Americans Are No Imperialists


Come January, President Bush, like a dog coming out of a creek, will shake off all of the advice he’s been given and plod along in Iraq as he has in the past. He is not a man, in my opinion, who takes advice or admits he made a mistake.

That’s too bad as far as the troops are concerned. They will go on getting killed and wounded, and won’t accomplish a thing. The lack of accomplishment won’t be their fault. Nobody can accomplish the impossible, and I think repairing the ethnic, tribal and sectarian divides at this point has become impossible.

I saw a small news story the other day that said a great deal about how we fail at imperialism. According to the story, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad has 1,000 employees, and exactly six of that number are fluent in Arabic. You can be a tourist in a foreign country without knowing the language, but not an occupier or an intelligence officer. That situation is so utterly ridiculous that it makes you wonder if perhaps the U.S. government really does take a racist attitude toward Americans of Arab descent.

I’ve always argued that the American people are not cut out to be imperialists. We lack the sophistication, the language skills and, to our credit, the ruthlessness that running a global empire requires. Furthermore, our main interests are in our own country. We don’t have disinherited second sons looking for a career in the colonial service. For most Americans, there is no place on earth they’d rather be than right here in the U.S.

Frankly, we’re no good at overthrowing governments. Half the time, even if we succeed, we end up with some guy who’s worse than the one we dumped. We dumped Ngo Dinh Diem in South Vietnam and ended up with a succession of more than 20 corrupt incompetents. We swapped Fulgencio Batista for Fidel Castro. We abandoned Anastasio Somoza and got Daniel Ortega, and I won’t go into some of the horrors we sponsored in Africa.

We’ve been suckered and have played the fool in every country we’ve intervened in. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if half the secret bank accounts in Switzerland were owned by American "allies," past and present. When President Carter sat down with Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin to broker a peace treaty, what happened? The Israelis stuck him with a $4 billion tab to cover their cost of leaving the Sinai, and the Egyptians stuck him with a promise of $2 billion a year in foreign aid, which we’re still paying. And I’ve yet to see a modern trade deal that was to our advantage.

Years ago a merchant mariner laughingly told me how the Colombians would run around scooping up derelicts to show off to some visiting American official "as jailed communists." Of course, when the American big-shot left, the derelicts were let go.

We the people need to force Uncle Sucker to come home while he still has a shirt and pants. Other than rebuilding Europe and Japan after World War II, I cannot think of a single foreign-policy success. Considering what’s happened to our manufacturing base, maybe those weren’t successes after all. Ronald Reagan is credited with ending the Cold War, but I think the Russians just went bust before we did.

Now we’re leaking blood and billions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Boy Emperor is determined to prove everybody else in the world wrong — at the cost of other people’s lives, of course. I won’t be surprised at all if he bombs Iran. Now, that’ll be a party you will want to miss.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.