Towards A Good Samaritan World

Saturday, January 13, 2007


Larry Kudlow reports that the markets seem to like Bush's Iraq plan:

Amidst all the pessimism about the U.S. strategy-shift in Iraq, world financial markets seem to be voting for Bush and his plan -- not against. On the days immediately preceding the president's speech, as its contents were leaking out, oil prices were plunging and stock prices were rising. And right after the speech, when the contents of the Iraq plan were clear, guess what? Oil prices continued to fall, and share prices hit record highs.

The funny thing about the Bush "surge" plan is that while it's an escalation in terms of boots on the ground, in some ways it's a retreat ideologically. Until now Bush has been the evangelist-in-chief of global democracy. But in the latest strategy there is a subtext: "Maybe Iraqis are more incompetent at governing themselves than we thought. We'll have to do it for them for a while."

Imperialism had a bad name for ideological reasons: both of the Cold War ideologies, Marxism and the American Creed of liberal democracy, condemned it, and this ensured that the imperialists were routed by the Third World nationalists in the battle of ideas. But the blanket condemnation of imperialism is not well-grounded empirically. In South Asia the end of the British Raj was a humanitarian disaster in the short run (millions massacred in the India-Pakistan Partition), while sub-Saharan Africa went from bad to worse for three or four decades after the imperialists left, largely because of the abysmal quality of local governance. By now the sins of the anti-imperialists dwarf those of even the worst imperialists. But who would defend imperialism now, after it's been not just defeated but, more importantly, unfashionable for almost a hundred years?

Well, historian Niall Ferguson does. In his book Colossus, he declared himself "fundamentally in favor of empire," and with respect to Iraq, recommended that the US stay for the long haul by "pretending to leave," following the example of the British Empire in Egypt from the 1880s to the 1950s. He ought to love what Bush has done in Iraq so far (although, being a man of rather unsteady temperament, I think he has been less than supportive in practice).

Even if there could be practical benefits of imperialism (for those subject to it, not necessarily for those practicing it), its lack of legitimacy is too severe today for it to be generally adopted. But if it can bring a bit of stability -- peace -- in Iraq, then it could make room for what's really going to let us rise above all this: Economic growth.

If we could just reduce the violence in Iraq a couple of notches, Republicans might be able to shift voters' attention to the economy and win in 2008 while sustaining a presence in Iraq. And in another way this could happen on a world scale: people will get tired of fulminating against the Iraq War when they realize we're in the midst of what may be the best economic growth in the history of the world. The history of perceptions and opinion about the Iraq War has always had a life of its own, out of all proportion to the actual scale of events. More Americans die in car crashes every year than in the Iraq War, but you don't hear about that. The Iraq War is a "disaster," in a certain sense, namely that this has become the conventional wisdom of a large section of the chattering classes; but in terms of objective data Iraq is less important than dozens of other conflicts, epidemics, bad regimes, even natural disasters (e.g., the tsunami) which have attracted far less attention and inspired far less angst. A few years of strong economic growth-- self-conscious economic growth like the 1990s-- will make Iraq seem like just a bad dream.


Post a Comment

<< Home