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Friday, May 23, 2003

Bollettino

The Illusory Empire

One of the great problems with political scientists is that they base so much of what they think on analogies that are carefully plucked of all annoying dissimilarities. Take the great Empire boom spawned by the neo-con set. This has been going on for a while now, since one of the Kaplans wrote an article in Foreign Policy about the U.S. as a benign empire. This Kaplan went on to compare the U.S. with Britain in the 19th century. As in all such comparisons, a surface verisimilitude is achieved by comparing military force, and interventions over the globe. What Kaplan didn't mention was that 20 million some Britons left the U.K. to settle all over the globe. He also didn't mention British investment in the colonial enterprise. Both of which are very unlikely to happen to the U.S. any time soon. The U.S. Empire is defined by the fifty states, plus some commonwealths.

Iraq and Afghanistan are test cases of the imperial proposition. So far, what has happened in Afghanistan? The U.S. beat the Taliban and scattered its real foe, Al qaeda. Then we pretty much forwarded a minimum amount of money to the government we installed in Kabul, left a minimum contingent of soldiers there, and watched, with supreme indifference, as the center didn't hold. It is a good bet that some terrorist Rotary club is meeting, once again, between Peshawar and Kabul.

The British sometimes advanced and then abandoned and then re-inserted themselves in territories. The history of what is now Nigeria was full of that kind of thing. But if London had been attacked by a group from Nigeria in 1889, the British would have invaded in force and stayed.

We aren't saying this is a good or a bad thing -- it is a different thing. The Marshalll Plan response was an exception in American history, not the rule. It does not look like Iraq is going to be different. If this Financial Times story is to be believed -- and it is pretty standard for the Biz press view -- Iraq is going to need around one hundred billion dollars in investment in the next couple of years:


"Iraq's reconstruction is routinely costed at as much as $100bn (?86bn, �61bn), making it the largest such project since the Marshall Plan rebuilt Europe after the second world war.

Companies from all over the world have been clamouring for a piece of the work. Iraq is particularly appealing to them because it sits astride the world's second-largest oil reserves. There are also hopes that it could give rise to a robust consumer market."

Well, hope springs eternal, even in a nut house. But the reconstruction projects we have seen so far are coming out at about a billion bucks. And those bucks aren't an investment in Iraq, really -- they are things like starting a tv station for Iraqis, which is really a way of getting some US tax dollars to SAIC. When the money from Iraq's frozen assets runs out, what is the US going to do for the other 99 billion dollars? Take it out of the budget? The scheme to pay for things via Iraq's oil rather misses that, well, if we pay big fat US corporations with that money, nothing will be left for the Iraqis. They won't be able to afford those tv sets to watch SAIC TV. It is what you call a paradox. Or an empty piggy bank.

There's no plan for that whatsoever. There should be. Since the U.S. got into this war, we owe them. You know, for wrecking the cities and all. Things like that. Colonialism would be a step up, actually. Moral responsibility, things like that. So far, we simply have a country eyeing the little money left in a country it is occupying, and thinking of making a dash for it. On the other hand, the Bush-ites are stuck. If they treat Iraq like Afghanistan, the country will surely slip into a virulently anti-American mode. If we try to chintz on reconstruction, we are going to literally starve Iraqis. There's only one source of money left -- U.S. taxpayers.

Of course, there's also the little problem that Iraq, since the prosperous days of the late seventies, has gotten a lot more populous and a lot poorer. That consumer revolution is going to need a lot of very long range credit cards, because these people, like the Saudis, and the Libyans, aren't going to see those days again. The inheritance has been pissed away, mostly on weapons. Saddam or House of Saud, same song and dance.

At the moment, though, the thought is this: We broke it -- we pay for it. Isn't that the rule in this celestial toy shop?

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