The New Imperialism: Max Boot, Niall Ferguson, Michael Ignatieff

(A listing of some popular quotes, from proponents of the new imperialism, that one increasingly finds quoted across a variety of publications.)

A Debate over US ‘Empire’ Builds in Unexpected Circles
By Dan Morgan
Washington Post, August 10, 2003

William Kristol, a neoconservative editor of the Weekly Standard magazine:

“If people want to say we’re an imperial power, fine.”


Alan Murray, Washington Bureau Chief of CNBC:

“We are all, it seems, imperialists now”
(“Manifesto Warns of Dangers Associated With an Empire.” Wall Street Journal, July 15, 2003)


Max Boot, Council on Foreign Relations

Afghanistan and other troubled lands today cry out for the sort of enlightened foreign administration once provided by self-confident Englishmen in jodhpurs and pith helmets.”
(Wall Street Journal, July 15, 2003)


The Savage Wars Of Peace: Small Wars And The Rise Of American Power
New York: Basic Books, 2002.

In the closing pages of his book, Max Boot quotes Kipling’s poem:

Take up the White Man’s burden-
And reap his old reward:
The blame of those ye better,
The hate of those ye guard

He also says:

“Many Cubans, Haitians, Dominicans, and others may secretly have welcomed U.S. rule.”

“In the early twentieth century, Americans talked of spreading Anglo-Saxon civilization and taking up the ‘white man’s burden’; today they talk of spreading democracy and defending human rights. Whatever you call it, this represents an idealistic impulse that has always been a big part in America’s impetus for going to war.”

Max Boot is also a fan of small wars:

what kind of war are we fighting? The answer in my book, is that it’s a small war, “small war” being a literal translation of the Spanish word guerrilla, and being a term of art that was popular around 1900 to refer to encounters between Western troops and irregular or guerrilla forces in the Third World. These kinds of operations, or the kind we’re now seeing in Afghanistan, have very little in common with the “big wars,” with World War II or the Civil War, but they are commonplace in our history.

To give you an indication of how common they are, let me just throw out one figure, which is 180 landings of Marines abroad between 1800 and 1934. Between 1800 and 1934, American Marines landed abroad more than once a year. Unfortunately, we have forgotten about American landings in places like Sumatra in 1834, or in Korea in 1871, or in Samoa in 1899. What I try to do with my book is to resurrect that lost history and to show how it applies to our current dilemmas.

Just a couple of days after this post went up, a new article on Counterpunch focused on Max Boot. Please see: Nikolas Kozloff, “The Boot McCain Puts in His Mouth: McCain’s Mad Dog Advisor Max Boot,” Counterpunch, August 1, 2008.


Niall Ferguson

(Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University and William Ziegler Professor at Harvard Business School. He is a resident faculty member of the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies. He is also a Senior Research Fellow of Jesus College, Oxford University, and a Senior Fellow of the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.)


Empire: The Rise and Fall of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power
New York: Basic Books, 2003.

Speaking of Kipling’s poem, “The White Man’s Burden,” Ferguson says in his book:

“No one would dare use such politically incorrect language today. The reality is nevertheless that the United States has-whether it admits it or not- taken up some kind of global burden, just as Kipling urged. It considers itself responsible not just for waging a war against terrorism and rogue states, but also for spreading the benefits of capitalism and democracy overseas. And just like the British Empire before it, the American Empire unfailingly acts in the name of liberty, even when its own self-interest is manifestly uppermost.”


Michael Ignatieff

(former Professor of Human Rights Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, currently the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada — see also his Wikipedia page):

“The Iraq operation most resembles the conquest of the Philippines between 1898 and 1902. Both were wars of conquest, both were urged by an ideological elite on a divided country and both cost much more than anyone had bargained for. Just as in Iraq, winning the war was the easy part….More than 120,000 American troops were sent to the Philippines to put down the guerrilla resistance, and 4,000 never came home. It remains to be seen whether Iraq will cost thousands of American lives-and whether the American public will accept such a heavy toll as the price of success in Iraq” (New York Times Magazine, September 7, 2003).

“imperialism used to be the white man’s burden. This gave it a bad reputation. But imperialism doesn’t stop being necessary because it is politically incorrect”
(New York Times Magazine, July 28, 2002)

As a formal opponent of the ruling Conservative Party of Canada, Ignatieff shares much in common with right wing political opinion, though he can equivocate more often: he supported the invasion of Iraq, and supports coercive interrogations, targeted assassinations, indefinite detention, and other so-called “lesser evils” (note that his party, the Liberal Party, when in power abided by the detention of Omar Khadr in Guantanamo, did not seek his return, and now claims to oppose the Conservative Party which has taken the exact same position. His party, when it formed the government, also participated in sending a Canadian citizen to be tortured in Syria.):

“To defeat evil, we may have to traffic in evils: indefinite detention of suspects, coercive interrogations, targeted assassinations, even pre-emptive war.”
New York Times magazine op-ed piece, May 2, 2004

The dilemmas here are best illustrated by looking closely at pre-emptive war. It is a lesser evil because, according to our traditional understanding of war, the only justified resort to war is a response to actual aggression. But those standards are outdated. They were conceived for wars against states and their armies, not for wars against terrorists and suicide bombers. Against this kind of enemy, everyone can see that instead of waiting for terrorists to hit us, it makes sense to get our retaliation in first.
New York Times magazine op-ed piece, May 2, 2004

A liberal society cannot be defended by herbivores. We need carnivores to save us, but we had better make sure the meat-eaters hunt only on our orders.
New York Times magazine op-ed piece, May 2, 2004

The [Afghans] understand the difficult truth that their best hope of freedom lies in a temporary experience of imperial rule.
“Nation Building Lite”, New York Times Magazine (July 2002)

About what Ignatieff says when speaking abroad, Canadian columnist and author, Linda McQuaig says in “Sidekicks to American Empire” (about her book, Holding the Bully’s Coat: Canada and the U.S. Empire):

“That quote [in Holding the Bully’s Coat] from Ignatieff, where he talks about torture [being defensible] as long as it’s done by a patriotic American, now that’s an interesting quote. That one hasn’t gotten the play that some of the others [have]. That one was from an interview he did with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. That is an incredible statement of the notion of American exceptionalism, the idea that America should be excepted from being bound by international law. And for Ignatieff to come out and endorse that in the way he did is just phenomenal. I find it striking, because he doesn’t talk like that in Canada. You don’t hear him talk like that so much in Parliament…. And yet if you actually look at some of the things he’s said, he’s actually an extraordinary neoconservative. He’s up there with guys like Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith and some of those people in terms of the extremism of his position. And yet this guy’s a prominent politician in Canada….”

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