On American Imperialism

For once, I am not going to say much myself, except that I haven’t sub­scribed to the notion that Amer­i­ca is an impe­ri­al­ist super­pow­er out to rule the world. That is, at least not yet. There are dis­turb­ing signs emerg­ing that sup­port such a notion, and that’s what this post is about.

When I read about Oba­ma say­ing that if he were Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States, he wouldn’t hes­i­tate invad­ing Pak­istan (if Mushar­raf didn’t act on ‘action­able intel­li­gence’), I was alarmed, to put it mild­ly. I have writ­ten in the past about why the US should not invade Pak­istan.

So I was pon­der­ing a post in response to Obama’s speech, when I came upon this excel­lent blog post, by Cha­p­ati Mys­tery.

I need not say any­thing fur­ther. It is a long read, but I assure you, well worth your time if you’re inter­est­ed in these top­ics.

Sec­ond, I have always advo­cat­ed for democ­ra­cy in Pak­istan. I assumed that the Amer­i­can stand­point would be the same. Thanks to Desi Ital­iana, I dis­cov­ered this NYT arti­cle, and real­ized that that’s not com­plete­ly true either.

I’ve decid­ed to hold off on the notion of glob­al impe­ri­al­ism, but must con­fess that there is ample evi­dence of impe­ri­al­ism in mul­ti­ple sit­u­a­tions. Sigh.

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  • Oba­ma is try­ing to attract a vote bank. Try­ing to show his aggres­sion against ter­ror­ists. i don’t know what per­cent­age of peo­ple in amer­i­ca are for the iraq war but the fact that bush got elect­ed again means some­thing. as long as oba­ma just wants to get rid of ter­ror­ists its fine, i don’t think we should take hsi state­ment lit­er­al­ly.

  • Call me a sim­ple­ton, but I feel it is in America’s best inter­ests to go back to iso­la­tion­ism. Not only that, it must stop spend­ing tax­pay­ers’ mon­ey on for­eign aid. All for­eign aid should stop. Let the world then realise what that coun­try is worth to it. Let the Africans, Asians, and the rest of the world get funds from Islamists, envi­ron­men­tal­ists, ani­mal rights activists, or from inter­est­ed States. The most hat­ed coun­try on earth need not throw its mon­ey to those who hate it for being what it is: a con­fi­dent coun­try with mus­cle and morale. To call it Impe­ri­al­ism must mean some­thing, I am sure. To me, this is what Amer­i­can Impe­ri­al­ism is all about: enor­mous bene­fac­tion with equal amount of hate­ful rec­i­p­ro­ca­tion. Nev­er mind the specifics: Iraq today, Koso­vo the day before, and Viet­nam anoth­er day back from yon­der.

  • Hmm..But Ram­bodoc, Amer­i­can bene­fac­tion always seems to be linked with hard nosed busi­ness inter­ests. The instal­la­tion of the Shah of Iran, the Allende assas­si­na­tion, just to name a few. Also, the US is very low on offi­cial aid per capi­ta. Coun­tries like Swe­den do much bet­ter in that regard.

  • I share Krishashok’s view. There are many coun­tries includ­ing Japan from Asia which give high­er aid to more num­ber of coun­tries for devel­op­ment. Its just that they dont pub­li­cize much about it. And there have been numer­ous instances where Amer­i­cans have failed to act due to lack of inter­est in the region. The Rwan­da Geno­cide is a prime exam­ple if look­ing at the num­ber of peo­ple killed. Lat­er Pres­i­dent Clin­ton did apol­o­gize to the Rwan­dan peo­ple for not act­ing at the right time, but that does­nt heal their wounds. I dont have any bias towards or against Amer­i­ca. When it does right, I am with them. I am in favour of attack­ing Afghanistan and fight­ing the Tal­iban. Frankly speak­ing, I am in favour of Amer­i­can assault inside Pak ter­ri­to­ry too, ’cause I dont trust Mushar­raf when it comes down to deal­ing with extrem­ists. He seems to make peace deals more than raids and arrests with them.

  • Nita: I don’t think Bush got elect­ed again only because of his Iraq pol­i­cy. For one, the reli­gious con­ser­v­a­tive right-wing poli­cies (anti-stem-cell-research, anti-abor­tion, anti-gay, etc.), and like Aikaterene has stat­ed on my blog, it is the fear that dri­ves the US pop­u­la­tion.

    I agree Obama’s state­ment is just ama­teur politi­ciz­ing. But whether we should take it seri­ous­ly is anoth­er mat­ter alto­geth­er. Oba­ma is the sole (major) pres­i­den­tial can­di­date who had vot­ed against the Iraq war. And he is now express­ing a clear intent to invade Pak­istan if nec­es­sary. Hillary Clin­ton has talked about invad­ing Iran. Do you think as long as this is just to get rid of ter­ror­ists, its fine?

    Ram­bodoc: We’re all ‘sim­ple­tons’ here!:-) I sort of agree with the sug­ges­tion of iso­la­tion­ism. The prob­lem is the coun­try is found­ed by immi­grants from oth­er nations, most impor­tant­ly like Jews from Israel. That’s why the largest Israel chunk in the aid announce­ments this month. But as Ashok and Oemar point out, the US dab­bles in many more respects. There is no ‘bene­fac­tion’ in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Viet­nam. How can one ‘nev­er mind the specifics’? Specifics are what we should con­sid­er, isn’t it?

    Ashok/Oemar: I think I agree with Rambodoc’s point of view in the first place that no coun­try is oblig­at­ed to pro­vide aid. How much, for what, and whether it pub­li­cizes it or not are all deriv­a­tive issues. If it is for hard nosed busi­ness inter­ests, that is also fine with me. Fail­ure to act due to lack of inter­est in a region is also fine — no coun­try is oblig­at­ed to doing some­thing about crimes hap­pen­ing else­where on earth.

    Oemar: I am glad I have one read­er of my blog who dis­agrees with me and believes that Amer­i­ca should invade inside Pak­istan if Mushar­raf doesn’t. I am staunch­ly against it, from sev­er­al per­spec­tives as I’ve not­ed before in my blog. It is dan­ger­ous for Pak­istan, dan­ger­ous for the war on ter­ror, and dan­ger­ous for India. I can­not think of a more hor­ri­ble night­mare for India if the US invades Pak­istan. The reper­cus­sions are just too diverse and wide­spread for me to even start think­ing about!

  • I won­der if the US ver­sion of aid in some sense seems like Don Cor­leone help­ing out his ital­ian bretheren. Say it in Brando’s voice “I take care you. But when I come ask­ing for help, I hope you will remem­ber what Don Cor­leone did for you today”. 🙂

    But this is not unique to US nor to coun­tries. Most of the time, when help is offered even seem­ing­ly with com­pas­sion at that time, there is always some expec­ta­tions (explic­it or sub-con­scious) the helper has on the receiv­er. Its only when the helper starts act­ing it was still tru­ly in all benevolance or starts say­ing “whats wrong with hav­ing expec­ta­tions? Its my mon­ey any­way” — things start sound­ing bogus and shal­low.

  • I dont think Amer­i­ca can ever go back to iso­la­tion­ism.. its not in its inter­est. It can­not think of going back to square one after build­ing regions of Amer­i­can influ­ence (for good or for bad) for such a long time, polit­i­cal­ly or using mil­i­tary. For more or less the same rea­son it can­not stop giv­ing aid either. For exam­ple, right now Amer­i­ca is giv­ing Pak­istan 2 types of Aid: [1] For rent­ing the army Pak army, as Times of India called it and [2] For improv­ing edu­ca­tions and devel­op­ment in Pak-Afghan bor­der areas of Pak­istan. Now the first one is log­i­cal, but peo­ple may think why the sec­ond aid is specif­i­cal­ly meant for those areas which are the ‘stag­ing ground’ for ter­ror­ists. Well Amer­i­ca believes, and so do many who dont have knowl­edge of that area, that improv­ing edu­ca­tion and devel­op­ing infra­struc­ture will help the youth’s mind get divert­ed away from teror­rism in those regions. I dont agree, look at the his­to­ry of those peo­ple in that region — they are most­ly Pash­tun dom­i­nat­ed areas. Pash­tuns form one of the largest chunk of Afghan Pop­u­la­tion and also of Balochis­tan state in Pak. These peo­ple are bat­tle hard­ened and have nev­er rec­og­nized civ­i­lized way of life over reli­gious extrem­ism (I am talk­ing of maybe 300–400 years of his­to­ry & I am not being racist). Even dur­ing the British rule, they were con­stant­ly fight­ing with the British, refus­ing to accept their dom­i­nance in ‘their’ reli­gion. Now this is good till it is patri­ot­ic, but when it mix­es with Rad­i­cal Reli­gion­ism, I am afraid aids wont do much. Al Qai­da is cash­ing in on these sen­ti­ments. So why unnec­es­sar­i­ly use the pow­er of mon­ey against peo­ple who only under­stand the use of force. After all: When in Rome, do what Romans do!!!

  • and for “no coun­try is oblig­at­ed to pro­vide aid”, I think oblig­a­tions comes from ones own actions. Agreed, Europe or Amer­i­ca is not oblig­at­ed to pro­cide aid to say Mal­dives, ’cause prob­a­bly they dont even know it exist. But when it comes to regions where they want to main­tain influ­ence like Koso­vo and oth­er east­ern old Sovi­et-bloc coutries, aids is the only way they can main­tain that influ­ence. (Their mil­i­tary pres­ence in east­ern europe will not be tak­en well by Rus­sia). For coun­tries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Viet­nam, Com­bo­dia where gen­er­al civil­ian life has/had been great­ly affect­ed due to Foriegn actions, it is not just oblig­a­tory, but also the moral duty of those coutries to pro­vide aid. When you have declared your­self the world police, you ve got to take care of crime in every region of the world.

    Stop­ping aid is not a choice Amer­i­ca has.

  • Here is an arti­cle regard­ing the Pash­tun prob­lem:


    The writer is soft on the Pash­tun, but at least gives a very good view of the prob­lem in the region.

  • Don’t you think Oba­ma should not be tak­en seri­ous­ly untill and unless he becomes the Pres­i­dent of USA. He is fond of rak­ing up controversies.He doesn’t under­stand for­eign affairs.Last week he called Hillary Clin­ton a sen­a­tor from Pun­jab because of her links with Indi­an com­mu­ni­ty and end­ed up hurt­ing the Indi­ans and now this state­ment about Pak­istan.

  • frankly, i con­fess I have lit­tle under­stand­ing of amer­i­can pol­i­tics.
    but i do agree with pre­rna that oba­ma could be just pos­tur­ing. this i am say­ing sim­ply because he is a politi­cian.

  • I know that I am com­ing to this late in the game, I missed the post.

    Ram­bodoc -

    Amer­i­ca will nev­er go back to iso­la­tion­ism. Amer­i­can cor­po­ra­tions have too much invest­ed in for­eign inter­ests. And I agree with Krishashoks response.

    I don’t think Bush got elect­ed again only because of his Iraq pol­i­cy”

    A few sta­tis­tics tak­en from the exit polls (ques­tion­naires filled out after peo­ple vote)from the 2004 elec­tions

    1. The vast major­i­ty (I think some­where around 60%) of peo­ple who vot­ed FOR, yes FOR, Bush did not believe that he could han­dle for­eign pol­i­cy and eco­nom­ic pol­i­cy as well as the oth­er can­di­dates. In fact, they did not think he could han­dle them well at all — peri­od.

    2. The vast major­i­ty (I think around 55%) of peo­ple who vot­ed FOR Bush felt that his stance on abor­tion, prayer in schools, and oth­er reli­gious issues were in line with their own.

    Bush was elect­ed for reli­gious rea­sons. Do not let any­one tell you that Amer­i­ca is a sec­u­lar coun­try. We are on paper, but not in prac­tice.

    And Oemar is right, stop­ping aid is not a rea­son­able choice.

    I think Oba­ma is pos­tur­ing. Nita is right, politi­cians pos­ture. My dad is a politi­cian and he has made pos­tur­ing into an art­form.

    Is Amer­i­ca impe­ri­al­ist, you bet we are. We are try­ing to make as many coun­tries as we can demo­c­ra­t­ic cap­i­tal­ist nations. But we are not doing it, pri­mar­i­ly, through war. We use oth­er meth­ods. First, Amer­i­can com­pa­nies buy as much land and prop­er­ty as pos­si­ble in for­eign coun­tries that we are inter­est­ed in. Amer­i­can com­pa­nies own a few small coun­tries. If we can­not buy prop­er­ty, then we start busi­ness­es there, we employ labor­ers and sup­port the econ­o­my. The more that a gov­ern­ment is reli­able on Amer­i­can busi­ness for tax rev­enue, the more con­trol we have over them. Sec­ond, we push “west­ern media” down the throats of young­sters in oth­er coun­tries. If we can make the young val­ue west­ern cul­ture over their own, then it is going to be eas­i­er to buy more land or start more busi­ness­es in their coun­tries when they are old enough to run things. Final­ly, Amer­i­ca con­trols the Euro­pean Union. It is a dirty lit­tle secret, but it is large­ly true. Want mon­ey from the EU? Guess what your gov­ern­ment has to do — what­ev­er Amer­i­ca tells it to.

    We are not tak­ing things over through war, at least not pri­mar­i­ly. We only do that when we can­not do any of the things list­ed above in a coun­try we are inter­est­ed in. The wars are a use­ful diver­sion from the eco­nom­ic impe­ri­al­ism that we are very good at. While the world is focused on Iraq, Amer­i­can busi­ness­es have bought two more coun­tries. We con­trol the gov­ern­ments because we con­trol most of the mon­ey that flows into the econ­o­my.

    Believe me, we are impe­ri­al­ists, but not the way you think. We are sub­tle, greedy, patient cap­i­tal­ists. We are suc­ceed­ing and I hate it.

  • One more thing -

    The fact that we are not real­ly sec­u­lar should scare the hell out of you. Chris­tian­i­ty does not have a great track record of tol­er­ance.

  • Oemar: I agree the US can­not actu­al­ly become iso­la­tion­ist now. And the state­ment regard­ing no oblig­a­tion to pro­vide aid was made as a gen­er­al prin­ci­ple, not where a coun­try has invad­ed or affect­ed pub­lic life already. So yes, I also agree that it can­not think of stop­ping aid in these cir­cum­stances.

    Pr3na: It was Obama’s cam­paign team that cre­at­ed the dis­parag­ing memo of Hillary. Once it was made pub­lic, Oba­ma has pub­licly apol­o­gized pro­fuse­ly, call­ing it a stu­pid mis­take.

    All: while I agree with the polit­i­cal ‘pos­tur­ing’, remem­ber that unlike India, in the US, peo­ple and politi­cians remem­ber major procla­ma­tions and pol­i­cy stand­points dur­ing cam­paign­ing and do live by them if they’re elect­ed. Now, Bush has already invad­ed Iraq. Hillary is for invad­ing Iran. Oba­ma is for invad­ing Pak­istan. Giv­en this sce­nario — isn’t it becom­ing more and more like­ly that the next Pres­i­dent is going to con­tin­ue war? Are we head­ing to a worse sit­u­a­tion that today? That’s what both­ers me, even if I agree it is pos­tur­ing.

    Final­ly, my post was not just about Oba­ma. Look at the shock­ing­ly wide can­vass of peo­ple doubt­ful of democ­ra­cy in Pak­istan. So all this talk of democ­ra­cy is a lot of hot air?

    Aikaterene: you answer the ques­tions I raised in my post, and paint a pret­ty bleak pic­ture. Sigh (again).

  • Mahen­dra -

    While the data that I gave is accu­rate and dis­cour­ag­ing, I think that it might end up ‘not hor­ri­ble’. I hap­pen to hate the idea of a world where all cul­tures are west­ern­ized with­out acknowl­edg­ing and try­ing to fix the prob­lems with the cul­ture that is assim­i­lat­ing you. And because all of the finan­cial impe­ri­al­ism (which is work­ing to make coun­tries demo­c­ra­t­ic) is tak­ing place in the back­ground, coun­tries who become tar­gets are falling vic­tim to the worst parts of cap­i­tal­ism. I am not say­ing that demo­c­ra­t­ic cap­i­tal­ism is the worst way that a coun­try could go, but there are major prob­lems with the under­ly­ing phi­los­o­phy that can lead to things like the med­ical tri­al issues we were talk­ing about on Nita’s blog last week. Those issues are the prod­uct of unchecked cap­i­tal­is­tic greed tak­ing advan­tage of a soci­ety that does not know what to watch out for. Things like that hap­pened fre­quent­ly in the US until we real­ized that there are prob­lems with allow­ing demo­c­ra­t­ic cap­i­tal­ism free rein and cre­at­ed laws to pro­tect cit­i­zens.

    Again, it is dis­cour­ag­ing, not because demo­c­ra­t­ic cap­i­tal­ism is hor­ri­ble, but because the ‘impe­ri­al­ism’ con­ver­sa­tions sur­round­ing Amer­i­ca are focused on war. And that is not the way we are doing it.

    As far as Pak­istan is con­cerned, if we want it to be a demo­c­ra­t­ic nation, then it will even­tu­al­ly be so (at least the way things are going now). Whether that hap­pens via force (war) or economic/diplomatic rela­tions is large­ly a mat­ter of how patient Amer­i­can lead­ers want to be and whether they will be able to make us believe that Pak­istan is a very real threat. Giv­en the pub­lic out­rage over the lies that Bush told and the war in Iraq, con­vinc­ing the Amer­i­can pub­lic that Pak­istan is a ter­ror­ist threat wor­thy of war will be dif­fi­cult.

  • I apol­o­gize for my bad gram­mar above. I am in the fifth day of my fast and I am a bit light­head­ed. I should prob­a­bly get off the com­put­er and do some med­i­tat­ing.

  • Aika­ter­ine: you make a sig­nif­i­cant point about the real impe­ri­al­ism being of a finan­cial and cul­tur­al nature, and not of war. Some­thing to think about, for sure. Thanks for the new per­spec­tive.

    //if we want it to be a demo­c­ra­t­ic nation, then it will even­tu­al­ly be so//
    That’s what I’m con­cerned about. Pak­istan should be free to be demo­c­ra­t­ic if *it* wants to be, not only if Amer­i­ca wants it to be.

    I agree con­vinc­ing the Amer­i­can pub­lic of anoth­er war will be very dif­fi­cult. Let’s hope it doesn’t hap­pen.

    No need of apol­o­giz­ing for gram­mar — none of us are jour­nal­ists here! 😉

  • Mahen­dra -

    I agree with you, Pak­istan should become demo­c­ra­t­ic only if it wants to. I think that is what dis­turbs me the most about the way that we go about estab­lish­ing eco­nom­ic con­trol first, and then social/governmental change. There is some­thing insid­i­ous about it. At least with war your tar­get knows what is hap­pen­ing and can try to defend them­selves against it. The eco­nom­ic way is “under the radar” until it is too late to do much of any­thing to stop it.