Freedom from Blog

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Monday, May 08, 2006

Thoughts on Empire

Stephanie raises a point in comments below: If our government's impulses [in Iraq] were truly imperialist, we would already have installed a constitutional government of our own design. Instead, we are letting the Iraqis flounder more or less on their own. This is, of course, in response to this post.

I'm not so sure that this is a convincing argument. Does it really follow that, if our goals were truly imperialist, that we would "have installed a constitutional government of our own design" by now? The pattern of imperialism seems to be, rather, that one governs the territories one dominates through whatever means are at hand: local rulers or elites, including "protectorates"; [civilian] colonial governors; military despotism. I'm not persuaded that there's one kind of rule that equals colonialism. There's nothing special about installing a favored form of government. The U.S. may have "installed" (maybe not the right word) a U.S.-style government in the Philippines in 1946 (Filipino Independence Day is the same as ours, July 4), but our presence there was "imperialistic" from the Battle of Manila Bay, even when the islands were ruled by the "Philippines Commission."

The real questions here are (1) whether the "sovereign" "permanent" Iraqi government (remove the quotation marks--I dare you) has the power to demand that the hundred-thousand-plus U.S. troops currently occupying/liberating the country leave Iraq ASAP; and (2) whether the current administration has, as one of its goals, a permanent presence in Iraq with an eye toward dominating political and military events in the Middle East for the foreseeable future. If the answer to (1) is "no," and to (2) is "yes," then I think it's hard to refute the imperialism charge.

The "floundering" then is not a concession to Iraqi self-rule, but a concession to facts on the ground--the U.S. clearly cannot hope to govern Iraq without the support of local elites, and the whole Chalabi thing didn't pan out--and to world opinion.


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