Comparisons between the U.S. and the British Empire have long been routine in discussions of America's position, especially during this last decade when overt advocacy of American empire became a commonplace in some quarters. However, the analogy has rarely been a close one, with rather fewer pundits wondering aloud whether the appropriate comparison between the U.S.'s present position is with the Britain of 1815, or 1851, or 1870, or 1890, or 1914, or 1918, or 1945, or 1971 – quite different points along its trajectory as a global hegemon.
With declinism made fashionable again by military quagmire and financial crisis, by economic "recession" and exploding debt (and perhaps, by the election of a Democrat to the White House making attentiveness to American problems more palatable to the political right), it is perhaps inevitable that the parallel implicit in so much of the writing on this theme has shifted from the first of these dates, to the last, Lexington Institute Vice-President Daniel Goure flatly asking "Is Afghanistan Withdrawl America's 'East of Suez' Moment?" - in the sense of Britain's formal conclusion of its earlier, independent role as a military actor in Asia between 1968 and 1971.
Dr. Gore may or may not be right in making the comparison between the position of the Wilson government, and Obama's, but I suspect that the quarter of a century of British history after World War II – its successes and failures, its illusions and delusions – is deserving of rather more attention than Americans have generally devoted to it, and likely to get it in the coming years.
Two New Reviews: Emmanuel Todd's The Final Fall and After the Empire