Entry from March 21, 2011

You could have guessed that if President Obama ever went to war, it would be like this: boasting of how others have taken the lead and the United States is only playing a supporting role — meanwhile blowing off the allied war leaders’ council in Paris (!) in order to go flying down to Rio to attend to the much more important question of US-Brazilian relations. The President’s announcement of America’s participation in military action against Colonel Gaddafi appeared to spend more time on what we wouldn’t be doing than on what we would.

It is not an action that we will pursue alone. Indeed, our British and French allies, and members of the Arab League, have already committed to take a leadership role in the enforcement of this resolution, just as they were instrumental in pursuing it. We are coordinating closely with them. And this is precisely how the international community should work, as more nations bear both the responsibility and the cost of enforcing international law.

He couldn’t have made his point any clearer if he had simply screamed: “I’m not George W. Bush!” Yet he still must have worried that he had left a lingering doubt in somebody’s mind, for he went on:

But I want to be clear: the change in the region will not and cannot be imposed by the United States or any foreign power; ultimately, it will be driven by the people of the Arab World. It is their right and their responsibility to determine their own destiny.

It’s a reminder of the extent to which, for those on the left, as the President has always been, the only honor in war comes from being a victim of it — which is of course why we got involved in this one in the first place. Our solicitude for the victims of Colonel Gaddafi’s largely mercenary armies overcame not only our scruples about committing our own forces (and those of our allies) to the struggle but our doubts about what kind of Libyan régime may be expected to succeed the Colonel’s. Now, whatever happens, the commander in chief of the world’s most formidable war machine is pretty much guaranteed to find himself safely among the war’s victims rather than its victimizers. In fact, as both Mark Thiessen and Max Boot pointed out, for all the President’s assumed toughness of demeanor, he was actually retreating from his merely verbal toughness of two weeks earlier when he said, apparently without meaning it, that “Gaddafi must go.” Now, if he behaves himself and doesn’t kill any more rebels or civilians, he can stay it seems.

Of course it is all down to the left’s mythology of “imperialism.” It’s this which makes Glenn Greenwald in Salon write so accusingly that

our conduct in the Middle East isn’t driven by humanitarian objectives no matter how manipulatively that flag is waved. It’s driven by a desire to advance our perceived interests regardless of humanitarian outcomes, and exactly the same would be true for any intervention in Libya.

You say that like it’s a bad thing, Glenn! I, for one, would be glad to think that Mr Obama had foremost in his mind “our perceived interests regardless of humanitarian outcomes,” but I’m afraid that if he did he would feel the same crippling guilt about it that Mr Greenwald and other lefties obviously do. And all because they’re scared of little “imperialism”!

The term is one which grew out of the same 19th century intellectual ferment as Communism and Socialism, and it was given its most frequent modern meaning by Lenin’s tract, Imperialism: the highest stage of capitalism, written in Zürich just before the Russian revolution of 1917. But what if, like capitalism itself, imperialism is just a bugbear and doesn’t really exist as such? Just as I believe that “capitalism” is the socialist word for life, so am I inclined to think that “imperialism” is the socialist word for international relations as they have always been and will always be carried on. In the arena of nations, the strong dominate even where they do not oppress the weak. To call this inevitable process “imperialism” is a way of suggesting an alternative, utopian world in which such things do not happen any more. In the same way, to call life by the name of “capitalism” is a way of suggesting that there is an alternative, utopian way of living — that is “socialism” — instead of what socialism is in reality, which is just a way of making life miserable for everybody outside the party elite. Capitalism continues regardless, just as imperialism does.

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