The Burdens of Empire

Pity the poor imperialists. Brimming with self-serving justifications–we come in peace, we stand for freedom, we represent a better way–and sporting those confident smiles, they invade and occupy a distant land, and meet, to their never-ending surprise, resentment and resistance at every turn. The pattern is always the same: they install a puppet regime that acts as the initial justification for their presence, and in the blink of an eye, the puppet is found to be inadequate and expendable. He is then criticized, demonized, and finally removed, overthrown, or shot (remember Diem!). So it is in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It would be interesting if the New York Times, for example, had an editorial writer who knew or could honestly draw on history, or who wasn’t tethered to a desk in the US State Department. We might have been spared the editorial on April 3, “President Karzai Lashes Out.” His “rambling speech” is “delusional,” for he doesn’t seem to see that the US is focused on “protecting and improving the lives of Afghan civilians as well as on defeating the Taliban.” When Karzai says the US is on the verge of becoming invaders, the Times alerts us all that he has entered “hazardous territory.” In case Karzai himself misses the point, the editorial warns that Washington can always “work around him if needed'” and that his future may well be doomed.
Of course we can’t really expect journalists to have much perspective in the United States of Amnesia, but a short eight years ago, when Karzai was installed with noisy proclamations and celebration, a host of thoughtful commentators said it would necessarily come to this.
And so it has, without a word of self-criticism.

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