More than one hundred and fifty years ago, the sun was said never to set on the British Empire. Britain, shouldering its white man's burden, ruled the world. Last in a line of nations that claimed the same title, beginning with Rome, and eventually moving fitfully to Spain, France, and then across the English channel, Britain believed its manifest destiny was to bring English culture and its political system to the less fortunate. During the time of their glory, each of these countries basked in immodest self-adulation.

Unfortunately, none of them long met the weighty obligations inherent in the title, ruler of the world. If history has credibility outside the historian's pen, only mighty Rome and its legions struggled over an extended period to impose its will, justice, and tax system on its European, Asian, and North African colonies. The job of ruling the world was thankless, expensive, and squandered the energy needed to run things properly at home. In turn, Rome, Spain, France, and Britain rotted internally and eventually lost their colonies to outside forces.

To put it colloquially, America now feels entitled to its time in the barrel. With the demise of the Soviet Empire, and ignoring China, we are unabashedly the sole remaining superpower. We have become rulers of the world. And boy, have we begun to act like it.

I watched our Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, our Secretary of Defense, William Cohen, and our National Security Adviser, Sandy Berger, after they'd received the news Kofi Annan had reached an agreement with Saddam Hussein. Early reports said the United Nations head and the government of Iraq had concluded negotiations, and that the arms inspectors would have free and repeated access to all Iraqi presidential palaces. Mr. Annan had brokered a peace agreement, and the United States now had no reason to bomb Iraq. War had been averted, there would be no loss of life, and Iraqi civilian casualties would not stack up at hospitals lacking medical supplies to treat them. The Arab world and many of our European allies considered the good news to be a time for thanks, rejoicing, even euphoria.

Looking at the faces, demeanor, and body english of Ms. Albright and Messrs. Cohen and Burger, it appeared to me they did not seem relieved or pleased. Instead, they looked tense and disappointed, their purpose thwarted. My impression was they, and our government, had expected to commence bombing Iraq as part of a plan to remove Saddam Hussein from office. Officially, their position is that he will be overthrown. Unstated, though apparent, was their hope to kill Saddam during the attack. About twenty years ago, after the CIA's involvement in the death of President Allende of Chile became known, Congress passed specific legislation making it illegal to overthrow or assassinate heads of foreign nations. To the unbiased observer, what we are attempting to do to Saddam Hussein, whether he deserves it or not, violates our own law.

In any event, it seems highly unlikely Ms. Albright and Messrs. Cohen and Berger will nominate Mr. Annan for the Nobel Peace Prize. Nor did Mr. Clinton seem particularly happy when he spoke of a tentative acceptance, subject to thorough subsequent review, of Mr. Annan's United Nations/Iraqi accord. I cannot avoid the feeling that my country is operating under a philosophy whose purpose is a desire to run everything. We are trying to call all the shots. At a minimum, it will be very expensive.

The news program panned to a TV commentator in the Middle East who noted all the smart bombs had been programmed to hit selected targets, our aircraft were primed and ready for flight operations, and two American aircraft carriers and 31 protective screen vessels were in position to commence the attack. The commentator also said our land-based Air Force pilots were waiting at desert airports to fly their missions. He noted these pilots did not relish sitting out in the desert for months awaiting a signal to initiate the attack, nor did our naval forces enjoy steaming in figure eights around the Persian Gulf. Then he said the military incurred additional expenses from these kinds of operations, and that the Pentagon was going to request an additional $700 M to pay for them. War is hell, goes the old slogan, though I'm not sure this is quite what the man who wrote it had in mind.

President Clinton later stated that American military forces will remain in place for an indeterminate time to observe Saddam Hussein's actions, not merely his words. In the event Saddam fails to live up to his obligations, the president said Iraq will suffer serious consequences.

My historical parallel points out that for centuries deluded nations with inflated opinions of themselves have tried and failed to earn the title, Ruler Of The World. Our own country, presently caught up in its own hype, has forgotten the constitutional purpose of our armed forces is to protect America from all enemies, foreign and domestic. The bleeding we are inflicting on that capability by stationing military forces in Bosnia, Haiti, and the Persian Gulf, as well as those that remain in South Korea, Okinawa, and Europe from wars that ended fifty years ago, is making it impossible to discharge that primary mission. The nations we are policing are incapable of threatening us, and they do not represent enemies within the context of our constitution.

In my opinion and that of many others, America has already begun to rot internally, and it is necessary to allow the light of reason to permeate our foreign policy. George Santayana's famous quote is apt, "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Rome, Spain, France, and Britain all tried and failed to fill the role America has recently set for itself.

Sam Orr
World Traveler
and Philanthrope
(Location Unknown)