Obama’s UN Speech Reveals an Empire Living in a Glass House

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Photo: Brett Tatman, flickr

Photo: Brett Tatman, flickr

I don’t know how President Obama did it. Really. I don’t know how he got up in front of the 193 member states gathered at the United Nations General Assembly last month, stood behind that gold and green podium, and lectured the world on the evils of imperialism.

“Russian aggression in Europe recalls the days when large nations trampled small ones in pursuit of territorial ambition. … No nation can subjugate its neighbors and claim their territory.

Stewart M. Patrick, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, hailed the president’s speech as “the right – and crucial – message” to the rest of the world. Mr. Patrick is right too, of course, in his appraisal of the president’s address. (Imperialism is bad, m’kay, as a popular counselor might say.) But however sweet and moral the president’s words may have been, as usual his words did nothing less than reaffirm the sheer hypocrisy observed not only by President Obama himself, but by all of his predecessors, bar none.

Despite the delusion routinely (and awkwardly) reinforced from time to time, the United States itself is imperialistic. Our dear American republic has long since been an empire, in desire and deed. You can even say it was born of empire, having pilfered its very birthplace from native inhabitants deemed savage and, thus, worthy of dispossession or death. America further acted out her imperialistic tendency when she expanded her border westward, by blood, all the way to the Rio Grande and the Pacific. Check the records: Western civilization wasn’t spread across the continent by meme; it was spread by conquest.

And the United States didn’t stop at claiming lands as its own. It even claimed entire centuries. Having proclaimed the 20th century the “American century,” it’s now concerned that the 21st century may turn out to be otherwise.

The people of Puerto Rico suffer the terrible misfortune of being perhaps the only American (second-class) citizens who, from a very early age, learn to recognize America’s true face in this regard. They’ve seen America without her makeup. They know that whatever her leaders may tell the rest of the world, whatever sins she may lambast in others, she’s just as wicked; in fact, she’s the worst, since she alone has assumed the role of global judge.

For over a century Puerto Rico has been a colony of America – land of the free, and home of the brave – which means America is a imperial power: that is, a large nation trampling a smaller one in pursuit of territorial ambition. That embarrassing fact should be made clear, because ambiguity seems to be America’s shield. It’s leaders love to tiptoe around an issue, so let me speak plainly. What Russia is doing in Crimea and eastern Ukraine is what the United States has done in Puerto Rico and in countless other places, in countless other times – only the United States rejects Russian imperialism because it equates the strengthening of Russia to the weakening of America.

So, while the president should be patted on the back for discussing the destabilizing effects of imperialism, like the kind exercised by Russia in Eastern Europe, the president needs a slap if he thinks America has any authority to admonish any one country on the issue. Because according to the map – Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, the Virgin Islands — America could write a how-to on 21st-century imperialism.

And you know what they say about empires living in glass houses…

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