Traditional colonialism has been basically dead for several decades, but its trappings are still with us. Just look at the Iraq War — while the U.S. occupation wasn't concerned with setting up rubber plantations and the like, it did look to the age of imperialism when it came to pacifying a subject population.
Instead of extracting resources from a prostrate Iraq, we spent trillions on a prolonged and ultimately ineffective counterinsurgency campaign. Let's call it "drunken colonialism," in which one nation invades, dominates, and trashes another for no benefit to itself or anyone else.
You can't find a better example of this phenomenon than this stunning scoop from James Risen at The New York Times. The story is about Blackwater, the infamous security contractor (which has since been merged with another company):
Just weeks before Blackwater guards fatally shot 17 civilians at Baghdad's Nisour Square in 2007, the State Department began investigating the security contractor's operations in Iraq. But the inquiry was abandoned after Blackwater's top manager there issued a threat: "that he could kill" the government's chief investigator and "no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq," according to department reports. [The New York Times]
Back then, Blackwater was providing most of the security for high-level U.S. officials in Iraq. State Department investigators quickly compiled a long list of egregious malfeasance on Blackwater's part, including short-staffing guard detail, irresponsible weapons practices, and skimping on vehicle maintenance. When the main investigator, Jean C. Richter, met with Daniel Carroll, a former member of SEAL Team Six who was then Blackwater's top manager in Iraq, Carroll threatened to murder him over the investigation.
It turns out that Blackwater, closely associated with the highest levels of the U.S. occupation, was composed of a pack of mercenary thugs who would have fit in nicely in mid-’90s Yugoslavia. But the State Department sided with the thugs, and kicked Richter out of the country, saying he has disrupted the government's relationship with the company. It was only after the Nisour massacre that Blackwater became radioactive, forcing the government to rescind the company's free pass to threaten murder.
These swaggering, heavily armed goons were disturbingly reminiscent of colonial police forces. Then there was the the interim government they protected, the Coalition Provisional Authority, a colonialist entity if there ever was one. The CPA only lasted for about a year, but during that time L. Paul Bremer passed a raft of right-wing "reforms" that would transform Iraq in a way that was most beneficial to the U.S. economy.
Then there was the 10-year counterinsurgency campaign involving 100,000 occupying troops, which could be easily mistaken for France's war to maintain control over its colony Algiers, replete with the systematic use of torture. And when the occupation went very, very wrong, we resorted to stoking sectarian militias (including the arming and funding of death squads), a piece of divide-and-rule strategy straight out of the colonial handbook.
Of course, the war in Iraq wasn't intended as a colonialist project. But the lesson here is that any effort to rule another nation by force, no matter how noble those intentions might be, will increasingly develop a colonialist character. And like many a colonialist effort, the invasion of Iraq was doomed from the start.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Why Israel can no longer let the Palestinian Authority be responsible for security in the West Bank
- Why you should really take a nap this afternoon, according to science
- Here's the schedule very successful people follow every day
- 10 things you need to know today: July 26, 2014
- Why you shouldn't eat dog. Not even once.
- 7 things the world's happiest people do every day
- How to cook a perfect rib eye steak
- Grammar quiz: Do you know the passive voice?
- The week's best photojournalism
- How social conservatives became a minority in need of protection
Subscribe to the Week