Friday, October 16, 2009

Modernization theory never dies

Steve Coll, the President of the New America Foundation, a liberal think tank, trots out the classic liberal reason for neoimperial projects, namely, we have to bring modernity to the barbarians. You think I exaggerate? Here he is, verbatim:
United States has a vital national security interest in a stable, modernizing South Asia. Pakistan, India, all of South Asia -- a billion and a half people are on the cusp of joining modern Asia in a march to prosperity, political normalcy and stability.

If Pakistan blows up, if the Taliban succeed in radicalizing local populations, then this region will be chronically unstable for years to come.

And why does that matter to the United States? Not least because there are more than 100 nuclear weapons already finished and extant in this region. But this is a region that, like Southeast Asia and Latin America, has the opportunity to stabilize, gel, integrate economically and march toward modernity.
As always, that "march to modernity" is depicted as basically a historical inevitability as long as some disease of the transition process is not allowed to go untreated, which we can do by surgically removing the tumor of anti-modern forces.
The Taliban are essentially all that stands in the way of that project. It's more complicated than that, because the Taliban are a creature of dysfunctional Pakistani security services and lots of other unsolved problems. But the United States has a vital national interest in making sure that the Taliban do not destabilize South Asia.
Farcical, I know, but this is literally the EXACT SAME argument that liberals made for escalating in Vietnam during the 1960s: just a small nudge and these people will arrive at the promised land of modernity -- that is, become just "like us" -- and we'll never have to worry about conflict with them ever again. We know how that worked out last time. (For more on that history, read here and here.)

Hat tip: RM.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's insane, alright. The Vietnam analogy is appropriate, although it's hard to find a mainstream pundit who doesn't go out of his/her way to repudiate the link. Besides, it seems that the story of our failure in Vietnam in mainstream discourse these days is the "we were undone by the dirty hippies/we lost our nerve," view. We obviously didn't learn anything from that experience.
Of course, the perception of "victory" in Iraq has distorted the Afghanistan debate as well.
We don't make a whole lot of effort to understand these faraway places with backward peoples - it's just a question of the right strategy, sufficient commitment, etc. I hope Obama has the courage that LBJ didn't have....