Thursday, May 21, 2009

Torture and empire

By Stephen M. Walt

".....Last point: we also need to reflect on the connection between U.S. grand strategy and these sorry episodes. It is tempting to blame this whole problem on the misguided machinations of Bush, Cheney, and their minions, who took advantage of the post-9/11 climate of fear to implement a torture regime, but that convenient explanation is a bit too simple. In fact, this sort of abuse is likely to be repeated as long as the United States maintains a highly interventionist foreign and military policy. If the United States continues to send military forces and lethal armed drones to attack people in far-flung lands, some of the people we kill will be innocent civilians -- thereby fomenting greater hatred of the United States -- and the people we are going after will try to hit us back. Our enemies will use our actions to recruit sympathizers -- just as Osama bin Laden did -- and every time some terrorist group gets lucky and get through, the U.S. government will be tempted to adopt even harsher measures to try to stop the next attack. Not only does this cycle threaten civil liberties here at home, but it tends to embroil us in social engineering projects in societies that we do not understand (see under: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, etc.). We can also be confident that other potential rivals are secretly thrilled to see us squandering lots of blood and treasure on lengthy occupations and open-ended counterinsurgency operations.

Unfortunately, history also shows that prolonged occupations and counterinsurgencies always lead to significant abuses. It is the nature of the beast. This is what happened to Britain in the Boer War, Belgium in its central African empire, France in Indochina and Algeria, Russia in Afghanistan and Chechnya, Israel in Lebanon, Gaza, and the West Bank, and the United States in Iraq. The United States may not be as heavy-handed as some earlier imperial powers, although our treatment of native Americans was horrible and our handling of Japanese-Americans in World War II is a dark stain on our past. The key point is that the idea of a purely benevolent "empire" is a contradiction in terms and we are fooling ourselves if we think we can run one.

Bottom line: if you don't like Abu Ghraib, Gitmo, waterboarding, etc., the best way to make the problem go away for good is to get out of the business of occupying and trying to govern other countries."

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