Hubris, spin, and an Empire's fall

19 October 2006.

  • Beware empires in decline, Professor Michael T Klare warns us, in a thought-provoking article published in today's Asia Times. Using the example of the egregious - and egregiously stupid - reaction of Britain and France to Egypt's decision to nationalise the Suez Canal (which he contrasts to US president Jimmy Carter's decision in 1977 to negotiate a turn over of the Panama Canal - it doesn't require much imagination to realise what Bush/Cheney would have done in this situation), Professor Klare points out the hubris which almost inevitably (with Mr Carter as an honourable exception, at least on this occasion) afflicts the decision makers of an empire on the decline :
    The decline of an empire can be a hard and painful thing for the affected imperial elites. Those who are used to commanding subservience and respect from their subjects and from lesser powers are often ill-prepared to deal with their indifference and contempt. Even harder is overcoming the long-inbred assumption that one's vassals are inferior - mentally, morally and otherwise.

    The first malady makes the declining elites extraordinarily sensitive to perceived slights or insults from their former subjects; the second often leads elites to overestimate their own capabilities and to underestimate those of their former subjects - an often fatal error. The two misjudgments often combine to produce an extreme readiness to strike back when a perceived insult coincides with a (possibly deceptive) military superiority.

    King George and his courtiers, enamoured as they are of «faith-based» reality, are not slow to perceive slights and to react to them with military action, even if or perhaps more correctly (that pesky cognitive dissonance again !), especially if they result from their own provocations (the present situation on the Korean peninsula being an excellent case in point). And, as I maintain in my posting to StumbleUpon, infra, there are other factors in addition to perceived lèse-majesté that act to impel the King George and his court in the direction of military adventure against Iran - and just possibly North Korea - in the coming two weeks. I wonder what Euripedes would have made of this drama ?...

*Ever the gentleman, Professor Klare politely refrains from pointing out another obvious factor which would tend to lead the present US administration - like its imperial predecessors but even more so - toward such desperate acts of insanity as nuclear attacks on Iran and/or North Korea : the desire to use a new and better war to force US voters to rally round the flag, thus making the manipulations that are scheduled for the upcoming Congressional elections less immediately obvious. But his main point is well taken :
So I believe that the common wisdom in Washington regarding military action against Iran is wrong. Just because American forces are bogged down in Iraq, and Rice appears to enjoy a bit more authority these days, does not mean that "realism" will prevail at the White House. I suspect that the response of declining British and French imperial elites when faced with provocative acts by a former subject power in 1956 is a far more accurate gauge of what to expect from the Bush administration today.

The impulse to strike back must be formidable. Soon, I fear, it will prove irresistible.

We are cursed with living in interesting times....

*Note that this article was first published six days ago in Foreign Policy in Focus....

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