Rashid Khalidi “Resurrecting Empire” (2004)

Khalidi, Rashid, Resurrecting Empire: Western Footprints and American Perilous Path in the Middle East, New York: Beacon, 2004.

This is an enjoyable and careful analysis of the role of the US and the so-called American Century enterprise in the comparative backdrop of British and French colonialism during first half of twentieth century. Of course the fact that this book was published one year after the invasion of Iraq changed the nature of the conversation from constituting an argument against war to an informative text about the deeply historical origins of the war. Although it is directed to the non-specialist historians and a broader audience, the argument is built in a three-dimensional manner, provides plenty of insightful references, and has several meaningful passages on the nature of colonialism that would have not been appropriate in the overly-strict format of academic writing.

The two first chapters provide an historical overview of the western intervention in the Middle East in its most political and military terms. In these, Khalidi proposes that, despite the popular will for democratic self-rule in the Middle East by the turn of the 20th century, the constitution of puppet governments serving western imperial metropolies had the indirect consequence of crippling the image of democracy as a system tainted by Empire and colonial interests.

The third chapter is a revealing comparison between the British and American interests in Middle Eastern oil, their policies to secure its acquisition, and the resulting political balance of the region. This includes very informative passages on the British necessity of controlling Iraq’s oil reserves due to its strategic move to oil-dependent navy during WWI. Also, interesting is the ironic fact that the one who mostly benefited from the British arming of both the Hashemite and the Saudi dynasties was the US as the following Arabian intestinal war expel the UK from the Peninsula.

The fourth chapter is an odd interlude that brings the Palestine-Israel conflict to the forefront. Although the American public needs to read about this topic so often misrepresent in mainstream media, I am not sure this chapter fits well within the rest of the book. If Khalidi wanted to depict the image of the US as an imperial referee, of course part and judge of the process, he gets too entangled in the negotiation-cum-war process between Israel and the different counterparts –be Palestinian civilians, Palestinian political factions, other Arab states, etc.– without really making a point on the interest of the US in this conflict.

The fifth and last chapter ties together the first three and defends two points. First, the US is Resurrecting Empire and “stepping into the boots of earlier imperial power” (165) although the term “empire” and everything related to it has been demonized and avoided for the most part within the imperialist camp. I wish he would have gone a bit further into the professionalization of policy writing and today’s career oriented “experts” which, in his opinion, differs from 19th and early 20th century Orientalism.

khalidi 2And second, while most of the book is limited to providing an historical context to its contemporary war, in the last passages Khalidi bravely assumes the responsibility of suggesting a way out of the miserable situation in which the US army left Iraq. He proposes a “truly” internationally coordinated mandate for a “strictly limited period” that remained politically and economically neutral while providing the institutional grounds for the Iraqi citizens to “rapidly reestablish their independent statehood on a democratic basis” (172-175). Although my following comments are already over a decade late to analyze his proposition to the 2003 Iraq War, Syria and many other countries might be in the same path in a foreseeable future.

First, I find somehow paradoxical the fact that, while the author considers the mandates and colonialism the problem of the 20th century and the far-reaching origins of Iraq War, he still thinks that the solution is yet another mandate. Although this might be the most practical solution –practical as able to be practiced– this idea lacks originality and it is very likely to end up being controlled by a fluffy UN cut-and-paste set of non-obligatory governing recommendations which, by the way, offers a perfect shadow to the spread of effective networks of patronage and neo-patrimonialist corruption.

It is also paradoxical the fact that he underscores the artificiality of Iraq as a state, never constituted a unified political entity until the colonially designed project of the British Mandate. In fact, Khalidi goes as far as questing the ‘nationess’ of Iraq and only granting it the privilege of being a failed state. However, although I fully agree on the previous statements, his solution is again to  maintain the unity of the state  and implement actual democracy.

Hence, and this is the mother of the questions, if the central purpose of the United Nations, and its predecessor the League of Nations, was to achieve world peace and global governance by promoting democratic self-rule in newly constituted political entities tutored by “more advanced” states; and if the US, as the current imperial power, bypasses the UN and makes use of the system of nation-states, as previous empires did during the last century, to promote puppet governments that would serve its strategic interests and the interests of private companies closely related to the US clique in power… what has changed since early 20th century to think that this system is the solution to the very problems it created?

 

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