Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Why the Left Can't Stop Neo-Colonialism

Anti-imperialist theories of today must either evolve or be thrown away completely.

20th century anti-imperialism rested on the idea of state sovereignty; which, held all nation- states should be respected as equal and indepedent from one another. This concept has always been contradictory in the third world mainly because the territorial boundaries that national liberation movements struggled to emancipate were drawn by colonial powers in the first place. Nation-states have always been social, economic, and political constructs defining relations of power and hierarchy rather than simply expressing ethnicity, geography or culture. Although, state sovereignty is a central principle of the United Nations, it has never applied it equally among actors. One can already clearly see in the first decade of the 21st century how miserably the U.N. has failed to prevent or end U.S., Israeli or other European occupations of foreign lands. In the same way, the so called anti-imperialist left has also failed to stop a single major occupation this century because ultimately these actors rely on the impotent U.N. as the forum to do so.

The earthquake in Haiti is the most recent example of both the U.N.'s and the anti-imperialist left's inability to prevent major violations of state sovereignty. In just a week the U.S. has mobilized thousands of troops, technocrats, and aid organizations to totally reconfigure the Haitian government and the main economic institutions of the country with virtually no unified opposition. By strict definition this is an aggressive act of neo-colonialism regardless of the moral implications of these actions or in this case, inactions.

As with the Rwandan genocide there is a moral consequence for powerful countries that do not intervene in the midst of great human suffering caused by genocide or natural disaster. The moral consequences on non-intervention during humanitarian crises have silenced even the most ardent critics of interventionism and made the U.N. an enabling force in several acts of neo-colonial occupation. Recently, even the Cuban government allowed the U.S. military to use its airspace as part of its humanitarian operations in Haiti. The U.N. will without a doubt allow the U.S. to take primary responsiblity for the political and economic future of Haiti and has already given up total security control to the Americans.

While we understand that there is little to prevent a powerful country from using the cover of a humanitarian"responsibility to protect" in order to pursue its own political and economic interests, we do not have a moral excuse in cases like Haiti or Rwanda not to intervene. Furthermore, the case for intervention in Iraq for example could reasonably be rooted in humanitarianism given the actions of Sadamm Hussein before the U.S. invasion. The fact is, people in Iraq were also victims of human suffering caused by Hussein. This standard would also apply to the case of the Palestinian people where arguably the most dramatic case of human induced suffering is taking place. None of the supporters of the Iraq War advocate a U.S. military invasion to emancipate the Palestinians from Israeli domination. Taken a logical step further, there is not a single nation-state in the history of the world that, judged soley on humanitarian tragedy, did not deserve to be invaded at one point or another.

The main issue here is that powerful countries like the U.S. have been able to synthesize their own narrow political and economic interests with an appeal to basic human morality. Unlike Nazi Germany, the U.S. not only invades countries and divides the spoils among its allies, it does so with a bleeding heart and call to human decency. This synthesis has not completely destroyed opposition to war and occupation but it has marginalized its mass appeal. As unpopular as the War in Iraq was, it continues along with at least a half-a- dozen other examples on neo-colonial occupation.

If the anti-imperialist left cannot find a synthesis of its own that bridges that gap between protecting state sovereignty and moral indifference, its voice will remain marginalized in the long-term. Ultimately, the ambiguity of neo-colonial intervention favors the position of the occupying power. Yesterday, the U.S. military landed on the lawn of the Haitian presidential palace to cheers, not protest. Some are asking for the U.S. to stay indefinitely.

There is a reason why the expansionist Roman Empire survived successfully for as long as it did. As it exist now, the Left can't prevent the great powers of today from doing the same. Those who oppose imperialism must begin to understand why.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Austin,

    Thanks for the rants.I have few questions:

    What is your alternative to the current left? And what do you think is happening to US Imperialism?
    Immuable or loosing ground? what about social transformation within the US? What do you think is likely to happen in the coming decades?