The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Imperialists

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Jim Pinkerton ironically lays out the rules for effective imperialism over at The American Conservative. Among them:

Effective Imperialists must combine ethnic and linguistic "ground truth" with high Machiavellianism. To keep control of India, for example, the British cultivated the Sikhs as a ruling elite. Why? Because the Sikhs were a tiny minority. Once they were installed in the upper reaches of the Raj, the Sikhs were anxious for the Brits to stay, so as to preserve their top-dog status. That approach proved Effective for a century.

By contrast, today, is there any American clever enough to see the wisdom of dividing Iraq into three parts, so as to make all three mini-states–Sunni, Shia, Kurd–dependent on the U.S. for border protection? Evidently not.

Whole thing here.

He also mentions this 2003 Carnegie Endowment for International Peace study of the U.S.'s various attempts at nation-building. The short scorecard? Of 15 instances (not counting current interventions in Iraq or Afghanistan), only four succeeded, with success being defined as "democracy after 10 years" of U.S. involvement. Whole thing here.

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  1. “with success being defined as “democracy after 10 years” of U.S. involvement.”

    And what does democracy get you?
    Add a buck fifty and get a cuppa java?
    No, wait! It gets you periodic visits from Jimmy Carter!
    Big whoop!

  2. Funny. The author gets the British curry/immigration story backwards though. We got the far-Eastern empire (and the modern by-product of Indian immigration) because we wanted those lovely spices.

    Hmmm. Maybe number zero on the list should be “Have some concrete idea what you want from your empire before you start”.

  3. I thought Iraq was originally created as an artificial and unstable amalgam of three ethnic groups precisely so the Brits could control it easily.

    As for the Sikh thing, I think that’s what the Belgians did with the Tutsis–and we know how that turned out.

    All these attempts at grand imperial social engineering just impede the process of organic polities naturally coalescing from native institutions–the same process that occurred in Western Europe over a period of a thousand years. The artificial states and manufactured elites created by such means just enable exploitation while the imperial power remains (see Naomi Klein’s article on Iraq) , and then fall victims to kleptocracies or dictatorships after the imperial power leaves.

  4. “All these attempts at grand imperial social engineering just impede the process of organic polities naturally coalescing from native institutions”
    Kevin Carson, that was melodious until you came to the word, “institutions.”
    See:
    http://www.santafe.edu/

    Anarchist speaking.

  5. i’m opposed to this imperial adventure — partly because i don’t see a net gain for us, partly because americans are virtually destined to do it incompetently as they have throughout their history from the 19th c. forward. the only exceptions were germany and japan, whose national wills had been blown to bits, were occupied afterward for decades and were recipients of reconstruction packages that were orders of magnitide more generous than anything we’ve contemplated for any other subjugated nation.

    if we’re going to do imperialism, let’s do it RIGHT — invade and never leave, even if you promise to do so. pinkerton’s point 6:

    Leave quickly?and set up a puppet government.

    … is exactly how america has consistently failed to be an effective imperialist. set up the puppet, yes. provide semiautonomy, yes. but never, ever leave.

    our anticipated departure explains a lot of the opposition we face. the lesson of france 1944 is that collaboration is anathema in the aftermath of occupation. having guaranteed an end to occupation shortly, what right-minded iraqi would collaborate? instead we have numerous factions violently playing the role of degaulle and the free french — using resistance as a lever to credibility and post-occupation power.

    even without this self-sabotage, it would be hard enough in the era of human rights, when ‘machiavellian’ is an insult. like this — with no plan, no tenacity, no durability — it’s utterly impossible and no surpirse that we’re getting our asses kicked soundly.

  6. The artificial states and manufactured elites created by such means just enable exploitation while the imperial power remains (see Naomi Klein’s article on Iraq) , and then fall victims to kleptocracies or dictatorships after the imperial power leaves.

    all empires are expensive and fleeting, but exploitation is the point. the reason i cannot see a net positive for us in this is the american consumptive system. britain used its empire (1815-1945) to open markets for its industrial expansion throughout the 19th c — it recorded something like a 7% current account surplus throughout.

    america records a 5%+ deficit. there is no market for us to exploit in iraq. so the benefit must be in cheaper access to consumables — read: oil.

    in the short term, that policy is a non-starter — it’s been obscenely expensive for us, and has helped drive oil to $51/bbl. the reward would theoretically be long term — but *there is no long term*, because we’re already looking for the exit!

    britain was a very effective imperialist because it was driven by ego and economics; america, it seems to me, is driven only by ego — the global democratic revolution, narcissistically remaking the world in our image. such an empire is bound to tenuous and expensive.

    far better for us to simply continue to do what we have done so well, with modifications: indirect empire through the leverage of economic power over smaller economies using military power as sparingly as possible (no expensive elective wars!). while that cannot last, and must address the legitimate grievances of the exploited in some manner as a means to counter insurgencies, it will be far more profitable, both fiscally and morally.

  7. All these attempts at grand imperial social engineering just impede … the same process that occurred in Western Europe over a period of a thousand years.

    A process which resulted in several world wars and half a millenium of Catholic vs. Protestant warfare. The end result of Europe’s transformation might be positive, but the path it took to get there was a bloody, bloody nightmare.

  8. To keep control of India, for example, the British cultivated the Sikhs as a ruling elite.

    Actually, they did this across the board with India’s pre-British elite families. Unfortunately for the British it backfired in the end, because in creating such an elite they also created a class some of whose members would be at the forefront of the creation of the Congress Party and in pressing for independence generally. It was a double-edged sword in other words. This is what historians (and others) often call a “revenge effect.”

    Andrew,

    We got the far-Eastern empire (and the modern by-product of Indian immigration) because we wanted those lovely spices.

    Actually, most the Second Empire was created more by happenstance and bumbling good luck than anything; the same is also true of the First Empire for that matter.

  9. “if we’re going to do imperialism, let’s do it RIGHT — invade and never leave, even if you promise to do so.”

    Gaius,

    Of course, you’d bitch about that, too, like you do about everything else.

  10. Actually, most the Second Empire was created more by happenstance and bumbling good luck than anything; the same is also true of the First Empire for that matter.

    Very true, but the article seems to imply that Indian foods are something foisted on us by Indians, which is even further from the truth than the idea the empire-builders knew what they were doing.

    Spice was the fundamental reason for the drive eastwards, until it was overtaken by something even more important…..

  11. gaius, you are arguing as if no Americans benefit from oil at $51 a barrel. As a shareholder in several oil stocks (as I’m sure many people are in their 401K, pension, and mutual fund holdings), I think I’m getting a pretty nice benefit. Since I walk to work, it’s sort of a win-win for me, my economics are doing just fine. Maybe the poor saps who have to drive to work are getting exploited, but who said imperialism has to be strictly an exploitation of foreigners?

  12. andy (to Gaius),

    “Of course, you’d bitch about that, too, like you do about everything else.”

    But Gaius’ point is well taken; empire has no proper role at all in a constitutional republic, which reveres individual liberty as ours does.

  13. i was entirely with this until the last paragraph or two…

    of course, the UN would straighten this whole mess out…

  14. To make my point more clearly, allow me to restate:

    Empire has no proper role at all in a limited government constitutional republic, which reveres individual liberty as ours does.

  15. jc, Yeah, I know. I just sold my ExxonMobil shares for a whopping profit. I would walk to work but the section of town I work in is unliveable at night. I commute in a 40 mpg hatchback.

  16. gaius, you are arguing as if no Americans benefit from oil at $51 a barrel.

    lol — no, jc, only arguing that the *net* effect to our society is detrimental.

  17. “One U.S. Army colonel, a veteran of Middle East work, fluent in Arabic, was interviewed by Feith for a possible job. During the session, Feith looked down at his r?sum?, ?I see you speak Arabic,? Feith said. When the colonel nodded, Feith snapped, ?too bad?…

    How many MORE instances of Feithian incompetence do we have to hear about before this chucklehead loses his job?

  18. “gaius, you are arguing as if no Americans benefit from oil at $51 a barrel.”

    And more good news: High oil prices equal good times for bushmeat hunters:

    “The bushmeat trade in Equatorial Guinea is thriving thanks to a recent boom in oil, research has suggested.
    The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) says people buy bushmeat because they have more money to spend and there is not a good alternative source of meat.”

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