I know that the modern attention span can be short. I seem to need a constant stream of new and unrelated trivialities to satisfy my synapses. A disease of modernity? Blame it on TV or MTV in particular? I don’t know, probably. I doubt that my peasant ancestors had the same problem watching the root vegetables grow and preparing for the seasonal changes.
Still, it is remarkable that Iraq has fallen off the pages and screens of the major news outlets as quickly and determined as it has. Conspiracy? The immediacy of the recent election reality show? The creeping “oh shit” realization of many on the economy has finally hit home?
Patrick Cockburn reports that the US is holding a $50 billion dollar extortion brief over the heads of the Iraqi “government” and they still won’t bite on the deal to allow 50 permanent military bases, no control over their own borders or air space, etc. The deal would codify a colonial relationship with Iraq as real in its own way as the one the US had with the Philippines.
Stretching our attention span all the way back to 1898 and the Philippines may be asking a lot, but it’s a pretty good place to start for the story of US imperialism. Back then even the Philippine bank notes had an American stamped on them. These days tact requires a little more subtlety although I have a feeling the American dollar goes further than the new dinar in Iraq (which is not even exchanged by Iraqi banks). The US only paid about $20 million (payable to Spain) for those unfortunate islands. A big mark up on property in the last century, who knows what the total cost of the attempted Iraq colony will be but with the cost of oil these days….
A huge swath of US public opinion and discourse can’t remember last week let alone the last century but we have been here before, in different ways for sure, but with certain economic truths remaining constant in the story. Just about the first time was in the Philippines and we are lucky that Mark Twain was alive to see it and comment on it. Twain’s anti-imperialist writings continue to be some of the most powerful written. A certain, modern hypocrisy is necessary for the imperial projects of “democracies”. Read Twain and turn on NPR; he would have nailed them. Oh, and the US is, of course, still in the Philippines.
“We have bought some islands from a party who did not own them; with real smartness and a good counterfeit of disinterested friendliness we coaxed a confiding weak nation into a trap and closed it upon them; we went back on an honored guest of the Stars and Stripes when we had no further use for him and chased him to the mountains; we are as indisputably in possession of a wide-spreading archipelago as if it were our property; we have pacified some thousands of the islanders and buried them; destroyed their fields; burned their villages, and turned their widows and orphans out-of-doors; furnished heartbreak by exile to some dozens of disagreeable patriots; subjugated the remaining ten millions by Benevolent Assimilation, which is the pious new name of the musket; we have acquired property in the three hundred concubines and other slaves of our business partner, the Sultan of Sulu, and hoisted our protecting flag over that swag
“And so, by these Providences of God—the phrase is the government’s, not mine—we are a World Power; and are glad and proud, and have a back seat in the family. With tacks in it. At least we are letting on to be glad and proud; it is the best way. Indeed, it is the only way. We must maintain our dignity, for people are looking. We are a World Power; we cannot get out of it now, and we must make the best of it.”