Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Is US imperialism ending? Kwasi Kwarteng thinks so. He may be wrong.

I've come across a New York Times op-ed by Kwasi Kwarteng, a member of the British parliament of Ghanaian descent. He expresses the idea that the United States is unable and unwilling to be a colonial power the way Britain was 100 years ago. He may ultimately be proven right about the US being unable to maintain its empire, and in much of the world he is arguably right about the US not being fully committed to empire. But in the region of the world where the United States is most active as a colonial power, the Middle East, he is completely wrong if he thinks there is any ambivalence about US control of policy in direct opposition to the ideas of democracy, popular accountability and local control.

Here is a link to the piece.
America’s position today reminds me of Britain’s situation in 1945. Deep in debt and committed to building its National Health Service and other accouterments of the welfare state, Britain no longer could afford to run an empire.

Moreover, Britain, which so proudly ruled the waves a generation ago, was tired; it lacked the willpower to pursue its imperial destiny. America’s role as an imperialist is even more fragile, as it never had Britain’s self-confident faith in its own imperial destiny. Americans have always been ambivalent about the role of global hegemon.
The problem is that Israel is either not viable or just barely viable, not comfortably viable without a US empire in the region, and the US is committed to Israel being comfortably viable.

So the US is committed to an empire.

Saudi Arabia spends 2.5x what Israels spends on its military. If the voters of that country, who by a huge consensus consider Israel their primary adversary more than Iran, controlled policy then a Republic of Arabia would be militarily dominant over Israel and Israel would not be able to withstand Palestinian demands, vigorously supported externally, either for a full state (with an army) in all of the West Bank or for repatriation of descendents of the refugees.

Relatedly, what exactly is the dispute between the US and Iran based on? Why is it that Iran cannot have the nuclear capabilities Brazil can have? Without empire, the US can’t prevent Iran from reaching a position, even without any Republic of Arabia, from which it could aid the Palestinians in forcing a resolution to the dispute over Zionism that is unacceptable to supporters of Israel.

And of course, maybe most importantly, we are seeing now the US’ efforts to ensure that the voters of Egypt remain unable to direct Egypt’s foreign policy. Again empire, again Israel cannot prevent the Palestinians of Gaza from developing into a genuine strategic threat to Zionism without the an effective US empire overruling the potential voters of Egypt.

At least in the Middle East, the idea of the US as a reluctant, half-hearted or almost-voluntarily-declining empire is wrong. When Barack Obama says the US will do whatever it takes to ensure that Israel can overwhelm any potential threat, he is making as full throated and enthusiastic an endorsement of imperialism as Cecil Rhodes or Winston Churchill ever did.

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