Matt Bai asks John McCain which countries we should invade:
as we talked, I tried to draw out of him some template for knowing when military intervention made sense — an answer, essentially, to the question that has plagued policy makers confronting international crises for the last 20 years. McCain has said that the invasion of Iraq was justified, even absent the weapons of mass destruction he believed were there, because of Hussein’s affront to basic human values. Why then, I asked McCain, shouldn’t we go into Zimbabwe, where, according to that morning’s paper, allies of the despotic president, Robert Mugabe, were rounding up his political opponents and preparing to subvert the results of the country’s recent national election? How about sending soldiers into Myanmar, formerly Burma, where Aung San Suu Kyi remained under house arrest by a military junta?
“I think in the case of Zimbabwe, it’s because of our history in Africa,” McCain said thoughtfully. “Not so much the United States but the Europeans, the colonialist history in Africa. The government of South Africa has obviously not been effective, to say the least, in trying to affect the situation in Zimbabwe, and one reason is that they don’t want to be tarred with the brush of modern colonialism. So that’s a problem I think we will continue to have on the continent of Africa. If you send in Western military forces, then you risk the backlash from the people, from the legacy that was left in Africa because of the era of colonialism.”
Is it possible that John McCain is really not aware that the whole “legacy of colonialism” issue is also kind of a sore spot in the Middle East? Here for the first time I actually have a ray of hope about a McCain administration’s foreign policy. I’d been thinking that he was motivated by grotesque moral and strategic errors, but maybe he’s just kind of dim-witted and lacking in basic factual information. Maybe if somebody tells him that the whole Arab world (and Iran) was carved up by the British and French empires in the wake of World War I, a light bulb will go off in his head and he’ll change his whole approach!
Actually, though, I think McCain’s not alone here. Very few Americans (even American elites) seem to recognize that most of the “pro-American” regimes in the region — all the monarchies, basically — just are colonial regimes set up by the British imperial authorities. Eventually, the United States took over from Britain as the foreign underwriter of those regimes. But to understand U.S. policy in the region and how the U.S. is viewed, you need to understand that Jordan and the G.C.C. aren’t just autocracies, they’re autocratic creations of the British Empire and CENTCOM is seen as the successor to the Colonial Office. Meanwhile, the “anti-American” or “radical” regimes in Syria, Iran, and (formerly) Iraq all have their origins in rebellions against colonial regimes. The Egyptian regime shared those anti-imperialist origins, but eventually switched sides and joined Team America.