The absence of a self-proclaimed empire in the current socio-political world order, defined by a centre and periphery and the like, is almost unprecedented. As such, the 20th century was, indeed, the era of territorial decolonisation. But the Western nature of modern imperialism has seriously distorted our impression of what is termed the “post-imperial age”. Self-determination, decolonisation, and democratisation are largely processes exported from the West in an attempt to create nation states where their conceptualisation only exist in recent history. The awful conflicts in Ethiopia, Kenya, Ivory Coast and elsewhere in post-colonial states reflect how the convergence of political competitiveness, extreme ethnic diversity, and internationally recognised statehood aren’t necessarily suited to local conditions. Rather, the borders European empires drew over Africa, the Middle East and East Asia show how the 21st century world order is actually one of many overlapping post-imperial legacies.
To add to this, the notion of the nation state is one which conceals the structures of previous empires. The United States projects itself as the bastion of anti-imperialism yet came to be on the back of settler colonialism, has colonised Puerto Rico and the Philippines, and maintains a vast array of military bases across the globe. Russia and China are essentially empires which have been turned into nation states on the back of international treaties, exemplified by China’s awful abuse of Uighur Muslims because of their peripheral identity and lack of Chinese cultural character. Even the European Union, with its common citizenship, own currency, border, legal system, and unifying ideology of free trade has many of the appearances of an empire, yet projects itself as imperialism’s antithesis. This is the crux of the problem: the global socio-political order which the West considers itself to preside over has been erected by and for themselves. So, the implementation of “international law” relies on their interpretation of political expediency and capability. Just like the Uighur Muslim abuse, there is very little possibility of Joe Biden using confrontational measures to bring an end to Israel’s racist, imperial project, especially given Israel’s significance in America’s foreign policy in the Middle East.
It is unsurprising that Biden has supported Israel by saying ‘Israel has the right to defend itself’, with Israel justifying its attacks as self-defence against the Hamas terrorist organisation’s counterattacks from Gaza. America has been endorsing Israel’s settler colonialism for almost half a century, well aware of the ideology behind their actions. Zionism is a political ideology intent on a Jewish State on Arab-Palestinian land in the Middle East, with its ideologues of the late 19th century justifying the state regime based on racial superiority over the Palestinians. In some ways, the ideology resembles the social Darwinism which European empires of the 19th and 20th centuries used to justify their “civilising missions” of Africa and Asia. But Israel’s existence is a result of British decolonisation and European-dominated UN approval in 1948 – further evidence that the conflict and imperialism we see today is a logical result of an imposition of western style statehood onto an incredibly historically contentious region. Israel is too wealthy, too militarily powerful, and too politically expedient for the West to have as an ally in the Middle East for any meaningful intervention by Biden. Imperialism and colonialism have essentially been a constant throughout human history – the 20th century is no anomaly, and no one is willing to confront it.
Biden will pose as a proactive leader but use meaningless political jargon such as “relaunching the peace process”, or advocating the “two-state solution”, which are long-term or unattainable goals. He’ll reopen negotiations with Iran, who provide much of Hamas’ funding, but will provide little relief to ruined Palestinians. He is unlikely to roll back Trump’s anti-Palestinian measures such as trying to end the Gaza blockade, reassert the illegality of Israeli settlement on the West Bank, or support Palestinian elections. Biden’s predecessors Bush, Reagan and Carter have turned proactivity in the Middle East into a tool of political self-harm, so don’t be surprised if Biden’s anti-imperialist rhetoric doesn’t manifest in any action.