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Friday, 1 April 2011

Lessons of Empire: War is Permanent

"There is undoubtedly a profound disillusionment in America with foreign involvement in general. We have carried the burden [of global responsibility] for a generation. In fact, you go back to the beginning of World War II, it doesn't seem to end. Most programs have been sold to Americans with the argument that they would mean an end to exertion. Now we have to convince Americans that there will never be an end to exertion. That's a very difficult problem." (Henry Kissinger, in an interview with James Reston, New York Times, October 1974).

Kissinger, as ever, sums up the problem of aggressive American power: how to convince Americans, brought up to believe that their country is a force for good in the world, who have become disillusioned after a series of wars of aggression in Vietnam, Cambodia, Iraq and Afghanistan. Peaceable Americans, who do not want their country interfering abroad in the name of democracy, let alone for oil or other resources, are, according to Kissinger and his ilk, "a very difficult problem".

Around 100 years earlier, Queen Victoria, the empress of India, told Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli: "If we are to maintain our position as a first-rate power, we must, with our Indian Empire and large colonies, be prepared for attacks and wars, somewhere or other CONTINUALLY."

Queen Victoria's use of language "be prepared for attacks and wars" is also instructive: she's referring to anti-colonial movements struggling for freedom against 'liberal imperialism'.

Any struggle that undercuts imperial self-interest is, therefore, defined as an attack, and is an invitation to the imperial power violently to respond.

The sun may have set on the British COLONIAL empire; it has yet to set on its foreign policy establishment's imperial mindset, let alone on that of the world's lone superpower as they choose to intervene in oil-rich Libya and support Saudi armed intervention in Bahrain, home to the US 5th fleet. Meanwhile, Britain has doubled aid to Yemen's moribund regime, and supports US efforts to 'stabilise' military-controlled Egypt.

The real corruption in world affairs lies in its imperial heartland; it's most concentrated right at the very pinnacle of those societies, among its power elites.

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