Thursday, August 14, 2008

Those Damn Empires

Megan's piped up a few times now about the conflict in Georgia. Cleverly, she's referenced the same song in the titles of two of her posts. Seriously, she's not even phoning it in anymore. She's smoke signaling it in.

There's a smattering of stupid in all around, but the main underlying idiocy and bias is her deeply furrowed brow over those pesky pinkos (uh.. shit, what color are they now? Whatever, they'll always be commies!!!!!!!!) trying to rebuild their empire.

So let's compare and contrast a couple of conflicts and Megan's views on them.

If a country wants to invade another country thousands of miles away, that has no shared ethnic or cultural background, has made no direct threats in decades, and coincidentally contains large amounts of a very precious resource, invading it is ok. That's not empire building. That's just fighting the good fight

On the flip side, if a country that borders you -and contains two regions cultural and ethnically similar to you that have declared autonomy and indicated a strong willingness to become a part of your country- sends their army into one of said disputed regions, well, you're just a damn power hungry lunatic for thinking that you can send troops there yourself! How dare those Russians try to force those South Ossetians and Abkhazians to join the country that they want to be a part of! Where will they stop? HAVE THEY NO SENSE OF DECENCY?!?!?!?

I guess, then, that Megan would be OK with Russia invading Mexico or something.

Now, before someone points out that I don't know what I'm talking about, let me admit that I may not know what I'm talking about vis-a-vis the Russia-Georgia conflict (Though, from what little I've read, no one knows what the hell is going on in the Caucasus). Furthermore, I'm not entirely sure that Russia hasn't done a number of things wrong during this conflict. However, Megan's accusations that Russia is attempting to rebuild its empire is based on a combination of jack and shit. I got curious about the situation and actually read a couple of articles, almost all of which indicated that South Ossetia and Abkhazia would both love nothing more than to be absorbed by Russia and at the very least want nothing to do with Georgia. So, once again, Megan doesn't know what the fuck she's talking about.

Shocking, ain't it?

For a bonus kicker, she expresses dismay that America should ZOMG DO SOMETHING BEFORE THE RUSSIANS ARE KNOCKING DOWN OUR DOORS AGAIN!!!! About what exactly should be done, she remains unsurprisingly silent. Blind ideology is her thing, not actual solutions to problems.

I think I have an idea, though. It involves our armed forces. Guess what it is? That's right; let's start another war! YIPPEE! It's been a while since we killed us some Ruskies! Nothing says "doing something" like an F-16! Hoooo doggie!

7 comments:

Sonic Charmer said...

I really wish you were better at this. You need to read FJM more closely.

"If a country wants to invade another country thousands of miles away, that has no shared ethnic or cultural background, has made no direct threats in decades, and coincidentally contains large amounts of a very precious resource, invading it is ok. That's not empire building."

It may or may not be "ok" but nothing you have sarcastically written here indicates empire building per se.
-thousands of miles away (or not) has nothing to do with anything. Distance didn't make our participation in WWII "empire-building"; proximity didn't mean our taking/'purchasing' of Indian territory to the west wasn't empire-building. (Right?) If I took you seriously here, we'd have a rule according to which you can't be empire-building as long as you only conquer territory that's nearby. This would disqualify...most of the Roman Empire.
-'no shared ethnic or cultural background' does not indicate empire building necessarily, anymore than shared cultural background precludes it. Indeed empires are often built by appealing to shared cultural background of one type or another - it makes it easier. You really need to think through the ramifications here - was Hitler not "empire-building" re: the Sudeten Germans because of shared cultural background? If I took you seriously here, we'd have a rule according to which you can't be "empire-building" as long as you can point to something you share culturally with the people living in the territory you conquer. This would disqualify virtually all attempts to form European, um, empires.
-"no direct threats", as in, attacking someone who's 'only' made indirect threats against you, means empire-building?
-the "precious resource" might be a relevant data point if our nation were actually literally expropriating oil from Iraq free of charge, as spoils of war. We are not. (Hell, I kinda wish we were, but we are not)

More broadly, let us note the basic and obvious point that we have not actually annexed Iraq as part of or a subject territory of our nation-state. Moving on then to the supposed parallel situation,

"if a country that borders you -and contains two regions cultural and ethnically similar to you that have declared autonomy and indicated a strong willingness to become a part of your country- sends their army into one of said disputed regions, well, you're just a damn power hungry lunatic for thinking that you can send troops there yourself!"

You're saying, you're not?

What if I could find parts of Canada containing people ethnically & culturally similar to Americans (which is basically true of all Canada) who expressed a desire to become part of America. If I were President, and "sent troops there", you wouldn't call me a power-hungry lunatic I take it? Awesome

"How dare those Russians try to force those South Ossetians and Abkhazians to join the country that they want to be a part of! Where will they stop? HAVE THEY NO SENSE OF DECENCY?!?!?!?"

This isn't about "decency" or lack thereof. You were trying to debunk Megan's implication that Russian is engaging in empire-building. (Remember?) Nothing you wrote here disproves that Russia is engaging in empire-building. The fact that X% of Ossetians/Abkhazians "want to be a part of" Russia doesn't mean that if Russia seizes those territories by military force, that's not empire-building. The two concepts are simply not mutually exclusive and I wonder why you think they are. Actually you practically concede the point you were trying to debunk here, by painting the situation as one in which Russia will now take and absorb Ossetia and Abkhazia. That is empire-building by definition. The fact (if it is a fact) that whatever-size majority of the people in those regions "want to" be absorbed by Russia doesn't change that.

"I guess, then, that Megan would be OK with Russia invading Mexico or something."

It's always irritating, this method of argument by extrapolation to ridiculously silly detail-ignoring rules, as if anyone who says anything particular about situation X must be also saying it about Y and Z as well. Even if you had successfully argued here that the Iraq invasion was empire-building, it wouldn't score the point against Megan that you're trying to. She never said that 'all empire-building is bad' in the first place. She (a) said, or implied, that Russia is engaging in a new empire-building, and (b) indicated this to be a bad thing (without declaring what she thought ought to be done about it, if anything). That's it, and I don't know what in the heck is controversial about (a) or (b) to you other than the fact that it was written by Megan McArdle, of course.

"However, Megan's accusations that Russia is attempting to rebuild its empire is based on a combination of jack and shit."

Actually, your denial of this point is based on a combination of jack and shit. I don't even know whether I personally believe that Russian is 'trying to rebuild its empire' per se (it's pretty obvious they're trying to protect and bolster their energy-based economic interest, which may/may not be the same thing), but your attempt at debunking the notion - filled as it is with irrelevant nonsense - certainly raises the p-value for me.

"I think I have an idea, though. It involves our armed forces. Guess what it is? That's right; let's start another war!"

"Start"?

Anyhow, this whole section is a fever dream cooked up in your imagination. Again, as you pointed out earlier, Megan was pragmatically noncommital as to what should/could be done about the Georgia situation. Now, think for a second - and try to use your brain rather than jerk your knee, here - your problem with that is _________?

why do I bother. I see the basic premise here is that if Megan McArdle writes something, it must be wrong and somehow right-wing/warmongery. Even though in this post it is actually you who have expressed the right-wing, nationalistic viewpoint - in short:


Don't criticize Russia for invading and taking territory. The people there wanted to join mother Russia! And more generally, whether or not you're empire-building depends highly on proximity and culture: Merely sending troops to take a few nearby territories where the people are kinda like yourself isn't empire-building at all, and it's bad of anyone else to criticize it. Indeed, "send[ing] troops there" is simply a normal and unobjectionable thing to do under such circumstances, and anyone who might disagree probably has a secret motive to start a war.


Phew. Pat Buchanan couldn't have voiced these thoughts any better. You sure showed that right-wing warmonger Megan McArdle.

rickm said...

Sonic charmer-

You're as wrong as you are presumptuous.

For one, the distance between the metropole and the colony IS important for determining what is and what is not 'imperial.' The fact that you have to bypass the French and British empires and go all the way back to the Romans. While an accurate definition of empire does include expansion adjacent to one's borders, having a great physical distance suggests a large imbalance of power between the two nations and a global reach--two characteristics of empire.

Just because the US hasn't expropriated oil 'free of charge' from Iraq doesn't mean that control over that oil was an interest of the US.

You also wrote: "More broadly, let us note the basic and obvious point that we have not actually annexed Iraq as part of or a subject territory of our nation-state."

Ok well the British only established a 'protectorate' over Egypt, so Egypt was never a colony. Just like the Vietnam war was never a war because there was no declaration by the US. The point is that you've just defined what it means to have a colony down to the point that the term has no meaning.

Nutella's point was to show that for any given adequate definition of empire, the US' invasion of Iraq is going to be considered much closer to an imperialistic act than Russia's PROVOKED incursion into Georgia. I don't really see that you disputed any of that.

Chad said...

The whole "Russia is trying to expand back into its pre-World War I borders" meme has spread elsewhere. I believe even John McCain said something to the effect recently. Frankly it's as silly as accusing Turkey of using its legitimate grievances against the Kurds as an excuse to one day invade Iraq and start rebuilding the Ottoman Empire.

While I wouldn't put it past any country even in the twenty-first century to indulge in expansionism for expansionism's sake, there are plenty of more sensible motives for what Russia is doing, like their anxieties over Georgia's involvement with NATO, economic reasons (apparently South Ossetia is a major trading point for Russia and the Georgian government's efforts to control the region have been interfering with that), the infamous oil pipeline, and plenty more besides.

It's a shame Megan doesn't have access to something like a global information network where she might be able to do some research and find if there are actually more complex reasons for Russia's invasion of Georgia.

rickm said...

What chad said.

Sonic Charmer said...

rickm,

For one, the distance between the metropole and the colony IS important for determining what is and what is not 'imperial.'

It may be 'important' but it's not dispositive. I already gave counterexamples both ways.

While an accurate definition of empire does include expansion adjacent to one's borders,


Glad we agree.


Just because the US hasn't expropriated oil 'free of charge' from Iraq doesn't mean that control over that oil was [--sic; "wasn't"] an interest of the US.


Perhaps it was 'an interest' but (again) we (or companies, anyway) are buying not seizing this natural resource, as e.g. an actual empire would do.

Nutella's point was to show that for any given adequate definition of empire, the US' invasion of Iraq is going to be considered much closer to an imperialistic act than Russia's PROVOKED incursion into Georgia. I don't really see that you disputed any of that.

I do dispute that; at best it begs the question of what a supposedly 'adquate definition' is. I think it's rather obvious that Russia is far more imperialistic and I say this as one with Russian family (just got back from Russia, actually).

Anyway, perhaps the preceding was nutella's point, but even if the point were correct, I don't understand what he thinks it would prove vis-a-vis Megan's post.

Megan: Russia's latest imperial actions are troublesome.

nutella (non sequitur apropos of nothing): Psst, the United States's invasion of Iraq was imperialism!

Me: Um...and? Even if nutella's right, so what? It does not make what Russia's doing any less troublesome. (Does it? How?)

Chad,

there are plenty of more sensible motives for what Russia is doing, like their anxieties over Georgia's involvement with NATO, economic reasons (apparently South Ossetia is a major trading point for Russia and the Georgian government's efforts to control the region have been interfering with that), the infamous oil pipeline,


Invading and seizing territories for 'economic reasons' is part and parcel of what empires do. And even if they do have 'sensible motives' this doesn't make it not imperialism. Yours is a concession, not a debunking, of the claim that Russia is engaging in imperialism.

BTW, why/how is the oil pipeline "infamous"?


It's a shame Megan doesn't have access to something like a global information network where she might be able to do some research and find if there are actually more complex reasons for Russia's invasion of Georgia.


There being complex reasons for Russia's invasion of Georgia makes it = not imperialism?

Again: no.

Everyone else here seems to equate "imperialism" with "bad" (and vice versa) and thus, they think, if they can show that there's something defensible or sensible (or something) in Russia's actions, then it can't possibly be imperialism. This is mistaken thinking all around.

Chad said...

Sonic,

Megan - and others jumping in on the meme - appear to think that Russia is invading Georgia entirely because of an imperial impulse. In fact, despite making a quick reference to how energy concerns might be motivating Russia's actions in the first post, by the last one linked the narrative Megan buys into becomes this:

are we going to allow Russia to reassemble the old Russian empire? At its heart, that's what this is about.

So, yes, she does state that Russia wants to go back to his czarist-era borders, just because.

Speaking for myself (I don't want to put words in the mouths of our "hosts"), what makes Megan's post laughable doesn't involve any definition of imperialism (anyway, by the definition you seem to be promoting, isn't Russia's attack on Georgia not imperialism until the country is officially annexed?). It's Megan's scaremongering assertion that Russia is trying to turn back the clock to the nineteenth century that's inane and a gross overslimplification of the facts.

Sonic Charmer said...

"Megan - and others jumping in on the meme - appear to think that Russia is invading Georgia entirely because of an imperial impulse. In fact, despite making a quick reference to how energy concerns..."

I don't see where Megan said 'entirely'. Anyhow, 'imperial impulse' and 'energy concerns' are not mutually exclusive, as I said.

"So, yes, she does state that Russia wants to go back to his czarist-era borders, just because."

She didn't say "just because". Maybe she agrees with you that Russia has energy-concern-related reasons, economic-related reasons, or whatever other 'complex' reasons for her new imperialism. Again: 'complex reasons' and 'imperialism' are not mutually exclusive. There's nothing in the definition of 'imperialism' that says it's only an empire if it's being assembled 'just because'. Indeed, I doubt there has ever been an empire assembled for anything OTHER than 'complex' reasons, including economics, energy, and so on.

Defining 'empire' so that once you have a 'reason' for conquest, you're no longer being imperial, would lead to a very empty definition of 'empire' indeed.

"(anyway, by the definition you seem to be promoting, isn't Russia's attack on Georgia not imperialism until the country is officially annexed?)."

Well, maybe it's an attempt at imperialism. Anyway I'm not sure I said anything about 'officially'. The original comparison here was with Iraq; my point was that Russia has essentially annexed these two regions already in a way that is simply not the case re: US/Iraq. (Are we issuing American passports to Iraqis? Do we say that everyone can 'forget about' Iraq ever not being under our control?)

"It's Megan's scaremongering assertion that Russia is trying to turn back the clock to the nineteenth century that's inane and a gross overslimplification of the facts."

I'm puzzled by this idea that pointing out true facts is 'scaremongering'. It's not as if Megan is somehow erroneously and crazily claiming that Russia might invade and seize regions of Georgia and penetrate further into Georgia; Russia has already done this. This is not 'scaremongering' but a fact. To whom is stating facts 'scaremongering'?

To ostriches who wish not to know facts so they don't have to think about them? Don't scare you with facts about Russia - is that what you're saying?

If you don't think Russia acts as an imperial bully, that's of course your right. We simply disagree. But I have to wonder what Russia you're looking at, or whether you're even trying at all. Listening to some people one gets the impression that they've decided what Russia's doing is a-ok because mean/stupid rightwingers like John McCain and Megan McArdle seem not to like it. I hope that's not what's going on here, but the post at the top of this thread sure smells like it.