Go 0ato OriginalBy Daniel Vernet
Le Monde | Analysis
Thursday 24 April 2003
To understand the new American policy just demonstrated in Iraq, one is 0astrongly tempted to plunge into those works which extol classical 0acolonialism.
At random: in ``The Principles of Colonization and Colonial Legislation" (1927), Arthur Girault cites the speech ``On Colonial Duty" delivered in 1897 by 0aa certain Mr. Gide (no relation to the famous writer).
There one reads: ``Colonization is not a question of profit, but a question 0aof duty. Colonization is necessary because there is a moral obligation incumbent 0aupon peoples, as upon individuals, to use the powers and advantages they have 0areceived from Providence for the general good of humanity. Colonization is 0anecessary because colonization is numbered among those duties incumbent upon 0agreat nations which they may not escape without failing at their mission and 0awithout incurring a real moral downfall."
The same accents may be heard among George W. Bush and his neo-conservative 0aanimators. The messianic propagation of political and economic liberalism is 0aamong the duties of the greatest democratic power of the twenty-first century, 0aand, like nineteenth century colonization, it aims toward ``the general good" of 0ahumanity.
Beyond this generalization, the differences outweigh the similarities. The 0anineteenth century powers, who transferred at least some of their rivalries to 0athe colonized peoples, were primarily European, the United States participating 0ain the formation of these empires only on their fringes.
After the Second World War, the Americans would, moreover, support 0aanti-colonial movements, both for ideological reasons-peoples' right to 0aself-determination- and strategic reasons-the loss of their overseas possessions 0asignaled the definitive enfeeblement of the great European powers, especially of 0aFrance and Great Britain.
Contemporary imperialism, of which Americans are the primary if not the sole 0apractitioners, aims neither at the conquest of territories to be colonized -in 0athe strict sense of the term-i.e. to be inhabited by colonists from the mother 0acountry, nor at the direct exploitation of natural resources. Globalization of 0athe economy no longer requires direct political control of the periphery by the 0acenter.
This imperialism is essentially ideological. It aims at spreading democracy 0aas the best form of political organization. American neo-conservatives are 0aconvinced that the development of democracy serves the security interests of the 0aUnited States and international peace, because democratic nations are naturally 0aless aggressive than authoritarian regimes.
This liberal imperialism is not entirely new. In recent history, its first 0amanifestations date to the nineties. At the time of the war in Kosovo, Tony 0aBlair defended the idea of a ``new internationalism" based on the defense of 0ahuman rights. The British Prime Minister took up on this score by enlarging the 0aright of humanitarian interference to make it a doctrine of the west's new left, 0awhich tried to regroup around Bill Clinton and European Social Democrats.
The American right was then still more self-absorbed. What difference did it 0amake what kind of regimes were in power as long as they were friends with the 0aUnited States. This axiom was notably valid for the Middle East. Since the 0aattacks on the World Trade Center, it no longer guides George W. Bush's 0apolicy.
At a seminar in Granada last autumn organized by New York University, Arab 0astudents were already up in arms against the crusading spirit they detect in 0aAmerican policy post- September 11. They reject western "patronization" of the 0ademocratization of their countries, democratization for which a number of them 0ahave personally fought and been imprisoned. They warn against the perverse 0aeffects of a democratization imported from and invented elsewhere. They are 0aoutraged that Americans ``insist today on democracy in the Middle East as 0aemphatically as they insisted on forgetting it for years".
Arab intellectuals were not the only ones to question the legitimacy of the 0apremisses of liberal imperialism. At the same time, in an interview with the 0aleftist weekly, ``The New Statesman", British Foreign Affairs Minister Jack 0aStraw, acknowledged that in the Middle East, ``many problems we are dealing with 0atoday are a consequence of our colonial past. We, the British, designed the 0astrange borders of Iraq... an interesting, but not necessarily honorable 0ahistory", he concluded.
It would be simplistic, however, to stick a nineteenth century paradigm, even 0aa 1920's one, onto today's American policies. George W. Bush's liberal 0aimperialism is situated in a postmodern framework, well described a year ago by 0athe British diplomat, Robert Cooper, while he was still a consultant to Tony 0aBlair and before he became a colleague of Javier Solana, the Head of European 0aForeign Policy.
After reviewing the different forms of international organization since the 0aempires, the Westphalian Order, and the division into two blocs until just after 0athe Cold War, Robert Cooper characterized three types of nation: pre-modern 0anations, often former colonies, which have not succeeded in establishing 0ainternal order and are ravaged by internecine warfare; postmodern nations, which 0aperceive their security neither in terms of conquest nor of relations of power, 0abut which have accepted the transfer of a part of their sovereignty to 0asupra-national bodies; and in-between the two: classic nations, which continue 0ato think in terms of strictly national interest and reasons of state.
According to Robert Cooper, the best example of a postmodern structure is the 0aEuropean Union, a sort of ``cooperative empire" which organizes a space of 0acommon freedom and security without any ethnic group or a center dominating, as 0awas the case in the classic empires. This postmodern imperialism is multilateral 0aand is only expansionist to the extent it must assure the stability of its 0aimmediate neighborhood. However this expansionism is based on desire and the 0aattractiveness of the model, not on constraint. This principle is illustrated by 0athe enlargement of the European Union to incorporate the nations of Central and 0aEastern Europe.
The postmodern empire must, however, confront disturbances from pre-modern 0anations and challenges posed by classic nations. In his essay entitled, ``Restoring Order to the World; Long-term Implications of September 11" (Foreign 0aPolicy Center), Robert Cooper primarily studied Europe, but his reflections 0acould be applied to the United States.
``The postmodern world", he wrote, ``must be ready to use the method of 'two 0aweights, two measures': Among ourselves, we act according to the rule of law and 0athe principles of cooperative security. However, faced with more traditional 0akinds of nation, we have to revert to the more brutal methods of the past- use 0aof force, pre-emptive attacks, deception, all that may be necessary to confront 0athose who still live in a nineteenth century world of every nation for itself. 0aAmong ourselves, we respect the law, but when we operate in the jungle, we need 0ato apply the laws of the jungle."
Contemporary American Imperialism may be qualified as ``liberal": it aims at 0athe installation of representative governments in law-based nations in conquered 0aterritories it does not intend to occupy on a permanent basis. Nevertheless, in 0aother respects, it is more comparable to classical than to the ``postmodern" 0aimperialism described by Robert Cooper.
Not satisfied to operate preemptively and willfully only against those who 0awon't play the game, George W. Bush and his associates refuse to play the game 0awith those nations which concentrate on establishing ``cooperative security" (rejection of the Kyoto agreement, of the International Criminal Court, of the 0aProhibition Against Chemical Weapons, or Against Anti-personnel mines, etc.). As 0aif the status of hyper-power could not adapt itself to postmodernism.
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