On American Imperialism

For once, I am not going to say much myself, except that I haven’t subscribed to the notion that America is an imperialist superpower out to rule the world. That is, at least not yet. There are disturbing signs emerging that support such a notion, and that’s what this post is about.

When I read about Obama saying that if he were President of the United States, he wouldn’t hesitate invading Pakistan (if Musharraf didn’t act on ‘actionable intelligence’), I was alarmed, to put it mildly. I have written in the past about why the US should not invade Pakistan.

So I was pondering a post in response to Obama’s speech, when I came upon this excellent blog post, by Chapati Mystery.

I need not say anything further. It is a long read, but I assure you, well worth your time if you’re interested in these topics.

Second, I have always advocated for democracy in Pakistan. I assumed that the American standpoint would be the same. Thanks to Desi Italiana, I discovered this NYT article, and realized that that’s not completely true either.

I’ve decided to hold off on the notion of global imperialism, but must confess that there is ample evidence of imperialism in multiple situations. Sigh.

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18 thoughts on “On American Imperialism

  1. Obama is trying to attract a vote bank. Trying to show his aggression against terrorists. i don’t know what percentage of people in america are for the iraq war but the fact that bush got elected again means something. as long as obama just wants to get rid of terrorists its fine, i don’t think we should take hsi statement literally.

  2. Call me a simpleton, but I feel it is in America’s best interests to go back to isolationism. Not only that, it must stop spending taxpayers’ money on foreign aid. All foreign aid should stop. Let the world then realise what that country is worth to it. Let the Africans, Asians, and the rest of the world get funds from Islamists, environmentalists, animal rights activists, or from interested States. The most hated country on earth need not throw its money to those who hate it for being what it is: a confident country with muscle and morale. To call it Imperialism must mean something, I am sure. To me, this is what American Imperialism is all about: enormous benefaction with equal amount of hateful reciprocation. Never mind the specifics: Iraq today, Kosovo the day before, and Vietnam another day back from yonder.

  3. Hmm..But Rambodoc, American benefaction always seems to be linked with hard nosed business interests. The installation of the Shah of Iran, the Allende assassination, just to name a few. Also, the US is very low on official aid per capita. Countries like Sweden do much better in that regard.

  4. I share Krishashok’s view. There are many countries including Japan from Asia which give higher aid to more number of countries for development. Its just that they dont publicize much about it. And there have been numerous instances where Americans have failed to act due to lack of interest in the region. The Rwanda Genocide is a prime example if looking at the number of people killed. Later President Clinton did apologize to the Rwandan people for not acting at the right time, but that doesnt heal their wounds. I dont have any bias towards or against America. When it does right, I am with them. I am in favour of attacking Afghanistan and fighting the Taliban. Frankly speaking, I am in favour of American assault inside Pak territory too, ’cause I dont trust Musharraf when it comes down to dealing with extremists. He seems to make peace deals more than raids and arrests with them.

  5. Nita: I don’t think Bush got elected again only because of his Iraq policy. For one, the religious conservative right-wing policies (anti-stem-cell-research, anti-abortion, anti-gay, etc.), and like Aikaterene has stated on my blog, it is the fear that drives the US population.

    I agree Obama’s statement is just amateur politicizing. But whether we should take it seriously is another matter altogether. Obama is the sole (major) presidential candidate who had voted against the Iraq war. And he is now expressing a clear intent to invade Pakistan if necessary. Hillary Clinton has talked about invading Iran. Do you think as long as this is just to get rid of terrorists, its fine?

    Rambodoc: We’re all ‘simpletons’ here!:-) I sort of agree with the suggestion of isolationism. The problem is the country is founded by immigrants from other nations, most importantly like Jews from Israel. That’s why the largest Israel chunk in the aid announcements this month. But as Ashok and Oemar point out, the US dabbles in many more respects. There is no ‘benefaction’ in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Vietnam. How can one ‘never mind the specifics’? Specifics are what we should consider, isn’t it?

    Ashok/Oemar: I think I agree with Rambodoc’s point of view in the first place that no country is obligated to provide aid. How much, for what, and whether it publicizes it or not are all derivative issues. If it is for hard nosed business interests, that is also fine with me. Failure to act due to lack of interest in a region is also fine – no country is obligated to doing something about crimes happening elsewhere on earth.

    Oemar: I am glad I have one reader of my blog who disagrees with me and believes that America should invade inside Pakistan if Musharraf doesn’t. I am staunchly against it, from several perspectives as I’ve noted before in my blog. It is dangerous for Pakistan, dangerous for the war on terror, and dangerous for India. I cannot think of a more horrible nightmare for India if the US invades Pakistan. The repercussions are just too diverse and widespread for me to even start thinking about!

  6. I wonder if the US version of aid in some sense seems like Don Corleone helping out his italian bretheren. Say it in Brando’s voice “I take care you. But when I come asking for help, I hope you will remember what Don Corleone did for you today”. ๐Ÿ™‚

    But this is not unique to US nor to countries. Most of the time, when help is offered even seemingly with compassion at that time, there is always some expectations (explicit or sub-conscious) the helper has on the receiver. Its only when the helper starts acting it was still truly in all benevolance or starts saying “whats wrong with having expectations? Its my money anyway” – things start sounding bogus and shallow.

  7. I dont think America can ever go back to isolationism.. its not in its interest. It cannot think of going back to square one after building regions of American influence (for good or for bad) for such a long time, politically or using military. For more or less the same reason it cannot stop giving aid either. For example, right now America is giving Pakistan 2 types of Aid: [1] For renting the army Pak army, as Times of India called it and [2] For improving educations and development in Pak-Afghan border areas of Pakistan. Now the first one is logical, but people may think why the second aid is specifically meant for those areas which are the ‘staging ground’ for terrorists. Well America believes, and so do many who dont have knowledge of that area, that improving education and developing infrastructure will help the youth’s mind get diverted away from terorrism in those regions. I dont agree, look at the history of those people in that region – they are mostly Pashtun dominated areas. Pashtuns form one of the largest chunk of Afghan Population and also of Balochistan state in Pak. These people are battle hardened and have never recognized civilized way of life over religious extremism (I am talking of maybe 300-400 years of history & I am not being racist). Even during the British rule, they were constantly fighting with the British, refusing to accept their dominance in ‘their’ religion. Now this is good till it is patriotic, but when it mixes with Radical Religionism, I am afraid aids wont do much. Al Qaida is cashing in on these sentiments. So why unnecessarily use the power of money against people who only understand the use of force. After all: When in Rome, do what Romans do!!!

  8. and for “no country is obligated to provide aid”, I think obligations comes from ones own actions. Agreed, Europe or America is not obligated to procide aid to say Maldives, ’cause probably they dont even know it exist. But when it comes to regions where they want to maintain influence like Kosovo and other eastern old Soviet-bloc coutries, aids is the only way they can maintain that influence. (Their military presence in eastern europe will not be taken well by Russia). For countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Combodia where general civilian life has/had been greatly affected due to Foriegn actions, it is not just obligatory, but also the moral duty of those coutries to provide aid. When you have declared yourself the world police, you ve got to take care of crime in every region of the world.

    Stopping aid is not a choice America has.

  9. Don’t you think Obama should not be taken seriously untill and unless he becomes the President of USA. He is fond of raking up controversies.He doesn’t understand foreign affairs.Last week he called Hillary Clinton a senator from Punjab because of her links with Indian community and ended up hurting the Indians and now this statement about Pakistan.

  10. frankly, i confess I have little understanding of american politics.
    but i do agree with prerna that obama could be just posturing. this i am saying simply because he is a politician.

  11. I know that I am coming to this late in the game, I missed the post.

    Rambodoc –

    America will never go back to isolationism. American corporations have too much invested in foreign interests. And I agree with Krishashoks response.

    “I donโ€™t think Bush got elected again only because of his Iraq policy”

    A few statistics taken from the exit polls (questionnaires filled out after people vote)from the 2004 elections

    1. The vast majority (I think somewhere around 60%) of people who voted FOR, yes FOR, Bush did not believe that he could handle foreign policy and economic policy as well as the other candidates. In fact, they did not think he could handle them well at all – period.

    2. The vast majority (I think around 55%) of people who voted FOR Bush felt that his stance on abortion, prayer in schools, and other religious issues were in line with their own.

    Bush was elected for religious reasons. Do not let anyone tell you that America is a secular country. We are on paper, but not in practice.

    And Oemar is right, stopping aid is not a reasonable choice.

    I think Obama is posturing. Nita is right, politicians posture. My dad is a politician and he has made posturing into an artform.

    Is America imperialist, you bet we are. We are trying to make as many countries as we can democratic capitalist nations. But we are not doing it, primarily, through war. We use other methods. First, American companies buy as much land and property as possible in foreign countries that we are interested in. American companies own a few small countries. If we cannot buy property, then we start businesses there, we employ laborers and support the economy. The more that a government is reliable on American business for tax revenue, the more control we have over them. Second, we push “western media” down the throats of youngsters in other countries. If we can make the young value western culture over their own, then it is going to be easier to buy more land or start more businesses in their countries when they are old enough to run things. Finally, America controls the European Union. It is a dirty little secret, but it is largely true. Want money from the EU? Guess what your government has to do – whatever America tells it to.

    We are not taking things over through war, at least not primarily. We only do that when we cannot do any of the things listed above in a country we are interested in. The wars are a useful diversion from the economic imperialism that we are very good at. While the world is focused on Iraq, American businesses have bought two more countries. We control the governments because we control most of the money that flows into the economy.

    Believe me, we are imperialists, but not the way you think. We are subtle, greedy, patient capitalists. We are succeeding and I hate it.

  12. One more thing –

    The fact that we are not really secular should scare the hell out of you. Christianity does not have a great track record of tolerance.

  13. Oemar: I agree the US cannot actually become isolationist now. And the statement regarding no obligation to provide aid was made as a general principle, not where a country has invaded or affected public life already. So yes, I also agree that it cannot think of stopping aid in these circumstances.

    Pr3na: It was Obama’s campaign team that created the disparaging memo of Hillary. Once it was made public, Obama has publicly apologized profusely, calling it a stupid mistake.

    All: while I agree with the political ‘posturing’, remember that unlike India, in the US, people and politicians remember major proclamations and policy standpoints during campaigning and do live by them if they’re elected. Now, Bush has already invaded Iraq. Hillary is for invading Iran. Obama is for invading Pakistan. Given this scenario – isn’t it becoming more and more likely that the next President is going to continue war? Are we heading to a worse situation that today? That’s what bothers me, even if I agree it is posturing.

    Finally, my post was not just about Obama. Look at the shockingly wide canvass of people doubtful of democracy in Pakistan. So all this talk of democracy is a lot of hot air?

    Aikaterene: you answer the questions I raised in my post, and paint a pretty bleak picture. Sigh (again).

  14. Mahendra –

    While the data that I gave is accurate and discouraging, I think that it might end up ‘not horrible’. I happen to hate the idea of a world where all cultures are westernized without acknowledging and trying to fix the problems with the culture that is assimilating you. And because all of the financial imperialism (which is working to make countries democratic) is taking place in the background, countries who become targets are falling victim to the worst parts of capitalism. I am not saying that democratic capitalism is the worst way that a country could go, but there are major problems with the underlying philosophy that can lead to things like the medical trial issues we were talking about on Nita’s blog last week. Those issues are the product of unchecked capitalistic greed taking advantage of a society that does not know what to watch out for. Things like that happened frequently in the US until we realized that there are problems with allowing democratic capitalism free rein and created laws to protect citizens.

    Again, it is discouraging, not because democratic capitalism is horrible, but because the ‘imperialism’ conversations surrounding America are focused on war. And that is not the way we are doing it.

    As far as Pakistan is concerned, if we want it to be a democratic nation, then it will eventually be so (at least the way things are going now). Whether that happens via force (war) or economic/diplomatic relations is largely a matter of how patient American leaders want to be and whether they will be able to make us believe that Pakistan is a very real threat. Given the public outrage over the lies that Bush told and the war in Iraq, convincing the American public that Pakistan is a terrorist threat worthy of war will be difficult.

  15. I apologize for my bad grammar above. I am in the fifth day of my fast and I am a bit lightheaded. I should probably get off the computer and do some meditating.

  16. Aikaterine: you make a significant point about the real imperialism being of a financial and cultural nature, and not of war. Something to think about, for sure. Thanks for the new perspective.

    //if we want it to be a democratic nation, then it will eventually be so//
    That’s what I’m concerned about. Pakistan should be free to be democratic if *it* wants to be, not only if America wants it to be.

    I agree convincing the American public of another war will be very difficult. Let’s hope it doesn’t happen.

    No need of apologizing for grammar – none of us are journalists here! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  17. Mahendra –

    I agree with you, Pakistan should become democratic only if it wants to. I think that is what disturbs me the most about the way that we go about establishing economic control first, and then social/governmental change. There is something insidious about it. At least with war your target knows what is happening and can try to defend themselves against it. The economic way is “under the radar” until it is too late to do much of anything to stop it.

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