Category Archives: Western imperialism

The imperial agenda of the U.S.’s ‘Africa Command’ marches on

Dan Glazebrook writes: “The less they see of us, the less they will dislike us.” So remarked Frederick Roberts, British general during the Anglo-Afghan war of 1878-80, ushering in a policy of co-opting Afghan leaders to control their people on the empire’s behalf.

“Indirect rule”, as it was called, was long considered the linchpin of British imperial success, and huge swaths of that empire were conquered, not by British soldiers, but by soldiers recruited elsewhere in the empire. It was always hoped that the dirty work of imperial control could be conducted without spilling too much white man’s blood.

It is a lesson that has been re-learned in recent years. The ever-rising western body counts in Iraq and Afghanistan have reminded politicians that colonial wars in which their own soldiers are killed do not win them popularity at home. The hope in both cases is that US and British soldiers can be safely extricated, leaving a proxy force of allies to kill opponents of the new regime on our behalf.

And so too in Africa.

To reassert its waning influence on the continent in the face of growing Chinese investment, the US established Africom – the “Africa Command” of the US military – in October 2008. Africom co-ordinates all US military activity in Africa and, according to its mission statement, “contributes to increasing security and stability in Africa – allowing African states and regional organizations to promote democracy, to expand development, to provide for their common defense, and to better serve their people”.

However, in more unguarded moments, officials have been more straightforward: Vice Admiral Robert Moeller declared in a conference in 2008 that Africom was about preserving “the free flow of natural resources from Africa to the global market”, and two years later, in a piece in Foreign policy magazine, wrote: “Let there be no mistake. Africom’s job is to protect American lives and promote American interests.” Through this body, western powers are resorting to the use of military power to win back the leverage once attained through financial monopoly. [Continue reading…]

Welcome to the asylum

Chris Hedges writes: When civilizations start to die they go insane. Let the ice sheets in the Arctic melt. Let the temperatures rise. Let the air, soil and water be poisoned. Let the forests die. Let the seas be emptied of life. Let one useless war after another be waged. Let the masses be thrust into extreme poverty and left without jobs while the elites, drunk on hedonism, accumulate vast fortunes through exploitation, speculation, fraud and theft. Reality, at the end, gets unplugged. We live in an age when news consists of Snooki’s pregnancy, Hulk Hogan’s sex tape and Kim Kardashian’s denial that she is the naked woman cooking eggs in a photo circulating on the Internet. Politicians, including presidents, appear on late night comedy shows to do gags and they campaign on issues such as creating a moon colony. “At times when the page is turning,” Louis-Ferdinand Celine wrote in “Castle to Castle,” “when History brings all the nuts together, opens its Epic Dance Halls! hats and heads in the whirlwind! Panties overboard!”

The quest by a bankrupt elite in the final days of empire to accumulate greater and greater wealth, as Karl Marx observed, is modern society’s version of primitive fetishism. This quest, as there is less and less to exploit, leads to mounting repression, increased human suffering, a collapse of infrastructure and, finally, collective death. It is the self-deluded, those on Wall Street or among the political elite, those who entertain and inform us, those who lack the capacity to question the lusts that will ensure our self-annihilation, who are held up as exemplars of intelligence, success and progress. The World Health Organization calculates that one in four people in the United States suffers from chronic anxiety, a mood disorder or depression—which seems to me to be a normal reaction to our march toward collective suicide. Welcome to the asylum.

When the most basic elements that sustain life are reduced to a cash product, life has no intrinsic value. The extinguishing of “primitive” societies, those that were defined by animism and mysticism, those that celebrated ambiguity and mystery, those that respected the centrality of the human imagination, removed the only ideological counterweight to a self-devouring capitalist ideology. Those who held on to pre-modern beliefs, such as Native Americans, who structured themselves around a communal life and self-sacrifice rather than hoarding and wage exploitation, could not be accommodated within the ethic of capitalist exploitation, the cult of the self and the lust for imperial expansion. The prosaic was pitted against the allegorical. And as we race toward the collapse of the planet’s ecosystem we must restore this older vision of life if we are to survive. [Continue reading…]

Imperialism didn’t end. These days it’s known as international law

George Monbiot writes: The conviction of Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia, is said to have sent an unequivocal message to current leaders: that great office confers no immunity. In fact it sent two messages: if you run a small, weak nation, you may be subject to the full force of international law; if you run a powerful nation, you have nothing to fear.

While anyone with an interest in human rights should welcome the verdict, it reminds us that no one has faced legal consequences for launching the illegal war against Iraq. This fits the Nuremberg tribunal’s definition of a “crime of aggression”, which it called “the supreme international crime”. The charges on which, in an impartial system, George Bush, Tony Blair and their associates should have been investigated are far graver than those for which Taylor was found guilty.

The foreign secretary, William Hague, claims that Taylor’s conviction “demonstrates that those who have committed the most serious of crimes can and will be held to account for their actions”. But the international criminal court, though it was established 10 years ago, and though the crime of aggression has been recognised in international law since 1945, still has no jurisdiction over “the most serious of crimes”. This is because the powerful nations, for obvious reasons, are procrastinating. Nor have the United Kingdom, the United States and other western nations incorporated the crime of aggression into their own legislation. International law remains an imperial project, in which only the crimes committed by vassal states are punished. [Continue reading…]

In defence of ‘Iraq syndrome’ — intervention is only ever in our interests

David Wearing writes: Every so often, a memorable phrase enters the discourse, providing a telling insight into some of the deeper assumptions held in our political culture. One such term, now mostly forgotten, is the “Vietnam syndrome.”

The Vietnam war claimed the lives of 58,000 US soldiers, seriously damaged Washington’s prestige as an imperial power and caused untold hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths in Indochina, which had been subjected by America’s forces of liberation to levels of aerial bombing last seen in the second world war.

Over subsequent years, those keen to see the US again exert its military might in the world lamented the stubborn persistence of a “Vietnam syndrome” among the public and many policymakers. The latter were increasingly unconvinced of the practical feasibility of military action, while the former saw the potential human costs as intolerable and, in many cases, were resolved to actively oppose a repeat of the Vietnam experience.

It is worth reflecting on the fact that a widespread popular aversion to the horrors of war – something one might regard as quite healthy – should come to be repeatedly described as a “syndrome”; a collective psychological defect that would hopefully be overcome at some future date. This is perhaps unsurprising, given that state violence has long been a highly valued policy tool, as indicated by the vast resources devoted to it, out of all proportion to genuine needs of “defence.”

After the comprehensive defeat of a disobedient former ally, Saddam Hussein, in the 1991 Gulf war, George HW Bush declared euphorically, “by God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all!” Many senior Republicans spent the next few years cultivating various fantasies about what could be achieved the next time an opportunity arose to let US forces off the leash. Such an opportunity was presented to them on 11 September 2001.

How the Inquisition ignited the modern police state

Cullen Murphy writes: On a hot autumn day in Rome not long ago, I crossed the vast expanse of St Peter’s Square, paused momentarily in the shade beneath a curving flank of Bernini’s colonnade and continued a little way beyond to a Swiss Guard standing impassively at a wrought-iron gate. He examined my credentials, handed them back and saluted smartly. I hadn’t expected the gesture and almost returned the salute instinctively, but then realised it was intended for a cardinal waddling into the Vatican from behind me.

Just inside the gate, at Piazza del Sant’Uffizio 11, stands a Renaissance palazzo with a ruddy ochre-and-cream complexion. This is the headquarters of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, whose job, in the words of the Apostolic Constitution Pastor bonus, promulgated in 1988 by Pope John Paul II, is “to promote and safeguard the doctrine on faith and morals throughout the Catholic world”. Pastor bonus goes on: “For this reason, everything which in any way touches such matter falls within its competence.” It is an expansive charge. Every significant document or decision emanating from anywhere inside the Vatican must get a sign-off from the CDF. The Congregation has been around for a very long time, although until the Second Vatican Council it was called something else: the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office. From the lips of old Vatican hands, one still hears shorthand references to “the Holy Office”, much as one hears “Whitehall”, “Foggy Bottom” or “the Kremlin”.

But before the Congregation became the Holy Office, it went by yet another name: as late as 1908, it was known as the Sacred Congregation of the Universal Inquisition. Lenny Bruce once joked that there was only one “the Church”. The Sacred Congregation of the Universal Inquisition was the headquarters of the Inquisition – the centuries-long effort by the Church to deal with its perceived enemies, within and without, by whatever means necessary, including the most brutal ones available.

The palazzo that today houses the Congregation was originally built to lodge the Inquisition when the papacy, in 1542, amid the onslaught of Protestantism and other noxious ideas, decided that the Church’s intermittent and far-flung inquisitorial investigations needed to be brought under some sort of centralised control – a spiritual Department of Homeland Security, as it were. The Inquisition had begun in the Middle Ages, to deal with Christian heresies, and been revived in Iberia, under state control, to deal with Jews and Moors. Pope Paul III considered the task of his new papal Inquisition so urgent that construction on the basilica of St. Peter’s was suspended and the labourers diverted so that work could be completed on its headquarters. At one time the palazzo held not only clerical offices but also prison cells.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith inherited more than the Inquisition’s DNA and its place on the organisational charts. It also inherited much of the paper trail. The Inquisition records are kept mainly in the palazzo itself, and for four and a half centuries that archive was closed to outsiders. Then, in 1998, to the surprise of many, the Vatican decided to make the archive available to scholars.

Any archive is a repository of what some sliver of civilisation has wrought, for good or ill. This one is no exception. The archive may owe its existence to the Inquisition, but it helps explain the world that exists today. In our imaginations, we offhandedly associate the term “inquisition” with the term “Dark Ages”. But consider what an inquisition – any inquisition – really is: a set of disciplinary procedures targeting specific groups, codified in law, organised systematically, enforced by surveillance, exemplified by severity, sustained over time, backed by institutional power and justified by a vision of the one true path. Considered that way, the Inquisition is more accurately seen not as a relic but as a harbinger. [Continue reading…]

Shaping a new world order

Andrew Bacevich writes:

Chief among the problems facing the United States today is this: too many obligations piled high without the wherewithal to meet them. Among those obligations are the varied and sundry commitments implied by the phrase “American global leadership.” If ever there were an opportune moment for reassessing the assumptions embedded in that phrase, it’s now.

With too few Americans taking notice, history has entered a new era. The “unipolar moment” created by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 has passed. To refer to the United States today as the world’s “sole superpower” makes about as much sense as General Motors bragging that it’s the world’s No.1 car company: Nostalgia ill-befits an enterprise beset with competitors breathing down its neck. Similarly, to call Barack Obama the “most powerful man in the world” is akin to curtsying before Elizabeth II as “Queen of Great Britain, Ireland and British Dominions beyond the Seas”: Although a nice title, it confers little by way of actual authority.

A new global order is rapidly emerging. In that order, the United States will no doubt remain a very important player. Yet alongside the U.S. will be several others: China preeminently among them, but with Russia, India, Turkey, Japan, South Korea and Brazil also demanding to be reckoned with. (Whether Europe, currently wallowing in disarray, can muster the will and wallet to play in this company qualifies as an unknown.)

Nothing Washington can do will prevent this geopolitical transformation. Politicians may insist that the United States still stands apart — always and forever a “triple-A nation” — but their declarations will have as much effect as King Canute ordering the waves to stop. Indeed, to indulge further in the fiction of American omnipotence — persisting in our penchant for fighting distant wars of dubious purpose, for example — will accelerate the process, with relative decline becoming absolute decline. For Americans, husbanding power rather than squandering it is the order of the day.

Last act in the Mideast

Andrew Bacevich writes:

Gaddafi’s fall (assuming it occurs) will close a chapter in Libyan history but won’t open a new chapter in the history of the Middle East. Libya is an outlier. It won’t be and can’t be a bellwether. Apart from enabling policymakers in Washington, London, and Paris to reclaim a sense of self-importance, Western intervention in Libya will have little effect on the drama now unfolding in the Middle East. Pundits can talk of the United States shaping history. The truth is that history is shaping itself, while we are left to bear witness.

The result is that for the moment serious policy—as opposed to gestures—has become an impossibility. That leaves Americans in a thoroughly un-American position: they must be patient, waiting on events to ripen. In due course the dust will settle. At that time, prudence will dictate that the West make what it can of the outcome, offering support and assistance to Arab governments that share our interests and values and withholding them from those that do not. The big story is this: the century-long battle to control the Middle East is ending. We lost. They won. No amount of high-tech ordnance can alter the outcome.

‘The world has divided into rich and poor as at no time in history’

Speaking ahead of the G20 summit held in Toronto last week, Maude Barlow, head of the Council of Canadian — Canada’s largest public advocacy organization — said:

On the eve of this G-20 gathering, let’s look at a few facts. Fact, the world has divided into rich and poor as at no time in our history. The richest 2% own more than half the household wealth in the world. The richest 10% hold 85% of total global assets and the bottom half of humanity owns less than 1% of the wealth in the world. The three richest men in the world have more money than the poorest 48 countries. Fact, while those responsible for the 2008 global financial crisis were bailed out and even rewarded by the G-20 government’s gathering here, the International Labor Organization tells us that in 2009, 34 million people were added to the global unemployed, swelling those ranks to 239 million, the highest ever recorded. Another 200 million are at risk in precarious jobs and the World Bank tells us that at the end of 2010, another 64 million will have lost their jobs. By 2030, more than half the population of the megacities of the Global South will be slumdwellers with no access to education, health care, water, or sanitation. Fact, global climate change is rapidly advancing, claiming at least 300,000 lives and $125 billion in damages every year. Called the silent crisis, climate change is melting glaciers, eroding soil, causing freak and increasingly wild storms, displacing untold millions from rural communities to live in desperate poverty in peri-urban centers. Almost every victim lives in the Global South in communities not responsible for greenhouse gas emissions and not represented here at the summit.

The atmosphere has already warmed up a full degree in the last several decades and is on course to warm up another two degrees by 2100. Fact, half the tropical forests in the world, the lungs of our ecosystem, are gone. By 2030, at the present rate of extraction or so-called harvest, only 10% will be left standing. 90% of the big fish in the sea are gone, victim to wanton predatory fishing practice. Says a prominent scientist studying their demise, there is no blue frontier left. Half the world’s wetlands, the kidneys of our ecosystem, have been destroyed in the 20th century. Species extinction is taking place at a rate 1,000 times greater than before humans existed. According to a Smithsonian scientist, we are headed toward of biodiversity deficit in which species and ecosystems will be destroyed at a rate faster than nature can replace them with new ones. Fact, we are polluting our lakes, rivers and streams to death. Every day, two million tons of sewage and industrial agricultural waste are discharged into the world’s water. That’s the equivalent of the entire human population of 6.8 billion people. The amount of waste water produced annually is about six times more water than exists in all the rivers of the world. We are mining our ground water faster than we can replenish it, sucking it to grow water guzzling chemical-fed crops in deserts or to water thirsty cities who dump an astounding 700 trillion liters of land-based water into oceans every year as waste.

Hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue

Must-read commentary from Pankaj Mishra:

There were chuckles and sniggers in Qatar last month when Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, warned that a military dictatorship was imminent in Iran. Threatening America’s most intransigent adversary, Clinton seems to have been oblivious to her audience: educated Arabs in the Middle East where America’s military presence has long propped up several dictators, including such stalwart allies in rendition and torture as Hosni Mubarak.

Of course, by her own standards, Clinton was being remarkably nuanced and sober: during the presidential campaign in 2008 she promised to “obliterate” Iran. An over-eager cheerleader of the Bush administration’s serial bellicosity, Clinton exemplifies Barack Obama’s essential continuity with previous US foreign policymakers – despite the president’s many emollient words to the contrary. Clinton has also “warned” China with an officiousness redolent of the 1990s when her husband, with some encouragement from Tony Blair, tried to sort out the New World Order.

But the illusions of western power that proliferated in the 90s now lie shattered. No longer as introverted as before, China contemptuously dismissed Clinton’s warnings. The Iranians did not fail to highlight American skulduggery in their oil-rich neighbourhood. But then Clinton is not alone among Anglo-American leaders in failing to recognise how absurdly hollow their quasi-imperial rhetoric sounds in the post-9/11 political climate.

Visiting India last year David Miliband decided to hector Indian politicians on the causes of terrorism, and was roundly rebuffed. Summing up the general outrage among Indian elites, a leading English language daily editorialised that the British foreign secretary had “yet to be house-trained”. The US treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, provoked howls of laughter in his Chinese audience when he assured them that China’s assets tied up in US dollars were safe.

As foreign secretary of a nation complicit in two recent terrorist-recruiting wars, Miliband could have been a bit more modest. Resigned to financing America’s massive deficits with Chinese-held dollars, Geithner could have been a bit less strident.

But no: old reflexes, born of the victories of 1945 and 1989, linger among Britain and America’s political elites, which seem almost incapable of shaking off habits bred of the long Anglo-American imperium – what the American diplomat and writer George Kennan in his last years denounced as an “unthought-through, vainglorious and undesirable” tendency “to see ourselves as the centre of political enlightenment and as teachers to a great part of the rest of the world”.

Read the whole article.