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Neocons and Pseudoimperialism

November 17, 2015

Traditional imperialism is effective and easy to understand. The imperial country kills/enslaves/conquers the weaker country and takes their stuff. It’s been a common practice of human societies since there have been human societies. New Imperialism adds civilizing the barbarians to the list of imperial activities. Teach them English, build railroads, and bring the light of civilization to them. While it’s better than old style imperialism, New Imperialists have their fair share of atrocities.

There’s a new breed of imperialism, American style. After WW2, America had military bases in Germany and Japan, and continually expanded its military presence throughout the world during the Cold War. Once the Soviet Union collapsed, America had by far the largest sphere of influence in the world, but no enemies to fight, at least until 9/11.

What are the goals of America’s attacks on various Middle Eastern countries?

Reduce terrorist attacks
Kill Al-Qaeda because they attacked us. This was a sufficient justification for invading Afghanistan, at least on a limited scale. However, Al-Qaeda is no the threat they once were, especially now that Osama bin Laden is dead. Also the scale of the attacks don’t make sense to counter the stated threat. Why kill hundreds of thousands of people on the off chance that some of them are terrorists? And while American politicians who are gung-ho about bombing the Middle East don’t seem at all interested in increasing domestic security. The TSA, for example, has a 5% success rate at stopping fake bombs. The NSA focuses its spying not on terrorist suspects, but on normal American citizens.

If someone were really worried about security, they would advocate replacing our incompetent security theater with real security procedures. They would enact better information management between intelligence agencies. They would focus their efforts on likely terrorists instead of hoovering up every phone call and every email ever sent and hoping that somehow that firehose of data will turn into something useful. America ignored warnings from the Russians about the Boston bomber, and France ignored warnings from Turkey about the Paris gunmen. Not only is the treat of terrorism completely overblown, but the policies we have enacted as a society in the West do not at all address actual security. They are just a bunch of ineffective nonsense designed to spy on normal people and control our lives rather than making us safer.

Weapons of Mass Destruction
Maybe Bush honestly thought there were WMDs, maybe not. To me it seems like it was always a flimsy excuse to do something he wanted to do anyway. We showed up, killed Saddam Hussein, looked around for WMDs, but once we realized there weren’t any, there’s really no reason to stick around.

The counter-terrorist response to the biggest WMD of all, nuclear bombs, has been completely counterproductive. Pakistan is a nuclear armed country. It does not make any sense at all to destabilize and antagonize them. If a nuke falls into terrorist hands, it will come from the Pakistanis and Americans will have only ourselves to blame. Random drone bombings of Pakistanis makes the U.S. very unpopular there, which produces democratic pressure to do polices the U.S. doesn’t like. Because we absolutely need to have a U.S. friendly Pakistani government, that means we must bully, bribe, and kill our way to having one, which means supporting a more authoritarian government. The authoritarian government, in turn, causes even more resentment of the Americans and underlying political instability.

Bring freedom

BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. (AFPN) -- Munitions on display show the full capabilities of the B-52 Stratofortress. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Robert J. Horstman)

B-52 shown with its payload of 70,000 pounds of freedom. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Robert J. Horstman)

Underpants gnomes iraq

So, you show up, kill a bunch of people, evict all current government workers from Saddam himself all the way down the local mailman from the government, hold a gun to people’s heads and say vote on something, and poof functional democracy. You know, we libertarians are always saying that politicians don’t think things through before doing them but holy crap, a first year poli-sci undergrad could have come up with a better plan than that. Voting doesn’t make you a democracy anymore than eating an apple one time makes you a vegetarian.

Democracy requires a set of cultural values which legitimate the process of popular support for policies. People must believe that the system is fair and just, and that it represents popular will. If it’s just a bunch of sects that hate and want to kill one another fighting for control and whoever seizes control just tries to exterminate everyone else, it will never work. A democracy only works when voting is more than a means to seize control over the government and use that power to oppress the losers of the vote. It should be about steering society in a way for the benefit of all, but that only works when your polity sees itself as all one ingroup.

What is to be done?
If the U.S. just killed Middle-easterners and took their oil, I would say it was morally wrong, but at least it would be understandable. It would be what humans have done since the dawn of time – the strong do what they want and the weak suffer what they must. To some degree a New Imperialist approach would not have been as bad as the current approach either. At least then America would have recognized the need to set up a structure of power to replace the one they destroyed.

I don’t think there is any recognition by the Bush or Obama administrations that the reason Iraq is dysfunctional as a country is because their culture is dysfunctional. I don’t buy the leftist nonsense of “no culture is better, only different”. There are civilized peoples, and there are barbarians. You don’t need me to tell you which is which. That’s not to say that being a barbarian is a permanent state. Cultures can and do become civilized. There was even a time when Iraq was the most civilized country in the world.

Inglehart Values Map2 Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Traditional values emphasize the importance of religion, parent-child ties, deference to authority and traditional family values. People who embrace these values also reject divorce, abortion, euthanasia and suicide. These societies have high levels of national pride and a nationalistic outlook.
Secular-rational values have the opposite preferences to the traditional values. These societies place less emphasis on religion, traditional family values and authority. Divorce, abortion, euthanasia and suicide are seen as relatively acceptable. (Suicide is not necessarily more common.)
Survival values place emphasis on economic and physical security. It is linked with a relatively ethnocentric outlook and low levels of trust and tolerance.
Self-expression values give high priority to environmental protection, growing tolerance of foreigners, gays and lesbians and gender equality, and rising demands for participation in decision-making in economic and political life.
World Values Survey

The further bottom-left you are, the less likely it will be to have a functioning democracy. “Survival” and “Traditional” values are not conducive to having a peaceful liberal democracy like what the U.S. tried to set up in Iraq. Freedom is not something that can be forced on someone. It is something you decide for yourself. And the emergent order of millions of people deciding to pick freedom, or not, is what determines the institutions a country runs itself by.

What are the conditions under which societies move to having values in the upper right (Self Expression, Secular, Rational)? People chose survivalist values because they are struggling to survive. They chose “Traditional” values because life seems random and chaotic. They don’t chose to support Self Expression because every single person needs to work together to survive in their harsh society. Rational values took the West centuries of uninhibited investigation, careful thought, rhetoric, and experimentation to develop. Every single day new people enter society that do not believe these values – they are called children. Thinking as a scientist is hard work which does not come naturally.

The values a society chooses is an emergent phenomenon. It can’t be forced from the outside, but the flower of Enlightenment can be destroyed from the outside. By filling the Middle East with violence and empowering dictators and other violent groups, America makes terrorism and barbarism more likely, not less. We need to realize that institutions require cultural support and that the cultural values required to support a Western society cannot be implanted by dropping 2,000 lbs bombs from 40,000 feet.

Update: One more point I forgot to add. The fact that you have neocons running the occupation makes it even less likely that the restructured government will work because the values that neocons hold are the Traditionalist/Survival values rather than the Rational/Self Expressive Enlightenment values values which are the foundation of functional democracies.

Additional Links:
Pew Survey on Support for Democracy and Sharia Law

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