Liberal Imperialist Syndrome



Liberal Imperialism started to gain currency at the end of the nineteenth century. It brought with it the obvious economic benefits of building an empire with ready-made consumers and a base of raw materials needed for a country’s industrial goals. Empire has perennially been used as an export of moral values and cultural mores.

However, imperialism today can be defined as economic, political, cultural, military, informal, and formal. Indeed, this has changed the face and contours of liberal imperialism. No longer can imperialism be solely about military or economic gains, instead, it is now responsible for the ramifications of intervention in a country.

There are many contentions within the political theory of liberal imperialism, however, I, myself, wish to focus on the recent ramifications of adopting such a obviously paradoxical standpoint, particularly in the case of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.

Stephen Walt calls liberal imperialists “kinder, gentler neoconservatives”. This is certainly true. Liberal imperialists– like neocons– believe in a country’s (most specifically the US) responsibility to right political and humanitarian wrongs. They give the international community (which really just consists of the main superpowers) a carte blance to intervene in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and perhaps even Syria, in the name of humanitarianism.

Now, my gripes with humanitarianism are myriad and wide ranging. But I do not want to get too embroiled in that. My gripes are the way in which liberal imperialists hijack humanitarian intervention and endorse it as a benevolent act of the “international community”. They make no exceptions and stand by their erroneous views that no nation– regardless of historical and cultural context– should be an exception for their redemptive missions.

While I do believe not all intervention is bad and in some cases necessity arises in the case for it (Rwanda, Cosovo etc.) there has to be some kind of boundary for this militaristic fetish of dropping bombs on countries we think might be a little worse than us. I’m sick of the liberal imperialist rhetoric of “It’s not our fault that Afghanistan went wrong. At least we tried!” Or ”It’s not our fault that Iraq went wrong”. Intentions stop becoming relevant after your second, third and even fourth mistake.

It wasn’t enough that we saw 30,000 dead in Libya– 5000 before the NATO intervention– and the blowback of Iraq still reverberates today. No sooner are we calling for a “liberal interventionism” in Syria. 

Liberal imperialists are those who drum up support for sending troops, drones, weapons and even Special Forces into countries they have little or no knowledge on. They only really started to notice that bad things are happening when they selectively and conveniently chose to pay attention. Their declarations for humanitarian intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq came only when these countries began to hit the headlines. Before that they had little care for Afghan women’s rights, impoverishment and creeping Islamism.

The arguments which liberal imperialists tend to adopt are “moral” ones. We the international community, are obliged to quell the barbarism of Middle-East and Central Asia because face it,  if we don’t, who will? And since we are the gatekeepers of morality and democracy we cannot act as bystanders while foreign tyrants trespass all over their citizens rights.

Democracy itself is a hugely contested theory and is yet to present a perfected model– yet liberal imperialists are quick to support the exportation of democracy to “less-civilised” countries.

In the US alone, we have seen countless human rights abuses begenning with the torture camps, targeted assassinations and the infamous Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp. Liberal imperialists are quick to turn the other cheek and/or give a free pass to the government for these flagrant and blatant human rights violations.

Despite being self-proclaimed proponents of International Law, liberal imperialists excuse the US for its ever persisting quest of lawless activities.

The “international community” continues to receive its stamp of approval on its relentless drone campaign in the Yemen, Pakistan and Afghanistan, it’s torturing and most recently– force feeding– of Guantanamo prisoners , it’s imprisonment of those who reveal intelligence information implicating the government, those such as  Bradley Manning and this is all while liberal imperialists turn a blind eye and profess to champion freedom across the world.

Mohadesa Najumi is originally from Kabul, Afghanistan, now living in London. You can follow her on@mohadesareverie.

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