Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Niallander: "There Can Be Only One!"

He's a Scotsman come to America. With a purpose: to bite the head off of anyone who doesn't want the United States to further embrace imperialism.

He's Niall Ferguson, and his general schtick, aside the telegenic fourth-rate historian part, is in lobbying United Statesmen to take up the white man's burden. Ferguson believes that too many Americans deny we are an Empire (true) and that too many other Americans are against Imperialism (false). He wants US to acknowledge we're an Empire first, then to enjoy the fact of our imperialism. Then he wants US to expand our Empire: our model should be the British Empire, which Ferguson argues was a wholesale good.

In his latest bit of propaganda Ferguson is clearly worried that Americans might believe, what with all the news of obvious failure in Iraq, that the anti-war Left was right all along. But first he must deal with the carcass of Francis Fukuyama, a fellow Imperialist who, in a fit of contrition, bit his own head off. Ferguson, after the lightning surge, says:

Three years on, Fukuyama is a chastened man. With the benefit of hindsight, he now sees that he and other neoconservative proponents of regime change in Iraq were naive. If that country today is an ungovernable mess, then their naivete is in large measure to blame.

What did the neoconservatives get wrong? First, says Fukuyama, they succumbed to the illusion that America's "benign hegemony" would be welcomed as such abroad. Second, they were too confident about what could be achieved by unilateral action. Third, they embraced a doctrine of preemption that depended on greater knowledge of the future than was possible. Above all, they underestimated the risks of democracy in the Middle East — namely, that Iraq would fragment or that radical Islamists would win elections.

Let me translate: "You were useful, fellow Imperialist, but your downfall was too much of that goody-goody intention thing -- not that many of you neocons really took that democracy crap very seriously (maybe you Dear Francis were the only one). Don't you know these dusky people are there to be conquered and ruled? Guh! Everyone on the Right wanted the Iraq war to further and better project American power in the region, to enhance American hegemony. But you idiots had to cloak it, Straussian-style, in all this "democracy," "Neo-Wilsonism" shit to get the liberals on board. We wanted the same thing, brother, but you weren't open or realistic about it!"

Those who from the outset opposed the war in Iraq now appear vindicated, no matter how dubious their arguments. We are rapidly reverting to the default setting of the Democratic left — that it is preferable to leave tyrants in power than to sully the republic with the taint of imperialism. Better a multitude of Attilas abroad than Rome at home.

How's that for some fine cutlass work? It takes a lot of gall to level the accusation Ferguson wrote. A lot of desperation, too; Ferguson is scared shitless at the propect of the anti-war Left's vindication. Actually the default position of the anti-war Left is to not allow the US to go to war at the wrong time and place, not let a war be adminstrated by thugs and kleptocrats and idiots, not go to war for purposes of loot, not prosecute an already stupid war in a way that delivers kingly, constitution-shredding powers to our own Executive, and to not engage in perpetual war. And as for the doctrinaire isolationist Left, their default position is to not ever support tyrants in the first place, which, if such principle had been followed (it was most often and egregiously ignored by rightwing adminstrations that can count Niall Ferguson as a fan), would have spared US a great many of these messes. Put in a brogue or burr that a Niallander can understand: you silly sod, it wasn't any of the Left's heroes who "left tyrants in power" much less actually enabled them or even enhanced their power, it was the fookin wingnuts' guys. A laundry list of tinpot dictators and their conservative American Presidential patrons can be furnished if need be.

First, the U.S. has a chronic financial deficit, which is making it increasingly dependent on foreign capital and strapped for resources when it comes to nation building. Second, the U.S. has a chronic manpower deficit, which means it cannot deploy enough soldiers to maintain law and order in conquered territory. Third, the U.S. has a chronic attention deficit because after two years of even quite low casualties, American voters lose their enthusiasm for small wars in faraway places. Fourth is the chronic legitimacy deficit from which the United States now suffers. The most recent findings of the Pew Global Attitudes Survey — a compendium of international opinion polls — reveal just how precipitously the standing of the United States has fallen in the eyes of foreigners in the last six years.

Stupid Americans, shape up and live up to your Imperial Destiny!

And yet the logical conclusion to be drawn from all this is not that the United States should pack up and go home. For what, precisely, is the alternative to American hegemony, benign or blundering?

When people in other countries are asked, "Would the world be safer if another country were as powerful as the United States?" they generally say no. Only the French say yes. Admittedly, the Brits and the Turks are evenly split, but a majority of Russians, Germans and even Jordanians, Moroccans and Pakistanis think the world would be less safe with a second superpower. Hmm. I wonder what other country it is that they're worried about. Could its name perhaps begin with "C"?

What all this tells us is not that American hegemony is finished and should be wound up. It tells us that there is no better alternative available.

"There can be only one!"

Actually, most people in the world would prefer none, no superpower; or, at least none that behave as we have lately. Ferguson considers it axiomatic that there be a superpower flexing its muscles throughout the world, bullying others, stealing resurces from others, using the world as its trashcan. With such a given, Ferguson is on more amenable ground in asking, if it's the US or China, which do you prefer? Most people, if forced to choose, would naturally choose US.

Niall Ferguson's prescription for proper superpower behaviour is of course still blatantly immoral: there's no such thing as a benevolent Empire. That an Empire by nature inhibits the self-determination of its subjects makes it incompatible with American founding principles; an Empire is inherently despotic.

To hell with the Niallander. As far as Empires go, in a just world there can be only none.