by David Jenkins
In his article “American Imperialism? Please.”, well-known conservative columnist and author Jonah Goldberg argues that the U.S. withdraw from Iraq shatters the argument that the U.S. is an imperialist nation. His position implies that U.S./NATO intervention in the Arab Spring countries are results of our good democratic graces, a take on circumstances that seems confusing alongside the recent US commitment to extend the occupation of Afghanistan past 2014, as detailed in Al-Jazeera’s “Afghans Protest Against Long-Term US Pact.” The article outlines how the US pact with tribal leadership “loya jirga” seems to be inciting more anti-US sentiment, even though the pact involves training of the Afghan military. The New York Times reports the same story, but they don’t concentrate as much on the reactions against US imperialism. Instead, they focus on the diplomacy surrounding Karzai’s approval of a long-term US presence, and what kinds of restrictions on troop activity would be needed.
So, is the U.S. really a non-imperialist nation? Was the emergence of the Arab Spring good news for U.S. leaders?
I was just as giddy in January 2011 to hear what Obama officials would say as I was to know the fate of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Even after it was evident he would lose power, our leaders were reluctant to comment. After all, Mubarak had been our second most expensive Middle Eastern play-thing (next to Israel), whose dictatorship was bought with an annual $1.3 billion in U.S. aid. Next to the “Made in USA” imprints on the tear gas canisters used against crowds in Tunisia and Egypt, the U.S. reluctance to comment seemed to be a pretty clear statement in itself. Another U.S. project was being defeated by democracy.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t very surprised. U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East has always been conveniently oblivious to democratic ideals. We propped an inept Shah in Iran during the cold war and sent billions in military aid to Saddam Hussein in the 80’s (When Rumsfeld worked for Reagan, he also didn’t care to ask Saddam why he was using chemical weapons). It was recently discovered via files from Qadhafi’s secret service that certain U.S. officials went rogue to advise Qadhafi loyalist forces. One was a former Bush official, one is a congressman (Dennis Kucinich) who wanted to legitimize his political ambitions by undermining the NATO effort.
On the eve of U.S. withdraw from Iraq, it is also interesting to consider U.S. references to the new Iraqi “democracy.” Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki has praised the Syrian government’s violent crackdown on protests, echoing the concerns of Qadhafi that the protests are Al-Qaeda’s fault. In response to Iraqi protests for better living conditions in February 2011, Maliki’s security forces opened fire, killing 9-12 people (Al-Jazeera quotes 12, New York Times quotes 9) and imprisoned hundreds of journalists and intellectuals. Maliki proceeded to seize controlof the headquarters of opposing political parties, telling them that his security forces needed the property for government use. Democracy in Iraq, indeed!
It will be interesting to see how American imperialism adapts to political changes in the MENA regions. In any case, the Arab Spring is as much of a wake-up call for the U.S. as it is for the oppressive governments we have supported. It is a good idea to start adopting foreign policies that don’t define democracies by their oil output or pro-Israel tendencies.