In the waning days of the Bush Presidency, an Administration so benighted as to make a man long for the refreshing buoyancy of a Franklin Pierce or the decisive confidence of a James Buchanan, the drumming in the Beltway jungle telegraph seems to speak of reeling the surging tide back from the valley of the Tigris and Euphrates. Few beyond the christopathic 27%ers, the microcephalic Rush-pithed Legion of Deadites, believe McSame's shrilled insistence on a hundred-year occupation. The calls are coming ever louder, to move beyond this debacle and position the United States for the next twenty-year policy cycle.
Smart people are asking: why the hell would anyone want to keep tossing blood and treasure into this bottomless Ottoman cesspit? Why throw good money after bad? What's the point - even the Iraqis themselves are telling us to go!?I think that those of us on the Outside just don't get the hold that the New American Century has over the core cabal; the Cheney-Wolfowitz-Feith-Kagan-Perle sorts of people that got this thing started.
Forget for a moment the childish folderol about smoking guns and mushroom clouds, about WMDs, about terrorism and hating us for our freedoms and purple fingers and fighting them there so they won't pop out of the dairy case down at the Safeway. Just remember this: there are people in power, in this Administration as well as in the ancillary organizations like the American Enterprise Institute, who really, seriously, truly, madly, deeply think and believe that America in the 21st Century should have an Empire.And holding a physical place in the center of the Middle East is a vital part of that.
So, frankly, these people could give a rat's ass what the Iraqi people want. Or what the American people want. Like any oligarch worth his athletic club pass, they know better. They know that when you...
Take up the White Man's burden--
Send forth the best ye breed--
Go, bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives' need;
To wait, in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild--
Your new-caught sullen peoples,
Half devil and half child.
...you're always going to get flak from those too short-sighted to see the Big Picture.
Now I don't think that these people want a real old-fashioned British-type Empire, with little American viceroys, proconsuls and administrators in place, giving instructions to the silent sullen peoples.
Take up the White Man's burden--
Ye dare not stoop to less--
Nor call too loud on Freedom
To cloak your weariness.
By all ye will or whisper,
By all ye leave or do,
The silent sullen peoples
Shall weigh your God and you.
I think they want a string of little Canal Zones across the world, from which our constabulary can go forth to whip up on some woolly heads when the wogs get uppity and threaten our sleep.Green Zones, Camp Victories...these are the coaling stations of the New American Empire.
I honestly think they believe that.
So, as my old friend Seydlitz89 points out: the real problem isn't the problem we think we have, that is, there IS no strategic or political objective to the seemingly insoluble clusterfucks that are the occupations of Central and SW Asia. The problem is that we - or at least, the people who got us into this goatrope and are still driving it - have a public objective that is unachievable because the REAL objective - geopolitical domination of the Middle East - is politically radioactive and unspeakable. Apologists for Empire - Niall Ferguson comes to mind - are usually not welcome outside the country club smoking room.
Take up the White Man's burden--
The savage wars of peace--
Fill full the mouth of Famine,
And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest
(The end for others sought)
Watch sloth and heathen folly
Bring all your hope to nought.
I would add that - on top of the ordinary, political-stupidity dimension of this mess, the neocon types who desire this are foolishly deluded by a critical misreading of their own historic paradigm. Specifically:
Britain was not a Great Power because of her Empire: she was an Empire because she was a Great Power. Georgian and Victorian Britain was the economic powerhouse of Europe, itself the economic, technical and scientific world power of its day. It was Britain's domestic strength that allowed it to range out and seize its imperial possessions. We are an immense power, a superpower. But...
The critical military and political range between the Great Powers and the lesser states (and even the "stateless" powers such as Hezbollah and the Mexican drug cartels) is nowhere near as wide as it was in the 17th through the 19th Century. Now I'm not talking about nuking cities here. In a conventional fight we are still the baddest sonuvabitch in the valley. But I'm talking about the small change of imperial policing: the punitive expedition, the seizure of foreign assets or territory to extract concessions. From 1666 to 1945, British imperials fought Afghans with jezails and Ethiopians with spears and Chinese with pikes and bows with modern organization, Maxim guns and gas-recoiling artillery. The result was, inexorably, slaughter. The mine, the booby-trap and the AK-47 have made the "captives of our bow and spear" a LOT more dangerous. Iraq and the continuing mess in Afghanistan shows what happens when you try and "throw some crappy little country against the wall" and that little bastard gets you stuck in its tarbaby ass.Take up the White Man's burden--
No iron rule of kings,
But toil of serf and sweeper--
The tale of common things.
The ports ye shall not enter,
The roads ye shall not tread,
Go, make them with your living
And mark them with your dead
The benefits of empire are mostly emotional; the costs are plainly real. Outside of the West Indies, Britain spent as much or more on their colonies as they got in return by way of trade or plunder. The colonies also tended to get them into wars they didn't want and didn't like to pay for. Our Revolution, for one. Whites versus Maoris in New Zealand; whites versus reds in the Mohawk Valley... South Africa, save for the gold and diamonds, was a neverending pain in the ass; Boer greed fomented one war in 1879 and Boer intransigence another in 1899. British colonial ambition also got them into trouble with other Europeans, themselves looking for colonial goodies. The parallel between an aggressive U.S. looking for support in the Central Asian "stans" clashing with a resurgent Russia reasserting its dominance in the "near abroad" and an aggressive Victorian Britain looking to establish a "Red Line" through eastern Africa clashing with a resurgent France trying to force its way through the Sudan near Fashoda are too spooky to spend much time considering.
Take up the White Man's burden,
And reap his old reward--
The blame of those ye better
The hate of those ye guard--
The cry of hosts ye humour
(Ah, slowly!) toward the light:--
"Why brought ye us from bondage,
Our loved Egyptian night?"
But does any of this really matter? If our political masters want an Empire we are far down the road to being unable to recognize it, let alone oppose it. The American public barely remembers the words of the Declaration of Independence about how "all men" being created equal and entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Clearly that doesn't apply to the dusky heathen, of those ye better, the the lesser breeds without the law. Perhaps the real failure was simply one of boldness, that George W. Bush, that littlest of little men, couldn't bring himself to cross the imperial Rubicon, brandishing his imperial eagle and shouting the Yale fratboy version of "alia iacta est!"
Take up the White Man's burden!
Have done with childish days--
The lightly-proffered laurel,
The easy ungrudged praise:
Comes now, to search your manhood
Through all the thankless years,
Cold, edged with dear-bought wisdom,
The judgment of your peers.Dear God. WASF