A Dove With Brains

Matthew Parris has an absolutely brilliant piece in The Times of London on how to be an honest critic of the war. He deftly skewers many of the common anti-war arguments with some very convincing logic. However, he then offers this:

Don’t, in summary, dress up moral doubt in the garb of wordlywise punditry. Give warning, by all means, of the huge gamble that allied plans represent, but if all you are talking is the probabilities, say so, and prepare to be vindicated or mocked by the outcomes. We are very quick to aver that Tony Blair will be discredited and humiliated if the war goes wrong. Will we be discredited and humiliated if the war goes right? If the basis of our objection was that the war would fail, that should follow.

I do not think that the war, if there is a war, will fail. I can easily envisage the publication soon of some chilling facts about Saddam’s armoury, a French and German scamper back into the fold, a tough UN second resolution, a short and successful war, a handover to a better government, a discreet change of tune in the biddable part of the Arab world, and egg all over the peaceniks’ faces.

I am not afraid that this war will fail. I am afraid that it will succeed.

I am afraid that it will prove to be the first in an indefinite series of American interventions. I am afraid that it is the beginning of a new empire: an empire that I am afraid Britain may have little choice but to join.

It is not unreasonable to fear such a scenario, however it’s an argument that displays a certain lack of understanding of the American character.

Americans have had a long streak of isolationism throughout American history. We’re not the type to forge empires because we were once a people who lived under the thumb of one. The critique of Pax Americana tends to forget that simple fact.

Indeed, in those times when America was arguably acting in an imperial manor, we tended to do a rather slipshod job of it. In the Spanish-American War, the cries of "imperialism" were also heard from the Old World, we rather quickly allowed our new-found possessions to go their own merry way. We maintained the Phillipines as a protectorate, but later granted them their independence without the kind of bloody revolutions that signaled the death-knell of European colonialism. Likewise, at the end of World War II we could have easily set ourselves up as the dominators of Europe. Instead, we gave them their Marshall Plan aid and let them pick their own governments as they pleased. (Even allowing the Communists to maintain a significant foothold in Franco-German politics.)

Those are not the actions of nation that seeks to dominate others. Rather, they are the actions of a nation that will reluctantly answer the call to conflict, and quickly try to extricate itself as soon as is possible. It’s that facet of the American cultural psyche that leads me to believe that we’re not going to create any empire anytime soon. Despite the Project for a New American Century’s bold pronouncements, we’re not a nation that has the spirit or the desire to grab and maintain an empire.

(Thanks to InstaPundit for pointing out the link…)

3 thoughts on “A Dove With Brains

  1. Thanks for (indirectly) bringing this thought-provoking article to my attention.
    I think you are wrong though to equate modern american imperialism with the kind of territory grabbing that characterised European imperialism in the late 19thC. This is a different kind of imperialism but it is imperialism nonetheless, built on economic and military dominance and the need to sustain this.
    While it is true that the US does not overtly hold much in the way of overseas possessions, it is disingenuous of you to suggest that it does not seek to dominate others. Of course it does – a more pertinent question is to what extent it should do this as the world’s only superpower.

    And taking pride in the fact that the US surrendered the Philipines without any blood spilled seems to me a selective view of the often shameful history of US incursions abroad.

  2. “We maintained the Phillipines as a protectorate, but later granted them their independence without the kind of bloody revolutions that signaled the death-knell of European colonialism.”

    If you ever plan to visit the Phillipines I suggest you bone up on your history vis-a-vis the US occupation. Spout off nonsense like that in Manila and you’ll wear your guts as garters, and rightly so. The US liberation of the P.I. was an honorable task; the deception and brutality afterwards was a disgrace, about which too many Americans are entirely unaware (those who actually know where the Philippines are, at least). For just one example, read about the occupation of Bohol here, if you are interested:
    You’ll find a horrifying account of murder and torture committed by US troops.
    Here is an excerpt:
    The general in command of the Visayas was Brig. Gen. Robert P. Hughes, a sixty year-old Civil War veteran and a long-time Inspector General, who’d served in Manila as a chief of staff to General Elwell S. Otis. . .
    Whatever his shortcomings as a person may have been, he seems to have quickly developed a coarse but effective set of tactics for dealing with conditions on the islands he’d been ordered to subdue. These were brutal and direct, and descended in all likelihood from the ones that Sherman had fathered in the Civil War South; Hughes was later said by one of his soldiers to have “burned a path 60 miles wide from one end of Panay to another” — from Iloilo to the sea. This was an exaggeration but not a joke, and the tactics it referred to set the tone for the coming campaign. Wherever Hughes’s men met opposition they were likely to retaliate, often harshly and often against civilians: burning villages, destroying livestock and applying torture at will. They were dealing not merely with insurrectos but with “Indios” — with savages — and the rules of “civilized” warfare no longer applied. This, at any rate, was what they argued later on, when the torture and the burnings became a national scandal at home.

  3. I, for one, think it is entirely reasonable to consider at length what kind of empire America can be. There is something about the American people, aside from the fact that they continue to come from all over, that pushes us toward empire.

    America’s national interest has outgrown its national pants, and it is no longer appropriate to plan our foreign policy strictly in those terms. We are too large and too powerful, and rightly or wrongly, the world does not consider us to be just another nation. We need to ponder and imperial framework for our actions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.