Christopher Layne and Bradley Thayer both specialize in international-relations theory, in particular what they term "grand strategy," but they hold very different views on what foreign policy the United States ought to pursue. "Distilled to its essence, grand strategy is about determining the state's vital interests — that is, those that are important enough for which to fight — and its role in the world" (p. x).
Despite their differences, they are friends, andAmerican Empire is a debate between them. Each author begins with a long chapter presenting his conception of grand strategy: these chapters were written independently. After this, each responds to the other in a shorter chapter. Layne has much the better of the argument, though he has not fully broken from one of the dubious claims of what is misleadingly called "realist" theory.
Both authors agree on a fundamental fact. America is at the present time an empire, despite the facts that our leaders disclaim imperial ambitions.
Is America an empire? Yes, it is. An empire is a state that surpasses all others in capabilities and sense of mission … an empire has worldwide interests … empires always have a mission they seek to accomplish — this is usually creating, and then maintaining, a world order. (p. 3)
True, our political leaders refuse to use the word "empire," but this is understandable:
They choose not to use it because it does not help to achieve the grand strategic goals of the United States.… For an American president or senior official to state that America is an empire would only help to organize resistance to it. (p. 4)
A better objection to thinking that America is an empire is that we do not have very many colonies, in the style of the empires of old. This however is a matter of form rather than substance.
A great power also can establish anempire by using its military and economic muscle — and its culture and ideology … to install and maintain compliant, friendly regimes in foreign territories. By ruling indirectly through local elites, an imperial power can forego the burdens of direct colonial rule. (p. 59, emphasis in original)
Read the rest here.