The June issue of Washington Monthly has an article about Niall Ferguson. Ferguson is apparently a booster of an “American Empire” who thinks that the problems in post-invasion Iraq are due to not acting like a true empire.
However, I think this analysis is fundamentally flawed. When one looks at previous empires, they existed because it was economically beneficial to the conquerors. Conquest or economic activity in foreign lands (the latter the basis of the British Empire) was a way for the not well off to become wealthy. The homeland was relatively static in its economic and class structure, but the hinterlands were the place of opportunity and self advancement. It was where the action was.
The American hegemony is exactly the opposite. The hinterlands are economically draining for the most part. The home country is where the action is, where fortunes are made. Rather than the doers going forth from the USA to avoid the class / economic barriers of the motherland, the doers of the hinterlands come here to get around the barriers in their homelands. Previous empires were sustained by an outflow of talent from the ruling country, creating wealth and power in the hinterlands that couldn’t be done at home. The American hegemony is sustained by an inflow of talent to the ruling country to create wealth and power in the USA.
This difference makes an American empire unsustainable. The talent (imperial and native) required to run the imperial domains will leak away back to the homeland. The only hope of a place like Iraq to be competive with the USA is to become a self-ordered society. But in that case it’s not an imperial possession anymore, but a sovereign nation. Those who support an American empire have not come to grips with the End of History, which spells the end of Empire as well.