Dean and John
Kerry are all a
twitter over how George W. Bush and his advisors fibbed
about "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq. Welcome
to reality, guys, but the really big lie is a lot worse than
that. Remember how we were supposed to bringing "democracy,"
not to mention "freedom," to the poor oppressed
people of the region? Well, it turns out that was just a lot
of hooey, too. Check
this out, bro:
soldiers raided the distribution center for Sadda-al-Auma
newspaper last week, seizing extra copies of its second edition
and detaining and interrogating its employees, said staff
at the newspaper.
week the US-led coalition authority brought a strong hand
down on the hurly-burly collection of new voices that have
cluttered Iraqi newsstands, virtually absent of any advertising,
since Saddam Hussein fell. The new law bans incitement of
violence against American troops or against any religious,
ethnic, or gender group, and prohibits any publication that
promotes a return of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party.
officials insist the law applies only to material that undermines
civil order that is necessary for a free and democratic Iraq
and that it is meant to prevent violence.
not designed to be restrictive,' said Charles Heatly, a coalition
spokesman. 'We welcome the emergence of a free press, and
we have no intention of stifling free speech.'"
Orwell Centenary approaches, it never ceases to amaze
me how the author of 1984
could have been so right about so much. The idea of "double-think,"
that is, of saying one thing while actually meaning the exact
opposite, is the zeitgeist of our era. "We have no intention
of stifling free speech" yeah, right. Tell that to
Ali Chiad, the 32-year-old guard at the newspaper building,
who, according to the Boston Globe, "had been
detained, bound, and held for four days while American interrogators
asked his superiors questions about the newspaper. He said
bags were put over the captives' heads and that troops seized
the excess copies of Sadda-al-Auma."
the joys of "liberation"!
War Party blithely brushes aside evidence
that the President lied to Congress and to the American people
about Iraq's alleged WMD. Just be glad that Saddam Hussein,
the terrible despot, is gone, we're told, and the Iraqi people
are free at last. But are they? Doesn't look that way to me,
or to the editorial staff of The Hour (As'saah),
which declared "Bremer is a Ba'athist" in a front
page editorial that read, in part:
four months ago, the easiest accusation to make against us
was that we were agents for America. Today, with the same
ease, they put sacks on our heads and accuse us of being agents
for Saddam Hussein and the Ba'ath Party.
is nothing worse than Saddam Hussein except what we are suffering
now, and I hope I will not be surprised tomorrow morning by
your soldiers surrounding my building."
is a distinctly Soviet air to the "democratic" preening
of our President and his neocon puppeteers, who prate about
"freedom" while Iraqi editors are interrogated at
gunpoint, hauled up on charges of "anti-American"
"hate speech," and dragged before a "coalition"
of censors. I much prefer the classical Roman-style "might
makes right" imperialism to the later British and Soviet
models, with their pretensions to cultural and moral uplift.
Best option of all would be to ditch the whole concept of
building an oxymoronic "American Empire," and restore
our old republic, but that doesn't seem to be in the cards,
because, you see, we already are an empire, and have
been for quite some time.
what plenty of leftists who write me say, agreeing with the
Ferguson, for one, who wants us to own up to our imperial
responsibilities. The lefties say: we're an empire, and always
have been, which is why America is evil, while the neocons
agree that we're an empire, have been for many years, yet
come to a very different conclusion.
funny how intellectual fashions change. It used to be that
the accusation of "American imperialism" was sure
to bring heated denials from cold war liberals and their conservative
brethren: today, it is likely to be met with shrugs, on the
part of establishment liberals, and outright enthusiasm from
the neoconservative right. The latest bid to crown George
W. Bush with laurel leaves and hail the American Caesar is
from yet another Brit, the historian Paul
Johnson, author of A
History of the American People, whose contribution
to the literature of neo-imperialism is to propose the creation
of an "empire
announces Johnson in The New Criterion, "a new
world order," one augured by the American conquest of
Iraq and the logical outcome of the post-9/11 era. Is America
"creating an empire," he asks, and, if so, "should
we regard this process as desirable, even inevitable?"
Johnson's answer to both questions is clearly yes,
for all sorts of the most repellent reasons.
begin with, Johnson believes that only empires are truly "sovereign."
As he puts it:
it is important to understand what we mean by the word 'empire.'
Its core meaning is 'rule,' with the implication 'unqualified
rule.' A country designated as an empire is one which possesses
numerous territories but, more important, absolute sovereignty
but why don't non-empires possess sovereignty over themselves?
Well, you see, it all goes back to the English Crown's resistance
to the "imperialism" of the Pope in Rome, who insisted
on keeping Church lands and income safe from the greed of
kings. Thus, when the bankrupt British Crown, having taxed
the people into penury, went looking for new sources of loot,
and found it in the Church, they declared that "this
realm of England is an empire" and promptly arrogated
the formerly private sphere of religion to State regulation.
usage came into English in the sixteenth century to designate
the unlimited legal power of the Crown in parliament, and
the impotence of papal writs. All the major Reformation statutes
which repudiated Roman claims contained the word. Thus the
statute 24 Henry VII of 15321533, Chapter 12, begins: 'This
realm of England is an empire.' The Crown in parliament could
thus make and unmake bishops, revise doctrine and liturgy,
and dispose at will of Church lands, then 20 percent of the
total, without reference to Rome."
celebrates England's withdrawal "from the medieval entity
called Christendom" not only because it reined in the
power of the Church, as against that of the State, but also
because it strengthened London's claim to the New World, against
the Papal edict that divided the Americas between Spain and
Portugal. In the Johnsonian history of the American people,
there never was a Revolution: we were an "imperium"
from the beginning. Instead of representing a rebellion against
the usurpation of the Church by the British State, the American
colonists, in Johnson's view, were "a venture in imperialism
under divine sanction."
would be news to the
Quakers of Pennsylvania, the free-thinking nonconformists
Island, and the Massachusetts Bay followers of the libertarian
Hutchinson. You only thought the Pilgrims came
to America to escape religious persecution. Johnson is out
to correct this misconception: they were really interested
in extending the British Empire. The President of the United
States recently went on the offensive against
"revisionist history" but his intellectual
amen corner, in seeking to rationalize America's Napoleonic
foreign policy, seems to have elevated the concept into a
mind "taxation without representation," what the
American revolutionaries really wanted was to conquer the
rest of the continent: "The Americans were more imperialist
than the English." Johnson's brief on behalf of "American
imperialism" reads like a typical leftist tract turned
inside out, with American rapaciousness lovingly detailed.
The poor Indians, the British, the French, the Spanish, all
fell before the quasi-religious fervor of the American imperialists,
who sought to conquer "the whole of the continent."
how was this accomplished? Largely as the result of a purely
commercial transaction, the Louisiana Purchase. We
might have taken Alaska from the weakened Russian czar, but
instead bought it at a bargain price. This was not imperialism,
but entrepreneurialism; the foreign policy of a commercial
republic, not an empire. Johnson refers to these purchases
as "acquisitive imperialism," but coercion was entirely
absent from these transactions, which were agreed to by both
parties to their mutual benefit.
the difference between acts of violence and capitalist acts
between consenting adults is lost on Johnson, as it is on
so many leftists, who see international trade as international
rapacious was the United States, avers Johnson, that "it
was a long time before all Americans admitted the right of
Canada and Mexico to co-exist with their Union."
is, without doubt, one of the most viciously anti-American
sentiments I've ever come across, as well as being an outrageous
inversion of the truth. What the Johnsonian version of history
leaves out is the relentless campaign by the British to re-conquer
their lost colonies and crush the nascent American Republic.
was a bastion of Tory sentiment, the refuge of those who fought
on the British side during the Revolution. Long after Lord
Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, the Brits and their Tory
fifth column, in league with certain Indian tribes, continued
to harass our young Republic from their Canadian base. American
"imperialism" in North America was the Republic's
response to the threat of European aggression, emanating
mainly from the British, but also from the French. (The Spanish
hold on their North American and Pacific "empire"
was too feeble to ever pose a threat.)
by the European colonial powers, the Founding Fathers and
their heirs fought to defend their Revolution not only against
British and French military adventurism, but also against
foreign agents and their sympathizers within the country.
While radical Francophiles were found among Jefferson's most
fervid partisans, the main danger was in New England, where
the Anglophile Federalists represented a veritable
fifth column that threatened, for a while, to secede and
reunite with the Mother Country. Instead of representing "a
venture in imperialism," the growth and development of
the American Republic was the reflexive and purely defensive
reaction of a free people to European incursions, and the
threat of Tory restorationists, who sought to destroy the
adolescent republic from within.
far from being "the beneficiary of imperialism from the
start," was the first anti-imperialist state.
The revolution that established the U.S. denied not only the
authority of kings, but also the very doctrine of empire by
divine right that Johnson and his neocon confreres want to
revive. Johnson points to the Philippines, and Hawaii, as
counter-examples of the American anti-imperialist tradition.
But the Philippines ended in a bloody insurgency and American
withdrawal, while Hawaii is a net loss to the American taxpayers,
along with Puerto Rico and scattered island outposts, a millstone
hung 'round our necks.
gets on his hobbyhorse of "moral imperialism" in
his discussion of the British (and, later, Anglo-American)
crusade against the international slave trade. He speculates
that, had the South not lost the Civil War, the creation of
a Southern empire based on slavery would have dominated Central
America. But the Union victory meant that the Americans were
happily reunited with the Mother Country in a crusade on behalf
of moral imperialism, in this case the abolition of slavery
worldwide. Alas, however, the Americans fell off the moral
imperialist bandwagon when, putting national interests over
moral imperatives, they sided with the evil slave-owning Wahabis,
after World War II, who ruled Saudi Arabia. In the Johnsonian
worldview, the Brits are always right and the Americans
would do well to follow their example.
nonsense about a Confederate Empire south of the Rio Grande
defies both history and common sense. To begin with, it was
the Southerners in Congress, along with the New England anti-imperialists,
who opposed the absorption of Spain's former colonies because
the U.S., they feared, could not assimilate "tropical
peoples." Secondly, the British actively
aided the Confederacy, not the Union. So much for Johnson's
fanciful picture of the world-saving slavery-fighting Brits!
Rebellion, the redivision
of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, the invasion
of Japan by Commodore Matthew C. Perry these are all
high points of modern history, as seen from the neo-imperialist
perspective, pioneering acts of "globalization."
Johnson complains that we didn't take up the Wilsonian project
of the League of Nations and so ceded Germany's Pacific colonies
to the Japanese who later used them as bases from which
to attack Pearl Harbor. Yet he also extols the opening up
of Japan to Western trade, by force, hailing it as an act
persuade this hermit state to allow in Western commerce. America
had already, in China, engaged in an effort to get the authorities
to adopt an Open Door policy to all Western nations as the
only alternative to piecemeal colonization. The same arguments
applied to Japan, and were taken so seriously by the Japanese
elite as to inspire a national effort to industrialize and
to build powerful armed forces."
forces, one might add, that struck back at Pearl Harbor, in
a classic case of "blowback."
won't go into Johnson's rather silly attempt to base his theory
of imperialism in nature, the behavior of the birds and the
bees, and the supposedly built-in expansionism of all living
species. The idea that we ought to act like animals, or plankton,
is not especially convincing, and hardly merits refuting.
And of course, in playing to his neoconservative audience,
he is careful to draw a distinction between Western and Islamic
is an important difference here between the West and Islam.
Though Islam is imperialist by nature, it is essentially religious
imperialism, ruling through the Islamic state. The West, unlike
Islam, underwent both the Renaissance and the Reformation,
thereby acquiring strong secular characteristics and refreshing
its roots in Greco-Roman civilization, with its respect for
impartial and universal law and competing modes of government
in the twentieth and still more the twenty-first centuries,
the forms of moral, commercial, and cultural imperialism emanating
from the West are essentially secular. We no longer speak
of 'Christianizing the world,' a phrase in wide use up to
1914. But 'democratizing the world,' whether spoken or not,
is our aim."
conquest, and nothing less, is the goal of the militant "democratizers."
Shorn of its historical and religious ornamentation, Johnson's
primal imperialist impulse is a crusade to impose modernity
at gunpoint, with US troops in Iraq taking the place of Commodore
Perry and his gunboats.
the spread of American culture with the presence of US troops,
Johnson tries to tie his neo-imperialist doctrine to the kite
of "globalization," but it won't fly. Culture is
carried via commerce, i.e. by means of transactions engaged
in by individuals to mutual benefit, not imposed by military
conquest. Modernizing the Middle East is not the same as conquering
it, and World
War IV, as some of the neocons call their cultural and
military "war of civilizations," is not going to
impose order and the rule of law on the Middle East. Indeed,
quite the opposite chaos and the empowerment of radical
Islam is the likely result.
contradictory absurdity of Johnson's "empire of liberty"
is emblazoned in the headlines, where we read of Iranian
students demonstrating against privatization of the state-run
university system hailed
by the President as freedom-fighters for opposing
the same privatization programs that the Americans ostensibly
support everywhere else. Various news articles describe the
progress of the Iranian riots in the same way: first, demonstrations
against privatization initiatives by the government were called,
which only later were joined by "non-students" who
raised other slogans, and so the demonstrations "snowballed."
This is how the "empire of liberty" spreads across
the Middle East by making common cause with leftist students,
and the left-wing terrorist
outfit known as the Mujahideen
e Khalq, whose fanatic followers have recently protested
themselves on fire.
campaign to recreate the British Empire with its capital in
Washington, instead of London, is not going to impress anyone
but the Eastern elites, who have long imitated and envied
their British betters, and now seek to surpass them. It is
a project utterly alien to the American people, however and
especially to those of us who have the distinct luxury of
living as far away as possible from the Eastern seaboard,
where most of the country's troubles seem to have originated.
American people are too good to be the rulers of an empire:
and, besides that, they can't afford it. Empires are expensive:
in the American version, at any rate, there is no incoming
tribute from conquered provinces. Everything goes out, and
nothing comes in. Who benefits, then, but a few favored government
contractors, and the Empire's court historians, like Mr. Johnson,
whose Kiplingesque nostalgia for the British Raj is taken
seriously instead of being laughed out of court?
IN THE MARGIN
to all who wrote me letters of condolence in response to my
column about my recent illness. I appreciate your support
more than I can express.
to a disagreement with the publisher, my book, The Terror
Enigma: 9/11 and the Israeli Connection, which was to
have been brought out this year by Verso Books, has been withdrawn.
A short synopsis will appear in an upcoming issue of Chronicles.
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