CLBR #246: Debating the American Empire With Stephen Kinzer


 Debating the American Empire With Stephen Kinzer


Last week, in his inaugural address, Donald Trump highlighted conflicting themes in discussing U.S. foreign policy.

  • He expressed frustration with U.S. global commitments –
    We defended other nation’s borders while refusing to defend our own.  And spent trillions and trillions of dollars overseas while America’s infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay.
  • On one level, he did not see the U.S. as the global policeman:
    We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world.  But we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first. We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone but rather to let it shine as an example. We will shine for everyone to follow.
  • Yet, at least when it came to ISIS, he was eager to intervene.
    We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones. And unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the earth.

From George Washington’s farewell address’ warning about foreign entanglements on, Americans have been ambivalent about foreign engagements.

THE TRUE FLAG: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain and the Birth of American Empire

Stephen Kinzer’s new book, “The True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain and the Birth of an American Empire” tells the tale of a time when the nation was engulfed in a heated debate over whether to become a global empire and the consequences, as the United States weighed what to do with Hawaii and the possessions won in the Treaty of Paris (1898) that concluded the Spanish American War.

In a ravenous fifty-five-day spasm during the summer of 1898, the United States [with a population of 3.35 million] asserted control over five far-flung lands with a total of 11 million inhabitants: Guam, Hawaii, Cuba, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico.



“[A] gripping narrative . . . Kinzer ably conveys the passion and ferment of this brief period, situating this grand debate in the context of U.S. foreign policy history and convincingly arguing that the imperial/anti-imperial dichotomy remains a dominant feature of the American psyche.” ―Publisher’s Weekly (starred review)


“At a moment when Americans are hotly debating their country’s role in the world, Stephen Kinzer takes us back to the origins of the modern debate. His account of the battle between imperialists and anti-imperialists at the end of the nineteenth century is riveting, uplifting, dismaying―and as timely as can be.”
H. W. Brands, professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin and author of The General vs. the President: MacArthur and Truman at the Brink of Nuclear War


STEPHEN KINZER: “Where there has been turmoil in the world and history has shifted, Stephen Kinzer has been there.”



Stephen Kinzer is an award-winning foreign correspondent who has covered more than 50 countries on five continents. His articles and books have led the Washington Post to place him “among the best in popular foreign policy storytelling.”

His past works include:

  • Bitter Fruit: The Story of the American Coup in Guatemala
  • Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds
  • All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror
  • Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq
  • Blood of Brothers: Life and War in Nicaragua
  • A Thousand Hills: Rwanda’s Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It,
  • Reset: Iran, Turkey, and America’s Future
  • The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War


Kinzer spent more than 20 years working for the New York Times, most of it as a foreign correspondent. His foreign postings placed him at the center of historic events and, at times, in the line of fire. While covering world events, he has been shot at, jailed, beaten by police, tear-gassed and bombed from the air.

From 1983 to 1989, Kinzer was the Times bureau chief in Nicaragua. In that post he covered war and upheaval in Central America.  In 1988 Columbia University awarded Kinzer its Maria Moors Cabot prize for outstanding coverage of Latin America.

From 1990 to 1996 Kinzer was posted in Germany. From his post as chief of the New York Times bureau in Berlin, he covered the emergence of post-Communist Europe, including wars in the former Yugoslavia.

In 1996 Kinzer was named chief of the newly opened New York Times bureau in Istanbul, Turkey. He spent four years there, traveling widely in Turkey and in the new nations of Central Asia and the Caucasus.

Before joining the New York Times, Kinzer was Latin America correspondent for the Boston Globe. He is now a visiting fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University, where he teaches international relations. He contributes to The Guardian and the New York Review of Books, and writes a world affairs column for The Boston Globe.

The University of Scranton awarded Kinzer an honorary doctorate in 2010. “Where there has been turmoil in the world and history has shifted, Stephen Kinzer has been there,” the citation said. “Neither bullets, bombs nor beating could dull his sharp determination to bring injustice and strife to light.”








One thought on “CLBR #246: Debating the American Empire With Stephen Kinzer

Comments are closed.