I’m not a fan of the post-colonialist critique. Well, more to the point, I’m not a fan of the word ‘colonialism’ being used to describe any and every attempt by a given state/actor/person to influence another. There’s plenty of good work on colonialism, but lazy academia/journalism/activism has expanded the use of an important concept to the point that it becomes unusable as an analytical tool, or basis for judgement. Let’s not forget, colonialism is used as a basis for judgement. Saying that “colonialism is good” is tantamount to heresy in the liberal west, as much as bold-facedly stating that “colonialism was good” constitutes the starting pistol for an intellectual brawl. Even those who argue that colonialism wasn’t entirely a bad thing face barrages of complaints (see Niall Ferguson). Using the word ‘colonial’ tends to imply an automatic moral judgement on the part of the author, and expect a certain similar reaction in the part of the reader. For that reason, I tend to shy away from the word myself. There’s plenty of other words in the English language to describe the processes that I consider bad.
Having said all that, I’m going to ‘call’ colonialism on this article. Well, more to the point, I’m going to suggest that the author might want to read up on/cite a brief history of Europe’s empires (since we don’t tend to associate colonialism with earlier empires and Americans don’t like to think of themselves as an empire). One of the bits of ‘state-building’ that I find quite odd is the internal logic that assumes that dry technical reforms can somehow be divorced from nation-building (ie – meddling with someone’s culture, politics and nationalism etc). For historial reasons, Americans tend to call state-building nation-building, but the division exists (technical reform/assistance vs identity politics and nationalism). The problem is that the two are intimately linked, even if ‘we’ tend to disclaim any intervention in terms of identity and politics. Well, except the NGOs. The end result is that an article can espouse, in quite bland and agreeable terms, actions which would likely have significant and morally dubious effects if put into practise. As a thought experiment, re-read the article and imagine it as a manual for the Dutch East India Trading Company. After doing so, it is difficult to consider the actions espoused in the article without also thinking of the moral ramifications of such actions. Well, unless you want to forget a considerable chunk of history. That isn’t to take a particular stand on the issue one way or the other, but I think it’s important to consider the morality of operations, especially when you’re talking about re-ordering the power structure, politics and economy of a given group of people for your own benefit. I know, morality and society isn’t the military’s job, but killing people isn’t the State Department’s job. I’m sure that the SD would put a hell of a lot of thought into such issues if they were asked to start killing people, so I don’t see why the military shouldn’t do the same when getting into development.