It is a maxim of history that empire justifies its actions with eloquent and moving rhetoric. From the earliest, most blatantly smash-mouth empires, to the subtle but more invasive American empire of the modern age, appeals have always been made to the public to justify the military and diplomatic adventures of empire.
These appeals take many forms: to subdue the barbarian tribes and secure the borders of civilization, to spread the true word of God to the savages of the world, to ennoble and purify the spirit, to spread democracy and freedom. Despite the ahistorical nature of the American mind, such messianic language is not new.
My observation is not a novel discovery. Meticulous historians and political analysts like Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky have carefully documented this manipulation of language to further the aims of empire.
What does elude me however, is the extent to which the imperialist believes in his own demagoguery. And here the problem becomes more complex, delegated to the dark and mysterious realm of gray matter and human psychology. Is Empire an inexorable, extra-human force? Does it impose its will upon the pawns of history, making them too believe in the noble purpose of its now all too familiar march?
Biographical accounts of George W. Bush emphasize a fatalistic certainty and a grandiose sense of historical purpose. A man like Bush, sheltered as he is from the brutal, daily realities of imperial conquest, may indeed have the inclination and the imagination to speculate on the veracity of his regurgitated truisms. And so, as dangerous as it may seem (and it is dangerous), the messenger of Empire begins to believe in his own message.
So George Bush believes in his rhetoric about democracy and freedom. But the Empire is indifferent to it; the Empire kicks in teeth, devours land and resources, rises like the sun and burns fire into the eyes and hearts of the enslaved, and inevitably is pulled down again by the forces of Time and Anger.
It is, then, as Juan Cole has suggested. Historians will never be able attribute a single motive to the invasion of Iraq. When the oft repeated list of motives is mentioned on a history test, the answer will be D. All of the Above.