Mayans. Being a democracy, we could always just vote ours into oblivion, but history doesn’t record anything as painless as that.

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William A. Collins

OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut.

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