"The Ability to Define Phenomena": A Historiography of U.S. Empire in the Middle East

Derek Ide | Geopolitics | Analysis | December 6th, 2018

In November 1938, during the midst of the Japanese occupation of China, Mao Tse-tsung proclaimed what eventually became a lightning rod for revolutionaries around the world: "Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun."[1] Over three decades later, in June 1971, Huey Newton declared: "power is, first of all, the ability to define phenomena, and secondly the ability to make these phenomena act in a desired manner." [2] Although Newton had earlier drawn significant inspiration from Mao and the Chinese Revolution, these definitions could not be further apart. However, if one accepts that in the last instance coercive force is what determines power relations, but in intermediary periods of struggle power is defining phenomena and having an impact on the direction in which these phenomena move, then perhaps the chasm between the two definitions is not so wide.

This essay intends to explore academic engagement with the role that the United States has played in the Middle East, particularly the Arab world. I have delineated four distinct "camps" in the historiography: euphemism-as-elision, empire-as-celebration, imperial-as-lens, and the anti-imperialist camps. These four conceptual categories are predicated upon two variables: the manner the authors address (or, conversely, refuse to address) U.S. empire and imperialism and who they either explicitly or implicitly target as their audience. I defend the use of the word "camps," with all of its martial connotations, as opposed to other more moderating words like "traditions," because I contend those involved in these questions are not simply individuals who exist purely as part of a larger academic community where power ceases to exist and intellectual exchange is the sole modus operandi. Instead, they are, a la Newton, engaged in decisive battles over how to define phenomena (in this case U.S. empire) and struggle to make that phenomena act in a desired manner (via the audience they are attempting to influence).

As such, what follows is not a purely chronological historiography that traces the development of "U.S. in the Middle East" literature over the decades. Other scholars have completed this task exceptionally well. [3] Nor is it a comprehensive list of the most recent scholarship regarding the region. Rather, this essay explores the various relationships academics have to U.S. empire in the Middle East. Given that imperialism is a global phenomenon, however, it would be impossible to completely ignore the theoretical and historiographical contributions that have been made by scholars of imperialism who study areas outside of the Middle East. The essay will begin by defining imperialism. It will then provide a brief overview of the European forms of imperial knowledge production that the U.S. borrowed from in the aftermath of World War II. Finally, it will analyze the four delineated above.

U.S. Imperialism in the 20th century

A problem that arises in the study of U.S. imperialism in the Middle East is the mistaken assumption that imperialism functions exactly the same in all historical eras. Many academics continue to cling to the European imperialism of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, which were necessarily territorial empires. Julie Greene, in her work The Canal Builders: Making America's Empire at the Panama Canal, challenges the notion that the creation of the Panama Canal was "unconnected to imperialism" in order to provoke a "broader rethinking of America's 'new empire' in the aftermath of 1898." [4] She argues that the essence of this project involved the construction of a "global infrastructure" that required state intervention on an international level. This new global infrastructure laid the groundwork for an American empire that eschewed formal territorial control in favor of economic and commercial control, supplemented by regular doses of military intervention.

By laying out the logic of non-territorial empire in this way, academics are catching up to the kinds of analyses articulated by Arab political actors themselves as early as the 1950s and 1960s. For example, the Arab Nationalist Movement, a forerunner to George Habash's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, articulated their opposition to imperialism in the 1950s:

When we say imperialism… we mean direct imperialism such as the one imposed on South Arabia. We mean by it imperialism hiding behind treaties as in the case of Libya and some other Arab countries in the Maghreb. We mean by it masked imperialism embodied in alliances such as the Baghdad Pact and the Eisenhower project. And last but not least, we mean economic imperialism obviously represented in the monopoly exercised by the oil companies over our natural resources. Liberation means to be free from the shackles of foreign exploitation no matter what shape or form it takes. [5]

As the late Samir Amin argued, the "state of permanent war" in the Middle East is a cornerstone of Washington's project of global hegemony. As Amin explains, the "war of 1967, planned in agreement with Washington in 1965, pursued several goals: to start the collapse of the populist nationalist regimes, to break their alliance with the Soviet Union, to force them to reposition itself on the American trail, to open new grounds for Zionist colonization." Permanent war allows the United States to enervate the Arab world and denies the possibility of "a rich and powerful modernized" Arab bloc that could "call in question the guaranteed access of the Western countries to the plundering of its oil resources, necessary for the continuation of waste associated with capitalist accumulation." [6] Although Amin was writing in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, the interventions of 2011 onwards, notably in Libya and Syria, are a direction continuation of this policy.[7]

Political scientist Michael Parenti, who has written extensively on U.S. empire, provided a succinct working definition of imperialism in the 1990s: "The process whereby the dominant politico-economic interests of one nation expropriate for their own enrichment the land, labor, raw materials, and markets of another people." [8] As seen from this definition, territorial acquisition is simply one variable of imperialism. The insertion of "dominant politico-economic interests" as a qualifier is important in this definition and complicates the idea of "national interests," which so many writers in the euphemism-as-elision category rely upon.

A significantly more thorough definition of empire comes from Richard Drayton. Although he writes specifically about the historiography of British imperialism, his critiques can be broadened to include the literature addressing U.S. imperialism. Drayton argues that the "cultural turn" represented an "ascent of idealism" that was "remarkably compatible with the neo-liberal moment." [9] The literature became preoccupied with how the colonized were perceived by the colonizers or developed a "focus on subjectivity" and agency, where "how people in Africa, Asia, or Latin America thought about things, displaced examination of practical and material experience. Historians appeared to be more bothered by 'epistemic violence' than the real thing." [10] Drayton makes a clarion call for historians to be clear about the reality of imperialism, arguing that it is "a useful category through which we may make sense of a phenomenon which recurs in world history wherever a power gap allows one society to become predatory towards others." Indeed, Drayton's conception of imperialism is worth quoting in full:

Imperialism, in all its contexts, is a regime through which external entities derive maximum gain from the labour and resources within a territory. A foreign power, with or without formal colonization, although always with local collaborators, secures a protected and privileged sphere for its economic actors. There the relationship of labour to capital is manipulated via the suppression of taxes, wages, social or environmental protections, by forms of coercion which drive labour towards that direction of employment and limit its legal or practical ability to resist the regime, and from which tribute, commodities and profit may be freely expatriated. The social rent paid by capital is minimized, as both the costs of social reproduction (childhood, ill health, aging) are borne from the wages of labour and the costs of infrastructure through which the external actor derives extraordinary benefit - roads, deepwater harbours, airports, electricity networks, local policing and repression - are funded mainly out of taxation of the wages and consumption of the squeezed wages of labour… Violence is a constant and necessary corollary of such an order, needed to install, defend, discipline and replace local collaborators… But Imperialism always comes wearing the mask of community, promising that its form of domination is in the universal interest. To such a claim historians and their colleagues in the social sciences lend active help. [11]

Drayton's definition, emphasizing the material sinews of empire, points the historian to material forces underlying imperialism. This perspective includes both the processes of extraction, as well as its points of vulnerabilities. These functional definitions of imperialism inform the analysis of the historiographical traditions below.

Early knowledge production of the Middle East

Early American knowledge production about the Middle East is largely indebted to the British. Direct inter-imperialist collaboration was a routine occurrence, with American officials studying European colonial administrations to derive lessons about intelligence gathering, counterinsurgency, developing efficient models of colonial life, etc. As Karine Walther has pointed out in the context of the Philippines, "American military officers engaged in 'colonial tourism' in Egypt, India, Java, Borneo, and Malaysia."[12] This reliance upon British knowledge production about former colonial possessions did not disappear immediately at the end of World War II. It would take many years for the U.S. to develop adequate institutions of knowledge about its newly acquired spheres of influence. One indication of how deeply U.S. officials and academics relied upon British knowledge production about the Middle East could be seen in 1945, when the State Department had no alternative but to recommend only that the British be asked to invite position papers from both sides on the Palestine question. [13] Another example can be seen as late as 1951 from an annotated bibliography compiled by the American Council of Learned Societies about the Near East. The bibliography listed a total of fifteen books on the modern history of Egypt, three of which were written directly by British colonial officials. Nearly all of the anthropological works cited were completed by British and French researchers.[14]

American knowledge production about the Middle East during the first part of the twentieth century relied heavily upon American missionaries in the region, such as the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM). The kind of knowledge produced about the region during this period was often racist and Orientalist, but allowed for the framing of "imperial expansion in the rhetoric of humanitarian intervention." [15] These ideas existed within a broader "hierarchy of heathenism" where American missionaries ranked cultures according to their receptiveness to the Christian imperial civilizing mission.[16] A second source came from Orientalist scholars in academic institutions, many of them who studied the ancient world and not the modern Middle East in any meaningful way. During World War I, a group of specialists came together to serve in Woodrow Wilson's think-tank called "The Inquiry." [17] This "team of experts" played a vital role in the Paris Peace Conference, and represented one of the first times that the former territories of the Ottoman Empire registered on the American radar. As such, the Inquiry represented an "early attempt by Washington to develop contemporary expertise on foreign areas."[18] Exemplifying the close missionary-state relationship, ABCFM members like James Barton submitted reports for the Inquiry arguing that "Islam was the central problem of Turkish rule and the spread of Christianity was the ultimate solution."[19] In the interwar period, Osamah Khalil posits that missionary universities like the American University in Cairo (AUC) and the American University in Beirut acted as "sheet anchors" that not only produced knowledge about the region but were also instrumental in acting as a bulwark against communist ideas in the Arab world.[20]

During World War II, the Office of Strategic Services and the Army Specialized Training Program acted as "precursors of university-based area studies programs."[21] In 1947, the British government created the Interdepartmental Commission of Enquiry on Oriental, Slavonic, East European and African Studies in Britain (also known as the Scarbrough commission). As Zachary Lockman notes:

…this body had been appointed by the British government to investigate how that country's teaching and research resources on various regions might be sustained and developed; the commission's report, issued that same year, recommended additional funding for universities to strengthen their capacities in this area… the meeting seems to have contributed to the determination of the [American Council of Learned Societies] and the Rockefeller Foundation to at long last get things moving in Near Eastern studies. [22]

President of the Social Science Research Council and first dean of Harvard's School of Public Administration, E. Pendleton Herring, openly called for a "national symphony" of "governmental, business, and academic elites."[23] The Korean War convinced U.S. policy makers of the dire need for area based studies programs. At the time the University of Michigan declared it was "ready to serve in the National Emergency." [24] This "national symphony" quickly developed into a broader national security state, with one of its integral functions being the production of knowledge about the Middle East. Given the increasingly vital role Arab oil to the U.S. economy, it was unacceptable for imperial planners that U.S. knowledge production about the region was so weak. Around 1950, Zachary Lockman suggests there were no more than half a dozen members of the American Political Science Association with a working knowledge of Arabic, Persian, or Turkish.[25] Harvard's Center for Middle Eastern Studies was established in 1954 with William L. Langer, of OSS and CIA fame, serving as director. That center was created "after consultation with the State Department, the CIA, U.S. Army Intelligence, Standard Oil of New Jersey (later Exxon) and of New York (later Mobil) and Aramco." [26]

The Iraqi coup of 1958, which largely caught U.S. officials off guard, helped convince planners of the need for advanced language training. $61 million was quickly designated for Title VI language programs. [27] For Middle East Studies, the passage of the National Defense Education Act in 1958 was particularly important. Private corporations like the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations provided massive funding for area studies, viewing their interests as part and parcel of U.S. state expansion into other parts of the globe. In 1961 the Carnegie Corporation funded a program, run by Princeton, to train candidates at the Middle East Centre for Arabic Studies (MECAS) in Lebanon. As Lockman explains, the Center was originally established "by the British Foreign Office at that location in 1947 to teach Arabic to its staff" and many "Lebanese often called it the 'spy school' because a substantial number of its graduates were reputed to work for British or other intelligence agencies." [28] Thus, from the outset of the Cold War academic institutions became directly bound to the U.S. state and its imperial apparatus. However, as Melani McAlister notes, for "various bureaucratic and intellectual reasons, however, Middle East studies in the U.S. did not become fully institutionalized until 1967, when the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) was founded." [29] But even MESA, early in its existence, launched an effort to solicit donations from a broad range of corporations, including oil companies and military contractors. [30]

The euphemism-as-elision camp

This category of literature situates U.S. actions in the Middle East within a series of euphemisms in order to elide the question of empire entirely. "Foreign relations," "diplomatic history," "international relations," "counterinsurgency," and "U.S. assistance" are some of the rhetorical devices employed to conceal the nature of U.S. action in the Middle East. Such rhetoric is meant to dissuade scholars from adopting imperialism as either a lens of analysis or challenging it as an actually existing entity. These authors also tend to write with an imperial audience in mind, including diplomats, policy makers, and other academics implicated in imperial policy-making.

At Columbia University's Bureau for Applied Social Research (BASR), responsible for evaluating U.S. propaganda in Western Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East, "euphemism-as-elision" became a kind of official doctrine. In 1950, BASR's Paul Lazarsfeld and Charles Glock explained: "While it is inappropriate to talk about an American empire, it is entirely in place to discuss the large and growing sphere of American influence."[31] One BASR sociologist, Siegfried Kracauer, in his "Appeals to the Near and Middle East," argued that the "Arabs might prove sensitive to Communist intolerance if they get the impression that it is a variant of their own fanaticism."[32] Quintessential Cold War American historians like Walter Laqueur, in his Nationalism and Communism in the Middle East (1956), perpetuated such arguments, drawing direct comparisons between the legacy of Islam and the potential flourishing of communism in the Islamic world: "The exhilarating feeling of mission, of purpose, of being engaged in a collective adventure to accelerate the historically inevitable victory of the true faith over the evil infidels are common to classical Islam and to Communism."[33] Thus, in the 1950s and 1960s knowledge production about the Arab world necessarily travelled through imperial circuits while simultaneously denying U.S. empire as an existing phenomenon.

The trend of knowledge production intended to service empire without acknowledging its existence continued throughout the neoliberal decades (mid-1970s onward). These texts now had enough distance to begin producing knowledge on prior chronological eras. One representative text in this tradition is Phillip Baram's The Department of State in the Middle East, 1919-1945, which argued that the United States strategy in the interwar and World War II era was fourfold: 1) enervate the old European powers 2) do not openly engage with the Zionists 3) isolate the Soviets and 4) "encourage individual Arab states to be free, sovereign, and pro-American." [34] David Painter analyzed U.S. oil policy in the first decade of the Cold War, suggesting that the U.S. state developed a symbiotic relationship with the oil companies where the former combatted Third World nationalism while the latter ran quotidian extraction operations. He concluded by suggesting, despite ARAMCO occasionally presenting diplomatic difficulties for the U.S., that this business-government partnership was the most appropriate set-up for the Middle East in the early Cold War era. [35]

As Douglas Little notes, the "nature of Russia's intentions in the Middle East during the late 1940s and the appropriateness of America's response have sparked much scholarly controversy." [36] Whereas scholars like Bruce Kuniholm argued in 1980 that American military aid and diplomatic bravado fended off the Soviets, other scholars like Melvyn Leffler posited twelve years later that American officials exaggerated the Russian threat during the Truman years. [37] One cannot help but notice the timing of each monograph, with the former at the height of Soviet involvement in Afghanistan and the latter after the Soviet collapse. Scholars like Peter Hahn suggest that while London sought to maintain informal empire in the Middle East, U.S. aspirations were "anticolonial" in nature and meant to contain the Soviets. [38] One prominent scholar, Barry Rubin, suggested U.S. policy towards Iran was "paved with good intentions."[39] The question of U.S. imperialism does not arise at all.

In Egypt, early US contacts with the Nasser government appeared promising, and U.S. scholars have debated what soured relations. Barry Rubin argues it was Nasser's commitment to pan-Arab nationalism, while others blame variously the British, the Soviet Union, or Israel. [40] Something of a consensus had emerged in the 1980s that the Eisenhower administration had overestimated "American economic leverage in Egypt" and underestimated "Nasser's willingness to seek help from the Soviet bloc." [41] Even Douglas Little, who has the widest grasp of the literature discussing the U.S. role in the Middle East, often employs euphemisms that suggest the U.S. was a "stabilizer" in the region. [42] Little further suggests that Kennedy used "personal diplomacy" and American wheat to channel Nasserism into "constructive channels" while encouraging more conservative government to institute reforms. [43]

Little explains that every administration after Lyndon Johnson employed his "three pillars approach" (Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iran) in order to "promote regional stability," "preserve Western access to Mideast oil," and "protect American interests."[44] Likewise, Little posits that the U.S. intervention in Lebanon in 1958 after the July 14 coup in Iraq was representative of "Ike's ability to restore law and order in Beirut without becoming mired down" in religious strife. [45] Utilizing the language of "national interests" and "law and order" in relationship to U.S. empire is a questionable technique that both conceals the nature of imperialism and discourages the basic question: cui bono? As his career progressed, Little inched closer to employing the word "empire," first in his text American Orientalism (2008), when he casually mentions "America's national security empire" once without any explication. [46] Even his use of "orientalism" is subject to many of the critiques that Melani McAlister levels against using orientalism as a framework in the U.S. context. [47] By 2014, however, Little had identified America's "Informal Empire in the Middle East" in an article for America in the World: The Historiography of US Foreign Relations since 1941 .[48] This kind of imperial knowledge production has instrumental value to U.S. imperial power and continues to represent a significant trend in academic fields like diplomatic history.[49]

A particularly pernicious development in recent years has been to appropriate and distort the concept of "agency" to obfuscate imperial reality completely. Perhaps the most infamous example of this kind of charlatanry is Roham Alvandi's Nixon, Kissinger, and the Shah (2014). Alvandi's text seeks to challenge the well-established view, accepted more or less globally, that the Shah of Iran was simply a client state of the United States. Alvandi contends that the "American proxy" model accurately characterizes the US-Iran relationship of the 1950s, but that the early 1970s represented a brief period where the Shah was an "active agent of history who often abetted and manipulated the superpowers in the pursuit" of regional interests. [50] As with all post-modern academic phrases of dubious design and intent, Alvandi easily employs the "agency" brush to paint the Shah of Iran as something other than a client of US empire. The logic rests on tenuous grounds, notably on the fact that no "partner" can so seamlessly be reduced again to a "client" in a span of a few years, with the shifting of a few individuals in government. Furthermore, Alvandi's suggestion that the Shah took some small-scale prerogatives on his own hardly qualifies as a negation of client-state status.[51] While Kissinger and Nixon may have maintained a more personable relationship with the shah, Iran received nothing on either the scale or scope of the secret memorandum signed by the U.S. and Israel in 1975. [52] As such, his grandiose claims about the Shah's partner status are hardly warranted. Undoubtedly 1979 was a major blow to US imperial prerogatives. The shah's illusions aside, the empire lost a client state, not an imperial partner.

Although the various intellectuals and historians surveyed above have distinct specializations, varied and divergent opinions, and often times express serious disagreement both with each other and their predecessors, two consistencies bind them together: 1) they reject the idea of U.S. empire as an actually existing phenomenon and 2) they write with an imperial audience in mind (those capable of having some influence on imperial policy). As such, whether missionaries cementing American ideological hegemony, BASR sociologists employing Orientalist tropes, or historians analyzing policy while simultaneously denying empire, a vast tradition of knowledge production about the Arab world exists and continues to flourish that is directly bound to U.S. imperial power. By employing euphemism-as-elision, these historians both sanitize the past and project a sense of innocuousness onto policy during the present, stripping the U.S. of its imperialist content.

The empire-as-celebration camp

A more recent phenomenon, particularly after 9/11 and the emergence of the "War on Terror," has been the growth of a literature that explicitly celebrates and encourages U.S. empire. One of the defining features of this literature is that it forcefully asserts the reality of imperialism, positing it as the most auspicious path for the future instead of critiquing U.S. empire as a pernicious force. The distinction between this camp and the euphemism-as-elision camp is not just its emphasis on embracing the notion of empire, but also its audience. Whereas academics who deny the existence of empire service it by cleansing the past and appealing to the ostensibly noble or at least pragmatic intentions of policy makers, the "empire-as-celebration" camp maintains two different audiences. First, like their euphemism-as-elision counterparts, they seek to influence policy. Second, they seek to disperse the idea of the benevolence of U.S. empire amongst the U.S. population more generally. Their choice to publish in popular presses is one way they seek to have a wider impact than highly specialized academic monographs with high-price tags would normally allow. Although this camp may end up as a flash-in-the-pan, they have received a wide audience and it does a disservice to exclude them from the historiography of empire in the Middle East.

Three key figures in this emergence of "empire-as-celebration" camp at the turn of the twenty-first century were Max Boot, Robert Kaplan, and Niall Ferguson. Max Boot's Savage Wars of Peace (2002) is a chronologically broad analysis of U.S. economic and military intervention from 1800 to the early 2000s. Borrowing from Kipling, Boot argues that the U.S. has regularly engaged in small "savage wars of peace" intended to "suppress rebellions and guerilla warfare in all parts of the world." [53] These wars are, according to Boot, "imperial wars" that also require "chronicling the political course of American empire."[54] Robert Kaplan's Imperial Grunts (2006) is a much more contemporary account that describes the author's "odyssey through the barracks and outposts of American Empire."[55] Imperialism, according to Kaplan, is "but a form of isolationism, in which the demand for absolute, undefiled security at home leads one to conquer the world, and in the process to become subject to all the world's anxieties."[56] It is a muddy definition, one that hardly means anything or elucidates the actual motor forces of imperialism, but this kind of definition also lends itself to a sort of celebratory cause. Kaplan asserts that this definition of empire implies that those carrying it out are often in "half denial." Unlike the conscript armies of World War II, there now exists a "professional military that, true to other imperial forces throughout history, enjoyed the soldiering life for its own sake." [57] Truer to reality than many of the euphemism-as-elision camp, Kaplan argues that "the very opposition to imperial influence constitutes proof of its existence." [58] Afghanistan and Iraq form two of the core objects of imperial policy for Kaplan.

Niall Ferguson makes what is perhaps the most important intervention in this literature. The Oxford and Hoover Institution research fellow has earned himself a spot on Time's 100 most influential people list. While it is true that his scholarship is rife with errors, particularly with regard to the Middle East,[59] academics that dismiss his work do so at their own peril. Leaving the realm of popular engagement to the most reactionary and overtly imperialist scholars, even when they are objectively wrong about simple facts, entails sacrificing the possibility of engaging with a wider audience outside of the confines of the ivory tower. Ferguson's 2004 work Colossus posits a fourfold thesis: 1) the U.S. has always been empire, functionally if not self-consciously; 2) a self-conscious American imperialism might well be preferable to the available alternatives, but 3) financial, human, and cultural constraints make such self-consciousness highly unlikely, and 4) therefore the American empire will remain a somewhat dysfunctional entity.[60] Ferguson implores an American audience to embrace their imperialist role, and adopt a self-conscious and long-term form of empire building. To deal with the "manpower deficit" required to maintain a massive military presence overseas, particularly in the Middle East, Ferguson puts forward a solution: "If one adds together the illegal immigrants, the jobless and the convicts, there is surely ample raw material for a larger American army." [61] Simply because academics dismiss the empire-as-celebration camp does not render them politically impotent, as Niall Ferguson's advisory role to John "100 Years in Iraq" McCain in 2008 exemplifies.

The "imperial-as-lens" camp

The "imperial-as-lens" camp is also a relatively recent phenomenon, but one that has thus far remained a largely academic exercise. One of the most ardent proponents of this tradition is Paul Kramer, who in 2011 penned an important piece titled "Power and Connection: Imperial history of the United States and the World." In it, he argues forcefully for the "imperial-as-lens" analysis, arguing that older generations of both Marxists and Foucauldian scholars have employed either "structural" or "all-saturating" accounts of power, respectively. [62] This "thinning of empire" to only include its "exceptionally repressive" attributes mistakes a "part for a whole."[63] In its place, Kramer posits the need for:

….a category of analysis, not a kind of entity, something to think with more than think about… A language of the 'imperial' rather than 'empire' can help avoid connotations of unity and coherence-thingness-that tend to adhere to the latter term, and move to the side the mostly unproductive question of whether the United States is or has "an empire"-and if so, what type it is, and whether or not it measures up to the rubrics built to account for other empires. Far more is to be gained by exploring the imperial as a way of seeing than by arguing for or against the existence of a 'U.S. empire.' [64]

Kramer's "imperial-as-lens" framework thus eschews the question of whether or not the U.S. is an empire, rejecting generations of analysis by scholars and revolutionaries alike that have identified it as such.

Kramer's most renowned work, Blood of Government (2006), deals with the question of U.S. imperialism in the Philippines (a subject that hardly benefits from the "unproductive question" of whether the U.S. is an empire, given how blatant the imperial project was). The lack of theoretical rigor can be seen when Kramer describes empire as "exercising sovereignty and power over peoples denied the rights that were increasingly coming to define the modern nation-state: it meant inventing ideologies to calibrate inclusion in these expanding and hierarchical polities." [65] The reader quickly notices that imperialism is a fundamentally non-economic act for Kramer. Instead, empire is primarily a question of race and power. To what ends remains unclear; perhaps a reflex of modernity, perhaps as an end in itself. Nothing appears to actually drive empire in Kramer's narrative, given that he offers no explanatory power for the nature of imperial expansion. At his worst, Kramer makes assertions that mean virtually nothing at all, such as the following: "Along the multiple nodes that linked colonizing and colonized societies, simultaneous glances upward and downward along novel axes of power formed new symbolic economies of hope, terror, and identification." [66] Unintelligible passages such as these raise questions regarding the efficacy of the "imperialism-as-lens" approach.

Examples of the "imperial-as-lens" framework being applied to the Middle East exist, and represent various levels of usefulness. For instance, Karine Walther's Sacred Interests (2015) approvingly cites Kramer's "imperial-as-lens" framework in her introduction. She rather successfully explores how different American actors "justified their impingement on Muslim rulers' sovereignty as part of a broader imperial civilizing mission rather than a crude commercial or strategic grab for territory and power."[67] By noting how missionaries and non-state actors adopted an imperial mindset in their dealings with the Muslim world, she pushes the chronological boundaries of U.S. imperialism backwards and explains how these developments set the ideological stage for future material endeavors. Yet, as others have noted, with the exception of the section on the Moros of the Philippines, "the link between religion and diplomatic/imperialist action could be more fully substantiated." [68] Walther's emphasis on "the imperial" does not help the reader interpret calls for an interventionist foreign policy particularly when the U.S. did not pursue one, as in many of the book's case studies.

Osamah Khalil's America's Dream Palace (2016) is another text that fits within the imperial-as-lens camp. Although Khalil does acknowledge the U.S. as an empire, his primary focus is on the imperial gaze and how U.S. actors of varied stripes understood the Middle East. [69] Khalil contends that U.S. national security interests were a driving force in the emergence of Middle East expertise. A "mutually beneficial relationship" [70] developed between the national security establishment and academia that galvanized Middle East studies programs and area studies more broadly. Eventually, as the national security state relied less on academia, intelligence became privatized as think-tanks supplied state actors with "useful knowledge." Borrowing from Said, Khalil asserts that "Orientalism influenced the analysis, formation, and implementation of American policies" in the Middle East over the past century.[71] In short, the development of Middle East studies was "an articulation of American power, Orientalism and exceptionalism, as well as their limits." [72] One of the problems with Khalil's text is the framework of Orientalism that he employs does not always elucidate how the process of knowledge production informs actual policy. For instance, despite racial and religious tropes inherent in orientalist discourse (particularly vis-à-vis the inferiority of Islam), the reader never gets a sense from Khalil's book that U.S. imperial policy was frequently to support reactionary religious elements to stifle secular leftist politics.

One direction this "imperial-as-lens" analysis has taken more recently is to deal with the way non-state actors in the imperial center, particularly the Black liberation movement in the U.S., have engaged with the Arab and Muslim world. The text that opened the door for this new wave of scholarship was Black Star, Crescent Moon (2012) by Sohail Daulatzai. On Daulatzai's heels came two major academic works discussing the subject, Geographies of Liberation (2014) by Alex Lubin and A Shadow over Palestine (2015) by Keith Feldman. Notwithstanding some quality content, these works all suffer from the deficiencies intrinsic to esoteric academic postmodern discourse (a juncture where the question of audience is particularly vital). In this case, the intellectual frameworks designed to understand transnational solidarities and their anti-imperialist content lack theoretical rigor. Daulatzai's "Muslim International" relies heavily on Chatterjee's "fragments of the nation" concept.[73] Furthermore, the entire analysis is plagued by a sort of poststructuralist analysis that is both exhausting to read and largely meaningless. [74] Lubin's "geographies of liberation" introduces an entire lexicon of jumbled postmodern (occasionally "countermodern") jargon. [75] In Feldman there is much of the same.[76] Although the question of intellectual frameworks is possibly ancillary, it is also an area of the historiography that desperately needs clarity.

The anti-imperialist camp

Historians emphasizing the concrete realities of empire, what may be called the anti-imperialist camp within the historiography, stand in rather stark contradistinction to the "imperial-as-lens" camp and its obsession with discourse. These writers not only recognize U.S. empire, they tend to actively criticize it and, with varying levels of vigor, encourage resistance to it. Works like Rashid Khalidi's Resurrecting Empire (2004) and Sowing Crisis (2009) explicitly consider the U.S. as an empire. Some popular texts, such as Robert Dreyfuss' Devil's Game (2005), have also tried their hand at documenting the nuances of imperial policy. In Dreyfuss' case, this includes detailing the ways in which the United States "spent decades cultivating Islamists, manipulating and double-crossing them, cynically using and misusing them as Cold War allies," and explicitly calls for the U.S. to "abandon its imperial pretensions in the Middle East." [77] A few of the recent and representative texts include Lloyd Gardner's Three Kings (2009), Robert Vitalis' America's Kingdom (2006), and Timothy Mitchell's Carbon Democracy (2013).

In many ways, Lloyd Gardner's Three Kings sits most squarely in the intellectual lineage of William Appleby Williams and his critique of U.S. Empire as "tragedy." [78] In essence, Gardner argues that the Truman Doctrine was the "essential rubric under which the United States projected its power globally after World War II" and laid the foundation for the "imperial presidency." [79] The purpose was not to "fend off the Soviets" but to "shore up friendly governments in strategic areas." Finally, the doctrine addressed the problem of how to replace the British in Middle East. Although John Foster Dulles adopted "International Communism" as an ideological weapon, the principal purpose of American imperial policy was not to deter a Russian attack but to "ensure the loyalty of the countries receiving aid and to maintain their governments in power against internal threats." [80]

America's Kingdom by Robert Vitalis is a text that places "our understanding of ARAMCO… in the long history of empire" and challenges American exceptionalist accounts that purport "to prove American enterprise to be anything but agents of empire." [81] One of the ways he does this is by articulating the vital function of race to the organization of oil production. ARAMCO fought tooth and nail to perpetuate a system of racial discrimination, including significant differentials in wages, working conditions, and housing. In large part this system was intended to lower costs but also enervate the organizational capacities of workers. The American oil giant explained deportations of oil workers by suggesting they were adherents of the "'the Communist line, particularly as regards evils of capitalism and racial discrimination.'" [82] At other junctures ARAMCO's security department worked with Saudi forces to imprison and deport organizers. Unfortunately, Vitalis' understanding of the function that Israel plays as part of parcel of U.S. empire is flawed, and detracts from the analytical rigor of his work.

Timothy Mitchell's Carbon Democracy is a vital intervention in the historiography of oil and oil politics in the twentieth century, particularly as it relates to British and later U.S. imperialism. Challenging the older literature that focuses solely on the corrupting influence of oil money, Mitchell persuasively argues that oil as a commodity, including its physical properties, is fundamental to understanding political power. Mitchell posits that coal allowed, for a brief period of time at the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, the "era of the Mass Strike" (a la Luxemburg). In essence, Mitchell posits that "dependence on coal" provided the opportunity to "build more democratic forms of politics" [83] while the "conversion to oil provided imperialists like Churchill with the means to evade those democratic demands."[84] The transition to oil was a conscious effort on behalf of U.S. imperial planers in the post-World War II era, utilizing the Marshall plan (half of all oil supplied to Marshall plan countries was subsidized by U.S. companies during 1948-51, making U.S. oil companies the largest beneficiaries of Marshall Plan aid) to reconfigure European energy. [85] Most importantly, Mitchell departs from the three other camps by urging the reader to identify the "points of vulnerability" in the current "socio-technical system" in order to be able to leverage collective forms of power and reshape the world in a more egalitarian and democratic manner. [86]

As seen above, authors in the anti-imperialist tradition, whether they are analyzing specific U.S. policies in a more traditional diplomatic manner or discussing the socio-technical vulnerabilities of carbon politics in the Middle East, tend to both accept U.S. empire as an existing structure and encourage some kind of resistance to it. Mitchell, for instance, by citing the examples of coal workers attempting to engage in mass strikes at a time when such ventures were made possible by material conditions, encourages the readers of today to identify new points of vulnerability. By publishing in a popular press like Verso, Mitchell also avoids falling into the trap of reaching out only to other academics. While still engaging in mainstream academic life, Mitchell avoids, as per the warning of E.P. Thompson, becoming "wholly dependent upon establishing institutions." [87] The anti-imperialist tradition has done well describing the sinews of U.S. imperialism, analyzing some of its strengths and exposing some potential vulnerabilities. In the future, the anti-imperialist tradition must deal seriously with transnational anti-imperialist solidarities, their relationship to imperialism and U.S. empire more broadly, and potential vulnerabilities that could arise (outside of the realm of discourse alone) for anti-imperialist actors. Thus far, transnational solidarities have been largely left to the "imperial-as-lens" tradition, and as such remain relatively confined to the ivory tower.


The four camps delineated in this essay represent fundamentally distinct historiographies. Two variables, the author's relationship to U.S. empire and their audience, help determine these conceptual categories. The euphemism-as-elision camp denies the existence of U.S. empire and generally sets as its audience other academics, policy makers, diplomats, etc. (in order to tweak certain policies and make U.S. empire function more smoothly). The empire-as-celebration camp gleefully embraces U.S. imperialism, and sets as its audience both policy makers as well as the general population (who it attempts to convince of the merits of self-conscious imperial subjects). The imperial-as-lens camp tacitly accepts the existence of U.S. empire, or at least embraces the need for an "imperial historiography," but often does so primarily with other academics in mind (and as such this camp remains largely confined to academia). Finally, the anti-imperialist camp not only accepts the existence of U.S. Empire, especially its structural form, but actively encourages resistance to it, both by academics and those outside of academia. Given that academics lack the sort of political power which grows from the barrel of the gun, our definition of the phenomenon of U.S. imperialism is one of the most powerful weapons we possess. As such, the camp we choose to align ourselves with, in order to make the phenomenon of empire act in the manner we desire, is a question of significant strategic importance.


[1] "Problems of War and Strategy" (November 6, 1938), Selected Works, Vol. II, p. 224. Available here: https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/works/red-book/ch05.htm

[2] Huey Newton, "Black Capitalism Re-analyzed I," June 5, 1971 in David Hilliard, The Huey P. Newton Reader (Seven Stories Press, 2002). Newton's definition came in the midst of his schism with Eldridge Cleaver, who continued to cling to the more militant Black internationalist path while Newton attempted to redirect the Black Panther Party along communitarian and reformist lines. See Sean Malloy, "Diverging Directions in Oakland and Algiers, 1970-1" in Out of Oakland: Black Panther Party Internationalism during the Cold War (Cornell Press, 2017).

[3] See Douglas Little, "Gideon's Band: America and the Middle East Since 1945," in Michael J. Hogan, America in the World: The Historiography of American Foreign Relations since 1941 (Cambridge University Press, 1995).

[4] Julie Greene, The Canal Builders: Making America's Empire at the Panama Canal (New York: Penguin, 2009), 9-10.

[5] Quoted in Walid W. Kazziha, Revolutionary Transformation in the Arab World: Habash and his Comrades from Nationalism to Marxism (St. Martin's Press, 1975), 61.

[6] Samir Amin, "The US Imperialism and the Middle East."

[7] For more on Syria see Patrick Higgins, "The Enemy at Home: U.S. Imperialism in Syria," Viewpoint Magazine (Feb. 2018) and "The War on Syria," Jacobin (Aug. 2015).

[8] Michael Parenti. Against Empire (City Lights, 1995), 1. Two decades later, Parenti modifies this definition slightly: "The dominant investor interests in one country bring to bear military and financial power upon another country in order to expropriate the land, labor, capital, natural resources, commerce, and markets of that other country." The Face of Imperialism (Routledge, 2011), 7.

[9] Richard Drayton, "Where Does the World Historian Write From? Objectivity, Moral Conscience and the Past and Present of Imperialism." Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 46, no. 3 (July 2011), 679.

[10] Ibid., 680.

[11] Ibid., 680-1.

[12] Karine Walther, Sacred Interests: The United States and the Islamic World, 1821-1921 (University of North Carolina Press, 2015), 170.

[13] Lloyd Gardner, Three Kings: The Rise of an American Empire in the Middle East after World War II (The New Press, 2009). See Chapter 2, "The United States Moves into the Middle East."

[14] Zachary Lockman, Field Notes: The Making of Middle East Studies in the United States (Stanford University Press, 2016), 101.

[15] Walther, Sacred Interests, 9.

[16] Conroy-Krutz, Christian Imperialism: Converting the World in the Early American Republic (Cornell Press, 2015).

[17] See Osamah Khalil, America's Dream Palace: Middle East Expertise and the Rise of the National Security State (Harvard University Press, 2016), 10-22.

[18] Khalil, 38.

[19] Walther, 297.

[20] Khalil, 117-120. Ironically, these missionary schools often exercised a level of independence from U.S. policy that their stateside counterparts, the real "Cold War Universities" of the 1950s and 1960s, were unable to maintain. AUC, for instance, seriously challenged Truman's position on Palestine in 1947-8, while AUB was derided by British officials as a "center of communist activity in the Middle East." Ibid., 125.

[21] Khalil,40.

[22] Lockman, Field Notes, 82.

[23] Khalil., 97.

[24] Ibid., 92.

[25] Lockman, 102.

[26] Lockman, 134.

[27] Khalil, 165.

[28] Lockman, 158.

[29] McAlister, Epic Encounters: Culture, Media, and U.S. Interests in the Middle East since 1945 (University of California Press, 2005), 36.

[30] However, as Lockman points out, its only positive response came from Northrop Grumman. By the 1980s, however, MESA did receive modest donations from other large oil companies, 194-5.

[31] Khalil, 187.

[32] Ibid., 190.

[33] Walter Laqueur, Nationalism and Communism in the Middle East (Routledge Kegan Paul, 1956), 347. See footnote 19.

[34] Philip Baram, The Department of State in the Middle East, 1919-1945 (KTAV Publishing House, 1978), 56-7

[35] David S. Painter, Oil and the American Century: The Political Economy of U.S. Foreign Oil Policy, 1941-1954 (John Hopkins University Press, 1986).

[36] Little, "Gideon's Band ," 467.

[37] Bruce R. Kuniholm, The Origins of the Cold War in the Near East: Great Power Conflict and Diplomacy in Iran, Turkey, and Greece (Princeton, 1980) and Melvyn P. Leffler, A Preponderance of Power: National Security, the Truman Administration, and the Cold War (Stanford, 1992).

[38] Peter L. Hahn, United States, Great Britain, and Egypt, 1945-1956: Strategy and Diplomacy in the Early Cold War (Chapel Hill, 1991).

[39] Barry Rubin, Paved with Good Intentions: The American Experience and Iran (New York, 1980).

[40] Barry Rubin, "America and the Egyptian Revolution, 1950-1957," Political Science Quarterly, vol. 97, no. 1 (Spring, 1982).

[41] Little, "Gideon's Band," 479. Here Little cites Gail E. Meyer's Egypt and the United States: The Formative Years (Fairleigh Dickinson, 1981) and Geoffrey Aronson, From Sideshow to Center Stage: U.S. Policy toward Egypt, 1946-1956 (Lynne Rienner, 1986).

[42] "After Eisenhower's dollar diplomacy forced Britain out of Egypt… the United States stood ready to try its hand at stabilizing the Middle East." Ibid., 485.

[43] Douglas Little, "The New Frontier on the Nile: JFK, Nasser, and Arab Nationalism," Journal of American History 75 (September 1988)

[44] Little, "Gideon's Band," 497.

[45] Little, "Gideon's Band," 489. Little rather uncritically borrows from Alan Dowty's 1984 work Middle East Crisis: US. Decision-Making in 1958, 1970, and 1973 to praise Eisenhower for "wisely relying on a tightly knit and level-headed group of decision makers who shared an 'operational code' that placed a high premium in July 1958 on ensuring American credibility with pro-Western regimes in the Middle East."

[46] Little, American Orientalism: The United States and the Middle East since 1945 (University of North Carolina Press, 2008). It is fairly easy to dismiss this as a kind of metaphor or simply rhetorical flair.

[47] See McAlister, Epic Encounters. These critiques can in some ways be leveled against Osamah Khalil's work America's Dream Palace as well.

[48] "Impatient Crusaders: The Making of America's Informal Empire in the Middle East," in America in the World: The Historiography of US Foreign Relations since 1941, edited by Frank Costigliola and Michael J. Hogan, Cambridge University Press, New York, 2014, pp. 212-35.

[49] Many of these articles read like policy briefs. See, for instance, Eric Jacobsen, "A Coincidence of Interests: Kennedy, U.S. Assistance, and the 1963 Iraqi Ba'th Regime," Diplomatic History, vol. 37 (November 2013). One notices the neutrality of the term "monarchy," the ambivalent use of "regime," and the quite pejorative employment of "dictatorship." For more on the 1963 coup, see Matthews, Weldon C. "The Kennedy Administration, Counterinsurgency, and Iraq's First Ba'thist Regime." International Journal of Middle East Studies, vol. 43 (November 2011). Writing about 1968 Ba'athist coup against the Nasserist 'Abd al-Rahman 'Arif, Avneri Natenal argues that the "State Department was too sanguine regarding the Ba'th approach towards the IPC and its neighbors."[49] Furthermore, while some U.S. actors may have had connections with opponents of the 'Arif government, Avneri assures the reader that "the American government tried to move away from foreign intervention at this time." See Avneri, Netanel. "The Iraqi Coups of July 1968 and the American Connection," Middle Eastern Studies, vol. 51, no. 4 (2015), 659.

[50] Oddly, the author presents the Shah as a "third world actor," hardly a title the Shah would willingly apply to himself. Roham Alvandi. Nixon, Kissinger, and the Shah: The United States and Iran in the Cold War (Oxford University Press, New York, 2014), 3.

[51] Nearly all client states have some autonomy to pursue small-scale initiatives. Furthermore, on most things of importance to grand imperial strategy, the Shah was forced to receive U.S. backing. . The shah's selling of the Kurds down the river was, in the long term, negligent to US empire, who a few years prior cared little about the Kurdish question. To Alvandi's credit, his chapter on the Kurds is by far the most intriguing, as it details the Iranian-Israeli-US intervention in (and facilitation of) the Iraqi-Kurdish conflict. In essence, Alvandi argues that the US was reluctantly drug into the Kurdish situation by the Shah. Both the Mossad and SAVAK had ties with Barzani and the Iraqi Kurds as early as 1958, with both intelligence agencies bent on destabilizing the revolutionary Qasim government and, later, the Ba'ath government. The "reluctant Americans" were brought in only later, and US aid started flowing in large quantities in 1972. As late as September 1974, Ford approved Israeli support in the form of anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles of Soviet manufacture.

[52] Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969-1976, vol. 26, Arab-Israeli Dispute, 1974-1976, Memoranda of Agreement, September 1, 1975 (Document 227).

[53] Max Boot, The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Military Power (Basic Books, 2002). E-copy (read in Microsoft Edge), no page numbers available.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Robert Kaplan, Imperial Grunts: The American Military On The Ground (Vintage, 2006).

[56] Ibid.

[57] Ibid.

[58] Ibid.,

[59] See, as one example, Ferguson's sloppy chronology and merging of fundamentally distinct organizations (with widely disparate strategies and ideologies) into a kind of monolithic threat: "Though the PLO had been struck a severe blow by the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, the 1980s saw the emergence of new groups such as the Abu Nidal Organization, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Hezbollah and Hamas. Whereas the PLO had owed more to nationalism and Marxism, this new generation of terrorists identified themselves primarily with Islam." Neither Abu Nidal nor the PFLP were founded in the 1980s, and in fact the PFLP's strength was already waning by then (their heyday in the 1970s). Neither could Abu Nidal or the PFLP be associated with a new generation of Islamists. Niall Ferguson, Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire (Penguin, 2005). E-copy, read in Microsoft Edge, no page numbers available.

[60] Ferguson.

[61] Ferguson continues: "One of the keys to the expansion of the Roman Empire was, after all, the opportunity offered to non-Romans to earn citizenship through military service. One of the mainsprings of British colonization was the policy of transportation that emptied the prison hulks of eighteenth-century England into ships bound for Australia. Reviving the draft would not necessarily be unpopular, so long as it was appropriately targeted."

[62] Paul Kramer, "Power and Connection: Imperial Histories of the United States in the World," American Historical Review (December 2011), 1378.

[63] Ibid., 1378.

[64] Ibid., 1350.

[65] Paul Kramer, The Blood of Government: Race, Empire, the United States, and the Philippines (University of North Carolina Press, 2006).

[66] Ibid., 3.

[67] Walther, 9.

[68] Jay Sexton. Review of Sacred Interests: The United States and the Islamic World, 1821-1921 by Karine V. Walther. The American Historical Review, Vol. 122, Issue 2 (April 2017), 472-4.

[69] Still, he provides no definition of empire, and it is unclear exactly what he means by this.

[70] Khalil, 3.

[71] Ibid., 5

[72] Ibid., 8

[73] Sohail Daulatzai, Black Star, Crescent Moon: The Muslim International and Black Freedom beyond America (University of Minnesota Press, 2012), xxiii. For a rather convincing and forceful demolition of Chatterjee and his brand of subaltern studies, see Vivek Chibber, Postcolonial Theory and the Spectre of Capital.

[74] For Daulatzai the "Muslim International" is "not geographically located." Furthermore, it "is not universalist, nor is it cosmopolitan in the European humanist tradition." It "recognizes that there is no space outside of domination and that power is omnipresent." He claims that since universalizing claims and grand narratives "have the potential to warp our sense of how power works and operates, the Muslim International also sees the local and everyday as potential sites for movement, activity, and subversion." Power, then, is "far from being static and top-down" but is instead a "process that is activated and actualized everywhere." Finally, the Muslim International is a "space where the very idea of the 'political' can come under scrutiny" by the fact that "all activity is political." As such, the Muslim International "can be a shadow or parallel space to the state." Daulatzai, xxii-xxvii.

[75] See Alex Lubin, Geographies of Liberation: The Making of an Afro-Arab Political Imaginary (The University of North Carolina Press, 2014), 7-8. For his reading of intersections as "countermodern" see the following: "In this project, I read modern histories of black Americans, Palestinians, and Jews relationally and in terms of shared histories of exclusion, exile, and countermodern political imaginaries." Lubin, 13.

[76] Keith P. Feldman, A Shadow Over Palestine: The Imperial Life of Race in America (University of Minnesota Press, 2015), 7-16. Despite his convoluted prose when explicating his primary framework "U.S. imperial culture," the idea is generally intelligible and coherent; other frameworks not so much. His sections "On Racial Relationality" and "On Comparativity" are significantly more convoluted and, hence, significantly less useful.

[77] Robert Dreyfuss, Devil's Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam (Metropolitan, 2006), 1 and 15. Mitchell articulates a new portmanteau "McJihad" used to explain why the "more closely a government is allied with Washington, the more Islamic its politics." See Timothy Mitchell, Carbon Democracy, 201.

[78] See William Appleby Williams, The Tragedy of American Diplomacy. Williams, from UW-Madison, was a prominent New Left historian who would eventually inspire a generation of historians to rethink the Cold War, including Gar Alperovitz (best known for his revisionist thesis on the use of the Atomic bomb in Hiroshima), Walter LaFeber (who has been highly critical of U.S. empire in Central America, for instance), and Lloyd Gardner.

[79] Lloyd Gardner, Three Kings: The Rise of an American Empire in the Middle East after World War II (The New Press, 2009), 3.

[80] Ibid., 14

[81] Robert Vitalis, America's Kingdom: Mythmaking on the Saudi Oil Frontier (Stanford, 2006), Vitalis, xiv.

[82] Ibid., 118. Although occasionally officials did admit that not all the workers "followed the communist line" and that some were "not even aware of the communist line." See 104 and 152.

[83] The fact that coal required an immense concentration of human labor for extraction, transportation, and conversion to energy was one factor. Coal also faced important bottlenecks in transportation due to the dendritic transit routes it relied upon. Finally, coal was largely delimited by the geographic region it was mined in and was not easily transportable across oceans. These factors combined allowed for workers to leverage these points of vulnerability and make society-wide social and economic demands.

[84] Timothy Mitchell, Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil (Verso, 2013), 61. In contrast with coal, the transition to oil was meant partially to permanently disempower workers in the post-World War II era. The reasons for this are many. First, oil requires less human labor, and is significantly more capital than labor intensive. Whereas coal was confined geographically, oil is a fundamentally global commodity, with production points all over the world controlled by a handful of corporations. Oil is easily moved via pipelines and tankers, and as such moves more along a grid-like system then the dendritic networks of coal. This grid-like system of movement means oil is significantly less vulnerable when stoppages or sabotage occurs, significantly weakening the power of organized labor.

[85] Ibid., 29-30.

[86] Ibid., 241.

[87] E. P. Thompson argued that radical academics had to occupy "some territory that is, without qualification, their own: their own journals, their own theoretical and practical centers - places where no one works for grades or for tenure but for the transformation of society." Quoted in Peter Novick, That Noble Dream: The "Objectivity Question" and the American Historical Profession (Cambridge University Press, 1988), 459-60. It is my hope that the Hampton Institute continues to contribute to that objective for a long time to come.