by Patrick J. Buchanan – April 23, 2003
“Take Up the White Man’s burden,” Britain’s poet of empire, Rudyard Kipling, admonished Teddy Roosevelt’s America in 1899. The United States had just triumphed in the Spanish-American War to liberate Cuba and, as war booty, had annexed the Philippine Islands.
We must “Christianize” them, President McKinley explained.
Defeating Spain had been as easy as crushing Iraq. But holding the Philippines would require three years of Vietnam-style fighting against the guerrillas of Aquinaldo, which cost tens of thousands of Filipino lives. And many more Americans died fighting the Filipinos to keep the islands than had died fighting Spain to take them.
Soon after we began that first American imperial war, the American press had a change of heart. Wrote the New York World:
We’ve taken up the white man’s burden
Of ebony and brown;
Now will you kindly tell us, Rudyard,
How we may put it down?
But in 1903, Aquinaldo surrendered, the insurrection ended and the United States converted the islands into what we thought was a Pacific fortress. Yet, as TR had ruefully come to admit, the islands were actually our “Achilles heel.” They were lost to Japan in the first six months of World War II and only retaken – to be set free in 1946 – at an immense cost in blood and treasure.
Our new imperialists view Iraq much as McKinley’s generation of imperialists saw the Philippines, as an outpost of empire and a strategic base-camp for the projection of American power.
Sen. Richard Lugar, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, says “we ought to be thinking of a period of five years,” at least, before an Iraqi government takes control in Baghdad. The New York Times reports that the Pentagon has already selected four sites as permanent U.S. airbases – inside Iraq.
But has anyone consulted the Iraqis on whether they wish to play their assigned role in the Pentagon’s script? Or will we have to first put down Iraqi resistance, as we did Filipino resistance, to pacify the country and convert it into a U.S. Middle Eastern bastion? For the vision of the neoconservatives – that Iraqis would embrace Americans as liberators and democracy would spread like brushfire across the Arab world – has yet to be realized. Consider:
* Last Friday, after prayers, 50,000 Shias and Sunnis took to
the streets of Baghdad chanting, “No to Bush, no to
Saddam, yes to Islam,” and, “Leave Our Country, we want
* In Kut, militant Shia cleric Syed Abbas walked into the town
hall and took it over, accompanied by hundreds of Islamic
backers who had crossed from Iran. Thousands attend his
meetings, which feature calls for an Islamic republic and an
end to U.S. occupation.
* In Najaz, a religious moderate was knifed to death in that
holy city’s ancient mosque. Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Alo al-
Sistani refuses to leave home – some say, for fear of his
* Up to 2 million Shi’ites are expected to converge Thursday
on Karbala. While the mass pilgrimage to the site of the
martyrdom of Imam Ali Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet,
has been peaceful, there have been signs also of deep
hostility to the U.S. presence.
* On Friday, a London Observer reporter ventured into
Saddam City, a poor Shia area of Baghdad where U.S.
troops do not patrol. There, he found the armed militia of
the Sadr Movement, named for a Shia cleric martyred with
his sons by Saddam Hussein. Goal of the Sadr Movement:
an Islamic state under sharia law.
The Pentagon has bet America’s chips on Ahmed Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress to lead Iraq. But before last week, Chalabi was last seen in Baghdad when John Foster Dulles was secretary of state. And reaction to Chalabi appears to range from indifference to violent hatred. Many Iraqis see him as a Pentagon puppet.
Writes the London Telegraph: “On Friday … a car carrying the flag of the Iraqi National Congress and a large photograph of Mr. Chalabi was sprayed with automatic gunfire. After Friday prayers at the Salati Jimad mosque, when thousands of militant supporters of the late Ayatollah Mohammed al Sadr spilled into the streets, Mr. Chalabi’s name was openly derided.”
Bush’s dilemma? If America is to make good on his promise to build a free, stable, democratic Iraq, it simply cannot be done in months. It will require years. But with many Iraqi Shias already looking on us as imperial and infidel occupiers, we may not have that much time.
Having crushed Saddam’s Republican Guard, are we willing to crush an Iraqi intifada to hold onto the country. It may come down to that.
Meanwhile, how do you like the empire?