Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Imperial Elephant in the Room

I've noticed that when trying to discuss America's foreign policy there seems to be what is often called "an elephant in the room." And it's not the branded GOP mascot, but rather both Democrats and Republicans have been inviting this elephant into the house for decades: feeding it, grooming it, but otherwise acting completely oblivious to its presence and the awkward way family and guests alike are sometimes squashed against the wall in an effort to maneuver around it. The elephant in the living room is the growing American Empire.

When our founding fathers found it necessary to separate from the British Empire, they had clear grievances regarding the very ideas of imperialism, colonialism, and holding the interests of large corporations [like the East India Trading Company] as more important to 'national interests' than any petty concerns of far flung individuals living abroad. Further, they were particularly sensitive to the dangers and abuses of a standing imperial army sent overseas to police a people that they didn't really understand.

For example, one of the key incidents that led to American Revolution is the "Boston Massacre". Three to four hundred angry civilians surrounded a regiment of British troops on the evening of March 5, 1770. The mob resented the presence of the troops - sent to protect 'Loyalist' interests in the wake of unpopular Imperial decrees - and particularly on that day the forming mob was angry about the interactions of some soldiers that had physically struck a child throwing snowballs at the troops earlier in the day. When one of the civilians struck a soldier down with a club, chaos ensued and at its end three civilians had been shot dead, with two more dying of injuries in the days to follow. That is what has entered our American history books as the 'brutal' and 'horrific' Boston Massacre. With tragedies far worse than this occuring almost daily in our newest colony over in Iraq, I find the irony deeply disturbing.

There is much that needs to be said in recalling our founding principles and relating them to our current actions. For instance, following up on the Boston Massacre in particular, it is notable that the 'rebellious Patriot' and future President John Adams agreed to legally represent the British soldiers in the incident. He felt that - despite his politics - the soldiers had indeed felt threatened and were actually just trying to do their jobs. He wrote in his diary that to have exacted vengeance upon them would have been "as foul a Stain upon this Country as the Executions of the Quakers or Witches." He felt it a moral duty to get the soldiers acquited and did so. But he also wrote that the incident was "the strongest Proofs of the Danger of Standing Armies." Not all the Patriots felt so magnanimous about it and, in fact, general outrage at the soldiers' acquitals contributed directly to the American Rebellion. Nevertheless, I find Adams' personal actions notable.

But back to the elephant at hand. How on earth have we moved so far from our principles that we have allowed ourselves to become Imperialists? When I call Iraq a colony, I am not mincing words. I am calling a spade, a spade. I am pointing directly at the elephant in the room and saying "What are we going to do with that?" What concerns me is the glib denial of our current state of affairs. We have, in fact, invaded a far away, sovereign nation that did not attack us. We have deposed the government and set up a new government that is at the present time as completely beholden to our interests as the original American colonies were to the British empire.

As neo-colonialism dictates, we have put in a place a series of promises and treaties to put a good public face on this wherein we proclaim the nation 'liberated' and explain that we are merely transitioning them to a 'new and better democracy'. But despite our innumerable claims to the contrary, we have always – since before the invasion – intended to set up an archipelago of permanent military bases (read: U.S. inland-island-colonies) in Iraq. These are intended to complement the ones left behind in Korea, Cuba, Germany, Japan, the Philippines, and throughout the world. Specifically, in this case, the Iraqi bases allowed us to physically relocate, expand, and upgrade our older Saudi Arabian military bases.

In fact – because America is still a free country – many of the documents proving that this was our intention and certainly the greatest unstated reason for invading Iraq have come to light in recent years. The main problem with these admissions is that not only were our original intentions not stated, but they were categorically denied – with intense campaigns of disinformation.

This is the new colonialism. We build great standing armies and circle the globe with them, but we are extraordinarily careful not to call ourselves a global empire. We likewise cultivate entangling alliances with agent nations that are not actually called our 'colonies'. It is more complex, yet in the end we do all of the things that the British Empire did when they caused our forefathers to rise up in condemnation and rebellion. It is anti-American for so many reasons that the founders could have written tomes about it – and in fact they did.

Perhaps if we studied our history, we would have the courage to break the taboo and have an honest debate about neo-colonialism and the new American Empire. Until we do, we are going to have to spend more and more resources trying to figure out how to properly domesticate and conceal the elephant in the room. And I for one, do not believe that to be in the best interest of anyone in the room.

1 comment:

Frank Staheli said...

Excellent insights.

Even though we supposedly don't take anybody's land, it's occupation just the same. That is the definition of empire. That is the definition of imperialism.

If we have the wrong opinion about the Iraq war (the right opinion is that we should never have gone there), we are compelled to overlook all of the other places we have squatted (Korea, Japan, Uzbekistan, Djibouti, Kuwait, etc.)

That's got to eat at honest peoples' hearts. We're everywhere. And that is NOT the American way, despite what the Establishment wants us to think these last (nearly) 100 years.

By the way, I linked you on my blogroll (Simple Utah Mormon Politics).