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The Empire Has No Clothes (First Edition)
U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed
Ivan Eland (Author)
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Ivan Eland (Author)
Hardcover • 304 pages • 6.3 x 9.4 inches • Index
ISBN-13: 0-945999-98-4
Publication Date: Oct. 1, 2004
Publisher: Independent Institute

The Empire Has No Clothes (First Edition)
U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed
Ivan Eland (Author)
Price: $24.95
Free Shipping On Orders Over $60! (Within U.S.A.)
Hardcover • 304 pages • 6.3 x 9.4 inches • Index
ISBN-13: 0-945999-98-4
Publication Date: Oct. 1, 2004
Publisher: Independent Institute


Most Americans don’t think of their government as an empire, but in fact the United States has been steadily expanding its control of overseas territories since the turn of the twentieth century. Now, through political intimidation and over 700 military bases worldwide, the U.S. holds sway over an area that dwarfs the great empires of world history.

In The Empire Has No Clothes, Ivan Eland, a leading expert on U.S. defense policy and national security, examines American military interventions around the world from the Spanish-American War to the invasion of Iraq.

Eland shows that the concept of empire is wholly contrary to the principles of both liberals and conservatives and that it makes a mockery of the Founding Fathers’ vision for a free republic. Eland also warns that in recent years, “blowback” and the enormous expansion of domestic federal power resulting from this overextended empire have begun to threaten the American homeland itself and curtail the very liberties these interventions were supposed to protect.

Public debate of the United States’ role in the world has finally begun in earnest, and Ivan Eland delivers a penetrating argument in this landmark book, exposing the imperial motives behind interventionist U.S. policy, questioning the historical assumptions on which it is based and advocating a return to the Founding Fathers’ vision of military restraint overseas.


Table of Contents
  • Introduction: History of the U.S. Empire
  • Does the United States Really Have an Empire?
  • Why Conservatives Should Be Against Empire
  • Why Liberals Should Be Against Empire
  • Why All Americans Should Be Against Empire
  • An Appropriate Foreign Policy for the Modern Age
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Index
  • About the Author

Detailed Summary

  • The United States maintains more than 700 military bases worldwide, spanning an area that dwarfs the great empires of world history. Although many conservative and liberal leaders today support a policy of foreign interventionism, extensive military engagement around the world is a policy deeply at odds with principles of the republic’s founders—and deeply at odds with the economic, political, and security interests of the American people.
  • The United States has military dominance but no longer has the economic dominance to match; it accounts for nearly 40 percent of the world’s military spending but only about 30 percent of global GDP. The United States is so dominant today only because other empires declined as a result of losing wars (Germany and Japan) or becoming overextended overseas relative to their frail economies (Britain, France, and the Soviet Union). If the U.S. empire stays the course, America’s economic dominance and political influence will likely decline.
  • Why is the United States disproportionately attacked by terrorists? Although in America the president, other high-level policymakers, the foreign-policy elite, the media, and even large segments of the public are in a state of denial, the key factor is obvious to the rest of the world: the interventionist U.S. foreign policy in support of the informal American global empire. The United States has received unfavorable ratings from people in both Muslim and non-Muslim countries around the world, not because of its political and economic freedoms or its culture, but because of its policies—particularly toward the Middle East.
  • Islamic radical terrorists, such as Osama bin Laden, blame the United States for supporting corrupt governments in the Muslim world and for stationing troops on Muslim soil. Ensuring “stability” in the Muslim world has little to do with U.S. security and more to do with propping up despotic client regimes of the U.S. empire.
  • Instead of fighting only al Qaeda, the Bush administration used the public fear and outrage after the September 11 attacks to obtain support for an expansive, “preemptive” global war on terror and “rogue” states. Imperial designs and pressure by various special-interest groups probably were key motives behind the wider war.
  • “Small government” conservatives who favor military adventurism should check their history and rethink their assumptions. Increases in nondefense spending have been lower during administrations in which warfare was sporadic or nonexistent (Carter, Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton) than during the three administrations in which major long-term wars were being fought. Like prior wars, Bush II’s “War on Terror” has led to increases in both defense spending and nondefense spending (which has increased more during the wartime presidency of George W. Bush than during any comparable period since the wartime administration of Lyndon Johnson).
  • President Bill Clinton invoked a humanitarian rationale for interventions in Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Somalia. In the first three instances, that rationale was dubious; the fourth episode was an abysmal failure. Despite the idealistic rhetoric often used to justify U.S. military actions, in the last hundred years the only truly humanitarian mission in which American forces have died was that of Somalia in 1992 and 1993.
  • Knowing that popular support for military actions unrelated to American security is fragile, U.S. policymakers resort to “war on the cheap.” Unfortunately, this strategy has resulted in the use of military tactics that increase casualties among civilians in the nation being “helped.” The use of heavy U.S. air and ground firepower results in the moral equivalent of “killing people to save them.” Thus, military interventions for “humanitarian” purposes usually achieve the opposite result and are morally questionable.
  • Heavy-handed U.S. military intervention to facilitate social work almost always fails because of the onset of mission creep (e.g., in Lebanon and Somalia), the creation of enemies as a result of taking sides in local disputes or using excessive force (e.g., in Lebanon, Somalia, and Iraq), the exacerbation of original problems (e.g., ethnic cleansing in Kosovo), or the loss of public support at home (e.g., Lebanon, Somalia, and Iraq).
  • In a post–Cold War world, taking into account only the security of American citizens, their property, and U.S. territory, the benefits of an interventionist foreign policy have declined and the costs have escalated dramatically. Americans continue to pay excessive taxes to defend countries that are rich enough to defend themselves or to occupy conquered countries in the world’s backwaters (e.g., Iraq and Afghanistan). Their sons and daughters are killed on remote foreign battlefields for reasons even more remote from U.S. vital interests.
  • Contrary to red herrings offered by the interventionists, an offshore balancer need not be militarily weak or an appeaser of threatening enemies. Truly vital national interests should be declared and vigorously defended. Other countries see that the United States will take action to safeguard critical interests in a limited number of cases. Instead of profligate and often vague “security” commitments spanning the globe (e.g., America’s nebulous commitment to Taiwan if attacked by China), the U.S. needs a narrow, clearly defined set of paramount interests that will be staunchly defended.


Most Americans don’t think of their government as an empire, but in fact the United States has been steadily expanding its control of overseas territories since the turn of the twentieth century. Nor do most Americans think that the global U.S. military presence threatens their security or economic interests or that it hinders the democratic aspirations of citizens of other countries; many Americans consider U.S. interventionism progressive or, at worst, benign.

Unfortunately, a great chasm lies between common perception and reality, according to defense policy expert Ivan Eland (senior fellow and director of the Independent Institute’s Center on Peace & Liberty). In The Empire Has No Clothes: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed, Dr. Eland argues against both conservative and liberal proponents of American empire, methodically making the case that U.S. military interventionism harms the interests of Americans politically, economically, and militarily. His thesis—that the United States and probably the world would be more free, secure and prosperous if the U.S. government reduced its military involvement overseas, much as the nation’s founders had urged—is certain to garner intense interest from those who recognize the need for a thoroughgoing examination of U.S. foreign policy and national security policy.

The Origins and Nature of the U.S. Empire

Although U.S. imperial stirrings began with a colonial foray in the Spanish-American War of 1898 and in the Caribbean and Central America in the early 1900s, the global American empire did not explode onto the world scene until 1950, Eland explains. Only during the Cold War did America finally abandon its traditional foreign policy of acting as an offshore balancer of power in favor of Pax Americana—a worldwide network of alliances, forward-deployed military forces at bases scattered around the globe, and a policy of direct and indirect intervention in the affairs of many other nations. If the purpose of Pax Americana were simply to fight the spread of communism, it would have been dismantled after the demise of the Soviet Union. Instead, the American empire grew larger after the Cold War ended.

Unlike the Roman and British empires, the American empire for the most part is not one of territorial conquest (although the U.S. occupation of foreign territories is happening with increasing frequency). America’s empire is a subtler, more informal version along the lines of Ancient Sparta. The United States exerts more control over its allies’ foreign policy than over their domestic affairs, although it probably would not allow major allies to become authoritarian or totalitarian states. Furthermore, the empires of old gained resources and plunder, captive markets for their exports, and tax revenue from their territories. The United States gets none of those things from its allies and client states. (U.S. allies even refuse to fully open their markets to U.S. exports and investment.) Instead, it gets a bill—in blood and treasure—for the defense of nations that are now rich enough to defend themselves.

Why Conservatives Should Be Against Empire

Eland argues that the concept of empire is contrary to the principles of both liberals and conservatives. Conservatives should oppose an American empire, because war is the primary cause of Big Government—including the growth of nondefense spending—which in turn requires increased taxes. Hostile relations with other nations also breed protectionism and controls on financial flows, thus undermining the principles of free trade. Bloated government, high taxes, and restricted international commerce slow economic growth, undermining the prosperity and well-being of American society. Over time, lower U.S. economic growth rates could cause the United States to fall into relative decline, as happed to the overextended, overtaxed British Empire in the last century.

Conservatives worry about the nation’s security, but the United States does not need an empire to ensure it; America has two great oceans as moats, weak and friendly neighbors, and the most potent nuclear arsenal on the planet.

Why Liberals Should Be Against Empire

Liberals should oppose an empire, Eland argues, because many of the so-called “humanitarian” military interventions of the United States often have unhumanitarian consequences. The abysmal track record of attempts to bring democracy and free markets to countries coercively shows that such interventions usually fail to restructure fractured and violent societies. In the long term, violations of nations’ sovereignties—even for “humanitarian” ends—undermine international norms against cross-border aggression and encourage separatist groups to revolt. Over time, therefore, more people are likely to be killed than saved by U.S. interventions into failed states. Instead of placing the lives of U.S. soldiers between two opposing sides not yet ready to make peace, the international community should focus on helping nations in which all parties to a conflict are exhausted by war and are ready to stop fighting.

“Humanitarian” military interventionism, Eland argues, also faces strong moral objections: If a military intervention is unnecessary, then killing innocent civilians even accidentally is immoral. Furthermore, foreign wars erode civil liberties at home. Finally, many vested interests—including the arms industry—turn war fervor into corporate welfare. Humanitarian rationales for military intervention are often employed to cloak motives of realpolitik.

Why All Americans Should Be Against Empire

Perhaps the most compelling reason for all Americans to oppose a U.S. empire, according to Eland, is that the empire is destroying the republic. An imperial foreign policy has led to an imperial presidency that is much more powerful than the founders intended. In recent years, the overextended American empire has threatened the American homeland and the civil liberties of Americans—both through “blowback” (the dangerous backlash against prior policies) and the enormous expansion of domestic federal power, including broader police surveillance and detention powers.

As much as some would like to use U.S. military power to restructure failed states, this is likely to be an unsuccessful and dangerous undertaking. Bitter civil wars—ethnic and otherwise—breed terrorism. The United States is hated worldwide for its interference in the affairs of other nations and peoples, and the attacks on September 11 were only the most obvious instances of blowback from U.S. foreign policy. Because intelligence is imperfect and America—the largest truly open society in the world—is very vulnerable to terrorism, improved homeland security can go only so far in protecting Americans from future catastrophic terrorist attacks. A better solution is to whiteout the bull’s-eye painted on America by dismantling its empire and scrapping its interventionist foreign policy.

With the demise of America’s chief rival, the Soviet Union, the benefits of Pax Americana and profligate military interventions worldwide have declined dramatically. With the advent of catastrophic terrorism, the costs of such an activist foreign policy have increased precipitously. Thus, the quest for empire is a foreign policy but not a security policy.

An Appropriate Foreign Policy for the Modern Age

The republic’s founders realized that America’s geographical remoteness vis-à-vis other nation-states allowed the luxury of distancing itself from entangling alliances and foreign quarrels, defining its vital interests narrowly, and adopting a policy of military restraint. In an age of catastrophic terrorism, the founders’ original foreign policy is more relevant than ever. Profligate intervention overseas is not needed for security against other nation-states and only leads to blowback from the one threat that is difficult to deter—terrorism. In short, the U.S. empire lessens American prosperity, power, security and moral standing. It also erodes the founding principles of the American Constitution.

Americans have ignored the economic, political and security costs of the burgeoning empire at great peril. As Eland writes in the book’s introduction, “The fuzzy criteria that the U.S. government uses to determine whether American forces should intervene indicate that the American foreign policy is askew. Unlike the empires of old, which limited their military interventions to certain parts of the world, the United States is trying to police the entire globe. This book offers an alternative vision of a more restrained U.S. foreign policy that is more focused, more achievable, less costly, and a lot less dangerous.”

Public debate about the U.S. role in the world has finally begun in earnest, and The Empire Has No Clothes delivers a penetrating argument to that debate, exposing the imperial motives behind an interventionist foreign policy, questioning the historical assumptions on which it is based, and advocating a return to the founders’ vision of military restraint overseas.



“I can honestly say I found The Empire Has No Clothes to be factually well grounded and extremely well thought out. The logic is sound as is the scholarship from my perspective. The Independent Institute should be commended for its role is supporting neutral research which is driven neither by the politics of the left or the right.”
RINALDO S. BRUTOCO, President, The World Business Academy

“In The Empire Has No Clothes, Dr. Eland shows that the concept of empire is wholly contrary to the principles of liberals and conservatives alike and makes a mockery of the Founding Fathers’ vision for a free republic.”
RON PAUL, U.S. Congressman

“In a sound-bite age, few people have the time or inclination to ponder the sweep of history. What is needed then is a primer on the subject, a sort of ‘Empire for Dummies,’ laying out in detail the follies of America’s current course of action, which is taking it steadily further away from its historical roots as a republic. The Empire Has No Clothes is a worthy tome written by Ivan Eland. He has observed imperialistic interventions by both right- and left-wing administrations—from George H. W. Bush through Bill Clinton to George W. Bush himself. His jaundice about their rhetoric and actions is both well documented and well deserved. He is obviously familiar with all the current proponents of American empire—from imports such as British historian Niall Ferguson to home grown pith-helmet and jodhpur-wearing wannabes Robert Kagan and Wall Street Journal essaying Max Boot—and their arguments and smoothly picks them apart. Observations like these are fairly frequent and quite entertaining and it’s worth buying the book for these alone.”

The Empire Has No Clothes is a very important book. There are a lot of books out now about empire, but this is probably the most searching and the most provocative. I do hope you will read it and spread the word, and have all your friends and parents and whatever children you have read it too. The debate extends far beyond just the current situation. This book could have been written even if we had not gone to war two years ago in Iraq. We have had an empire by anyone’s definition. This book will pinpoint some of these issues for all of you.”
C. BOYDEN GRAY, former Chief Counsel to the President of the United States

“Is the United States an empire? Yes, writes Ivan Eland of the Independent Institute. Washington dominates the affairs of many allied and client states without occupying them. This wasn’t the vision of America’s Founders. But World Wars I and II and the Cold War transformed Washington’s international role. As Mr. Eland argues in The Empire Has No Clothes, a book bound to irritate and even enrage, today’s expansive foreign policy is not just unnecessarily expensive—think of hundreds of thousands of troops stationed overseas to protect wealthy allies—but dangerous. Unfortunately, argues Mr. Eland, Americans have become the targets of terrorists less because others are jealous of their freedoms, as contended by President George W. Bush, among others, and more because of the U.S. government’s actions. His most important argument is that an interventionist stance makes Americans less secure. The issue has generated heated debate at home. But Mr. Eland is persuasive. Mr. Eland’s argument is not a prescription for putting one’s head in the sand. Rather, he recommends that America look before it leaps. There may be no more important lesson for policymakers in today’s often bloody and uncertain world.”

“Transcending partisan biases and trivialities and modern misconceptions, Eland puts current international crises in historical, economic and philosophical context. The Empire Has No Clothes is a must read, accessible and useful to readers across the ideological spectrum, and its lasting importance will be equally compelling regardless of which interventionist candidate of whichever faction of the War Party wins the election this Nov. 2.”

“This book is the sobering antidote for the imperial wine that has impaired the judgment of American politicians, Republican and Democrats alike, since the end of the Cold War. In it, Ivan Eland catalogs the costs of the existing American Empire that include free riding allies, the growth of government, the erosion of liberties, and the blind hatred of tens of millions across the globe while outlining an alternative foreign policy that is both saner and safer than the foolishly interventionist one that has been the politicians’ consistent preference.”
HARVEY M. SAPOLSKY, Professor of Political Science and Director of the Security Studies Program, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The Empire Has No Clothes is an extremely sensible book. I agree with Ivan Eland’s argument, though I doubt if it will be much appreciated by Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Perle.”
PAUL M. KENNEDY, Dilworth Professor of History and Director of the International Security Studies, Yale University; author of The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers

“Those concerned that the Bush administration has unnecessarily overextended this nation’s militarily should read Ivan Eland’s latest book. In The Empire Has No Clothes, Dr. Eland makes a persuasive case that current U.S. national security policy is contrary to the principles of both liberals and conservatives and is actually undermining our security and civil liberties. This book is an excellent contribution to the debate on the Bush Doctrine of waging preventive wars, maintaining hegemony, and spreading democracy by force.”
LAWRENCE J. KORB, former Assistant Secretary, U.S. Department of Defense

“Ivan Eland’s book, The Empire Has No Clothes, is a comprehensive history of American imperialism, including a balanced treatment of various schools and definitions of imperialism as used by scholars, politicians, and pundits. More important it contains three long normative chapters on ‘Why Conservatives Should Be Against Empire,’ ‘Why Liberals Should Be Against Empire,’ and ‘Why All Americans Should Be Against Empire.’ These are tours de force and should greatly influence the debate in this country about how to restore a Constitutional foreign policy, one shorn of our rampant militarism. Eland concludes that ‘The Founders’ foreign policy is more relevant than ever,’ a direct challenge to those who would lead the country further into the deadly trap of imperialism. Read this book.”
CHALMERS JOHNSON, author of Blowback and The Sorrows of Empire; President, Japan Policy Research Institute

“Ivan Eland said that Iraq would be a debacle before the war began. In his terrific new book, The Empire Has No Clothes, he explains in detail why Iraq and the pursuit of empire will make the United States less safe in the years ahead. Hopefully, more Americans will listen to him now—before we get ourselves into even more trouble at home and abroad”
JOHN MEARSHEIMER, R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science, University of Chicago

The Empire Has No Clothes: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed has an engaging title, but Ivan Eland’s new book is a scholarly, compelling and provocative study of where we are, how we got here, and the dangers inherent in the aggressive, imperialist policies we are implementing. It is impressively lucid, filled with careful research, rational analysis and highly insightful commentary, certain to satisfy concerned readers across the political spectrum.”
EDWARD L. PECK, former Chief of U.S. Mission in Iraq, former U.S. Ambassador to Mauritania

“The book, The Empire Has No Clothes, is an eloquent and well-researched argument that very much needs to be heard, contending that Americans, conservative as well as liberal, have become ensnared in an imperialism of which they are largely unaware, and of which they should disapprove. The book will play an important role in structuring a major debate about American foreign policy.”
GEORGE H. QUESTER, Professor of Government and Politics, University of Maryland

The Empire Has No Clothes offers a powerful and persuasive critique of recent U. S. foreign policy. It deserves the thoughtful attention of conservatives and liberals alike—indeed, of all Americans disturbed by the imperial pretensions evident in Washington since the end of the Cold War.”
ANDREW J. BACEVICH, Professor of International Relations, Boston University

“Think a U.S. empire is desirable and viable? Read Ivan Eland‘s highly insightful, essential book, The Empire Has No Clothes, and you will change your mind.”
EDWARD A. OLSEN, Professor of National Security Affairs, Naval Postgraduate School

“Ivan Eland’s provocative and well-researched critique of America’s interventionist foreign policy, The Empire Has No Clothes, makes a powerful case for returning to the practical principles of the Founding Fathers. With convincing examples that range across history to address the concerns of liberals and conservatives alike, he clearly demonstrates that our current democratic empire is a dangerous oxymoron.”
MELVIN SMALL, Distinguished Professor of History, Wayne State University

“Victory in the Cold War eliminated the danger that another superpower or ideology could take over the rest of the world. Yet the United States still tries to run the world as much as it ever did. Eland’s book, The Empire Has No Clothes, is a sober, hard-hitting critique of this anomaly and a cogent brief for why liberals and conservatives together should reject an imperial role for America.”
RICHARD K. BETTS, Director, Institute of War and Peace Studies, Columbia University

The Empire Has No Clothes is a powerful critique of American interventionism, focusing on the post-Cold War period. Eland brings together the American actions in Kosovo and Gulf War I & II, in a discussion of the ways in which our ‘nation-building’ has become a new form of empire. And what was disastrous for other ambitious world powers going back to Rome, he suggests, will fall upon us-sooner than we think. The heart of the book, moreover, are the chapters showing how both liberals and conservatives need to rethink their positions, and join in an effort to challenge the empire on grounds of self-interest. It is a great book!”
LLOYD C. GARDNER, Charles and Mary Beard Professor of History, Rutgers University


IVAN ELAND is recognized as one of the leading experts in U.S. defense and foreign policy. He is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute.

He received his M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. He has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office, and Investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Eland is the author of Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy and The Efficacy of Economic Sanctions as a Foreign Policy Tool, a contributor to numerous volumes, and the author of forty-five in-depth studies on national security issues. His articles have appeared in Arms Control Today, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Mediterranean Quarterly, and Middle East and International Review, and his popular writings have appeared in such publications as the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Philadelphia Inquirer, Washington Post, Newsday, Chicago Sun-Times, and Defense News. He has appeared on ABC, NPR, PBS, Fox News, CNBC, CNN, C-SPAN, MSNBC, Radio Free Europe, and BBC.


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The Empire Has No Clothes By Sr. Fellow Ivan Eland is reviewed in The International Journal of World Peace Wed., Sep. 1, 2004

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