Mister Pterodactyl
Thursday, April 22, 2004
I got this article emailed to me with the entreaty “dude, fisk this asshole.”
Having read the article, I immediately thought of John Stuart Mill and a quote from the first page of Utilitarianism: “the mere enunciation of such an absurdity renders refutation superfluous.” But hey, let’s give it the old college try.

The warmup: "Here is a tip for President Bush: Next time you endeavor to justify the violent occupation of Iraq, you might want to avoid using phrases like, 'We're not an imperial power. We're a liberating power.'
That was the line the president adopted in the prime time press conference that was organized this week as part of the latest of his administration's uninspired attempts to calm concerns about the killings, kidnappings and related crises in Iraq."

Violent occupation. Uninspired attempts. Everybody see where he’s coming from?

The money shot (early – 3rd graf): "Unfortunately, the old rule applies: When you have to say you aren't an imperialist, you almost certainly are one. And when you have to say that you are a liberating power, you almost certainly are not in the liberation business."
If you say you’re not an imperialist, you’re an imperialist. Got it? [So what if you say you are an imperialist?]

A little follow-up: "And claiming that the occupation of Iraq is not an act of imperialism is as absurd as referring to that occupation as an act of liberation."

From the Oxford American Dictionary (2001):
Imperialism – a policy of extending a country’s power and influence through diplomacy or military force.
I’m a little surprised at the mildness of this definition. I’ve always associated the word imperialism with the concept of empire-building, and I consider that permanence is characteristic of it. Fair?
You could, if you want to, be really cynical and believe that the administration never intends to fully turn over power in Iraq, that it’ll become a sort of perpetual protectorate (or possession) and not a sovereign state. That would be imperialistic. You might think that Mr. Nichols is just that cynical, but wait:

"Talk about the liberation of Iraq will ring true when Iraqis choose their own leaders and take genuine control of their own affairs."
So he does expect that we’re leaving, eventually. But then:

"Until then, Iraq will remain a country that is under the occupation of an imperialist power. Nothing the president says will make that imperialism any less real nor any less offensive to Iraqis and to thinking Americans."
Hmmm. The Iraqis have not been liberated because their country is under occupation, and occupation is an act of imperialism. Okay then. But have we extended our power and/or influence? If anything, we’ve reduced it, at least for the duration of our imperialistic stay. After that, maybe we have a good ally where there used to be an enemy. That would be something, but it’s hardly certain (and Nichols is right about the French helping us with the Revolution, but less than a decade later President Adams was considering declaring war on them).
While I'm on this, will it still be imperialism after we leave?

Liberate – set someone free from a situation, esp. imprisonment or slavery, in which their liberty is severely restricted.
- free (a country, city, or people) from enemy occupation.
- Release (someone) from a state or situation that limits freedom of thought or behavior.

We’ve already liberated Iraq as per the third definition. But since, according to Nichols, we’re 1) imperialist occupiers, but 2) he expects that we’ll be handing power back to the Iraqis, we’re going to liberate Iraq again under the second definition. Hell, we’re freeing Iraq twice!

I’m having two problems, really. One, I just can’t take this guy very seriously. Two, I worked off a lot of anger ranting about the Scheer column (scroll down). Let me tell you, earlier drafts of that post were a lot harsher.
Scheer had a lot of anger, and it showed through his insulting language (“US-financed quisling local government”) and his citing of other Bush evildoing (it’s all about oil, abandoned the Israeli-Palestinian situation, etc). In contrast Nichols has vague annoyance mixed with moral vanity and some wonderfully soft and fuzzy logic.

There’s no getting around it. I’m going to have to resort to…verse!

You’ve got all that oil underneath your sand
We’ll take all we can carry;
We’ve been your oppressors during our stay
It’s gotten kind of scary;
We came, invaded, occupied your land
But we don’t plan to tarry;
We’re imperialists, but it’s okay,
It’s only temporary!

Phew. The muse is not on her game today.

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