Empress Obama

Empress Obama
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Though we tend to think of Victorian England and imperial pride as going together like bangers and mash, actual British opinion in the era was never quite so pat. Maintaining an empire where the sun never set was a hugely expensive endeavour, after all, and by the apex of the 19th century, when London was running everywhere from Ireland to India, from Singapore to South Africa, from Burma to Belize, it was hardly self-evident that the expenditures associated with imperial upkeep — an elaborate global bureaucracy, endless far-flung military campaigns, an enormous navy capable of “ruling the waves” — were truly balanced by colonial trade and taxes. On the contrary, many found the colonies to be — in the words of the great Tory leader Benjamin Disraeli — “millstones around our necks,” and instead championed the now largely forgotten “little Britain” movement of Victorian isolationism.

The United States isn’t quite an empire, but certainly has costly dependencies. Perhaps more costly than even the great English colonies of Disraeli’s time, in fact. Either way, they’re starting to make the case for “little America” all the more persuasive.

Take Israel, for instance. America famously gives the Jewish state over $3 billion in financial aid every year, making it the single largest foreign recipient of US tax dollars and a federal expenditure costlier than many domestic programs including the Food and Drug Administration ($2.5 billion) and the Secret Service (a measly 1.5). Since the mid-1970s, when this generous tradition of handouts first began, it’s estimated Israel has absorbed close to 100 billion American dollars — the equivalent of directly running the whole country for a year.

Yet all this money doesn’t seem to buy an awful lot of obedience. For the last dozen or so years, America’s basically only given Israel two concrete demands — help the occupied Palestinian territories become an independent nation, and stop building settlements on their land. Israel, in turn, has not done either of these things. In fact, the current administration of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has done precisely the opposite, dragging his feet on peace talks while repeatedly giving the green light to new settler colonies — including a rather galling incident earlier this month where he approved the construction of 3,100 new homes in the West Bank on the eve of negotiations with the Palestinian president. He also wants more American money, by the way.

Then there’s Egypt. At $1.5 billion per year, America gives that country only half of what Israel gets, but that’s still enough to make it — by far — the US’ second-largest overseas expense. As is the case with Israel, much of the Egyptian military is also US-armed and trained, with the two nations’ biennial, cooperative “Bright Star” war games comprising America’s single largest military exercise.

There will be no Bright Star this year, however. Obama’s cancelled it in response to the Egyptian military government’s ongoing massacre of street protesters, whose death tolls now routinely tally in the hundreds per day. Massacring civilians is against US government policy, you see, but the sticky wicket is that it’s also against US government policy to be an Islamist or a dictator, and these were the philosophies of Egypt’s previous two US-backed regimes. America also has a policy against giving money to governments that take power by using the armed forces to depose an elected one, which of course is what the current administration of General Sisi did when he overthrew President Morsi last month. But the Senate worried that enforcing that law might result in the States “losing influence” with the generals or something, so they agreed to ignore it. Another $1.5 billion on the way, Mr. General!

I’ve never liked the phrase “American imperialism,” in part because it’s an ugly and mean-spirited slur, but also because it’s simply not a very accurate way of understanding America’s relationship with the countries most financially dependant upon it. True colonies fear and respect their master; America’s exploit and distrust it. Good colonies are loyal — a former Canadian prime minister once proudly declared that “ready, aye, ready” should be his country’s only response to London’s demands — while America’s are brazenly disobedient. Effective colonies emulate the motherland as a model of success and progress; America’s embrace dramatically unAmerican ideals of militarism and religious intolerance.

There will always be a case for humanitarian aid, and aid as an instrument of assistance in times of extreme environmental disaster or existential war. But employing aid as a technique of soft imperialism, or at least a means of control and persuasion, is an American experiment that’s clearly failed.

At a time when the country is bearing so many other financial burdens and unsustainable obligations, attempting to micromanage the affairs of the Middle East — hell, attempting to merely influence allies — is looking less and less like a wise investment and more and more like yet one more heavy millstone around an increasingly crowded neck.


  1. ThePsudo

    Wow. I never thought I'd say this, but Obama as a remarkable amount of cleavage.

  2. Beppo

    I know, JJ writes this great essay to go along with the cartoon and all I can think about is Obama's disturbing decolletage.
    I am ashamed.

  3. @alongkarma

    Perhaps more costly than even the great English colonies of Disraeli’s time, in fact http://blog.studenti.it/infokus/unit-link-terbaikhttp://www.jeparaproduction.com/

  4. Colin Minich

    I must say JJ that without your hyperlinking and erudite way in this particular piece I wouldn't have been kept abreast of the situation, looking like a real boob with an awful short-term mammary.

    I despise the term American imperialism not just as an American but also because a lot of people, particularly Chinese and Europeans (the latter has absolutely no right to talk mind you), seem to correlate it with the African land grab of the 1800s and as you've demonstrated the British Empire. The colonies, barring the US and India on some occasions, have generally been subservient and reaped the benefits of British rule. Meanwhile there are no real COLONIES of America (but rather commonwealths which again aren't quite the same a la Marianas Islands, Puerto Rico, Samoa, etc.) but it seems more often than not those that America lends a hand to ends up showing the fangs and biting. I think though that the true exceptions have been its Asian allies, Japan and South Korea. Not only have those two appreciated, despite a few bumps like the God-awful Sunshine Policy, the aid but flourished and emulated because of it. Park Chung-Hee, warts and all, pursued an aggressive financial endeavor through capitalism and American investment to make South Korea the economic power it is today. Both nations also realize the importance of being friends with the US as China continues to swing its weight around in egregious claims or the frustrating support of North Korea. The Middle East is a different story, where strongmen and religion go hand in hand and Israel's particular defiance through Bibi should force the US to reexamine its relationship. But hey when its neighbors are on fire, you can't exactly give them just one extinguisher and say "good luck."

  5. Dan

    I never thought Angela Merkel would be jealous of another world leader, but Barack's stacked!

  6. James Vincent Plett

    "America’s embrace dramatically unAmerican ideals of militarism and religious intolerance."

    Your article demonstrates though that America is militaristic and intolerant of religion. In this regard, the colonies perfectly emulate the mother country.

  7. Guest

    That's a little unfair. America's religious landscape is a varied patchwork of both permissiveness and intolerance.

    And it's unlikely imitation, I think it more has to do with the fact that, if you're going to send a couple of billion in military funding into a region with a history of contested major territorial claims… well, a powerful and politicised military is hardly a surprise result.

  8. Jon Bennett

    Israel actually receives less than Iraq and Afghanistan now from the US. Not that it makes that $3Bill acceptable- Israel is a self-sustaining nation.

  9. Guest

    Imperialism is not strictly accurate, but there's not really a better word either.

    Even the British Empire at the time when Orwell was in Burma came nowhere near totalitarianism. In terms of military might, there is a pretty limited number of soldiers one soggy island can produce. Insofar as the British Empire 'worked' it was because London made alliances with whoever was strong enough to be effective – and weak enough to be loyal. So long as these parameters remained intact, the deal was they supported the British economically and geopolitically, and the British let them do what they wanted in the territory they controlled. Which frequently meant butchering their rivals.

    If you're hoping for progressive imperialism, JJ, it's not likely to happen.

    Now the US is more hands-off than that, so the US has arguably less influence on local policy. Of course, they could easily stop funding them, But you've got to bear in mind they're not buying liberalism any more than the Empire was for spreading Anglican protestantism and cricket*, they're buying places for their military to stop off, access tot he Suez, etc, as well as providing a stimulus for US arms manufacturers. The reality is if they want to keep those they can't be any more choosy about whatever army-backed or religious-backed strongman will be a reliable ally so long as they don't become a liability.

    And Mubarak, Sisi, Sharon and Netanyahu seemed sufficiently confident that the US does want to keep its perks. And so far they've been right.

    Which suggests that the US' international outlook is more classically imperialist than progressive after all.

    * That said, since the decline and collapse of the British Empire, a number of former colonies – though not all – nevertheless seem to have outdone Blighty on one or both measures.

  10. Taylor

    America, gluttonous and imperialistic as it is, has finally grown bored of watching its militaristic hit-men destroy democracy in situations set up by Israel.

    A good cartoon.

  11. Taylor

    Well, that bombed., lol

  12. Jake_Ackers

    Bush is a warmonger but Obama is a liberator, according to the press anyway. Obama said these were the exact kind of wars (both Syria and Libya) he wouldn't go into too. But yet he just goes into any dictator filled nation.

    He could at least make a case about Russia and China. Although to be quite honest if he sat down with the Russians and Chinese and gave them free access to the Mediterranean in a post Assad regime, Assad would fall overnight. While at the same time sticking it to Iran. However, I think the intervention is going to happen because the rebels have way too many terrorist like elements. And Assad is a genocidal dictator and used chemical weapons. There is no one to back in this war. Could of at least get some General to coup Assad.

    Yet, it still begs the question. Does it even matter? It's not in the US national interest. It's hard to draw a line directly to Iran and a threat to the US. These kinds of dealings in Syria is really a UN or Arab League problem. Furthermore, if what I said before was done, RU and China would pretty much put a bullet in the head of Assad themselves.

    This goes back to what I said a few articles ago. Obama lacks the a true visionary statesmen in his cabinet, one that comes up with policies to prevent or fix these kinds of problem without war. Most importantly, for all my dislike of Obama, I thought he of all people would of been able to negotiate a non-military intervention resolution to this. Especially with RU and China being the major players. Isn't he suppose to be the "One" who can bring all people to the table and talk? Put that Nobel Prize to good use.

  13. Luke Barber

    "The Onion" just posted this: http://www.theonion.com/articles/obama-sarcastica

  14. HeartRight

    If you think life with unreliabkle allies is bad, try without.
    I don't recommend it.

    Imperialism >is< over.. You want access to someone's ear – just have him listen?
    Get yer wallet out. Better yet, make sure you've stacked favours up high.

    Ask the Argentinians in '82. You may have case which conforms quite well to UN standards, but unless you have been giving with both hads, very few people will even stop to listen to your very arguments.

    American Imperialism – that term is indeed a ditty slur and a vile libel.

  15. Jake_Ackers

    One thing I really would like to question is the Left and especially the media's handling of this situation. Obama said no war without Congress. And Iraq War was illegal (even though Bush asked for authorization). The worst is now celebrities saying we need to go in because kids have been gassed. Didn't Saddam gas the Kurds? Aren't terrorist mutilating women's body parts all over the Middle East? Where was the press and Hollywood then?

    Why is it that Bosnia, Libya and potentially Syria which have no authorization and it's viewed as "legal" and "okay". But when Bush goes into Iraq War right after 9/11 because we thought we were going to be attacked again, is "illegal" and "bad". Yes I was against the Iraq War. As I was against using NATO in Libya and Bosnia. The hypocrisy is outstanding. At least Bush thought there was a threat and asked Congress. With Syria and Libya there are no direct threats. This is all peacekeeping. How about the world stops talking about gay freedom of speech in Russia and force the Russians to stop voting against Syrian intervention in the UN? Guess it goes back to JJ's previous comic.

    Maybe foreign policy is just more Machiavellian than I think. Bosnia and Libya were both way quicker than Iraq. Difference with Syria though is that, Libya and Bosnia both had NATO. So there seemed to be some kind of international legitimacy to it. Syria there will be no NATO and definitely no UN. Therefore I don't know if this will be short. Either way, Obama should put that Nobel Prize to work and handle this diplomatically. As I say, everyone President has a revolver with one bullet in it. You either, keep pulling the trigger to scare your enemy. Fire that one bullet. Or simply pistol whip them. Just makes we wonder what Syria will be.

  16. HeartRight

    Why, yes!

    Policy is about what we are, not what they are.
    Policy-statements are acts of self-expression.
    [So are acts of policy, of course]
    JJ was spot on, and did not pull it out of the air.

    Wasn't Art Buchwald making the same point the day after 911?
    Taking his grandchild to the Cinema the day after?
    Human response to Catastrophy, like it or not, is about what Humans are, and not about what the Catastrophy is.

    There is nothing hypocritical about that.

  17. Ann Apolis

    OK, I know Britain is no longer a world power, but – no cartoon of Ed Miliband as Neville Chamberlain while kids die and the Statue of Liberty sheds a single tear? I feel insignificant.

  18. HeartRight


    Perhaps a cartoon of David Cameron dressed up as Oswald Mosley, cheerleading for Islamists [ beards included ! ] dressed as Brownshirts while Dr Goebbels grins while reading from the Protocol of the Elders of Zion would be more to the point.

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