Review Essay

Hegemony or Empire?

In This Review

Two Hegemonies: Britain 1846-1914 and the United States 1941-2001
Two Hegemonies: Britain 1846-1914 and the United States 1941-2001
By Patrick Karl O'Brien & Armand Clesse
Asghate, 2002, 365 pp. $84.95 Purchase

Our armies do not come into your cities and lands as conquerors or enemies, but as liberators. ... It is [not] the wish of [our] government to impose upon you alien institutions. ... [It is our wish] that you should prosper even as in the past, when your lands were fertile, when your ancestors gave to the world literature, science, and art, and when Baghdad city was one of the wonders of the world. ... It is [our] hope that the aspirations of your philosophers and writers shall be realized and that once again the people of Baghdad shall flourish, enjoying their wealth and substance under institutions which are in consonance with their sacred laws and their racial ideals.

-- General F. S. Maude to the people of Mesopotamia, March 19, 1917

The government of Iraq, and the future of your country, will soon belong to you. ... We will end a brutal regime ... so that Iraqis can live in security. We will respect your great religious traditions, whose principles of equality and compassion are essential to Iraq's future. We will help you build a peaceful and representative government that protects the rights of all citizens. And then our military forces will leave. Iraq will go forward as a unified, independent, and sovereign nation that has regained a respected place in the world. You are a good and gifted people -- the heirs of a great civilization that contributes to all humanity.

-- President George W. Bush to the people of Iraq, April 4, 2003

It is fast becoming conventional wisdom that the power of the United States today closely resembles that of the United Kingdom roughly a century ago. In the conclusion of my latest book, I attempted a brief comparison between British and American imperial rule, and I am far from the only historian to think along these lines: both Walter Russell Mead and Joseph Nye have also alluded to the continuities in their recent work.

Indeed, the two empires have many superficial similarities. Take Iraq. As

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