Sunday, February 02, 2003

The following post is the first part of a three-part piece I've written on the US and imperialism. The next two sections will appear throughout the coming week.

If anyone has a better idea than an American empire, I’d certainly like to hear it.

Over the last couple of days, I’ve been watching some French political discussions on television, and the one thing that struck me was, no matter the issue, one thing was clear: the United States and the United States alone has the necessary resources to deal with international problems. Indeed, I would go even further to say that recent events, especially as regards Europe in general and France in particular, demonstrate that the rest of the world is almost entirely unable to deal with any international crises. As a result, one could almost say that the contrast between the United States and the remainder of the world is equivalent to the difference between order on the one hand and almost complete chaos on the other. While some may seek an alternate world order to that guaranteed by the United States, I would state simply that no such alternative now exists. There is American order or there is disaster.

This may sound extreme, but let’s consider a few points beginning with the French debacle in the Ivory Coast. If there are any countries that should be able to deal with problems in Africa it would be Britain, Belgium, France, Portugal – the old colonizers. These countries speak the languages of their colonies, they provided the models for the governments in many new African nations, and, especially in the case of the French, they continue to maintain a strong expatriate presence, which includes funding schools, hospitals and social services in some cases. And yet, when France attempted to intervene recently in the Ivory Coast in order to put an end to ongoing civil conflict, the result was a complete disaster.

But let’s take a closer look at the disaster. The French solution basically consisted in transporting French cohabitation – a system that doesn’t work even in France – to the Ivory Coast. The government forces were to share certain posts, including defense and interior, with the rebels. That this was completely unworkable should have been evident to anyone since the army, which supports the government, would never accept a rebel as its boss in both departments dealing with security. It was a recipe for disaster. More to the point however was the reaction of the locals. Native Ivorians supportive of the government based in southern Ivory Coast were livid with the French. In a display of rather overheated rhetoric, they accused the French of terrorism, equating Jacques Chirac with Osama bin Laden. The situation deteriorated to the point where French citizens living in the capital had to flee back to France. The amazing aspect, however, was the conditions under which the French fled. Even as they were heading out to the waiting jet on the tarmac, Ivorians were taunting them with insults, surrounding women and chiding men as they tried to reach the planes. And all this occurred with French army troops standing guard.

There was, of course, another striking image. The hatred shown toward the French was balanced with a show of pro-American fervor designed to rub salt into France’s newest wound. The Ivorians, playing on recent tensions between France and the US over Iraq, carried placards calling on the US to protect them from the French terrorists. Of course, none of this was particularly serious as everyone knew the Americans would do no such thing. And, from the view point of the Ivorian, the Americans didn’t need to save the day since the French were on the run anyhow. France simply didn’t have the will or the capacity to deal with the problem in its former colony. But additionally, they didn’t have the good will of the country itself, and this is a key point. Relations between former colonies and their old colonial masters are never easy. African countries tend to look at Europe with a degree of disdain and resentment. This isn’t to say they aren’t happy to take European money for development, but sending European troops into an African country is a difficult and often unsuccessful task. In fact, the only recent example of success in this area was Britain’s intervention in Sierra Leone in 2000. Notable failures in this regard would include Rwanda and the Congo, and the on-again-off-again EU sanctions placed on Zimbabwe.

The gist of my point is that Europe, no matter how it dresses itself up, simply does not have a great deal of credibility in its former colonies, and as such, interventions by European countries are often failures. In certain respects, we say the same about the Middle East and the Balkans where European failures since the fall of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires have left the United States as the only nation able to deal with problems in these regions. It could be argued to the contrary that there is a high degree of anti-American sentiment in various parts of the world, including Muslim countries and parts of Latin America. In many cases, the bad feelings are the result of short-sighted or simply naïve American policies. And yet, isn’t it simply the case that without American intervention, the ethnic conflicts of the Balkans would have gone on interminably? And, similarly, isn’t it also the case that the real problem in the Middle East is not the United States but the fact that, since the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the failure of British and French policies in the ensuing protectorates, the Middle East has been in political freefall, totally lacking in anything approaching order or civility? Moreover, this situation has turned stagnant. Politics in the Middle East is more or less completely blocked, which is why peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians could go on until the cows come home, but nothing will change. The great fear is that overthrowing Saddam Hussein will unleash a floodgate, destabilizing the region. We should only hope so. The Middle East has more or less been in a Hobbesian state of war since World War I ended. Something needs to give, and only the United States can start the boat rocking.

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