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America's empire of jocks versus the old-style empire of nerds
Imperial adventurers used to learn dead languages as part of fraternity rituals. Now they're extreme-sports fans with a penchant for custom guns and compulsive lying.
Rolling Stone just published an in-depth investigation into American veteran Ross Roggio, who is accused of fraud, weapons dealing, blackmail, kidnapping, and torture in Iraqi Kurdistan.
“In many ways,” the article says, “Roggio’s twisted and disturbing story is symbolic of all that was brutal, venal, and borderline psychotic about the American adventures in the Middle East.”
Yes, indeed. And it’s a pretty distinct style from the British Empire or even the American empire of the Cold War era.
Around the end of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, a fellow veteran put Roggio in touch with a powerful Kurdish family looking to buy weapons. Unlicensed arms exports are very illegal under U.S. law, and Roggio wrote in an email to his Kurdish contacts, “I RISK MY VERY FREEDOM.”
Roggio had served in the U.S. Army for a couple years, where he racked up several disciplinary infractions. (“He likes to fight,” one of his ex-wives said.) Then he got into extreme sports and custom guns, which he liked to wave around at people. Roggio’s associates implied that he was a compulsive liar, and his adventure stories fell apart when Rolling Stone looked into them.
The adventurer began working closely with Polad Talabani, a Kurdish special forces commander. I won’t spoil exactly what happens next, because Rolling Stone did a good job telling the story. Let’s just say that Roggio is not on such good terms with the Talabani family anymore. The FBI was waiting for Roggio and his Instagram influencer mistress at the airport when they returned to America.
Even as he faces serious charges, Roggio has attempted to convince the court to let him travel for a job at Kingdom Special Operations, a Christian-themed military contractor based in Las Vegas. Unsurprisingly, the judge said no.
First of all, you’ve got to admire the guts on that guy. Second of all…the phrase “a Christian-themed military contractor based in Las Vegas” is probably the best symbol of new-style American empire there ever was. Of course it’s called “Kingdom Special Operations.” 🇺🇸 🗽 🦅 🏈 💥
The podcast Chapo Trap House ran an episode about the history of the Bush family a couple years ago. I still think about their take on the old-style CIA versus modern-day U.S. special forces:
We’ve basically replaced covert rule in our empire with overt military rule now…
It was awful when the CIA ran things. It was awful when we ran things through a battery of NATO bureaucracies. It was awful when we ran things through the free-trade troika under Clinton. But this really f—ing sucks…
At least they had a bigger imagination back then…
These were preppy college boys who were given the world to run. They did it through imbibing quarts of scotch, wife-swapping, and wearing smart ties and tweed jackets and such…
Today it’s the Black Rifle Coffee guys yelling at you on a TikTok video about what a pussy you are for drinking Starbucks…
It used to be all these alcoholics sitting around completely naked in a really hot office, totally wet, and reciting poetry in Greek, even though they were wasted beyond repair. Now it’s like these guys making TikToks to Aaron Lewis songs and crying. This really sucks. Makes you think how far we done fell.
Really, the Bush-style bluebloods were a pale shadow of the old British aristocracy. Those guys were as intellectually curious as they were ruthless. The British imperial administration produced some truly strange figures, orientalists who would invent new branches of linguistics as a side project to lording over millions of people.
The last of that breed may be Rory Stewart. Born in Hong Kong, he was the son of an old British intelligence officer who became a diplomat himself. On leave from government service, Stewart hiked across remote parts of Asia and wrote extensively about his experiences.
After the 2003 invasion of Iraq, he hitched a taxi to Baghdad and offered up his services to the coalition. Stewart was promptly made governor of a province, which he wrote about in a book titled Prince of the Marshes. His political career collapsed when he admitted in 2019 to smoking opium at an Iranian wedding. Old school.
The U.S. Embassy in Amman held an event a few months ago at the Turquoise Mountain Showroom, an NGO that Stewart founded. It’s quite a lovely building.
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