HUMILIATION OR HONOR IN GREECE?
President Clinton was forced
to postpone and shorten a planned trip to Greece this week.
original plan was to begin a three-day visit this coming Saturday.
But anti-American demonstrations and plans for more caused the Greek
government to request a postponement that the American government
agreed to in part because there was at least mild concern about
the president's safety.
The Associated Press story spun the news as "a major humiliation
for Greece's Socialist government.'' Time
noted that the incident could raise security concerns that might
harm tourism and/or attendance at the 2004 Olympics slated to be
held in Athens.
This spin strikes me as about 180 degrees off. Why should a government
be humiliated because it declines to indulge in a brutal crackdown
on its own citizens expressing (although apparently violently in
some instances) what seems to be a majority viewpoint in Greece
(and a rather sensible one at that) for the convenience of a visiting
Media people often engage in pro forma criticism of totalitarian
countries like China when they round up dissidents and either detain
them or ship them to the countryside in advance. But they seldom
go so far as to refuse to participate in the trip or to do anything
other than fawn over the government once the crackdown is a fait
The brutal NATO-American was against Yugoslavia and Kosovo was unpopular
in Greece and although Greece is a NATO member the Greek government
came very close to opposing it officially. In what was apparently
a popular move, the Greek government almost declined to allow American
and NATO troops to use Greek territory to facilitate the foreign
occupation of Kosovo.
If anything, the Greek government should be honored for declining
to engage in totalitarian tactics against its own population.
THE PRICE OF EMPIRE
It would be more helpful if more people
in the media and elsewhere recognized the incident as an embarrassment
to the US government and a small part of the price of empire. Any
government that engages in imperial adventures should not be surprised
to discover that not everybody in the world will love it for its
displays of Alpha Male domination. A few days of protests in the
cradle of democracy, in fact, amounts to a trivial cost imposed
as compared to the death and destruction dealt by American planes
over Kosovo and Yugoslavia.
The protests and the embarrassment, however, will have little effect
unless they are recognized as part of the cost of empire building
President Clinton himself seemed little concerned about the matter,
making jokes about how the media would have something to cover.
The sad aspect is that it will probably be some innocent American
tourist, traveler or businessperson who will end up paying, perhaps
with embarrassment, perhaps with injury, perhaps with something
There are other costs of empire that
are seldom overtly recognized as such. One recent
news story told of the embarrassment and frustration faced by
foreign police in occupied Kosovo. It seems there is little settled
law in Kosovo, partly because the foreign police view the post-1989
Yugoslav laws as discriminatory against Albanians, so they don't
want to enforce them. And few judges are available.
Among the consequences are difficulty enforcing mundane rules like
parking ordinances and the eventual release of up to 90 percent
of those arrested. That in turn makes it difficult to recruit more
foreign cops to come in.
The best bet would be to remove all foreign cops and the NATO occupation
forces from Kosovo, of course. But that would be too sensible.
It might be helpful, however, to note and point out repeatedly that
these discomforts and embarrassments are virtually inevitable when
a country, alliance or international organization embarks on what
is essentially an imperialist mission of conquest and colonization.
If law enforcement officers considering "serving'' in Kosovo
have second thoughts and political leaders are at least mildly embarrassed
by the chaos and manifest failure to establish anything resembling
a civil society in Kosovo, maybe the answer is to cease the imperialist
mission and resolve not to take on any more such neocolonial missions.
RESISTANCE TO EMPIRE
The United Nations is facing similar
embarrassment in East Timor. According
to the Irish Times Mario Carrascalao, a vice president
of the National Council for Timorese Resistance and the East Timorese
point man in talks with the World Bank, has accused the United Nations
of acting like a dictator. "I speak of dictatorship because
it is rule by decree,'' he said.
Leandro Isaac, the second senior East Timorese leader after Nobel
Prize winner Gusamao, was more specific, perhaps because his own
house has been raided by UN troops three times. "This is exactly
the same as the TNI [Indonesian occupation army] over the last 24
The question is why anybody should be surprised that people who
fought for 24 years to be free of Indonesian domination would be
anything other than resentful at the prospect of having their country
occupied militarily and run by decree by forces that are, if anything,
more foreign than the Indonesian troops that have oppressed them.
The UN expects to run East Timor for at least three years. Is it
any wonder most East Timorese still feel as if they are being treated
as a colony?
Again, it might be helpful to think of this deep-seated resentment
(which just might blaze forth in violence, subversion or clandestine
murders in the night) as part of the price of empire. If you colonize
a territory that thought it was shedding colonial status, you should
expect resentment and resistance.
The question should be whether political leaders want to continue
to pay these high costs of empire. But as long as they can continue
to recruit soldiers and mercenaries to do the dirty work on the
groundand pay the actual, concrete costswhy should they worry?
They can continue to entertain the illusion that they are benefactors
rather than imperialist dictators.
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