alien & sedition.
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
  Imperial Folly

Speaking of the New Republic, this is a must-read. (I know it's considered declasse in the liberal blogosphere to link to TNR these days, but as aggravating as that publication can be, it does often feature worthwhile reporting.)

You may recall President Bush's luncheon (and subsequent private sitdown) with historian Andrew Roberts - a exercise in advanced decadence for certain of the neo-imperialist crowd, who indulged their foreign policy fantasies in a rousing philosophical debate at the White House. Roberts was the guest of honor.

British journalist Jonathan Hari has taken to TNR's website to give us a little more background on Roberts, author of A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900, and - apparently - one of the last true imperialists. Roberts, says Hari, is a man who speaks to white supremacists in Africa, praises British massacres in India, justifies internment in Ireland, and calls on Americans to take up the white man's burden now that the Raj is finished - only he doesn't call it the white man's burden; rather he cites the "Anglosphere." As Hari observes, "The decision to laud Roberts provides a bleak insight into the thinking of the Bush White House as his presidential clock nears midnight."
Roberts's raw imperialism informs the advice he offers Bush today. For one, he urges Bush to adopt a supreme imperial indifference to public opinion. He counsels that "there can be no greater test of statesmanship than sticking to unpopular but correct policies." The real threat isn't abroad, but at home, among domestic critics. Roberts writes, "The greatest danger to [the British and, by extension, the American] continued imperium came not from declared enemies without, but rather from vociferous enemies within their own society."

In this Bushian history, democratic debate--especially in wartime--is a sign of weakness to be suppressed. "Contrary to the received view of the Vietnam War, the United States was never defeated in the field of battle," he writes. It was Walter Cronkite, not Ho Chi Minh, who was the true menace: "Some of the media was indeed a prime enemy of the conflict." Self-criticism is only ever interpreted in these histories as "self-hatred," which he says is "an abiding defect in the English-speaking peoples, and for some reason especially strong in Americans." It can only sap the "willpower" of any empire.

It doesn't appear to occur to Roberts that the British or U.S. empires could simply hit up against a limit to their power. Could there be a worse adviser for George W. Bush right now? Roberts's advice is a vicious imperial anachronism: Target civilians, introduce mass internment, don't worry about whether people hate you, bear down on dissent because it will sap the empire's willpower, ignore your critics because they're just jealous, and--above all--keep on fighting and you'll prevail.
Don't miss the bare-knuckle follow-up exchange between Roberts and Hari, in which the former claims that were the article published in a British journal, it would result in a libel suit. Hari, for his part, gives no ground. At any rate, the dispute focuses on details, leaving unchallenged the issue that the President has embraced the advice of a self-described "extremely right-wing" imperialist, who calls for harsh and unapologetic repression abroad, no matter how much opposition it engenders here at home.

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