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The White Man's Burden, Part IV: The Path To Victory

What we are attempting in Iraq is something that has not only never been achieved, but never been attempted in all of recorded history. We are attempting to convert a nation from a hostile, brutal, repressive dictatorship and enemy into a free, independent democracy and ally. We have done that part before, in Germany and Japan after World War II, but in that case we had a somewhat easier task - in both cases we utterly destroyed the nations, and rebuilt them from the ground up.

In Iraq, we avoided the magnitude of destruction such as inflicted during World War II. We did the minimal damage we could to the society and infrastructure, and now are attempting to graft democracy and freedom and independence on top of them. It seems less cruel and expensive in the short term, but will it succeed? And will it last? Only time will tell.

But what is the grand, overall strategy behind this? What is the "big idea," the grand plan, the overarching agenda behind it all?

Obviously, I have no inside information, only observations and theories. And there appears to be a singular historic model that might serve as useful - and that's the British Empire, the Pax Brittanica.

Rudyard Kipling wrote in 1899 a poem, called "White Man's Burden," where he commented on the United States taking charge of the Philippines from Spain in the Spanish-American War:

"Take up the White Man's burden--
Send forth the best ye breed--
Go, bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives' need;
To wait, in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild--
Your new-caught sullen peoples,
Half devil and half child.

Take up the White Man's burden--
In patience to abide,
To veil the threat of terror
And check the show of pride;
By open speech and simple,
An hundred times made plain,
To seek another's profit
And work another's gain.

Take up the White Man's burden--
The savage wars of peace--
Fill full the mouth of Famine,
And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest
(The end for others sought)
Watch sloth and heathen folly
Bring all your hope to nought.

Take up the White Man's burden--
No iron rule of kings,
But toil of serf and sweeper--
The tale of common things.
The ports ye shall not enter,
The roads ye shall not tread,
Go, make them with your living
And mark them with your dead.

Take up the White Man's burden,
And reap his old reward--
The blame of those ye better
The hate of those ye guard--
The cry of hosts ye humour
(Ah, slowly!) toward the light:--
"Why brought ye us from bondage,
Our loved Egyptian night?"

Take up the White Man's burden--
Ye dare not stoop to less--
Nor call too loud on Freedom
To cloak your weariness.
By all ye will or whisper,
By all ye leave or do,
The silent sullen peoples
Shall weigh your God and you.

Take up the White Man's burden!
Have done with childish days--
The lightly-proffered laurel,
The easy ungrudged praise:
Comes now, to search your manhood
Through all the thankless years,
Cold, edged with dear-bought wisdom,
The judgment of your peers."

England saw its mission as essentially benevolent; they saw their mission to "bring civilization to the savage world." They expected that there would be resistance from what they brought to other peoples and other lands, but eventually that would be supplanted by gratitude and appreciation, and in the end those they civilized would be thankful for what the English had forced upon them.

India was a prime example. Gandhi, when he was struggling for India's independence, never espoused hatred of the British or called for discarding all that the British brought to India. His main message was a polite, but firm, "thank you for all you have done, but it's time for you to leave."

Despite the poetic words, the sun indeed did set on the British Empire. The Empire became the Commonwealth, and now is loosely referred to as "the Anglosphere," a collection of nations that share a common origin as British colonies, but have achieved independence and stand on their own. India, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Scotland, Ireland, and even the United States can all be considered part of this unofficial grouping. But for the most part, being a former English colony is a far better harbinger of success and independence than, say, a French colony - take a look at some of the places that were compelled to pay homage to the Tricolor, such as Viet Nam and the Ivory Coast.

But while the basic strictures of the English model might work out, they really don't fit our national "style" and self-image. We don't want colonies. In our history, the United States didn't really subjugate lands and force them to do us homage; the colonial territories we ended up with, such as the Philippines and Cuba, we took from European powers and worked towards granting them independence. Even Puerto Rico, with its unique status as a "commonwealth," falling short of full statehood, is based purely on the wishes of the Puerto Rican people, who have repeatedly rejected either independence or full, equal status.

No, we don't want colonies. We've seen too much of the ugly side of colonialism, and want nothing to do with it. Further, we are far too aware of our own genesis as a colony, and the bitter fight to end that status. We have no desire to be modern-day Redcoats.

But is there a way to take that British model that worked so well, and adapt it to our needs? Americans are great innovators, but we also are great synthesizers. Our very essence is built on the notion of taking the best that other nations, other cultures, other peoples have to offer and improving on them, combining them and twiddling with them until something wonderful emerges. Could that spirit be applied to the concept of a colonial empire?

I think so, with appropriate restrictions, caveats, and only as a last resort.

When a nation grows to be too much of a threat to us, our interests, and our allies, we ought to work with our allies to curb the danger posed by that rogue nation. But if all else fails, we had best be prepared to deal firmly, decisively, and definitively with the government that poses such a threat. It needs to be stopped, and stopped hard.

So far, we've done that precisely twice in the last few years. In Afghanistan, the terrorists who struck us on 9/11 were so intertwined with the existing de facto government (never let it be forgotten that the official, recognized government of Afghanistan was not the Taliban, but our allies in the Northern Alliance) that separating those who had attacked us and those who were running the country was impossible. So we acted, and now Afghanistan has a nascent democratically-elected government. It's hardly perfect, but it's a damn sight better than its predecessor - and far less likely to pose a major threat to world peace any time soon.

And in Iraq, we also have a nascent democratically-elected government. It's still struggling to gain full control over its own territory, and is still terribly dependent on the US, but it's a damn sight better than Saddam's regime - and is growing stronger all the time. It no longer is an "exporter" of terrorism, through various means of support to terrorists, but instead is seeing up close and personal what Saddam encouraged and fomented elsewhere - and they don't like it one bit.

Will it work? Maybe, maybe not. But we're a better nation for having tried it. I'm not a big supporter of "it's the thought that counts" line of reasoning - it tends to sanctify intentions far above results, and we all know the saying about the "road to hell" - but in this case we are trying - sincerely trying - to "secure the blessings of liberty" for people who have never tasted such things.

But that begs the next question: just who the hell are we to do this? Just how arrogant are we that we think that our way is so much better than anyone else's, that we can just march in and force it down their throats?

The answer is disturbingly simple: we do it because we have to.

The days when we could count on two mighty oceans to keep the world's turmoils and struggles at bay are long past. The world has shrunk tremendously, and events halfway around the world can affect us most profoundly in less time than it takes to read this single sentence. It is, indeed, one world, and it's the only one we have. And if we value our existence, our way of life, we indeed do it to both "our selves and our posterity" to protect them.

I am not calling for a modern-day Pax Americana, with the United States intervening around the world willy-nilly, tossing aside any government we don't like and imposing our own vision of How Things Ought To Be on anyone we choose. The use of force - the kind of force applied to the Taliban and Saddam's regime - should only be for the most intransigent, belligerent cases, and only then as a last resort. Also, it should be only used when it is likely to achieve the goals.

Some critics of the war in Iraq wonder why, if Saddam was "fair game," why not Iran and North Korea? The answer is simple: it wouldn't work as well in those nations. North Korea is falling apart quite thoroughly on its own, alienating China - its only reliable ally - and frantically denying that its economy and very structure are falling apart while its psychotic dictator frantically fiddles around with nuclear weapons and missiles. And Iran hasn't - quite - pushed matters to the point of no return. They overplayed their hand briefly with Hezbollah in Lebanon, but at the last minute Israel allowed itself to be brought to heel from international pressure, and Iran's puppetry through Syria and Hezbollah remained safe.

No, invasion and forcible regime change don't appear on the agenda for those two nations. But other, more successful tactics could be employed. The isolation and studied slighting of North Korea is driving Kim Jong Il up the wall, and he's trying to find some way to bring the attention of the world back on him - but not in such a way that could lead to his deposal. And in Iran, there really doesn't seem to be a good solution - they've seriously hardened their nuclear research facilities to the point where they are largely immune to aerial attack, and they don't seem to fear reprisals. The very concept of a nuclear-armed Iran ought to give night terrors to any rational human being, but so far no solution has presented itself.

But back to the main point, the "New American Empire." The model that seems to be evolving is to follow the English model of colonialism, but with one major difference: from the outset, the independence of that "colony" is the primary goal. We intend to get them back on their feet as quickly as is feasible, then get the hell out of their way while they chart their own course - free from the shackles that held them down before we intervened.

Yes, it might seem high-handed, arrogant, even imperialistic. But it's also seeming to become more and more of a necessity.


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Comments (17)

"But that begs the next que... (Below threshold)
Malibu Stacy:

"But that begs the next question"


Breathing deeply. Counting to ten. Remembering:

"There may be a lot of second and third-rate writers in the world, but there are a hell of a sight more second and third-rate readers."
- Stan Barstow; August 1st 2001

Ah, now all is right with the world.

I thought we should act... (Below threshold)

I thought we should act as their protector -- not try to get them under our heel. We were to relieve them from Spanish tyranny to enable them to set up a government of their own, and we were to stand by and see that it got a fair trial. It was not to be a government according to our ideas, but a government that represented the feeling of the majority of the Filipinos, a government according to Filipino ideas. That would have been a worthy mission for the United States. But now -- why, we have got into a mess, a quagmire from which each fresh step renders the difficulty of extrication immensely greater.
-Mark Twain, 10/6/1900

Your understanding of colon... (Below threshold)

Your understanding of colonialization is extremely poor. England wasn't out to benevolently "civilize" the rest of the world. It was out for mercantialist expansion, to suck out resources to keep the mills at Manchester and Birmingham running.

I'm Indian. One of my grandfathers spent a bit of time in a British prison, fighting along with Gandhi for India's freedom. My other grandfather fought along with the British keeping the Japanese out of Burma.

You selectively choose to ignore all of the other colonies which didn't do so well -- Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Burma, China (though not colonized, had at point had 25% of of its people addicted to opium, thanks to Pax Brittania), Zimbabwe, Kenya...the list goes on and on.

You also choose to ignore the biggest British blunder of all -- giving birth to Iraq and Transjordan.

billions around the world would disagree with you and your sanctimonius lecture about Pax Brittania. What a load of crap. We Indians had plenty of civilization before the British showed up, thank you very much.

Your very nice British imperial masters threw Gandhi in prison for 10 years, beat the crap out of him in South Africa and tried to kill him a number of times. Truly civilized behavior indeed.

And Kipling was a fucking asshole.

Oh, and I'll see your Kipli... (Below threshold)

Oh, and I'll see your Kipling:

Give no ear to bondsmen bidding us endure,
Whining "He is weak and far;" crying "Time shall cure."

(Time himself is witness, till the battle joins,
Deeper strikes the rottenness in the people's loins.)

Give no heed to bondsmen masking war with peace,
Suffer not the old King here or overseas.

They that beg us barter--wait his yielding mood--
Pledge the years we hold in trust--pawn our brother's blood--

Howso' great their clamour, whatso'er their claim,
Suffer not the old King under any name!

He shall mark our goings, question whence we came,
Set his guards about us, as in Freedom's name.

Here is naught unproven--here is naught to learn,
It is written what shall fall if the King return.

He shall take a tribute; toll of all our ware;
He shall change our gold for arms--arms we may not bear.

He shall break his Judges if they cross his word;
He shall rule above the Law calling on the Lord.

He shall peep and mutter; and the night shall bring
Watchers 'neath our windows, lest we mock the King--

- The Old Issue, 1899.

Here's the flip side, Jawah... (Below threshold)

Here's the flip side, Jawaharlal Nehru's speech to the Indian people on achieving independence from the Brits...

Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long supressed, finds utterance. It is fitting that at this solemn moment we take the pledge of dedication to the service of Inida and her people and to the still larger cause of humanity.

At the dawn of history India started on her unending quest, and trackless centuries are filled with her striving and the grandeur of her success and her failures. Through good and ill fortune alike she has never lost sight of that quest or forgotten the ideals which gave her strength. We end today a period of ill fortune and India discovers herself again. The achievement we celebrate today is but a step, an opening of opportunity, to the greater triumphs and achievements that await us. Are we brave enough and wise enough to grasp this opportunity and accept the challenge of the future?

Freedom and power bring responsibility. The responsibility rests upon this Assembly, a sovereign body representing the sovereign people of India. Before the birth of freedom we have endured all the pains of labour and our hearts are heavy with the memory of this sorrow. Some of those pains continue even now. Nevertheless, the past is over and it is the future that beckons to us now.

That future is not one of ease or resting but of incessant striving so that we may fulfil the pledges we have so often taken and the one we shall take today. The service of India means the service of the millions who suffer. It means the ending of poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity. The ambition of the greatest man of our generation has been to wipe every tear from every eye. That may be beyond us, but as long as there are tears and suffering, so long our work will not be over.

And so we have to labour and to work, and work hard, to give reality to our dreams. Those dreams are for India, but they are also for the world, for all the nations and peoples are too closely knit together today for any one of them to imagine that it can live apart Peace has been said to be indivisible; so is freedom, so is prosperity now, and so also is disaster in this One World that can no longer be split into isolated fragments.

To the people of India, whose representatives we are, we make an appeal to join us with faith and confidence in this great adventure. This is no time for petty and destructive criticism, no time for ill-will or blaming others. We have to build the noble mansion of free India where all her children may dwell.

The difference is in German... (Below threshold)

The difference is in Germany we had the advantage of dealing with civilized, 20th century people. We were afforded the assistance of intelligent, capable human beings in rebuilding that nation after WWII. In Iraq we deal with uneducated people, subjected to the 7th century disease of Islam. Schools which demand only the memorization of the Quran are rather lacking in the preparation of people for a 21st century world. We have a much more difficult job in Iraq and the success we have seen is frankly astounding.

"There may be a lot of s... (Below threshold)

"There may be a lot of second and third-rate writers in the world, but there are a hell of a sight more second and third-rate readers."

- Stan Barstow; August 1st 2001

"Anyone whose comments are nothing more than grammatical corrections is consuming bandwidth that would be better used for pings to random IP addresses."

- Mike; September 21st 2006

The difference is in Ger... (Below threshold)

The difference is in Germany we had the advantage of dealing with civilized, 20th century people.

You mean the same civilized people who butchered 6M Jews? Gotcha.

You mean the same civili... (Below threshold)

You mean the same civilized people who butchered 6M Jews? Gotcha.

By civilized he/she clearly meant white. Notice how he/she didn't mention the Japanese (who of course did plenty of butchering as well)?

But what is the grand, o... (Below threshold)
Steve Crickmore:

But what is the grand, overall strategy behind this? What is the “big idea,” the grand plan, the overarching agenda behind it all? Jay then years of Strausisan 'national interest' theory on its head and says then (we) the Bush administration wants to get the hell out of their way while they the neocolonies chart their own course..Sure and I have some swamp land in Florida that I would dearly love to sell with no self interest.
The overall strategy is not alot of gratuitous talk about Madisonian democracy but gaining access to petroleum that the US will desperately need in the future. Scroll down to map of strategic ellipse. This is the geopolitical reality of why winning Iraq was and is so important for Bush and company.

Mike,Grammar, hard... (Below threshold)
Malibu Stacy:


Grammar, hardly. But, I suppose the details of meaning would be a trifling concern to some, as the quotation seems to indicate.

Jay Tea,You were doi... (Below threshold)

Jay Tea,
You were doing so well this week, until you got to this one. Sorry buddy, but you need to review history before you cite it. British colonialism was a mixed bag. For every Australia, there is a Palestine.

The success is not a functi... (Below threshold)
Mrs. Davis:

The success is not a function of British colonization so much as the adoption of common law. This article explores the different evolutions of Malaysia and Indonesia. Another blog for those interested in the topic is Albion's Seedlings.

I would not congratulate ourselves on Germany too much. They now have the rebranded Nazis back in the government. The Japanese example has probably been the more successful one.

I'm not at all convinced by... (Below threshold)

I'm not at all convinced by nice words that the Brits were any more benevolent over the centuries than France was. Although the Brits had a slightly better rate of success in the long run.

But I do agree that although the US has fought wars all over the world, what parts of Africa, Europe or the Far East have we claimed as our own for the sole purpose of uninterrupted exploitation or simply to be their belicose rulers? (And now it's time for mantis and whomever to pipe in and lecture me on exploitation. If you do, you've missed my point and will be duly ignored.)

I think Mr. Tea is off to a... (Below threshold)
Red Fog:

I think Mr. Tea is off to a good thesis here but he alienates minorities (See above posts) by drawing parallels to British imperialism to U.S. war strategy in Iraq. Roughly equivalent to telling a Black American that their ancestors enslavement made the economy strong. Realize (1) Islamic man on the street resents British imperialism big time and (2) Muslim man on the street believes House of Saud is corrupt and bad for all Muslims.

A key issue is this: How do you establish a free democracy without crushing the theocratic power in Iraq? Perhaps we could divert Iraqis focus to corrupt Muslims in Saudi Arabia? Now that they put Chavez in his place, ask the Democrats to denounce Bin Laden's family and we'd be off to a good start. It takes a village, right?

I have an interesting idea.... (Below threshold)

I have an interesting idea. Why don't we leave these people alone! That's what a real conservative would do.

Anyone who thinks that Sept 11 happened in vaccuum is just plain mad. The destruction of Palestine, the ethnic cleansing, the wars for the racist regime installed there, the murders of hundreds of thousands of people on behalf of that regime, all of this adds up, and why? Because some religious fanatics in the West claim, heretically, that the Second Coming is predicated on the existence of Israel as some kind of military superpower.

So the religious fanaticism started here in the West, and not over there. Never forget that fact.

Perhaps the people of the East have some lessons to teach us, perhaps there really is a Brown Man's Burden!

Iraq wasn't exactly awash w... (Below threshold)

Iraq wasn't exactly awash with madrassas, OldPuppyMax. In fact, Saddam specifically forbade them. The secular school system under his regime was awash in Hussein hagiography and other such propaganda, but then, so were Nazi-era German schools.

The chief difference in the rebuilding efforts in Iraq and postwar Germany is that the latter wasn't an ideology-driven fiasco plagued with ignorance, mendacity and avarice.






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