Sunday, April 11, 2004

The failed premises of empire

Bill Barnes pointed me to an article by Corey Robin in the recent Boston Review, entitled Endgame: Conservative after the Cold War. It's worth reading in its entirety, but here are a few good excerpts:

"The ideology of empire, premised as it is on the ability of the United States to control events, cannot accommodate failure, but by avoiding failure, the imperialists are forced to acknowledge that they cannot control events. As former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger has observed, in a discussion of the crisis in the Middle East, Bush realizes "that simply to insert himself into this mess without any possibility of achieving any success is, in and of itself, dangerous because it would demonstrate that, in fact, we don't have any ability right now to control or affect events." This Catch-22 is no mere problem of logic or consistency; it betrays the essential fragility of the imperial position itself.

That fragility also reflects the hollowness of the neocons' imperial vision. Though the neocons see imperialism as the cultural and political counterpart to the free market, they have not yet come to terms with how the conservative opposition to government spending renders the United States unlikely to make the necessary investments in nation-building that imperialism requires. It has been only two years since the United States promised the people of Afghanistan that it would never abandon them, and already it's clear that the Bush administration has done just that….

…Even within and around the military, the ethos of patriotism and shared destiny has given way to the logic of the market. The government's desire not to spend too much money and thereby raise taxes has forced American soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq to spend their own money on such items as night-vision goggles, desert-camouflage boots, baby wipes, radios and communications equipment, and rucksacks. Military recruiters admit that they still entice enlistees not with the call of patriotism but with the promise of economic opportunity. As one recruiter puts it, "It's just business as usual. We don't push the ‘Help our country' routine." When patriots burst into a recruiting office and say, "I want to fight," another recruiter explains, "I've got to calm them down. We're not all about fighting and bombing. We're about jobs. We're about education." Recruiters confess that they continue to target immigrants and people of color, on the assumption that these constituencies' lack of opportunity will drive them to the military. The Pentagon publicly acknowledges that it hopes to increase the number of Latino recruits in the military from the current 10 percent to 22 percent. Recruiters in Southern California have even slipped across the border, promising instant citizenship to poor Mexicans willing to take up arms on behalf of the United States. According to one San Diego recruiter, "It's more or less common practice that some recruiters go to Tijuana to distribute pamphlets, or in some cases they look for someone to help distribute information on the Mexican side."

The fact that the war has not yet imposed the sort of sacrifices on the population that normally accompany national crusades has provoked occasional bouts of concern among politicians and cultural elites. "The danger, over the long term," writes the Times's R.W. Apple, "is loss of interest. With much of the war to be conducted out of plain sight by commandos, diplomats and intelligence agents, will a nation that has spent decades in easy self-indulgence stay focused?" A former aide to LBJ says, "People are going to have to get involved in this. So far it's a government effort, as it should be, but people aren't engaged." Without consecrating the cause in blood, Americans will not have their commitment tested, their resolve deepened...."

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