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Monday, August 22, 2005

 

perplexities of empire


the front page of the washington post presents a horrifically sad account of what increasingly appears to be the continuing fracturing of iraq into sectarian civil warfare.

While Iraqi representatives wrangle over the drafting of a constitution in Baghdad, the militias, and the Shiite and Kurdish parties that control them, are creating their own institutions of authority, unaccountable to elected governments, the activists and officials said. In Basra in the south, dominated by the Shiites, and Mosul in the north, ruled by the Kurds, as well as cities and villages around them, many residents have said they are powerless before the growing sway of the militias, which instill a climate of fear that many see as redolent of the era of former president Saddam Hussein.

The parties and their armed wings sometimes operate independently, and other times as part of Iraqi army and police units trained and equipped by the United States and Britain and controlled by the central government. Their growing authority has enabled them to control territory, confront their perceived enemies and provide patronage to their followers. Their ascendance has come about because of a power vacuum in Baghdad and their own success in the January parliamentary elections.

Since the formation of a government this spring, Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, has witnessed dozens of assassinations, which claimed members of the former ruling Baath Party, Sunni political leaders and officials of competing Shiite parties. Many have been carried out by uniformed men in police vehicles, according to political leaders and families of the victims, with some of the bullet-riddled bodies dumped at night in a trash-strewn parcel known as The Lot. The province's governor said in an interview that Shiite militias have penetrated the police force; an Iraqi official estimated that as many as 90 percent of officers were loyal to religious parties.
this should help put an end to the daft notion that it will be safe and stable within any realizable time horizon to transfer military and police authority to the new iraqi government and draw down american troop levels (if in fact that is ever really the plan at the pentagon, or if they are following a different plan). these "security" forces are iraqi in name only, and primarily tribal and religious weapons of zealotry concerned with revenge and ethnic cleansing, not national instruments of stability or integrity. the bush administration has (again) made the mistake of incorrectly assuming that the entire world and everyone in it shares or can be made to share their views on the primacy of nationalism in determining allegiance. in much of the world, for many people, this simply isn't so and cannot be made so within the limitations of our power short of national suicide.

iraq, along with afghanistan, has become another object lesson in the perplexing difficulties of empire, and one would hope it would be a compelling dissuasion against taking up the sword.

of course, there are probably some in the administration who greet this news happily. some among the neocon crowd, being trotskyites and revolutionists, want nothing more than for the greater mideast to destabilize into a chaos beyond control -- in fact such is a goal to which they have committed resources around the third world -- in the naive and hubristic belief that "americanism" will or can be made to rise from the mire and make a new west out of the east, extending western cultural hegemony in the political sphere over one of the few places on the globe where it does not already supercede indigenous culture to incorporate their peoples into the imperial "great society" of nations.

this attempt to gain by management, technique, subterfuge and war what can not be won on the merit of western cultural charisma is destined to be as much a failure as all prior attempts in history, which are the geneses of universal states in the history of the world. for those who see america as a new rome -- and who see empire as virtuous -- this must seem superficially a wondrous time to be alive. they should look harder at the chaos, restlessness and turmoil that befell the romans who built the empire and all of their descendents.

empire is a consequence of cultural failure, not a step of cultural progress. it is an effort to preserve that which we implicitly understand has stagnated and is in danger of being lost through hyperactive management. success in building an empire, we may find, does not relieve us of the collapse of purpose, cohesion, culture and direction we are experiencing at home -- in fact, it will aggravate these conditions considerably in years to come and succeed in spreading it around the planet.

considering this, one cannot wonder why these islamists and babylonians find our example a conflicted and tenuous model at best. nor can we wonder why our faith in "americanism" is viewed so skeptically in the third world.

i have no idea what motivates senators like john edwards and chuck hagel -- mercurial political ambition, no doubt. but they have begun to tap into a broad uneasiness of some american proletariats regarding the revolutionary empire of liberty that the bush administration is trying to conquer in the name of a decadent western civilization.

that such uneasiness may find voice may not be enough -- jacobins are not known for tolerating dissent from the holy cause. but a vocal dissent is what is needed within the american political structure to remove the burdens of empire from our children and grandchildren before they become the yoke by which they are ground into the dust.


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