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The Brookings Institute Assumes the White Man’s Burden



The liberal warmongers are at it again. In Sunday’s (August 20, 2006) Washington Post, Ken Pollack and Daniel Byman of the Brookings Institution and Georgetown’s Center for Peace and Security Studies offer an analysis and prescription for an Iraq that they believe is already in a state of civil war. Ignoring the fundamental reason that this situation exists–the US occupation of the country–these two men tell the reader that the growing sectarian violence in Iraq will be even more dangerous should it spill over Iraq’s borders. Furthermore, they argue, the latter will eventually occur. This fact alone means that US responsibilities in the region will increase, not lessen.

Prior to this prognostication, the two men write that it would take close to a half-million soldiers to “quash an all-out civil war there.” There is no other alternative offered by these imperial apologists, and this statement is qualified by stating that this is more than the US has already committed. It’s not that Pollack and Byman actually call for US troops to be mobilized for these increasing “responsibilities.” It’s that they write as if there were no alternatives, since in their minds the so-called responsibilities are not ones that Washington chooses to undertake because it sees its empire as being essential to the peace of the world. Unsaid in this do-gooder approach is that the only peace Washington and its apologists (neocon to neoliberal and beyond) want is one that benefits Washington and its corporate masters. If that peace takes a world war, then by god, that’s what will have to happen, but only because its for the world’s good.

Meanwhile, from another corner of the imperial ring, on that same Sunday John McCain called for many more US troops in Iraq. During a conversation on “Meet the Press,” Mr. McCain said that the US must win in Iraq. Otherwise, he added, there would be chaos in the region. If I had been sitting in the interviewer’s chair in the NBC studio that morning, I would have had to ask Mr. McCain what word he might use to define the current situation in Iraq. Democracy? Peaceful transition? Order? From where I sit, the current situation in Iraq is the definition of chaos. The addition of more US troops would only create more, especially since Mr. McCain wants them to go after not only the Sunni and secular insurgency; he also wants them to go after the Shia militias. Now that’s a recipe for calm.

I recently finished reading John Talbott’s 1980 book on the French war in Algeria, The War Without a Name. Instructive for its similarities to Iraq– both in the methods of the insurgents and the reaction of the French–there is a description of the situation seemed particularly appropriate.

What these wishful thinkers ignored…were realities that lay beyond the quantitative measurements of success. They mistook pledges of allegiance made under duress for pledges freely given. The mistook peasants keenly aware of their own self-interest for credulous country bumpkins….They mistook promises made against the future as adequate compensation for injuries done in the past. They underestimated the difference between coercion at the hands of foreigners and coercion at the hands of neighbors and relatives; they underestimated how long it might take ever to come to an end of the rebellion. (p. 191)

It’s not my goal here to equate the insurrection in Algeria against the French with the insurgency in Iraq against the US. However, there are some important similarities. Like Iraq, the insurgents in Algeria fought sectarian battles amongst themselves while they were fighting the occupier. In addition, there were factions within the insurgency that were secular and some that were religious in nature. Indeed, the civil strife in Algeria during the 1990s and early 21st century between the government and Islamist forces had some of its roots in the conflicts between these factions during the war against the French. More importantly for the US, the methods used by the French in their attempts to defeat the insurgents included many of the same used by the US in Iraq: torture, puppet governments, vote manipulation and warfare that included the killing of civilians. In addition, most of the French establishment shared the imperial view that the Algerians couldn’t do without Paris’ guidance–benevolent or otherwise.

So, with Mr. McCain and the Bush people from the right and the Brookings Institution from the liberal side of the spectrum sharing the assumption that Washington’s “accidental” empire has a responsibility to help out its Arab and Persian cousins, maybe the upcoming months will see an increase in the US military presence in the Middle East. If Israel restarts its war on Lebanon, it would seem that the chances of this increase even more. Back in the days when the British thought they ran this part of the world, they called the people living there “wogs.” Today, the US soldiers, spies and mercenaries call them “hajis.” Both terms are means to make them appear less than human in their minds. However, as history has shown, just because an occupier underestimates the people whose land it is occupying doesn’t mean they will win their hearts, minds or land. No matter how many troops and agents they employ.

RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s new collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. He can be reached at:




Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at:

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