Wednesday, 23 May 2007

America’s imperial motives, real and perceived

There is a perception in the Mid-East and elsewhere that the United States is a hostile, hegemonic power. Even though that’s wishful thinking, the reality is quite different. Still, political leaders from Russia’s Vladimir Putin to al Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden are able to use the imperialistic, evil superpower approach to get support. In bin Laden’s case, that support is used to fight the US; in Putin’s case it is just used to make his people think they need a protector (him) and increase his power. Ironically leaders use fear of the US to increase their own political motives as American policy makers use fear of those other leaders to increase their power. The United States' post-9/11 foreign policy has not only made it arguably more vulnerable to attack — because of perception and the fueling of terrorist insurgent movements — but has also damaged diplomatic ties. This is emphasized by the Bush Doctrine.

The Mid-East has a history of being colonized by European powers, though not as completely as some other areas of the world. Much of what is now the Mid-East fell under the Ottoman Empire, which was reduced to Turkey soon after the start of the 21st century. Cries of neoimperialism are common in modern politics in formerly colonized countries. Leaders like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe craft alternative universes in which America and others are ruthlessly trying to take his nation, and he is the only one who can stop them. These tactics include using false, victimized versions of history along with peppered terror rhetoric about how the world’s powers are set to invade. Similar cries can be heard among Islamist leaders, albeit with a more religious spin. America, the Great Satan, is out to get all of Islam, they say, and will not rest until it controls all of the fruitful, oil-rich Middle East. Depending on how one defines 'empire' and perceives 'empire', there may or may not be an American Empire.

If the US was so obsessed in controlling all oil resources in the Middle East — and indeed if it invaded Iraq for the oil — as it is alleged, policy would be different. Ferguson points out the flaws in the ‘America is only interested in the Mid-East for the oil' argument in Colossus (p. 109):

[America] would surely have ... difficulty in one fundamental respect. For nothing could have been better calculated to alienate the Arab peoples than constant support for the state of Israel.

Whether America is a true hegemonic demon or not, there is no doubt it has tried to exert its power as the global police, the untouchable enforcer of self-defined good, the setter of standards and prime user of force, under the Bush administration. The neoconservative role in the White House has not only expanded the presidency at home, but attempts to do the same abroad, with a neoimperial zest for self-supremacy. However, as the US tries to expand its world power, its foes use that to their advantage, striving to make their people believe the US has already made itself a full-fledged empire. The neoimperial actions are likely to fail, says G. John Ikenberry,
If history is any guide, it will trigger resistance that will leave America in a more hostile and divided world.

Threats of force like preemption, a prime area of the Bush Doctrine, which was used in the case of the Iraq war, are not likely to be received well by the international community either.

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