I read “Colossus” by #NiallFerguson. In it, he makes a case for liberal imperial policy by Washington. His idea is that America is very much an empire, despite its claims not to be. He sees “imperial denial” as one of the main drawbacks of American policy, and is the reason behind its setbacks in its interventions.
I don’t agree with all of his points, but there’s something to be said for it.
Someone posted in the Politics tag that American intervention in Libya was immensely costly in lives, destruction of property, and the spending of American taxpayer money without the consultation of Congress.
It’s true. But is it worth it?
Ferguson’s argument is that it isn’t enough. Ridding the world of a mad dictator is, in absolute terms, a good thing. But it takes a lot more than firing a few missiles and flying some jets over an area, as we’ve discovered time and again in Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Libya.
What really changes things? Boots on the ground, and a long term investment in the countries involved. This has a lot of resistance though, not just in proto-nationalism on the ground, but also a highly libertarian public at home which is allergic to the idea of empire.
Ferguson’s irony is: by minimizing our involvement, shooting the dictator, throwing some elections, and getting out feeling good about ourselves, we doom the government we put in place with illegitimacy and inefficiency in our rush to get out and not look like conquering invaders.
His ideal of liberal empire sounds much too far fetched to be imagined from our current perspective. Politically and socially America is just not ready for that idea. Any interventions it makes in its current sense are flawed in intentions as well as its means. Invading Iraq, even if only to remove Saddam Hussein, was flawed in many ways which ruined America’s legitimacy.
One way or another, however, America IS the world’s superpower, and the only one in any position to get involved in such situations. Like it or not, it’s the world’s only credible policeman, but is now content to sit in the office and tidy up his desk. For all everyone else’s huffing and puffing, they can’t do what America can. The rising BRIC powers, and the still-capable Western European militaries pale in comparison to America’s ability to project force anywhere in the world.
And that’s where I do agree with Ferguson. I don’t like pointless war, and war is at best only necessary. But once you do get involved, you have an obligation to see it through fully. It’s just sadly not politically expedient. Pulling out, like it sounds like the other poster’s reference to Ron Paul is suggesting, is highly irresponsible to the global economic and political system. Isolationism didn’t work for the US in the 20s-30s, and it would be even more damaging in such a globalized world now.
Iraq was, especially in hindsight, invaded on very tricky ground. I still don’t agree with the reasoning, considering the conjured up reasons which ruined its legitimacy. But once they were in, having ruined the country, pulling out too soon would only make it worse. What would America’s long term legacy be then?
Intervening in Libya was probably the right thing to do, in the face of world opinion and a mad dictator, even if the claims of genocide were rather stretched. It was, if anything, civil insurrection and some mad ranting. But the slow, piecemeal contributions of NATO and other coalition allies only stretch the war out, kill more people, ruin the country even further economically, and make future stable recovery more and more distant.
Do we feel good about ourselves, siding with the rebels in such small ways?