Thursday, July 17, 2008

The judgement of your peers

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.'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


Ael said...

Don't forget that, by and large, the British government never wanted an empire.

They obtained much of it by being politically forced to cover some hair brained private scheme that had gone predictably askew.

The government would then send in the soldiers, bail out the merchant adventurers and be stuck with some chunk of land (and the attached sullen people).

sheerahkahn said...

I'm with you 100% on this...100%.

pluto said...

Very well said, as usual.

AEL has already mentioned the big difference between the motivations of 1800's Britain vs. 2000's US. I'd also mention that once the Brit's figured out the base rules for maintaining colonies (let the local rulers continue to appear to rule, bribe rather than bash if possible, keep your own people relatively honest and out of harms way) they managed to keep the cost of Empire down to a large extent. Of course, there were always ambitious idiots who kepts tipping over the local apple cart for a farthing...

The other big difference is that the Brits operated in a very different arena from the one Bush is working in. The world, in general, did not watch the British as they administered their colonies and the few Europeans who did watch mostly sought to emulate and improve the British methods.

The Iraqis would be much less resistant if the world wasn't watching and Bush were allowed to use the full force of the US military against them. This would include continuous use of napalm, poison gas, and perhaps a few tactical nukes for places like Fallujah. Mind you, this wouldn't make the locals like us any better, it would just keep their heads down.

pluto said...

Hit the publish button too soon.

The last sentence should have been: "Mind you, this wouldn't make the locals like us any better, it would just keep their heads down until they get properly organized and shove us out the door like Vietnam did to France in the 1950's."

FDChief said...

Pluto: I agree that the good old-fashioned Mongol methods still work well. An occupation run like the German occupation of the Ukraine circa 1942-1944 would certainly manage to keep the locals under control. Whether we would like what it would do to our army is another thing entirely.

My point in posting this, though, was to point up the fact that there are several good reasons why the old colonial powers don't do colonialism anymore, and post-WW2 squeamishness is one of the lesser. The fact is that with modern small arms, telecommunications, relatively high literacy rates and the combination of a low population replacement rate in the industrialized countries versus the much higher birthrate in the areas proposed for's very likely that, moral and political scruples aside, economically and militarily the game isn't going to be worth the candle.

The PNAC/AEI/neocon crowd hasn't really changed all that much from their days as idealistic young Trotskyites: now they're channelling Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz rather than Che and Mao. But their need to see the world as they would rather than as it is really shows in this romantic mooning over empire. Your really salient point (not that all your points aren't well taken) is the difference between the Victorian imperial times, when the really dirty business of wog-bashing could be kept discreetly out of sight or, if need be, blandly accepted as part of the casual racism of the times and the hypertrophic media saturation of today. You just can't keep the nasty parts of imperial rule sub rosa like you could in the good old days. But these idealistic fools can't see - or won't see - that.

FDChief said...

Ael: Was it Palmerston that said something to the effect that the Empire "was aquired in a fit of absence of mind"?

FDChief said...

Ael: OK, no. It was some Cambridge wonk called Seeley that said it.

Personally, I prefer Harry Flashman's assessment:

"Absence of mind my arse. Presence of mind, rather; we always knew what we wre doing, we just didn't know how it would pan out. Presence of mind and countless other things, such as greed and Christianity, decency and villany, policy and lunacy, deep design and blind chance, pride and trade, blunder and curiousity, passion, ignorance, chivalry and expediency, honest pursuit of right and determination to keep the bloody Frogs out."

As a short list, I'd say that Fraser, in his typical curmudgeonly, you-kids-get-the-hell-off-my-lawn way, makes a pretty good case...

Lisa said...


The last illustration is reminiscent of Bush's induction into the Office, when he was flanked by Powell and Rice. That crew is still ostensibly motivated by the sunk costs fallacy, or at least that's how they pander to the micrencephalic masses.

Your assessment of their motivation is witheringly on-target. The cost of the white man's burden is balanced in their minds by its distractive capability. Like in "Gunga Din," they can always be off on another crusade.

As Pluto says, were there no Big Brother watching, this would be playing out differently in the short run, but to what effect? The long run is the French is VN. And as Chief says, colonialism is not economically viable in the 21st century, if it ever was.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Chief.

My only snivel is that I gotta think the jezail was a d@mned deadly sniper weapon. Some had rifling, a barrel five foot plus, and a projectile as big around as a grape. It would have been as lethal as its modern day equivalent the M107, especially when used in ambush in mountain country. I can't imagine why they would trade them in for Kalashnikovs.

Or maybe like the old fart that I am, I just have the everything-was-better-in-the-good-old-days syndrome??? I still prefer my brother-in-law's black powder muzzle-loader for bagging an elk.

FDChief said...

Anon: Oh, no argument there. In fact, the Brits themselves in the earlies (talking back to the 1844 First Afghan War) admitted that they were outgunned by the Afghan jezailchis. Great weapon.

My understanding is that many of the latter-day Afghans carried (or carry) the bolt-action Lee-Enfield (SMLE) rifle. Another techological artifact but a terrific pure shooter's weapon. I have one myself fitted with a 10x scope and I'll promise you a muley buck out to a half mile. Great rifle.

mike said...

Didn't I hear back in the early 80s that the Afghan muj shot down a couple of Russky helicopters with .303 Enfields??? It was pre-CIA involvement and before they got the SAMs.

The story I was told was that they would aim at the the tail rotor. With good aim and luck the bullet would hopefully shatter one of the blades on that tail rotor, throwing the copter into an uncontrolled spin.

mike said...

Wait a minute Chief!!! Half a mile equals how many yards??

Are you saying you can bring down a deer from 880 yards with an antique?

Apparently the Texans have nothing on you Ory-gunners in the braggadocio department. How many hundreds of miles did you have to follow the blood trail of that mule deer?

Ael said...

When speaking of the differences of imperialism between "then" and "now", I suggest that a big aspect is that the "wogs" are now part of the system.

Look at Saudia Arabia. They sell their oil to the world for a price. What do you think will happen if religious nutbars take over there?
Exactly the same thing that happened in Iran after the shah lost it... They will sell oil for a price.

Money and clever lawyers are what is important today. Old style imperialism is so "yesterday".

FDChief said...

"Are you saying you can bring down a deer from 880 yards with an antique?"

I wish my eye was that good. It was my old man, actually, that took a muley buck all the way across a Colorado valley at something like 800 yards (based on map distance); center of mass, heart-and-lung shot. But I take the credit for, umm...lending him the rifle.

The SMLE is that accurate. It fires a heavy slug on an extremely parabolic trajectory, so if you know the range you can correct for drop VERY minutely. When I bought the thing it had an IRON front leaf sight graduated out to 500 yards! Ask the Germans they encountered in 1914 - they were shot flat at a distance they assumed was out of aimed fire range. Like I say - it's a hella great rifle

rangeragainstwar said...


Brutal suppression of any occupied country can only bring limited results. Some seem to believe that all the terror hot spots are the belated reaction to brutal British suppression of native populations.
Even Heydrich realized it was in the Nazi interest to treat the Moravians/slovaks in a cooperative relationship. This is why he was targetted to remove this cooperation.

Mike and Chief: Yes the 303 brit will shoot @ 880 yds as will the old 7.62 Russian, both of which could be considered obsolete cartridges. I personally shoot big bore Black powder single shot antiques and at 880 yds they are still effective- remember the buffalo? I'd shoot for the pilot and not the tail rotor.


FDChief said...

"Brutal suppression of any occupied country can only bring limited results."

True, but only up to a point. If you're willing to be thoroughly Roman - to make a wasteland and call it peace - you will succeed. The Turks did it to the Armenians, the Soviets to any number of their subject peoples.

But I do agree that there is no post-1945 example of this and that the Western democracies can't really do it. The "take the gloves off/nuke their ass and take their gas" fantasies of the protohominid Right are just that, fantasy.

FDChief said...

"Brutal suppression of any occupied country can only bring limited results."

True, but only up to a point. If you're willing to be thoroughly Roman - to make a wasteland and call it peace - you will succeed. The Turks did it to the Armenians, the Soviets to any number of their subject peoples.

But I do agree that there is no post-1945 example of this and that the Western democracies can't really do it. The "take the gloves off/nuke their ass and take their gas" fantasies of the protohominid Right are just that, fantasy.

mike said...

Chief & Ranger:

OK, you guys win this one. But I am recommending Chief's paternal parent and Ranger for the Olympic shooting team. And maybe I better start sampling some cherry brandy before I read your respective blogs.

I was never questioning distance as I know that most rifle bullets can travel twice that far. And by antique, I was referring to a worn barrel, which is perhaps not the case in your situations. But putting an 800+ yard shot in the bullseye is accuracy to an order of magnitude better than 99% of shooters even with a barrel in match condition. So consider yourself warned if you get a call froom the USOC shooting coach.