Unapologetic American imperial rule
It may not be an entirely bad thing

By A. Shahmolki
March 26, 2003
The Iranian

The American war against Iraq may be just what the Middle East and the Islamic world needs. If successful, the war may be the region's best opportunity for real change; change that might actually improve the lives of the peoples of the region in the long term.

The pros and cons of attacking Iraq are invariably debated in conventional terms. The anti-war argument uses elements of the Just War theory by pointing to the human and material costs of war in comparison to any benefits that the war might provide. The pro-war argument, expressed almost exclusively by American and British officials, relies on what might be called the security argument, as well as moral deficiencies of the Iraqi leadership, under its demon-in-chief Saddam Hussein. And then there are people on both sides of the issue who are motivated by nothing more than visceral disdain for either Iraq/Arabs/Muslims, or the United States and its allies.

But as we all suspect the war against Iraq may be about more than disarming that country, or the fight against terrorism, or for that matter imposing democracy on the Middle East. I said the war is about more than the above. That means it includes all these elements but goes much further in its aims. Disarmament, toppling Saddam, or even defeating terrorism are only incidental to America's real goal of reshaping the Middle East. The success of this enterprise depends very much on two elements on the part of America: execution and endurance.

It has been pointed out by some that Iraq is being attacked at this time not because its actions actually present an immediate danger to world security but because it is the weakest link in the Middle East and Muslim world. Iraq, through a mix of stupefying ineptitude, delusional pretensions of grandeur and crude exercise of power, has made itself into the most vulnerable part of the Middle East, sitting there just waiting to be taken advantage of. The United States is doing just that. And this may not be an entirely bad thing.

In terms of execution, I am not referring to the implementation of the attack itself. There is little doubt that the US would be able to dominate Iraq militarily within a short period of time with what American generals refer to as the 'shock and awe' approach (or some similar phraseology. Just a note to American military propaganda people: Isn't the German for this approach called blitzkrieg?). What is more important is America's execution of its entrenchment in Iraq. It has to be complete and unapologetically American; none of this nonsense about an Iraqi interim regime a la Afghanistan's Hamid Karzai.

America has to rule Iraq with the best traditions of imperial rule in mind. And there are some good imperial traditions. Traditional imperialism was about exploitation mainly. But it also gave a highly diverse and vast country like India a legacy of British parliamentary democracy and judicial independence. Let us also not forget that the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand - all amongst the most democratic and prosperous countries in the world today - were born out of British imperialism.

And then there are the examples of the entire Western Europe, including Germany and France, and Japan in Asia, all of which owe their democracy today at least in part to the nascent imperial power of the United States during the Second World War and after (emphasis on after).

So, it is not entirely unreasonable to imagine the possibility that the occupation of Iraq by the US could end up having a positive effect. But the US has to ensure that it has the endurance to stay and shape Iraq in the long term. If America gives up and moves on after just a couple of years there is the real danger that Iraq and the entire Middle East would regress into chaos and more tyranny. But I suspect that America will not move on because this war is not just about Iraq or the Middle East. It is about the post-Cold War era not being called that anymore. It is about entering a new historical period: the era of American imperialism.

Iraq, much like many of the countries of the region, has been under the most brutal type of dictatorship for the past three decades. It simply lacks the cultural and social infrastructure to build and sustain a liberal society. The problem is exacerbated by the cultural and religious diversity of Iraq. A look at Iraq's Kurdish region provides a good example of the problem. Even when Kurds had the opportunity, they were ultimately unable to form a cohesive political entity. Instead they started fighting each other until American pressure was brought upon them and they ended up dividing the Kurdish region between the two main rival groups. This is the sort of thing that the peace activists who think the solution to the Saddam problem is in the hands of the Iraqi people should seriously consider.

So, America should stay in Iraq for a while to ensure Iraq's viability as a relatively free and prosperous country. But, that is not the end of the impact of the US presence in the Middle East. America's presence and control of Iraq would free it and Europe from the threat of the 'oil weapon' and thereby obviate a need to shield Saudi Arabia, the source for the most regressive brand of Islam. It would mean the same for states like Egypt who have been hiding behind their 'friendship' with the United States to simultaneously repress their people while blaming the West for their own failure as states.

America would be free to pressure all the countries of the Middle East to wake up and rise out of the historical decay and defensive denial that has been plaguing the region for the past half century. This should lead to short term upheaval in the Middle East, including changes in the leaderships of various 'pro-west' regimes in the region. An extra push may be provided for the pro-democracy layers of Iranian society. Palestinians may realize nothing would be gained from deifying and putting their fate in the hands of a petty, vain and ineffective leader.

There is no doubt that something is profoundly wrong at the psychological core of all of the Middle East and Islamic world. The region is caught up in a cycle of hate, self-pity and petty (and not so petty) revenge. Just remember how many people around us Iranians (especially of the older generation), many of whom were living in the West, who considered themselves 'modern', felt that September 11th was somehow justified. They felt a jealous coward's admiration for bin Laden and his murderers.

We are not talking here about cultural differences between the West and Islam. We are talking about cultural stagnation, regression and rot in the Islamic world. Hopefully, a direct effect of the American military action would be to 'shock and awe' the Middle East to wake up. America may be able to remake the region and that could not possibly make it any worse than what it is right now.

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