The U.S. magazine Foreign Policy, one of the most famous international publications close to the centers of American decision-making, published an article last week that calls for the return of imperialism to the Middle East. The title of the article was “It’s Time to Bring Imperialism Back to the Middle East,” but controversy prompted the change of the title on the magazine’s website. The author of this article is Robert Kaplan, one of the most renowned American and international writers and a former official who was active in drafting policy for the U.S. Department of Defense after the current U.S. president arrived at the White House in 2009. He was also an adviser to the U.S. Army, and it is believed that he contributed to the planning of the Iraq War in 2003. He is a former soldier in the Israeli army, where he lived for years following his failure to find a job after graduating from university. He then returned to the U.S. to become one of the most prominent international journalists and is considered to be one of the most prominent international thinkers as well.
Kaplan believes that the current bloody conflicts in the Middle East are the result of the post-imperialism period. He believes that the region wasn’t able to deal with the fall of the three imperialist powers that took control of the region over the past century: the Ottomans, the British and French Europeans, and the great U.S. force, which he describes as a “world empire in all but name.” He deems the period of Obama’s hands-off approach to guaranteed stability in the region as (American) “post- imperialism.” He says that in addition to the end of the imperial powers, there was also an end of dictators, like Saddam Hussein and Moammar Gadhafi, and the decline of Bashar al-Assad’s regime. They all exhibited aspects of post-imperialism and managed to adapt to it. They all based their rule on the concept of fighting imperialism, and the “Arab Spring” has not been about the birth of freedom but about the collapse of central authority, thus the absence of imperialism and dictatorship is the reason behind the current bloody wars. In his opinion, excluding Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia, which were states before the advent of European imperialism, no one and nothing, except for dictatorship and totalitarian rule, managed to preserve the stability of the artificial countries that stemmed from imperialism, including Iraq, Syria and Algeria; Jordan, which enjoys a moderate Hashemite governance, is an exception. Therefore, Kaplan believes that a new American president in 2017 may seek to reinstate Western imperial influence, all the while giving it another name, of course.
Kaplan says that it would have been easier for the Americans to practice this imperialism through dictatorships, but many countries lack such dictators now. He says that a discourse about spreading democracy is meaningless because without stability, there is no democracy (stability is the base), adding that the current Shiite-Sunni war with its centers in Iran and Saudi Arabia is now a sub-states war, while back then, it was the states that were at war.
The original title of the article on the magazine’s website was controversial and therefore changed to “The Ruins of Empire in the Middle East.” Commenting on the changes, Kaplan said that he preferred the title “It’s Time to Bring Imperialism Back to the Middle East,” and claimed that he was not only arguing for renewed imperialism, but also for a better relationship with Iran and a restrained American approach in the Middle East. His negative response to the title, however, doesn’t mean he is going back on his statements, in which he said that dictatorship was better and that imperialist power is what’s required.
Naturally, Kaplan can use the same pretext used by many others to justify imperialism, in addition to claiming to be keen on freedom. We can look back to John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), who justified the occupation of India and other countries by using the pretext of rehabilitating a barbaric people to help them become wise and capable of making their own decisions. This is the same logic that stands behind the United Nations-imposed mandate as a cover for French and British colonization.
It’s possible that someone who believes in such ideology could actually join the return of the Republicans and some Democrats to the White House. This would enhance the power of bloody dictators who preserve the interests of imperialism (openly or secretively) or — even without any resistance — justify suppression through the pretext of “protecting the regime,” having used the justification of “anti-imperialism agents” before. The problem is that this constitutes a confluence of interests between the major powers and almost all the present or potential rulers. Kaplan and his ilk will perhaps play the role of planning for imperialism, but by using another name for it, and perhaps using different tools and forms.
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