Monday, August 02, 2010

The failed Empire

“We are in Afghanistan for one express purpose: Al Qaeda,” he said. “Al Qaeda exists in those mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan. We are not there to nation-build. We’re not out there deciding we’re going to turn this into a Jeffersonian democracy and build that country.”
Joe Biden [Hat Tip: Instapundit]

How different is this twenty first century attitude to the one the British brought with them to south Asia in the nineteenth. While not consciously on a crusade on behalf of British culture, habits and methods of governance, the Scotsmen, Irishmen, Ulstermen, Welshmen and Englishmen who went to India were mostly fiercely proud of the British way. They were happy to impose what they believed were superior ways of doing things over what was there already.

As a consequence, over two hundredish years, India became quite British. Certainly its ruling classes did. Which is why India has a working court system, decent policing, a working democracy, government policies overtly geared to helping the poorest and least advantaged, and distinctions like the primacy of the civilian leadership over the military and the separation of powers between the branches of government. India is definitely a work in progress, but there should be immense optimism about its capacity to build on the framework gifted to them by Britain.

So, what is America taking to Afghanistan? Bashful self-loathing, American Idol and a very obvious desire to skedaddle at the first opportunity. Not much there to really take on board, is there? I can't see young Afghans really wanting to sign up to this dismal prospectus. Where the British were happy to use their supreme technological, organisational and military advantages to impose their systems on their subjects, America isn't. Far from trumpeting their Christianity, their democracy, their equality and their humanity, and unabashedly bringing them to the poor heathen of the Afghanistan, they are content to have the Afghans continue in their squalor, with a few 'western' bits glued on, like a few 'schools' and 'clinics'.

America is not even achieving these extremely low ambitions. Is America capable of being imperial at all?

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