The US-apartheid analogy, contd.

Commenters on this recent post have asked me to spell out more about my reasons for drawing this analogy.
At the top of that post, I identified four different strands of similarity that, imho, support this analogy.
At one level, perhaps it’s true that both kinds of policies, SA apartheid and US foreign policy since 9/11, fall into the broader category of being some form of “colonial” policies.
However, here are a few reasons why I think that it may well be more instructive to hold up to Americans the mirror of the fact that that their (our) country’s current foreign policy is “apartheid-like”, rather than that it is “colonial”.
Firstly, at the broad level of public rhetoric, the discourse of “colonialism” is not understood in anything like the same way in the US that it is in the rest of the world. “Colonial” is not, in fact, generally considered to be a bad attribute of anything, for most US citizens– Native Americans excepted. The US has never gone through the same process of “decolonization” that marked European society in the middle years of the 20th century. In this country, indeed, “colonial” is an admired architectural style, and a reference to a period of the country’s history that is overwhelmingly seen (except by Native Americans and African-Americans) as a sort of foundational golden age. I kid you not.
For example, the major newspapers of the Mid-Atlantic region where I live have all, these past few weeks, been running ads under the large title “The Colonial me… “ These ads are inviting people– even, and this strikes me as the height of chutzpah, some of them explicitly inviting African-American people– to “reconnect” with the values of hard work, pioneering, close community, etc that marked the “colonial era”… Namely, by visiting a tourist destination over in the east of Virginia that goes by the formal name of (I kid you not!) “Colonial Williamsburg”.
Now, I grew up in an England, in the 1950s and 1960s where just about every week or so it seemed, some grateful “new” African or Asian nation would be “given” its independence through the generous and foresighted policies of Her Majesty’s Government. There’d be the grainy images on the old Pathe newsreels of colonial governor X hauling down the Union Jack and new “President” Y– who sometimes would have been pulled only the previous week out of the jail he’d been sent to previously as a “terrorist” or “insurgent” leader– would solemnly haul up the flag of the new independent country.
As kids, we somehow knew that that was the right thing to do. (Even if I did sometimes hear my father asking quietly and subversively if “self” government was necessarily always so much better than “good” government… With the twin assumptions buried there that “of course”, British colonial government had always been good, and “of course” it would be very hard to imagine the “natives” being able to practise anything approaching good government… Oh well, RIP my dear late father, eh?)
But here in the US, as I’ve remarked on JWN a number of times before, the term “colonial” is understood in a completely different way than it is understood just about anywhere else in the rest of the world.
That is my first reason for saying that holding up a mirror of “colonialism” to US citizens reagrding their (our) government’s policies around the world may not be particularly helpful.
Holding up a mirror of “apartheid” may not be accurate in some respects, I grant you. The US does not have an institutionalized policy of discriminating against people on the grounds of skin color.
On the other hand, there are enough ways in which the US relationship with the rest of the world under Bush is the same or very similar to the White South Africans’ relationship with the rest of their non-White compatriots under apartheid that I believe the “apartheid” mirror can indeed be useful and instructive.
In one way, it all comes down to the kind of blind, solipsistic arrogance that (as some of the commenters on that earlier post noted) underlies both worldviews. “Arrogance” in that under George W. Bush the US has indeed arrogated to itself the right to make all the major decisions regarding war and peace in the world, even in defiance of the views of the rest of the world, as well as the right to try to dictate the forms of government that non-US citizens should practise.
Is there any better word for such acts of arrogation than “arrogance”?
This, despite the fact that the US citizenry (which GWB claims to represent– though thank God that claim is wearing thinner by the day right now) constitutes only 4% of the population of the world… At least, in South Africa, the “Whites” made up somewhere just over 10% of the national population. So their claims to be able to “speak for”, and indeed “decide on behalf of” all South Africans were that much stronger than the claims of the Bush administration to be able to speak for, or decide on behalf of, all of humanity.
Secondly, therefore, I would argue that even if US policy towards the rest of the world is not, as apartheid was, based on discrimination on the basis of skin color, still, it is based on discrimination based on citizenship (“We’re the US– we know best!”); and underlying both forms of discrimination is an incredibly strong sense of both arrogance and entitlement.
Holding up the mirror of our nation pursuing “apartheid-like” policies toward the rest of the world is useful, politically, in a number of ways, I think…

“Apartheid-like”, unlike “colonial”, is an attribute that extremely few members of the US political elite would nowadays like to be tarred with. Practically all members of this elite, including, I’m sure, GWB (if he even knows what apartheid was) and most of his supporters, now claim that they were “always” opposed to apartheid in South Africa. Those claims may be just as ill-founded as the exactly similar claim made by most White South Africans today. But regardless of the truth of those claims, the fact that they are made so widely underlines how abhorrent apartheid is (quite rightly) nowadays seen to be.
So if we can say– “Yes, we know that US policy does not explicitly discriminate on the basis of skin color– but there ARE many other respects in which the Bush administration’s policies toward the rest of the world eerily recall those of the apartheid government toward non-White South Africans… ” then I think that can be helpful.
In addition, I actually see the whole meta-narrative of apartheid– and in particular, that of the way it was ended– as being a hopeful one for humanity, and a hopeful one in particular for those of us who are US citizens who seek to build “right relations” between our country and the rest of the world.
In brief, at the end of the day– after they’d ended or ruined the lives of millions of non-White people in their own country and in neighboring countries through their policies of greed and almost unbridled militarist destruction– the apartheid bosses came to an understanding that continued pursuit of those policies could not bring them the peace and security that they sought. So, finally, they decided to give the idea of talking with the ANC a try…
And the ANC, through its long-honed wisdom and discipline, stuck to the essential goal of its campaign– a one-person-one-vote system, no strings attached. By making many, many concessions on other, subsidiary items along the way– the “sunset clauses” for apartheid bureaucrats, the amnesties for torturers, deferring decisions on the all-important economic issues till later– the ANC won its goal of full and equal political empowerment. Many important issues remain to be resolved in the country, certainly. But the fundamental goal of securing right relations in the central aspects of national decisionmaking has been won.
That, if you like, was the South African “miracle”. It started with the 80-year campaign waged by the ANC for full political equality for all South Africans. It passed through all the turbulence and grief of the anti-apartheid struggle. It came to the crucial turning-point point of the apartheid bosses coming to the sober decision that they could “give negotiations a try,” even if they were still not all on board that decision at the time…
So how can we– all those of, US citizens and others, who want to see the US in right relations with the rest of the world– bring the US political leadership to the point where it decides it might “give a try” to efforts to build healthier, more recpirocal relations with the rest of the world once again?
I guess we need to look for models, ideas, and inspiration everywhere we can. And doing so in and from South Africa can, I think, be helpful as part of that effort.

Parenthetically, in the piece I wrote for Hayat on this topic a few days ago, I was arguing that the Bushies’ campaign to push (however unevenly) for “democratization” around the world had something in common with the decision the apartheid government made in the late 1970s to establish essentially powerless, faux-democratic “parliaments” for the “Colored” and “Indian” populations throughout the country, as for the Black South Africans who were being pushed out in those years to their repsective “Bantustans”.
In a few weeks’ time, once that column has graced the pages of Hayat and they’ve made a ton of money off it by syndicating it to other papers, I’ll put the text up here.

16 thoughts on “The US-apartheid analogy, contd.”

  1. Interesting discussion. The problem with using the word “apartheid” is that the listener might say, “What?” They will have difficulty drawing the parallels. I suggest “nationalistic arrogance,” which tells people that Bush thinks we’re answerable to nobody and that Bush arrogates to himself the right to solve the world’s problems. However, that might have its problems with XX-male or alpha-male types who would only draw closer to Bush. But then again, we never had their support in the first place if they supported Bush to begin with.

  2. Helena- I can see what you’re getting at, but I don’t think you’re going to change anybody’s mind by asking them to compare themselves with apartheid South Africa. They just won’t accept the comparison. I think you have to appeal to self-interest and self-image, which means showing people a better way to get what they want and be who they think they should be. Bush’s worsening poll numbers show that average people are beginning to connect his policies with their own lack of prosperity, insecurity, anxiety and discomfort. What’s missing is any positive message from the opposition. Take Joe Biden, for example. I have a lot of respect for Joe, but what is his message about Iraq? He thinks the President ought to go on TV and tell people we’re going to be there for decades, and we’d better get used to that idea and start sacrificing for the cause. Sorry, Joe, but that’s just not helpful. What we need is another Huey Long (preferably without the corruption) who can put a different vision of American into people’s heads.

  3. This comparison of the USA today with South Africa “them days” gets better and better.
    Here, Eternal Hope and John C are offering arguments that are very familiar.
    It used to be put like this: You can’t say (so-and-so), you will drive the Afrikaners “back into their laager”.
    In US terms that means they would “circle their wagons”.
    Eternal Hope and John C should know that their way was not how the struggle was won in SA. It was won because the people and their organisations did not flinch from telling the whole truth, and held to that position over a long period of time.

  4. Dominic – I have never argued against telling the American people the truth. I just don’t happen to think that the SA apartheid analogy is an effective way of communicating with red state Americans. Maybe I’m wrong – you and Helena are certainly welcome to keep trying it, and I hope it works. My point really was that we have to offer people an alternative, positive vision of themselves that they can substitute for Bush’s neo-imperialist vision. I thnk the Democrats have failed miserably at that.

  5. I’m afraid I’m still not sold.
    I have a fundamental problem with using an inaccurate or less accurate term simply because the most accurate term doesn’t have the right political impact. That’s not only unfair to the target but also takes meaning out of the term being used. Using “apartheid” as a catchall term for “bad imperialism” strikes me to some extent as similar to the right-wing American use of “communist” to describe any left of center political position – once you accept that definition, how do you describe actual communism?
    Consider: The term “Nazi” is also objectionable to Americans. I could draw some parallels between American and Nazi foreign policy – Nazi Germany used both diplomacy and invasion as tools for controlling foreign countries’ resources, it rejected the then-existing international collective security structure and it was guided by a sense of national destiny. But do those parallels make a “US-Nazi analogy” legitimate? I’d argue that they don’t, unless you’re prepared to ignore the much greater disanalogies between the Nazi and American states’ ideology and practice. And if you do genericize “Nazi” in that manner, you’re left without a term to describe the specific set of principles and practices that is Nazism.
    Likewise with apartheid. I definitely see the parallels that you and others have made with respect to American and South African foreign policy, and I’m grateful to Dominic for reminding us that apartheid had an international relations component. At the same time, apartheid was only secondarily a system of international relations, and was primarily a relationship between a government and its own subjects (I wouldn’t use the term “citizens” to describe black South Africans under apartheid). All the parallels that have been drawn here – e.g., projection of power, sense of destiny, creation of a separate perception of reality – don’t really form the heart of apartheid, and they are also common to just about every form of imperialism I can imagine.
    It’s sort of like using the apartheid analogy to describe Australia’s treatment of aborigines, Saudi gender policy or Eastern European attitudes toward the Roma (all of which I’ve also seen) – it leads to an inaccurate understanding of the forces behind those conflicts and, as Dominic points out, devalues “apartheid” into a catchall for “bad political policy.” Even if “colonialism” or “imperialism” are less politically charged terms, I think it’s important to use them and, if necessary, to educate people about what they really mean.
    BTW, I’d disagree that “colonialism” is a politically benign term in the United States. Three’s a distinction between romanticizing the colonial-settler period of our own history (which many other New World countries also do), and romanticizing modern colonialism. I don’t think most Americans have benign views of the latter (and, as any Filipino will tell you, we have gone through a decolonization process), so I don’t think a term like “colonial,” “imperial” or “neo-colonial” would lack impact. And, for that matter, the colonialism narrative is also a story of hope – after all, quite a few colonial relationships were severed peacefully.
    I guess we’ll probably always disagree about the meaning and usage of “apartheid.” Maybe I should start a colloquium over on my site as to exactly what apartheid is and means.

  6. Interesting argument, Jonathan.
    I don’t think Helena has used “apartheid” as a catchall term. On the contrary, and at the risk of repeating myself, I think what you are seeing here is a progressively more detailed and concrete exposition of the many ways in which the decline and fall of the old regime in South Africa prefigures the decline and fall of the USA (or if you prefer, the decline and fall of US fascism in particular, and the restoration of its democracy and its proper place among the nations).
    This is not a matter of impact or propaganda. It is not even a matter of choice, in my opinion. Opposition to “apartheid” has been appropriated within the self image of the butchers of Iraq. They must be disabused of that privilege. They must be shown the truth in that regard. This is both a necessity and an opportunity. The examination of a concrete case that is removed in space and time is a very good laboratory of learning.
    John C. could not be more wrong in wanting to offer the US people an alternative positive vision of themselves. That would undoubtedly be another and necessarily a more powerful drug, a new US exceptionalism, worse even than the present state. No, they must learn to be human like the rest of us, that’s all. That’s another lesson from South Africa.
    I thank you could usefully take another look at your statement that “apartheid was only secondarily a system of international relations”, Jonathan. The whole problem for the old regime was how to survive in the world, and that is exactly where they met their final crisis. It came up on them slow, but they saw it coming. The first country to boycott South Africa was India, in 1948, the same year the Nats came to power. Tanzania suffered terribly for its stand from the 1960s on.
    But we saw the Nats off in the end! And we are going to see off the Bushies, aren’t we?

  7. “John C. could not be more wrong in wanting to offer the US people an alternative positive vision of themselves.”
    Yes, he could. He could go on to assert that,
    “No, they must learn to be human like the rest of us, that’s all.”
    I guess we can call an all-stop to the effort to hold leaders accountable for what they’ve done, and no more of that bit about the illegality, abuse of power, etc. because we have found the real root of the problem: The American people are not human. They never learned how. As soon as the rest of the world can educate them, the problem will be solved.
    Spleen venting aside (I feel a little better, thank you), it really *is* “a matter of impact and propoganda”, if you believe propoganda to be an effort to persuade people to change their behavior and not just the mass marketing of lies (or an effort to counter that). That’s why I think it’s helpful to make the appropriate case for comparisons to (neo) colonialism, (neo) imperialism, and perhaps (though I myself am not yet convinced, and therefore there is a ways to go for the fraction of red-staters who would have to be swayed) apartheid.
    Maybe the debate is not so much about which one prior example (since none is a perfect fit), but which combination to bring home for supper. The evidence for none of these would sit well, and you could make the case for some portion of all of these and make that exceptionalism work for you, instead of just demanding that it be done away with by educating Americans about their humanity and dutiful humility.
    I agree with the underlying assumption, debated in this enlightening thread, that doing so, and hence changing people’s minds, is the right way to go — but I think the ultimate answer, perhaps over the time period Dominic mentions for the SA case (though I hope much shorter) might be “(d) All of the above”.

  8. Hi windinthewhistle.
    Your compatriot, janinsanfran wrote on the previous “US-apartheid analogy” as follows:
    “…in 1990, I found the country more like the United States culturally than anywhere I have ever been outside the US. Apartheid culture’s complete substitution of its own “reality” for any other perspective reminded me viscerally of my own country.”
    I’m sure I know exactly what he was talking about, even if you don’t. South Africa insisted on being “a world apart”, as the United States does today.
    To say that you need to learn how to be human like the rest of us is not a pious homily. It is a spot-on accurate statement. It means you have to come down from where you are. It means that offering up to the USA an exalted vision of itself as so many US presidents have done is the problem, and not the solution as John C thinks it is.
    I must tell you that I had a hard time to understand your post. I don’t know if you are being sarcastic, ironic or just obscure. I often find this with US people. WarrenW is another one.
    I would say that before you progagate an idea, you must have an idea to propagate. You are different. You prefer to think about the impact of this or that statement. You have got your geopolitical map of red and blue states. You want to persuade people to change their behaviour. Et cetera.
    This is not the language of ideas nor of the humanist reality-based world outside the USA. It is the language of US business studies, marketing and salesmanship.

  9. Dominic,
    Once again I find that you have a more developed taste for tutelage, whether or not you find willing victims … sorry, students … than for discourse. Discourse would be a lot more helpful right now. When I want your tutelage, trust me, I will ask for it.
    Your ad homeneims about me, what I do or don’t understand, or “US people” aside, (and why not, let’s put aside your proof-as-assertion ‘it’s just the on-the-spot facts’ tone) the problem is not with unformed or lacking ideas, it is with practicalities. The idea put across originally in Helena’s post was yes, about convincing people, which means yes, persuading them using messages that they will understand on the way to seeing a truth they can accept and acting accordingly. That is, about politics, negotiation, relationships and so forth.
    I’ve spent most of my life outside the US, so if you find in those concepts ‘business studies, marketing and salesmanship’ then it is on you, not me, and it is not for you to tell me how it is ‘in the rest of the world’. I’ll accept whatever you have to say about how it is in South Africa, but keep your scope in mind when you are handing out the lessons from on high.
    Telling people they need to absolve themselves of any positive (nobody said ‘exalted’) vision of themselves for the future is not a big winner. Not in the short term, not in the long term. If people have been denied truth, they need a context in which to digest it in order to take action. The other approach might give you personally some private satisfaction, but the point is largely academic. It does not lead to real outcomes.

  10. Dominic, are you seriously suggesting that countries other than the United States and apartheid ZA don’t create their own realities? What drove British, French and Soviet imperialism, what were the mission civilisatrice and the white man’s burden, other than created realities? Nationalist histories are taught, and current affairs are filtered through a nationalist lens, in practically every country I can think of that has held regional or Great Power status at some point – Russia, France, Australia, the United States, Israel, Turkey, etc. Even some non-imperial countries have got into the game. The practice of romanticizing one’s own history – of believing one’s own way is right, and that one’s culture has contributed something unique to the world – isn’t an American or South African thing, it’s a human thing. Which only goes to prove, I guess, that Americans are “human like the rest of us” after all.
    And as for the world outside the United States being humanist and reality-based – well, that’s true of some countries, including the one you are blessed to live in. On the other hand, I could name quite a few more – I’m sure you know which ones – where both concepts are cruel jokes. I will acknowledge my country’s crimes, but we aren’t living in a Manichaean world in which the United States is the root of all evil.

  11. “What drove British, French and Soviet imperialism, what were the mission civilisatrice and the white man’s burden, other than created realities?”
    Johnathan, the problem with your argument is that these countries acted wrongly between say 1650 and 1950. They then recognized their errors and the decolonization took place. With the Iraq invasion the US is going backward in time.
    “I will acknowledge my country’s crimes, but we aren’t living in a Manichaean world in which the United States is the root of all evil.”
    Well that’s a reversing of the real situation. The mannichean is Bush. He stated it clearly several times : those who aren’t with us are against us. The US is fighting the evil; the war against terrorism is a war of the good versus the evil.. and on and on.. So the Mannichean attitude originates from the US government.
    Helena : your development concerning the positive conotation of the colonial terms in the US is interesting. But IMO this attitude is clearly part of the problem.

  12. Christiane, forgive me but I don’t think you addressed any problem with Johnathan’s argument at all. For one, it’s problematic to say that Britain, France or the Soviets withdrew because they ‘recognized the errors’ of colonialism, rather than simply recognizing that they could not sustain their empires. Perhaps those were the errors you meant, but the lessons become much more difficult then; if a country believes they can, in fact sustain them, what then?
    There is a problem too, I think, with confusing the Bush administration’s post-hoc claim of ‘democracy on the move’ with what they actually used, relentlessly, to justify the war to US citizens, which was fear (compounded by ignorance) of WMD, further terrorist attacks, blah blah. That is not a colonial ideology. It is one based on the alleged necessity of self defense. But let’s say for argument’s sake that it was colonial: were the polled voters now deserting Bush that much smarter, that it took them only two years to recognize the errors of their ways, instead of 300 (1650-1950 CE)…?
    On Bush and his Manicheism; the idea that such an attitude ‘originates’ with the US implies that it has been propogated elsewhere after the fact. But who has picked up this view, really? I see plenty of repressive governments who have seized on it as an opportunity, but I don’t know of any that woke up four years ago and suddenly adopted the attitude: do you?

  13. Jonathan, the problem with your argument is that these countries acted wrongly between say 1650 and 1950. They then recognized their errors and the decolonization took place. With the Iraq invasion the US is going backward in time.
    In the sentence following the one you quoted, I gave some more modern examples of countries that create their own realities (which France still does, as is apparent to anyone who’s followed the discourse over the EU constitution).
    At any rate, my argument didn’t have to do with whether the Bushies are moving backward in time. I was taking issue with “janinsanfran’s” contention that manufactured perceptions of reality are unique to the United States and apartheid ZA. Of course the United States does this, but I don’t see that as anything unusual. I’ve been to France, Australia and the UK, among other places, and all of them mythologize their histories, current affairs and national essence to some degree. If you want an example of same, ask an Australian whether his country has played a positive or negative role in Pacific development… and then ask a niVanuatu.
    Mythologizing in this manner seems to be fairly universal. I’m sure there’s some of it in the Swiss worldview too, centered around armed neutrality, historical democracy, etc.
    So the Mannichean attitude originates from the US government
    I agree about the Bushies. My use of the term, however, referred specifically to Dominic’s distinction between the United States (which he portrayed as living in a manufactured worldview) and the rest of the world (which he described as “humanistic and reality-based”). I consider that distinction to be Manichaean in character. I also consider it factually erroneous, given that the policies of countries like Zimbabwe, Sudan, the Russian Federation, Algeria etc. are neither humanistic nor particularly reality-based.

  14. Jonathan, I know you are an educated man from the past months of reading your posts on here. I’m sure you know very well that humanism means people creating a new reality from the circumstances in which they find themselves.
    You know very well that the disconnection of human will from the objective world, or “reality”, is in European philosophy represented by the Nietzchean “will to power” and the Nazi “triumph of the will”.
    You must also know that the abandonment of subjective responsibility, as in post-modernism as much as in born-again “salvation-by-faith” religion, is only the other side of the fascist coin, its handmaiden and partner.
    The problem with the famous US official who said that the present US government is not “reality-based” any more is that it is a claim of independence from the objective world.
    In other words without both subject and object together, in a dialectical relationship, we are on the primrose path to fascism. You must know that was what I was trying to say, because you quoted the direct statement of both terms of it back to me (“humanistic and reality-based”).
    You then contrive to go back to your vision of multiple national realities. So be it. Let me just mark that the opposition between humanism (the dialectic of subject and object) on the one hand, and the irrational (or postmodern) on the other, is universal.
    Your country is anti-humanist in a general way, like the old regime in South Africa was. Both have been based on an insistence that they could re-invent the whole of reality, internal and external. The rest of the world is not like that, generally speaking. You can find national mythologies, if that is what you are looking for, but you can’t so easily find that US scorn for “reality”.

  15. Windinthewhistle,
    Of course the British, French, Spaniards etc.. withdrew because they couldn’t maintain their empires. But then came a time of analysis where each of these imperial countries recognized that other people/civilizations have a right of self-determination, self-governing. That’s what I mean by recognizing their errors (although one can question whether the Brittish really have learned that lesson, since they followed the US without hesitation).
    Mmm.. do you mean that if the US has the power to do it she is morally allowed to conquer all other people and countries as pleases her ? I thought the UN was there to bring more justice between people and countries, that it was pushing the world forward towards more mutual understanding, toward a peaceful resolution of conflicts. Oh, but I know, Rummie thinks it’s obsolete now, the new rule is that US rules.. Personnally I thought that the decolonization had shown it was not possible to reign over foreign people and countries for a long time without bloody repressions and human right violations. THe ALgerian liberation war shows that perfectly. I thought that the US had learned a lesson from the Vietnam war.. but apparently not.
    The US will only be able to stay in Iraq as long as she is ready to breach with all the human rights principles and with her own principles : that’s what I call going backward.
    The US government lied to the US citizen, or they won’t have accepted the Iraq war; for them, 9/11 came in handy, allowing justification for a war they had long planned. No people accept and aggression war without being lied by its leaders, or without being governed by a dictatorship. Both are usually linked. IMO Bush and the neocon are imposing a new kind of “soft dictatorship” on the US people, a dictatorship based on the control of the media : all those who dare disagree are “unpatriotic”.
    Concerning your second paragraph, it’s not the same to learn things the hardway through defeats (and remember there was no democracy, no freepress untill the middle of the 19th century, the news were circulating much much slower), or to step backward, to regress on the scale of human rights. In Europe, people fighted for their own rights and freedom, then they had to discover that both women and other people/civilisations had the same rights. US aggression of Iraq, his will to restructure the ME as pleases her is a step backward in a long trend of progressing human rights.
    Concernign manicheism, I’m not sure to get what you are saying. Where the French for instance manicheists when they tried to warn the US against an Iraqi quagmire ? Yet the Americans vilified the Frenches pretending they were cowards, was that the correct way to treat allies ? or not the result of that ma
    BTW, that use of the term “cowards” is incredibly arrogant. The US militaries are well protected in their armored humwees, they have flackvest and sophisticated weapons. They stay mainly in their fortified camps and never go on feet. Meanwhile the Iraqis enrolled for the new army have no or bad flackwests, no armored vehicle, bad weapons et.c etc. but they are supposed to resist very experimented guerilleros who were hardened through the war with Iran.. They are treated like canon fodder and are dying by tenths each day. But the US militaries dare say they are cowards. I wonder who are the cowards in this case ?

  16. Dear Christiane,
    No, of course I did not mean that ‘might makes right’. I was speaking to the issue of lessons learned: If the lesson is that colonies are unsustainable, then policy makers too easily get into that illegitimate moral ground (‘but what if they are sustainable?’) and that kind of reasoning seems to come up again, in every generation: especially if it can be propped up by a spurious threat that seems plausible once the opposition is shouted down.
    About the other lesson, that colonialism is just plain wrong, I am not sure how well that lesson has been learned by any post-colonial power (and less so by the US, whose colonial experience was much more limited). Most people would reject the form of colonialism or imperialism we learn about in history; it’s much harder to look at something that is formally different, but substantively the same, and even identify it as colonialism or imperialism; it’s even harder to reject it.
    (An aside: that effort is not helped much by arguments from our side, which often say basically, ‘the US is a colonial/imperial power, therefore any policy of the US is necessarily colonialist or imperialist’ which just clouds the issue and brings it back to one’s ideological commitments rather than to the logic of the situation )
    That context makes it easier for Bushco, as I was trying to say in my second paragraph, to take advantage of confusion, complexity and fear to push a colonial/imperial policy in disguise as something else. Clearly, he and his henchmen lied to push it through; but the justification then (which was not clearly identifiable as colonial or imperial), relying as it did on fear and ignorance, was very different from what came later.
    [another aside: you are right about the ‘dictatorship’ part, but I am not sure how “soft” it is; it relies as much on changing rules and procedures, eliminating safeguards and then scuttling the laws that support the main institutions, a naked abuse of power in other words, as it does on controlling the media to avoid any opposition to these things]
    On the question of a manichean worldview: it seems likely that I just misunderstood you. There’s no doubt that a manichean worldview certainly comes out of the white house, and the example of their disgraceful response to Chirac’s opposition to the war is a good one. The French position, based as it was on Chirac’s Gaullist project and on EU politics far more than anything happening in Iraq, was nuanced and pragmatic.
    I do support what I understood as Jonathan’s point, however; that as critics we’re no better, and just as morally culpable, if we start doing the same thing, with the head Manicheists as our target.

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