Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Bush and Bonaparte

Juan Cole, the history professor at the University of Michigan, has done some of the best current affairs and historical perspective writing about George Bush's colossal misadventure in Iraq. In a piece put up yesterday at the Atlantic Free Press, Cole traces the parallels between George Bush's reckless invasion of Iraq and Napoleon's invasion of Egypt in 1798. They are striking, right down to the pretext for the invasions:

The French general and the American president do not much resemble one another — except perhaps in the way the prospect of conquest in the Middle East appears to have put fire in their veins and in their unappealing tendency to believe their own propaganda (or at least to keep repeating it long after it became completely implausible). Both leaders invaded and occupied a major Arabic-speaking Muslim country; both harbored dreams of a "Greater Middle East"; both were surprised to find themselves enmeshed in long, bitter, debilitating guerrilla wars. Neither genuinely cared about grassroots democracy, but both found its symbols easy to invoke for gullible domestic publics. Substantial numbers of their new subjects quickly saw, however, that they faced occupations, not liberations.

Cole observes:

T[he] holy trinity of justifications for imperialism — that the targeted state is collaborating with an enemy of the republic [in the case of Egypt, the British], is endangering the positive interests of the nation, and lacks legitimacy because its rule is despotic — would all be trotted out over the subsequent two centuries by a succession of European and American leaders whenever they wanted to go on the attack. One implication of these familiar rhetorical turns of phrase has all along been that democracies have a license to invade any country they please, assuming it has the misfortune to have an authoritarian regime.

Or at Jonathan Schwarz observed some time ago (Spot can't find the link, but it's at A Tiny Revolution), there are three stages in any imperial adventure:

  1. These people need our help.
  2. We've tried to help, but these ungrateful wretches are, well, ungrateful.
  3. We must kill these people.

Spot says scroll down to the immediately preceding post, click the video link, and listen to President Bush proclaim that we would bring "freedom" to the Iraqi people.

Professor Cole calls Bonaparte in Egypt and Bush in Iraq "bookends" of the history of modern imperialism in the Middle East. Spot thinks he's right.

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