This article argues that the contemporary American empire displays two structural limits. The first refers to geographical limits. As opposed to most of its imperial predecessors, the logic of contemporary US power militates against direct, territorial domination as a means of sustaining global hegemony. The second limitation, tightly linked to this first one, is that of power defined in a conventional sense as the capacity to secure outcomes. Consequently, since 1945 the USA has generally projected its global power through open doors (capitalist markets) and closed frontiers (sovereign territorial states). The article explores the peculiar limits to US empire with reference to two of its principal western precursors -- the Roman and British empires -- and concludes that the recent invasion and occupation of Iraq highlights the perils of an American strategy that seeks to conquer territories militarily and politically control their populations.
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