Seven years ago, on the eve of the UN Security Council resolution to authorize force in Iraq, I happened to meet then Russian Ambassador to the UN Sergei Lavrov. As we were about to dine at Avra, a Greek restaurant close to the UN, I was introduced to him by Sema Emiroğlu, a UN correspondent. Later, as he was paying his bill, he signaled me to speak to him. Still in his shirt sleeves, looking tired, frustrated and perhaps anticipating another unpleasant session, where he would vote against the US proposal, I felt that I should say something encouraging. “You know, ambassador, not all Americans are crazy.” He replied, sadly, embracing me in the Russian manner, “I know, I know.”
Although the war resolution failed, the US invaded Iraq anyway, beginning the catastrophe which has resulted in more than $1 trillion expended, 5,000 American and perhaps 100,000 Iraqi dead, hundreds of thousands of casualties, millions of displaced people, and a thoroughly wrecked infrastructure and economy. Much of the cause of this criminally negligent Bush-Cheney policy was due to arrogance and triumphalism. One of the assumptions behind this disastrous imperialist syndrome is that America, like mommies the world over, knows best: American values, institutions and social arrangements are and should be global models. Iraq was a rebellious child in need of chastisement. It should be grateful that it had a caring parent to save it from the consequences of its folly.
The maternal metaphor may seem misplaced or exaggerated. As any student of imperialism can testify, these assumptions are standard. The British Parliament repeatedly addressed rebellious Americans as if they were ungrateful children, in so many words saying, “spare the rod, spoil the child.” So too did the British viceroy admonish Gandhi, in effect saying, “Why don’t you understand, our presence is saving you from many mistakes?” To which Gandhi responded that Indians would prefer to make their own mistakes than to avoid them under British rule.
And now we have the spectacle of Hillary Clinton’s version of “mommy knows best,” complete with the usual sense of exasperation, saying to Pakistani students in effect: “What is the matter with you? Don’t you know we are here to help you?” To grow up, no doubt. Of course, the secretary of state has entirely missed the point of Pakistan’s ambivalence toward the US presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Obvious cooperation with the US is a substantial part of the reason the Pakistani government is losing the support of its people. More cooperation, especially under the chastising rod of mommy dearest, would make their support more tenuous. The US is more of a problem than a solution. But what mommy can ever acknowledge that?
What does Lavrov have to do with all this? He has a deserved reputation for blunt speech, acid wit and intolerance for fools. He will never be confused with “mommy dearest.” Relentlessly intelligent, undeniably realistic, he has been a tireless advocate of Russian national interests. He knows that children, even metaphorical children, are not the problem. Adults who assume that they stand on some moral high ground of selfless sacrifice and who occupy high positions of state are the problem. Armed with self-righteous rectitude, these officials believe they are entitled to treat the rest of the world as rebellious and ungrateful children. These adults are the problem because they act like juvenile delinquents, careening around the world in daddy’s high-powered car. Clinton as Grendel’s Dam is just the latest odious expression of smug imperialism.
Before despair sets in, allow a hopeful fantasy. If you will forgive my capitalist tendencies, allow me to suggest that the UN declare free agency for diplomats. Then President Barack Obama could send the following letter to Lavrov. “Dear Sergei, what would it take for you to play on our team?”
*Christopher Vasillopulos, Ph.D., is a professor of international relations at Eastern Connecticut State University