Thursday, September 29, 2005

Classic Imperialism

Robert "Kipling" Kaplan had a great piece on the why/how/when of our war that came out on 23 SEP. You need a subscription to WSJ online, but you can read it pirated here. Just search the page for "Kaplan" and you will find it.

Anyway, RK has been spending a lot of time with the U.S. military (more on that at the bottom) and as a result is using a term that I have been fussed at for using for half my career - Imperialism. I'm sorry, there really isn't another word for it, and like Kipling and myself; I don't consider it an totally bad word. RK puts it better.
This past summer, I observed a U.S. Army Special Forces exercise in
Africa that represented the quintessence of imperialism as it has been
practiced throughout history and yet which no modern liberal could
oppose. Almost 200 Green Berets fanned out across the Sahara to train
with soldiers from nine North and West African countries. It was part
of a broad effort to professionalize the troops of fledgling
democracies, assist them in hunting down Islamic terrorists in unruly
borderlands, and deal with future humanitarian catastrophes like Darfur.
I watched as one captain, one warrant officer and nine sergeants worked
and lived with an Algerian Special Forces company on an equal basis,
eating each other's food, shooting each other's weapons, and trying
out each other's field techniques.
In those contries, the SOF guys are the leaders of tomorrow, and you know who they are knowing America from - guys from early 20s to late 30s. That is who is the face of America in most of the world. And the Ivy League Left doesn't want to join the military? Fine, let someone else build the future. I was in my mid-20s talking with a Turkish Col. that just had a trespasser shot the day before, coordinating and exercise of hundreds while trying to make sure he didn't do anything to piss off the Greeks who were intercepting all our aircraft. Beats cold-calling on Wall Street.
To Algeria's south, in such countries as Mauritania, Mali, Niger and
Chad, the Special Forces teams weren't training with host nation
troops so much as mentoring them, owing to their rudimentary state.
For a relatively small outlay in men and expenditures, the U.S.
military has begun developing a badly needed, pan-African intervention

This is happening not just in Africa but throughout the world. U.S.
Marines have engaged a two-year modernization of the Georgian armed
forces to secure democratization following the Rose Revolution. In the
southern Philippines, the Abu Sayyaf Islamic group has been
marginalized by an Army Special Forces program that emphasized
humanitarian relief in villages where the group had been most active,
coupled with training of the Filipino army. In Colombia, President
Alvaro Uribe's military and police units are being trained by Special
Forces in the fight against narco-terrorism. In Nepal, from where I've
just returned, a U. S. Air Force medical team was training emergency
responders in the event of an earthquake.
Everyone wants 3rd World military units not to kill people wholesale or pillage the countryside. Outside of Costa Rica, everyone has a military. They can learn how to do things from the U.S. or be left to their own or the Chinese.

Here is where the Imperial part works its way in.
Such small-scale, bare-bones missions are far more indicative of how
the U.S. military actually operates across the world than is the
fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan. Without the experience of such
missions, many of which are humanitarian, troops in New Orleans would
not be able to perform as expertly as they have. National Guardsmen
with whom I embedded in Afghanistan are now in the Big Easy.

All of this -- not military occupations, with their attendant
proconsuls -- is what constitutes classic imperialism: by, through,
and with the "indigs," as the Special Forces phrase goes. Local
alliances and the training of indigenous troops, since time
immemorial, are what has allowed imperial powers to project their
might at minimum risk and expense. It was true of Rome even in
adjacent North Africa, to say nothing of its Near Eastern borderlands;
and it was particularly true of imperial France and Great Britain..
This is nothing new.
..the media gives almost no
coverage to the activities of the American military beyond a few
obvious places. No other correspondents of major media outlets, for
example, chose to embed anywhere in Africa during this summer's
operation, even though European Command made most of the A-teams
available to reporters. Given such editorial judgments, how can the
policy elite -- whose members have little personal contact with the
middle and lower ranks of the armed forces that staff these missions
-- be sufficiently aware of what is actually going on?
Bingo. That is a big problem. Most of the international and US MSM have no clue. They don't know what is going on because they don't leave their Baghdad hotel room, and many of their sources are other reporters babbling over a few drinks in the hotel bar. They live in a vast echo room. Even when they are there, they are so often "Stuck on Stupid." I was there at the birth of OEF and only ran into one reporter that came by my group of Sailors. You know what his interest was? "How are you integrating females?" Harumph. BTW, if you don't already, read CounterColumn, it has great examples of institutional ignorance in the MSM WRT the military. Often, quite a funny read.
Classic imperialism is not merely an option, but a tried-and-true
necessity for a better, more stable world. The danger is not that
classic imperialism will undermine our financial solvency or our
democratic values, but that it itself will be undermined by the drain
in resources caused by the necessity of continued high troop levels in
We are scaling back a lot. But not totally. From Southern Thailand to Morroco, this war isn't going anywhere soon. You know those nations aren't calling the Belgians.

While we are on the subject of RK, WSJ, Imperialism, and out great military; here is a jab at RK's book "Imperial Grunts" by
Daniel Ford.
"Forget the crap about it ain't being a culture war," says an American sergeant in Zamboanga, trying to explain why he regards the local Muslims as hostile. In "Imperial Grunts," Robert Kaplan surveys the U.S. military presence around the world. He finds brighter spots than this southern Philippine island but never a more succinct statement of the problem: In "Injun country," as the sergeant notes, you can't afford to be nonjudgmental.
Neither dot, nor feather; bearded and smelly.
One of the more surprising of Mr. Kaplan's findings is that evangelical Christianity helped to transform the military in the 1980s, rescuing the Vietnam-era Army from drugs, alcohol and alienation. That reformation, together with the character-building demands of Balkans deployments of the 1990s (more important, in his judgment, than the frontal wars against Saddam Hussein), created our "imperial grunts."

The phrase is slightly misleading--even off-putting. As a synonym for American troops, "grunt" came and mostly went with the Vietnam War, evoking the dispirited soldiery of that era. And "imperial," with its adjectival nod to "imperialism," concedes too much to those who argue that the U.S. and the world would be better served if we withdrew behind our own borders. But Mr. Kaplan intends something positive--a way of suggesting that our far-flung troops are the descendants of the cavalry, dragoons and civilian frontiersmen who fought the Indian wars of the 18th and 19th centuries. Indeed, his opening chapter is titled "Injun Country," a term that was also popular in the early days of the Vietnam War and one that soldiers use with respect.
Those nasty Christians are at it again. At least the USAF is doing all it can to get rid of them.
"We're the damn Spartans," explains Maj. Kevin Holiday of Tampa, "physical warriors with college degrees." A civil engineer with three kids, he is a National Guardsman with an attitude. "God has put me here," he tells Mr. Kaplan. "I'm a Christian. . . . You see this all around you"--the dust, deprivation and anxiety of Injun Country--"well, it's the high point of my life and of everyone else here." It's not just officers, and not only the Green Berets. Cpl. Michael Pinckney, a Marine, tells Mr. Kaplan: "I don't want to be anywhere else but Iraq. . . .This is what manhood is all about. I don't mean macho [stuff] either. I mean moral character."

If "Imperial Grunts" serves no other purpose, it is a wonderful corrective to the disenchanted troops we sometimes see on the television news or in the new TV series "Over There," or read about in the dispatches of reporters and pundits who are themselves disenchanted by the war on terror.
I would prefer to be thought of as Athenian; all cultured and covered with olive oil - but that is a subject for another day. Oh, and "Over There" ref - ungh. That thing is so horrid.

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