Here is a tip for President Bush: Next time you endeavor to justify the violent occupation of Iraq, you might want to avoid using phrases like, "We're not an imperial power. We're a liberating power."
That was the line the president adopted in the prime time press conference that was organized this week as part of the latest of his administration's uninspired attempts to calm concerns about the killings, kidnappings and related crises in Iraq.
Unfortunately, the old rule applies: When you have to say you aren't an imperialist, you almost certainly are one. And when you have to say that you are a liberating power, you almost certainly are not in the liberation business.
Perhaps the president really believes that invading another country, forcing a regime change and then picking pliant bureaucrats to serve as the friendly faces of that occupation is not imperialism. And perhaps the president really believes that the people of Iraq find it liberating to have the army of a foreign land shuttering their newspapers, controlling their resources, policing their streets, arresting their friends and relatives, and killing and maiming their neighbors.
But, even if the president does entertain such fantasies, his aides have a responsibility to keep him from making statements that sound absurd on their face.
And claiming that the occupation of Iraq is not an act of imperialism is as absurd as referring to that occupation as an act of liberation.
The president's aides might want to offer their boss a quick history lesson. When the American revolutionaries were struggling to throw off the shackles of British colonialism, they received vital assistance from the French government. The French did not start the fight, however, and once it was finished, they quickly exited the scene. As a result, the French were revered during the early years of this country's history as America's truest friends.
Had the Iraqi people mounted a mass revolt against Saddam Hussein's dictatorial rule, had the Bush administration then provided assistance to that struggle, and had the U.S. troops quickly left the Iraqis to settle their own affairs when the struggle was done, Americans might well be viewed as true friends of Iraq.
But that's not what happened. A little over a year ago, the Bush administration ordered the invasion and occupation of a country that posed no threat to the United States. The administration is now cobbling together an unelected "government" to pretend to take charge of Iraq on June 30. The stage-managed handoff of Iraq to a U.S.-designed "governing council" will not end the occupation because it will not put the Iraqi people in a position to control their fate - let alone their oil. It will simply put a local face on the occupation.
Talk about the liberation of Iraq will ring true when Iraqis choose their own leaders and take genuine control of their own affairs. Until then, Iraq will remain a country that is under the occupation of an imperialist power. Nothing the president says will make that imperialism any less real nor any less offensive to Iraqis and to thinking Americans.
Copyright 2003 The Capital Times