Limes Americanum - the symbolic and the practical in US foreign relations
Czech lobby in Washington takes a second seat to Poland - 22-05-2006 - Radio Prague
There are three criteria that countries must fulfil in order to qualify for the proposed amendment to the U.S. Visa Waiver Program. The first is membership in the European Union; secondly, they must be allies in the war in Iraq or in Afghanistan, contributing at least 300 soldiers to the effort; and lastly, of course, the given country can not pose a security risk to the United States. While Poland meets all these requirements, the Czech Republic is lagging in the number of soldiers it's contributing to the efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Yet, there is a catch to this point. In total, the Czech Republic actually has more than 300 people in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are 96 serving in Iraq, and 220 in Afghanistan, but about 100 of those in Afghanistan are part of an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission under the United Nations, and these do not count according to the American criteria. In other words, Poland is the only new EU-member country which has been lobbying for a visa waiver, and clearly fulfils all the requirements.
There are many discussions about the USA being a new imperial power from the point of view of its enemies. But this shows that they are an imperial power from the perspective of its allies. Czechs have always been sympathetic to many US foreign policies - in many cases slavishly so - and this clamoring for a no-visa status is another example of the need for 'recognition' as a 'civilized' - non-barbaric - country (a symbolic parallel of the Limes Romanum). Of course, speaking as a Czech citizen who occasionally has to travel to the US, not having to go through the Byzantine (pun intended) visa application process would be very convenient and doing without the attendant humiliation by suspicous bureaucrats is also nothing to be sneered at.
But I'm more interested in the cognitive aspects of this debate, the United States does not have to feel or even behave like an Imperial Power in order for others to not just perceive but also treat it as such. Now, the debate whether it is appropriate to call the US an Empire rests on the folk-perception of analogies as all-or-nothing beasts. But whether an analogy is a valid basis for decision-making (such as those of the Czech government) rests purely in the head of the analogy-maker. It is the analogy apologist who has to identify and justify the mappings between the two domains. And here, symbolic analogies will do just as nicely as objective ones. In this particular case we have a whole host of examples of empires that can stake out our semantic field (domain) so it is only a matter of quantity of these mappings whether we accept the analogy as valid. Their quality will be determined by our knowledge of both domains which in the case of US as Empire is also a matter of great contention. Thus we return to the subjective criteria in individual cognizers whether they will allow the US is Empire blend in their minds.