In a marked display of ignorance, the mainstream American press and analysts from both sides of the political spectrum have effectively painted a rosy picture of France this election season: making the country out to be pacifistically opposed to the U.S. war in Iraq. Undoubtedly, the French citizenry is overwhelmingly opposed to what Bush has done in Iraq, and simultaneously supported his defeat this election season. But have no illusions about the French government: from Napoleon to Chirac, this is a land of empire. Likewise, where there is empire, there is violence by definition. On the 50th anniversary of the infamous massacre of Algiers, the French have embroiled themselves in a re-birth of colonial war in the Ivory Coast (Cote D’Ivoire). This is the same narrative that has been re-told many times through imperial history: a native population being resentful of foreign occupation. Like the U.S. in Falluja, the French government is proving slow to learn that subjects of colonialism never desire their subjugation.
Perhaps one can credit France with at least being honest in their choice of name for their elephant colony. In which direction would public opinion go if Bush suddenly re-named Iraq “Oil Country”? Of course, as many analysts have accurately pointed out, Iraq isn’t just about oil. It’s also about telecommunications, electricity, water, and just about any other sector of the economy that U.S. companies could think to seize during the current burglary of the country. More accurately, the war is about control, or, as right-wing economists call it, “Structural Adjustment.” The structural adjustment package in Iraq has taken place lightning fast as compared to previous projects in Latin America and Africa. Meanwhile, this sheer speed has proven to be a genius move by the Bush administration insofar as they have been able to conflate the war to depose Saddam Hussein with the current effort to “liberalize” the economy. Most Americans, even many opposed to the war, are oblivious to this engineered robbery thought up by the most contemporary of Chicago-style economists. But most people realize that there must be a problem when people are being beheaded on international television in the name of some sort of Jihad. While the mainstream press paints the problem as sheer instability, the honest to goodness problem is colonialism. The “rebels” aren’t mad that we’ve created chaos, and, in fact, they are able to benefit from the chaos in a lot of ways. Instead, they are mad that we’re still there.
Many will be quick to point out that the French offensive in Cote D’Ivoire has one very significant difference from the massacre in Falluja. Namely, in Falluja the United States fights alongside its newly implanted leadership, while in Cote D’Ivoire France is leading an anti-government crusade. However, the core premise remains the same: a population resentful of occupation and colonialism. In Iraq, if the country is ever left to its own electoral devices, leaders with an independent streak will eventually become immensely popular and probably attain power. As such, colonialism is a process that naturally defeats itself. There is a sort of dialectic operating here: beginning with the bloodbath of conquering the colony, continuing with turning political control over once economic control is assured, and concluding with the growth of massive political opposition within the new country seeking to fight for further independence from the core. The only means at preventing this final independence is state sponsored violence as France carries out today. Thus we can say that they have reached phase three of the dialectical progression in Cote D’Ivoire, while the United States remains somewhere between Phase One and Two in Iraq.
America has the benefit of knowing in which direction this colonial project will go: more instability, resistance and violence. Americans have a plethora of examples in Africa, Latin America and Asia that can inform valuably on how intellectually and morally bankrupt the imperial project is. Not once has a colonial plan worked to completion: where the parent country successfully institutes Liberal bliss and stability in the child colony. Countries just don’t work like families; we’ve had five hundred years to figure this out. The closest counter-example to the rule is the United States itself: a former colony that has developed into an extraordinarily rich, powerful, and somewhat democratic nation. But this was only able to happen because the settler colonialists rebelled and overthrew the rule of the parent country while then continuing with the dirty work of massacring the native inhabitants. Thus, colonialism didn’t work in this case for those who lived in America before the Europeans: only for the Europeans.
Nonetheless, the lesson of Fallujah and Cote D’Ivoire runs deeper than “Colonialism is Bad.” If we think back to Algiers, we remember that it wasn’t the right-wing party that was in power at the time. In fact, the Socialists were the imperialists. Thus continued a rich tradition that exists all over Europe and the United States today: Left Imperialism. This phrase ought be an oxymoron, and thankfully there are still many leftists who are staunchly anti-imperialistic. However, the mainstream “Left” parties from America to Britain, France, Germany and Spain all remain firmly imperialistic. In Europe, these parties have worked effectively over this century to create an internal Socialism on the sweat of external labor. The old Leftist Imperialists would argue that they were helping these poor countries develop into rich capitalist countries in order that they were ripe for Socialism (an argument controversially pushed by Marx on the question of English colonialism in India), while the newer Left Imperialists seek merely to create a Socialism of the Middle Class in the West. Surely workers in France and Germany have struggled successfully for their 35-hour workweek and some semblance of a living wage, but what of the worker with no rights in the former colonies? Where was that worker’s solidarity? Indeed, it is easy to get elected when you’re promising the world to those who vote for you at the expense of those who don’t.
The story would, of course, be different if the dependencies could vote (and many argue that they should be allowed to vote in their parent countries’ elections). Would these subjects support a neo-liberal, warmonger like Kerry? Probably not. The same goes for Blair, Schroeder and Mitterrand. These aren’t friends of the common man; these are only friends of those willing to put them in power. This is precisely why neither the Democrats nor the Socialist Party of France have raised much of a legitimate opposition to what is currently passing. Imperial war doesn’t threaten their central platform or existence. They can almost always get away with political platforms like Kerry’s, where they promise to fight the same war even better. As long as much of an outcry isn’t made over these massacres, there is very little reason for these parties to offer reason for retreat.
Thus, onward go Chirac and Bush with the bludgeoning of Cote D’Ivoire and Fallujah. Four thousand French troops are currently stationed in the tiny West African country, largely leftover from the three centuries of colonial rule. When nine of these military officers were killed in an attempt by President Gbagbo to quell rebel uprising on November 6th (perhaps accidentally), Chirac responded by destroying the entire Ivorian air force in Yamoussoukro the following day. The result of this action has been widespread anti-French rioting, looting, and violence, adding further turmoil to a country that has been plagued by civil war and northern resistance for much of the last decade. The disorder is now so great that thousands of Ivorians have begun fleeing for Liberia as of November 15th, a condition that will possibly result in border difficulties and a possible inflammation of regional tension. Meanwhile, the obliteration of Fallujah has received widespread international condemnation. The number of Iraqis killed is possibly in the thousands, with the number of injured possibly being in the tens of thousands. The Imperial giant that is the United States has left no woman or child behind in what is clearly been a criminal, offensive attack on the people of this Sunni stronghold. Furthermore, the religious and ethnic tensions created by the massacre will be immensely difficult to repair in what is very obviously a fragile country. The only help that Iraq can hope for after what is nearly 15 years of American-led bombing is that the imperialists finally leave them alone to their own devices.
The world is divided not necessarily between the colonialists and the colonized, but instead between those who support the idea and those who don’t. More generally, there are those in all parts of the world who support violence in the name of greed and attainment, and there are those who work to oppose such violence at all costs. The colonialists have proven very good at finding leaders who play the same game as them within their colonies. This has proven crucial in order to move from the first to second phase of colonialism: the phase of economic dominance. In other words, the violence of the colonialists tends to give birth to violence at in the dependency. As peace-loving people we must unite across national borders to end the progression of imperialism. For us that are opposed to this institutionalized greed, now is as opportune a time as ever to stop the cycle of violence and colonialism with a call to action. The distraction of American elections is over, and the winner of the election has united many at the grassroots throughout the world against him already. We must resist, but ask what our resistance is grounded in. Is it about Kerry’s resistance, which meant fighting the war less sloppily? Is it about bringing Europe and America together to fight a common war? It ought be about unity of peace loving peoples throughout the world in opposition to one of the greatest threats ever to world peace: Economic (Neo-) Liberalism.
Matt Reichel is an American expatriate currently living in Paris
and studying at the American Graduate School of International Relations and
Diplomacy. Previously, he had worked for five years as a peace activist at the
University of Illinois, and with Chicago's Peace Action office. He can be
reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.