Sunday, December 23, 2007

American Imperialism

One of the things that has always troubled me about U.S. conduct in Iraq under George W. Bush is how determinedly stupid it is. Anyone with a passing knowledge of history or political strategy ought to recognize that the U.S. position in Iraq serves no conceivable national interest and is destructive and untenable in every important respect.

FDChief commenting on Intel Dump on a Washington Post Op-Ed by the historian and fabulist, Joseph J. Ellis, titled What Would George Do? summarized the case quite well. [I have taken the liberty of a couple of very minor edits]

1. The notion that "anti-imperialism" is somehow hardwired into our political genes is risible. Here we are, the nation supposedly founded on the principles Englightenment liberalism, repeatedly debating whether or not it's a good idea for our government to spy on us and not even tell a tiny elite of elected representatives what is going on; whether or not certain kinds of torture are OK; whether or not we should simply "disappear" enemies into nameless prisons to be held forever without trial. This sort of debate suggests not that we can or cannot be an empire, but whether we're going to be a fairly enlightened, British-sort of empire or whether our model is going to be the Congo of Leopold's Belgium.

2. The corrolary of his point that "A republic, the world's first large-scale republic, simply cannot be an empire of the conventional European sort." can be turned on it's head to suggest that should we choose to become a straightforward global hegemon we are on our way to becomeing - to avoid shouting fire in a crowded theatre - something less than a "republic".

3. The unasked question in his thesis is "do we hve the political will to be a counterinsurgent in a shitty, beat-down Third World country with little or no chance of becoming anything better than a friedly dictatorship or a semi-failed state or collection of same?" When the prize here will be, not regional dominance (since even 50K troops in Iraq are unlikely to tame the regional power, Iran, much less circumcize resurgent Russia and dynamic China (either or both of whom might more legitimately claim the Gulf as within their Spheres of Influence, rather than ours) or pour water on the fire of Islamist jihadism, but rather a continued wearing commitment to a dysfunctional "ally", who is unlikely to provide us with more than marginal return for our blood and treasure.".

4. Two of the things I've always admired about [George Washington] were a) his pragmatism and b) his acute understanding of the power, and the danger, of armed force. Since the end of the Cold War a certain element of our society - OK, let's be honest and call it the pre-hominid wing of the Republican Party - has become fascinated, like a three year old staring at his first erection, with the potential for global domination in our military strength. I think Washington would have cautioned that our position of "hegemon" is poised on the perilous economic point of a rentier class as well as a rapidly shrinking manufacturing base thoroughly leveraged on offshore investment as well as set in a curious period between the fall of our Sassanid Persia -- The Soviet Union -- and the rise of the new Gothic and Hunnish powers which will inevitably follow. If we follow the advice of the Fred Kagans and Dougie Feiths we will surely fritter our power away in these and other pointless, high-cost, low-return Third World adventures which, by the time our new peer foes DO arise, will leave us as they left the British in 1914: overextended, with a "expeditionary" Army unprepared to meet the challenge of a conventional fight, and with a borrowed fiscal base primed for collase when the notes are called due.

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