7 Habits of Highly Effective Imperialists
In 1990, Stephen Covey published The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. A business-oriented self-help book, the volume was a huge bestseller and is still in print today. During the same decade-and-a-half, the American economy grew hugely. A coincidence? Perhaps not.
Let’s face it: our crusade to extend the benefits of Americanism to the rest of the world, especially the Middle East, has not been Effective. Now clearly it’s time to work Covey’s magic on Uncle Sam’s faltering imperial effort. Here’s what think-tank tigers need to know, the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Imperialists:
1. Be serious about your imperialism —the Great Game is not for dilettantes.
Thrilling to accounts of the Battle of Plassey, savoring the Sykes-Picot agreement, taking in seminars at AEI—that’s not good enough. Here’s how the Los Angeles Times recently described Doug Feith, undersecretary of defense and leading neo-imperialist, in his home: “sitting in his library surrounded by stacks of Commentary magazines and books on the British empire and the Middle East.” In other words, an armchair warrior—literally. Is it any wonder Feith has been Ineffective?
By contrast, the Highly Effective Imperialist gets off his fanny and “goes native.” We might consider, for example, Richard Francis Burton—now he was Effective. In the days before jets or mints on your hotel room pillow, Burton made his way across five continents. He helped discover the source of the Nile; he was one of the first Westerners to visit Mecca, disguised as an Afghan Muslim. Yet in addition to all his journeys, in addition to writing a half-dozen books and innumerable monographs on people and places, he also learned the local languages; he translated works from Arabic and Hindi, notably the Kama Sutra and The Arabian Nights. Not surprisingly, Burton saw little of England during his adult life—he died in Trieste in 1890—which is to say, Burton lived out the self-sacrificing injunction of Rudyard Kipling: “Take up the White Man’s burden/Send forth the best ye breed/Go bind your sons to exile/ To serve your captives’ need.”
If Americans are serious about imperialism, they will make a massive commitment to teaching little Justin and Jennifer the tongues of their new realms: Arabic, Pashtu, Dari, Farsi, Urdu, etc. And then, even more important, they will steel their children for lifetimes of overseas service.
Of course, Effective Imperialists must combine ethnic and linguistic “ground truth” with high Machiavellianism. To keep control of India, for example, the British cultivated the Sikhs as a ruling elite. Why? Because the Sikhs were a tiny minority. Once they were installed in the upper reaches of the Raj, the Sikhs were anxious for the Brits to stay, so as to preserve their top-dog status. That approach proved Effective for a century. By contrast, today, is there any American clever enough to see the wisdom of dividing Iraq into three parts, so as to make all three mini-states—Sunni, Shia, Kurd—dependent on the U.S. for border protection? Evidently not. And in any case, we’re still fighting two out of three of these groups 18 months after liberating them. Feith & Co. navigated by “moral clarity,” not by historical or political landmarks. According to an August report in Rolling Stone, one U.S. Army colonel, a veteran of Middle East work, fluent in Arabic, was interviewed by Feith for a possible job. During the session, Feith looked down at his résumé, “I see you speak Arabic,” Feith said. When the colonel nodded, Feith snapped, “too bad” and dismissed him. To make matters worse, the Feithians appointed their unskilled friends and relatives—Michael Fleischer (brother of Ari) and Simone Ledeen (daughter of Michael)—to prominent positions in the Coalition Provisional Authority. After a few months of sightseeing and war profiteering, such folks have mostly come home—not Effective.
2. Get the locals to like you.
This is hard, I know. It’s counterintuitive to expect that the people you’re killing will give you their hearts and minds. In the words of Voltaire, “It would be easier to subjugate the entire universe through force of arms than the minds of a single village.”
It took the British two difficult decades to subdue the Sudanese Muslims in the late 19th century, but by the mid-20th century, Sudan had gained its independence—and also great hostility to the West. Other British colonial non-success stories include Zimbabwe, which is one of the few countries where London is hated more than Washington. We might also recall that the British “liberated” Iraq twice in the last century, in 1917 and in 1941. And what do they have to show for the gravestones they left behind in Mesopotamia?
Today, it’s the Americans’ turn to score low as colonizers. One poll taken this spring showed that 92 percent of Iraqis saw Americans as occupiers; just two percent saw them as liberators. As George W. Bush himself conceded on April 13, “I wouldn’t be happy if I were occupied either.” During the Athens Olympics, the Bush-Cheney campaign sought to make re-election hay out of the Iraq soccer team’s success; yet an Iraqi player cut the Rovers off at midfield, telling the Americans: “We want to live. Stop killing civilians. Help rebuild Iraq instead of destroying it.” We might call this Mission Not Accomplished. So what to do? Once again, the Effective Imperialist looks to what’s worked in the past. England and Scotland had fought each other for eons—“Braveheart” and all that—but they merged in 1603 when James VI of Scotland inherited the English crown and became James I of England. Four centuries later, the relationship still works. So today, if some rising young buck in the Bush dynasty went to Iraq, married a girl named Sistani, embraced Shia Islam, and brought the new Mrs. Bush home to social and political prominence, that would be the beginning of a beautiful transnational friendship. A future American president with a Shari’a-worthy beard might not please American neocons, but he would be Effective at earning Iraqi allegiance.
3. Be ruthless.
If Habit #2 doesn’t work, then try Habit #3. We might consider, for example, the Effectiveness Lesson in the Book of Samuel. God said to Saul: “Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.” But while Saul mostly followed the Lord’s commandment, he spared a few folks and critters. God was outraged at this insufficient ruthlessness. As future-king Samuel explained to soon-to-be-ex-king Saul, “Thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord hath rejected thee from being king over Israel.” So Samuel had to mop up, completing the earth-scorching. Now that’s Effectiveness.
Similarly, when the Romans wanted to be rid of troublesome Carthage once and for all, they flattened the city and plowed the leveled ground with salt. Carthago was truly delenda, and it hasn’t been heard from since.
More recently, when white Americans and Australians wanted to Manifest their Destiny over their respective continents, they mostly massacred the aboriginal peoples, occasionally deigning to miscegenate with them. The Chinese are using equally Effective tactics in Tibet today. In geopolitics, possession-by-domination is nine-tenths of the law; demography is political destiny.
In the meantime, after 213 years of attempted subjugation, the Russians are still Ineffective in Chechnya. Vladimir Putin might be asking himself, “WWSD” —What Would Stalin Do? And the answer to that question might well be: total wipeout, by any WMD necessary. Note to other countries dealing with uppity populations: it’s genocide, but it’s been proven Effective.
4. Got allies? You’ll need some.
The Venetian Republic lasted for a thousand years because the doges were wily enough to use mercenaries and surrogates in their endless wars with their fellow Italians, then Byzantines, then Ottoman Turks. For their part, the British didn’t succeed in taking down Louis XIV, Napoleon, the Kaiser, and Hitler all by themselves. For centuries, London built balance-of-power coalitions that enabled Albion to preserve its sea power, while not getting bogged down in losing ground wars.
Similarly, when the U.S. has had allies—from World War I to Gulf War I to Kosovo to Afghanistan—the fighting has generally been Effective. But America’s more unilateral wars, such as Vietnam and Gulf War II, have been Ineffective.
Having allies helps in other ways, too—especially if you have an ogre for an ally. The American occupation of Germany and Japan was eased by the menacing specter of the Soviets, just across the Elbe and the East Sea. The message was clear: if the surrendered Germans and Japanese ever became too troublesome, the Americans would exit and the Red Army would enter. No wonder we were so Effective.
In the case of occupied Iraq today, suppose Turkey or Iran had invaded the country at the same time as American forces. By now the American sector might well seem like paradise compared to the Turkish or Iranian sector. Plus those occupiers would be no-nonsense in their “pacification”—see Habit #3, above.
5. Be realistic.
Politics is the art of the possible, said Bismarck. In the same vein, the Effective Imperialist doesn’t over-promise.
In 2003, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace did a study of the 16 major “nation-building” efforts conducted by the U.S. and found that just four—Germany, Japan, Grenada in 1983, Panama in 1989—had been Effective. The other 12, stretched from Haiti to Nicaragua to South Vietnam, were Ineffective.
The basic lesson is that culture matters most. The Germans, for example, proved capable of utter barbarism under Nazi rule, but after having lost eight million in the war—see Habit #3 again—they were ready, post-1945, to change their ways and resume being a “normal” European country again. So Germany proved peaceful and prosperous, just like its neighbors; the death of Hitler helped restore the nation to the generally upward trend line of its neighborhood. It was good news that the Germans blended back into their environment, but it was also not surprising—Europe is a civilization.
Arab Islam is a civilization, too. And it’s not surprising that Iraq seems to be reverting to its neighborhood trend line, which, of course, is not auspicious for American dreams of a “democratic transformation” of Iraq.
To put it another way, Islam is a tough nut to crack. Nowhere in the world, except maybe Attica prison, does a white minority rule successfully over a Muslim majority, which leads us to the Sixth Habit of Effective Imperialists.
6. Leave quickly—and set up a puppet government.
In July 1958, President Dwight Eisenhower ordered 14,000 U.S. Marines to go ashore in Lebanon to prop up the U.S.-backed government. Three months later, having accomplished that mission, they all pulled out; exactly one American was killed by hostile fire. By contrast, when President Ronald Reagan ordered the Marines back into Lebanon in August 1982, he kept them there for 18 months—and 254 Leathernecks lost their lives amidst growing resistance. Today, we have been in Afghanistan for almost three years, and in Iraq for 18 months. It’s safe to say that we aren’t growing more popular in either place.
Instead, the Effective Imperialist uses surrogates for long-term country-control. The Shah, for example, gave us 26 good years of sway in Iran, although admittedly the 25 years since his fall in 1979 have been disappointing. But the search for new tools—human tools—continues. And so on to Baghdad. In October 2002, the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported that Rep. Tom Lantos, ranking Democrat on the House International Affairs Committee, had soothed a visiting Israeli politician with these assurances about the future of Iraq: “My dear Collette, don’t worry. You won’t have any problem with Saddam. We’ll be rid of the bastard soon enough. And in his place we’ll install a pro-Western dictator, who will be good for you and good for us.” Enter Ahmad Chalabi. Exit Ahmad Chalabi. And while Chalabi did not meet expectations, Iyad Allawi is showing he’s tough—tough on press freedom at least. And while it might not be prudent to write a life-insurance policy for the new Iraqi strongman, it’s possible that he will survive and thrive.
But whether or not Allawi makes it, Americans on the home front should develop a taste for hummus and biryani. Just as curry and couscous are national dishes of Britain and France today, thanks to the recasting of their populations as a byproduct of conquest, Americans, too, should prepare for demographic and culinary transition. Today, the difference between the colonizer and the colonized isn’t just firepower—it’s birthrates. One way or another, lots of Iraqis are going to end up in the U.S.; Allawi himself may live and die in his homeland, but lots of his friends and relatives will find new homes—next door to the late Shah’s kin and cronies, maybe in Beverly Hills.
Of course, not every Iraqi coming to the American “mother country” will be carrying a suitcase stuffed with cash. Some will be carrying other things in their bags, which brings us to the seventh and last point in our Effectiveness tutorial.
7. Brace yourself for tragedy.
At the height of Roman Imperial Effectiveness, the poet Juvenal wrote plangently, “The country weeps for its victories.” A study by the Cato Institute counted 98 wars and military campaigns waged by the British from 1800 to 1906. Kipling, the bard of imperialism, poeticized the fate of many of his countrymen: “When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains/And the women come out to cut up what remains/Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains/An’ go to your Gawd like a soldier.” Sometimes, the tragedy comes later to the Imperial Country. After the fall of the Bastille in 1789, the young minds of Europe were aflame with thoughts of revolutionary restructuring. Nowhere was enthusiasm for the Aufklärung greater than among German intellectuals. As the historian Isaiah Berlin observed, “Almost without exception, they began by welcoming the French Revolution rapturously, planting trees of liberty and denouncing as obsolete and brutally oppressive the rule of the three hundred German princes.”
But then the dialectical wheel turned, as the French overplayed their hand. “Horrified by the Terror and wounded by the national humiliation of Germany by the armies of Revolutionary France and, still more, those of Napoleon,” those same Germans, Berlin continued, “turned into patriots, reactionaries and romantic irrationalists.” One such was Beethoven. Living at the time in Vienna, the young composer intended to dedicate his Third Symphony to Napoleon, but after the French leader crowned himself emperor in 1804, he tore up the “Eroica” dedication. Less than a decade later, Beethoven composed a celebratory piece entitled “Wellington’s Victory.”
And so the fervent Francophiles of not-yet-Germany were transformed into even more fervent Francophobes. Most likely, Napoleon went to his grave in 1821 without thinking much about the deep geysers of sentiment he had helped uncork. But the unifying Germans thought deeply about their humiliation and insult; for half a century they brooded and plotted. And then in 1870, 1914, and 1940, they crossed the Rhine, each time wreaking horrible vengeance and violence.
In contemporary Iraq, our brave troops might be holding up well, but they aren’t just filling up future pages of glorious American military history. They are also unintentionally collaborating in the composition of future sagas of Sunni and Shia martyrdom. Today, the fighting in Iraq is asymmetrical: our F-16s, their AK-47s. But tomorrow, the asymmetrical action could shift to America: their WMD, our cities. That’s called “blowback,” and it’s a darn nuisance.
To date, Americans have been Effective at spending money in Iraq, and little else. But it’s not too late to learn the Seven Habits of Imperial Effectiveness. If Americans are prepared to live—indeed, to die—by those Habits, we can look forward, at least, to pacifying Fallujah.
James P. Pinkerton is a contributor to the Fox News Channel and a TAC contributing editor. Follow him on Twitter.