An American Empire might someday arise from the ashes of our dead. Today, America lacks the desire to conquer. But if a weapon of mass destruction were to kill 100,000 or more westerners, the American people would demand our government do whatever it takes to protect. Given the increasing ease of building mass killing devices, the best way to defend against devastating attacks is to conquer the lands of those who hate us.
Ann Coulter has said that the U.S. is "the only non-imperialist superpower in the history of the world." Mass-mass murder, however, would terminate our unique martial forbearance. As 9/11 has given us the political strength to depose Saddam, a 9/11 times fifty would create the political desire for empire.
If terrorists exploded an atomic bomb in a U.S. city, Americans would desperately seek security, but how could our leaders provide it? The first atomic bomb was created in 1945 using, obviously, 1940s technology. Scientific progress makes it continually easier to create atomic as well as biological and chemical weapons. Soon, mass killing devices will be readily available to all states which covet them. Consequently, the only way to protect against atomic attacks is to remove governments that would revel in our decimation.
Iranian leaders regularly pray for America's death. We currently tolerate this hatred because we don't seem to fear its consequences. If, however, an atomic bomb were to decimate Tel Aviv, Americans would be unwilling to risk even a slight possibility that the hate-filled dictators of Iran would give atomics to terrorists. Obviously, we would never believe a promise by Iran not to develop weapons of mass destruction. Therefore, if terrorists ever execute an atomic attack, the American people would demand the conquest of Iran and any other nation that might provide mass killing devices to terrorists.
What would an American empire look like? Post-war Iraq shows we couldn't afford to use our military to directly rule multiple nations, so our Empire would most likely use the Roman Empire's tactic of letting favored local elites govern while we maintained control of the military. We would also surely keep a close watch on nuclear power plants, pesticide producers and pharmaceutical manufacturers and end the conditioning of future terrorists by preventing schools and the media from bombarding innocent youths with virulent anti-American propaganda. Most importantly, however, our Empire would improve the living conditions for the majority of people in the lands we conquered.
The character of our enemies testifies to America's greatness, for those leaders who most hate us show scant regard for their own peoples' welfare. Even an incompetent U.S. imposed administration could scarcely fail to improve the average lot of those in anti-American countries such as Iran, North Korea and Syria.
Of course, regardless of how much good our Empire creates, it would still face massive resistance. Shortly after a devastating attack, America would be willing to forcibly stop any destabilizing foreign dissent. After enough time had passed, however, we would slowly lose the will to fight the inevitable independence movements. Consequently, any U.S. Empire arising from destruction would crumble once Americans again felt safe.
Speculating on a post-nuke U.S. foreign policy is ghoulish, but also beneficial. None can openly strike the U.S. and hope to survive. A hostile government might, however, hope to escape retaliation by surreptitiously giving nuclear weapons to terrorists. If Empire would be our response to irradiation, then anti-American autocrats will know that they would be driven from power if anyone attacks us with atomics.
James D. Miller writes The Game Theorist column for TCS and is the author of Game Theory at Work. He last wrote for TCS about compassionate conservatism and ex-cons.