Friday, June 02, 2006

Toward a Theory of Empire

"Isolated incidents." "A few bad apples." Yes, but the isolated incidents seem to be forming a pattern. Haditha. Ishaqi. Abu Ghraib. Even those who favor Bush's war should be alarmed on utilitarian grounds: "Remember _______!" is apt to be a very effective recruiting slogan for the "insurgent" and "terrorist" organizations that El Presidente claims to be fighting.

From the Ishaqi story:
The US army has also announced that coalition troops in Iraq are to have ethical training following the alleged incident in Haditha.

However, the BBC's Ian Pannell in Baghdad says the move is likely to be greeted with cynicism by many Iraqis, as the troops have long been accused of deliberately targeting civilians.
Surely Mr. Pannell is mistaken ... it's quite unbelievable that "many Iraqis" could possibly be cynical about the impeccable intentions of the U.S. The Americans are the guys in the white hats, as Dubya has explained so many times now. And if you can't trust Dubya, whom can you trust?

But, on to the theory. Conservation laws are very important building blocks for theory in physics; many processes are profitably analyzed in terms of conservation principles, which say: in a certain kind of process, the amount of some physical quantity present before the process is the same as the amount after the process. The usual conserved quantities in physics -- depending on the process involved, of course -- include mass, charge, total energy, kinetic energy, linear momentum, angular momentum, and so on.

Today, I propose a conservation law that might be applied to world affairs. Simply put: in certain kinds of places, such as artificial nation-states that were welded together by outsiders and consist of multiple natural sociological groups of people who share little besides mutual antipathy, the number of Saddams before regime change and after regime change tends to be a constant. To the U.S. this means: to depose Saddam is to replace him -- with yourself.

In my vanity, I was tempted to refer to this as "Bartleby's Law." But I've overcome the temptation. I propose instead to call this principle "The Law of Conservation of Saddams."

(Nobel Prize committee: just feel free to leave my invitation to Stockholm next year in the replies below.)

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