Towards A Good Samaritan World

Monday, November 15, 2004

A PRAGMATIC TURN FOR EMPIRE

Robert Kaplan is one of my formative influences (see my article "Bush and Kerry in Robert Kaplan's World"), but he can't hit his stride lately. Does he have to pose as a regretful hawk--

Whether one views the war in Iraq as a noble effort in democratization or a brutal exercise in imperialism, there can be little doubt that it has proved the proverbial "bridge too far" for those who planned and, like myself, supported it.
in this NYT column? If you read the column, I don't think he's changed his mind about supporting the war. Anyway, if you ignore the misleading concession at the beginning (which may just be the price of admission to the pages of the Times) it's an insightful article. Kaplan has acquired the unfortunate habit of stating insights just as they are becoming obvious (in contrast to his earlier work) this point is well-stated, with the help of a historical analogy:

By invading Iraq, Republican neoconservatives - the most fervent of Wilsonians - simply took that liberal idealist argument of the 1990's to its logical conclusion. Indeed, given that Saddam Hussein was ultimately responsible for the violent deaths of several times more people than the Yugoslav dictator Slobodan Milosevic, how could any liberal in favor of intervention in the Balkans not also favor it in the case of Iraq? And because the human rights abuses in Iraq showed no sign of abatement, much like those in the Balkans, our intervention was justified in order to stop an ongoing rape-and-killing machine.

But rather than a replay of the Balkans in 1995 and 1999, Iraq has turned out like the Indian mutiny against the British in 1857 and 1858, when the attempts of Evangelical and Utilitarian reformers in London to modernize and Christianize India - to make it more like England - were met with a violent revolt against imperial rule. Delhi, Lucknow and other cities were besieged and captured, before being retaken by colonial forces.

The bloody debacle did not signal the end of the British Empire, which expanded for another century. But it did signal a transition: away from an ad hoc imperium fired by an intemperate lust to impose domestic values abroad, and toward a calmer, more pragmatic empire built on international trade and technology.

In that vein, it seems inevitable that the coming four years will be a time of consolidation for America rather than of expansion; for it may take that long to bring Iraq to a level of stability equivalent to that of the post-conflict Balkans. Only after Iraq is secure will it be possible for our diplomats to work credibly on behalf of democracy throughout the Middle East.


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