Sunday, February 27, 2011
Thursday, February 24, 2011
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Monday, February 21, 2011
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Thursday, February 10, 2011
Sunday, February 6, 2011
What stuck with me most, from those five minutes, was a particular face in the crowd as the cameras panned excited fans. Possessed of its characteristic simian look, it also wore its accustomed smirk, only marginally less out-of-place in the football stands than when proclaiming “Mission Accomplished!” from the deck of an aircraft carrier. I suspect that the mere sight of W will forever prompt a gag-reflex.
But it also prompted—since for a living I think about the British Empire and colonial governance—some musing on how, the immorality of the event aside, the United States managed to so badly botch its invasion and ‘democratisation’ of Iraq. A friend commented that he’d read that Rumsfeld, in his new memoir, wrote that the administration hadn’t wanted to do too much planning for the post-invasion period...because that would give people the [entirely accurate] impression that the invasion had been planned in advance!
But as I made my escape from the game showing, it occurred to me that there might be another reason why the Bush Administration and its flunkeys proved so spectacularly inept at managing Iraq in the immediate aftermath of the invasion; why post-war planning was so absurd.
The Neoconservatives who ran Bush’s foreign policy share with neoliberals an utter contempt for the institutions of governance. It is an extraordinary irony—which can’t have been lost on the neoconservative thugs in the White House—that a group of people whose outlook is premised on a contempt for representative democracy, the fetishisation of secrecy, the dismantling of checks and balances, and the utter disregard for the responsibility of government towards its people should find themselves nation-building.
Is it any wonder that a people accustomed to governing their own country with the utmost dismissiveness would evince a similar scorn for civil institutions in Iraq? How could we expect a group of people who think that collective responsibility and equality are symptoms of a weak and decadent people would treat Iraqis’ civil society with anything other than derision?
In this flagrant disdain for governance, neoconservative Republicans differ greatly from nineteenth and early twentieth century British practitioners of imperial rule. If an earlier generation of British imperialists expressed varying levels of unease with the idea of formal imperialism (they were much less squeamish about enforcing ‘free trade’ with gunboats and armed landing parties) as with government intervention in Britain, the later nineteenth century witnessed changes.
Rabid imperialist Joseph Chamberlain was a proponent of what is characterised as “municipal socialism”, a theory which influenced imperial reformers like Sidney and Beatrice Webb. The Liberals who presided over the expansion of the British Empire during the Great War were the same men who—under pressure from an impatient working class, the parliamentary Labour Party and visible material conditions—laid the foundations for one of the world’s first modern welfare states. Their number included that most intransigent of imperialists, Winston Churchill.
I wouldn’t make the claim that the British were somehow ‘better’ at governing their conquered territories—theirs was, after all, an often-brutal, frequently-bloody, and inherently exploitative rule. But a serious effort was made by a group of politicians and administrators who were committed to the idea of governance.
Neither the neoconservatives of the Bush White House (committed as they were to discrediting good governance in the United States) nor the current Republican defenders of Bush and Obama’s wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan (and equally committed to neglect as the most effective mode of governance) have the philosophical coherence to make the case for U.S. nation-building. Nor does Obama himself. For although he is clearly less hostile towards the idea of government as something that can and must be made to work for people, his has been singularly unsuccessful at making the case for the importance of public institutions in all our lives.
The deep cultural aversion to thinking about governance as it relates to democracy in positive terms must surely be a severe handicap to U.S. policymakers of most political stripes as they grapple with problems of their own making in the Middle East and South Asia.
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
Dear President Obama,
I am writing in the hope that you and your administration will do whatever you can to support democracy protests in Egypt which are at this moment coming under what appears to be a coordinated attack by armed henchmen of the dictator who your administration has hitherto aided and abetted with moral and material support, and whose legitimacy was defended by your Vice-President mere days ago.
If there is anything more unconscionable than undemocratic governance, it is the maintenance of that political framework through the kind of naked force by which Mubarak today clings to power. It is brute intimidation, the persecution of the press and assaults on journalists, and reliance on the reticence of your government and others that sustain forces of oppression.
In your inaugural speech, you declared that “those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent” should “know that [they] are on the wrong side of history”. Yesterday, Representative Kay Granger suggested that the U.S. should refrain from using its massive grant of military aid to a nation that count 20% of its inhabitants below the poverty line as a bargaining chip.
But if foreign policy is about protecting U.S. interests, and if, as you have suggested, those interests are tied to democratic governance, is it not the height of absurdity to abandon what powers of persuasion we might possess? This would be an abdication of both our responsibility as a people and our obligation as a nation notionally committed to ideals of human rights and democracy.
Yours is an administration that is waging three secretive and bloody wars—in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan—some more of our choosing than others. Yours is a promise riven by contradictions and caught in a turbulent mixture of promises fulfilled and others unkept or forgotten. But the profoundly moving events in Egypt offer you and our country an opportunity.
The people who are gathered, bloody and bruised, but still upright, in Tahrir Square are fired by the notion that they, like another people at the very cusp of political liberation many years ago, have a “tryst with destiny”. What Jawaharlal Nehru said of India is true of Egypt: “the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance” at the kind of moment that “comes but rarely in history”.
If the Egyptian military moves to crush pro-democracy forces in the coming days, or if a dictator’s militias are allowed to plunge bloodily into the square which will now be remembered across the world as a stage on which long-unvoiced aspirations rang loud and strong, it will not be forgotten that the United States stood quietly by. Nor will the same be forgotten if Egypt moves into a new, freer era, unsupported by a country which purports to count itself as a bastion of liberty.
Whether we like it or not, the President of the United States is in many ways the representation of our national moral conscience. You should not shy from doing what is right at this moment.