America is not an empire. It is a hegemony, and it should be. A hegemony, like ancient Athens, is a first-among-equals, a very powerful nation that nevertheless deals with its neighbors and allies as much as equals as circumstances will permit, respecting their sovereignty, their internal processes, the rights of their people. It functions together for the greater good of the whole, not simply of the center as does an empire.
One might think it better if the hegemonic power were weaker, if all the involved powers truly were more equal, but this is an exercise in creative fiction. Powers are what they are, and America is a hyperpower: one must take reality as it comes. So to be America’s ally is to enter its hegemony, which has been of almost infinite good for almost all who have done it (a few notable exceptions, such as the Republic of China, South Vietnam and Cambodia leaping to mind, with the equal memory that what America committed to them was betrayed by one and precisely one American political party). But as France can attest (but won’t), it does not involve becoming a province of empire.
Given America’s strength, hegemony and empire are its only true options in foreign affairs. The British Ferguson, brilliant as he is, tries to shoehorn America into the British model; Pat Buchanan, rightly concerned that empire abroad would first mean tyranny at home, tries to warn of that imperial danger as well, as do assorted leftists and libertarians with various agendas. All overstate the case. America sometimes overreaches, but its core belief that one people should not rule over another for any great length of time, and that diffusion of power at home is the greatest bulwark of freedom and of all other American values, remains whole. Today’s headline demonstrates that as well as anything we’ve seen in a long time.