[Marxism] Bonaparte and Bush

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Aug 23 07:11:26 MDT 2007

Pitching the Imperial Republic
Bonaparte and Bush on Deck
By Juan Cole

French Egypt and American Iraq can be considered bookends on the history 
of modern imperialism in the Middle East. The Bush administration's 
already failed version of the conquest of Iraq is, of course, on 
everyone's mind; while the French conquest of Egypt, now more than two 
centuries past, is all too little remembered, despite having been led by 
Napoleon Bonaparte, whose career has otherwise hardly languished in 
obscurity. There are many eerily familiar resonances between the two 
misadventures, not least among them that both began with supreme 
arrogance and ended as fiascoes. Above all, the leaders of both 
occupations employed the same basic political vocabulary and rhetorical 
flimflammery, invoking the spirit of liberty, security, and democracy 
while largely ignoring the substance of these concepts.

The French general and the American president do not much resemble one 
another -- except perhaps in the way the prospect of conquest in the 
Middle East appears to have put fire in their veins and in their 
unappealing tendency to believe their own propaganda (or at least to 
keep repeating it long after it became completely implausible). Both 
leaders invaded and occupied a major Arabic-speaking Muslim country; 
both harbored dreams of a "Greater Middle East"; both were surprised to 
find themselves enmeshed in long, bitter, debilitating guerrilla wars. 
Neither genuinely cared about grassroots democracy, but both found its 
symbols easy to invoke for gullible domestic publics. Substantial 
numbers of their new subjects quickly saw, however, that they faced 
occupations, not liberations.

My own work on Bonaparte's lost year in Egypt began in the mid-1990s, 
and I had completed about half of Napoleon's Egypt: Invading the Middle 
East before September 11, 2001. I had no way of knowing then that a book 
on such a distant, scholarly subject would prove an allegory for Bush's 
Iraq War. Nor did I guess that the United States would give old-style 
colonialism in the Middle East one last try, despite clear signs that 
the formerly colonized would no longer put up with such acts and had, in 
the years since World War II, gained the means to resist them.


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