George Orwell described in "Shooting an Elephant" the frustrations of empire, based on his experience as a policeman in colonial Burma:
As soon as I saw the elephant I knew with perfect certainty that I ought not to shoot him. It is a serious matter to shoot a working elephant--it is comparable to destroying a huge and costly piece of machinery--and obviously one ought not to do it if it can possibly be avoided. And at that distance, peacefully eating, the elephant looked no more dangerous than a cow. I thought then and I think now that his attack of "must" was already passing off; in which case he would merely wander harmlessly about until the mahout came back and caught him. Moreover, I did not in the least want to shoot him. I decided that I would watch him for a little while to make sure that he did not turn savage again, and then go home.
But at that moment I glanced round at the crowd that had followed me. It was an immense crowd, two thousand at the least and growing every minute. It blocked the road for a long distance on either side. I looked at the sea of yellow faces above the garish clothes-faces all happy and excited over this bit of fun, all certain that the elephant was going to be shot. They were watching me as they would watch a conjurer about to perform a trick. They did not like me, but with the magical rifle in my hands I was momentarily worth watching. And suddenly I realized that I should have to shoot the elephant after all. The people expected it of me and I had got to do it; I could feel their two thousand wills pressing me forward, irresistibly. And it was at this moment, as I stood there with the rifle in my hands, that I first grasped the hollowness, the futility of the white man's dominion in the East. Here was I, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd--seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind. I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys. He becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy, the conventionalized figure of a sahib. For it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend his life in trying to impress the "natives," and so in every crisis he has got to do what the "natives" expect of him.
Of course, the Iraqi Shi'ites whom we put into power and who identify with their fellow Shi'ites in Hezbollah in their struggle with Israel, number a lot of more than 2,000, aren't unarmed, and while excited, definitely aren't happy about American support for Israel.
Back in 2001, I pointed out that if the U.S. started a land empire in the Middle East by, for example, occupying Iraq, we would come under increasing pressure over the years to placate our new subjects by acceding to their furious prejudice against Israel. In September 2001, I emailed:
The neo-conservatives need to wake up to realize that if America really takes up the Imperial Burden in the Middle East like the Wolfowitz Wing is demanding, then America's special relationship with Israel is history. Support for Israel is purely a matter of domestic idealism. The American institution that thinks in the broad picture - the State Department - has always found Israel to be a nuisance.
The more the U.S. becomes responsible for running the whole Mid East, the more of an inconvenience Israel becomes. Republics can indulge warm and idealistic commitments precisely because their foreign entanglements are limited in number; empires must be cold and calculating because their burdens are so manifold.
So far, the neocons have staunchly refused to notice this contradiction between building up a (fanatically anti-Israel) democracy in Iraq and traditional American support for Israel that they have brought upon themselves. If put to the question, I imagine the neocons would much prefer America to lose in Iraq than for American support to Israel to be compromised. But nobody seems to be asking them the question.