Friday, September 14, 2007

America Is No Roman Empire

These days I cannot think of politics or economics without an over-hanging and omnipresent context of the war in Iraq. In the next several posts, I will highlight several recent opinions that helped me clarify my thinking on the broader issues of where we actually are in the Global War on Terror and in Iraq, and how those two issues shape not only my thinking but most thinking of the engaged citizenry of the United States.

In some sense, these posts are all the same in that they are more contextual rather than strategic or tactical in nature. I am an optimist about where we are and what we have done --which certainly seems to be a contrarian opinion held by a very few people. Perhaps some of the following may make you slightly more optimistic too or you may conclude I am delusional. Either way it will impact your thinking at least a nudge in spite of any opinions you bring with you to the arena.

Gerard Baker, whom I enjoy reading, has a piece in The Times (London) today, A Quick History: America Is No Rome - The Tired Analogy of Imperial Decline and Fall. Here are some cuts:

...Gibbon himself noted in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: “There exists in human nature a strong propensity to depreciate the advantages, and to magnify the evils, of the present times.” Which brings us back neatly to General Petraeus and the Iraq war.

...You can argue about the surge. The evidence is encouraging that the increased US military effort, together with a change in tactics, has reduced the violence in Iraq. On the other hand there are legitimate questions about the long-term viability of the strategy. But if America is to emerge from Iraq with a renewed sense of its global role, you shouldn’t really debase the motives of those who lead US forces there. Because in the end what they are doing is deeply honourable – fighting to destroy an enemy that delights in killing women and children; rebuilding a nation ruined by rapine and savagery; trying to bridge sectarian divides that have caused more misery in the world than the US could manage if it lasted a thousand years.

It is helpful to think about Iraq this way. Imagine if the US had never been there; and that this sectarian strife had broken out in any case – as, one day it surely would, given the hatreds engendered by a thousand years of Muslim history and the efforts of Saddam Hussein.

What would we in the West think about it? What would we think of as our responsibilities? There would be some who would want to wash their hands of it. There would be others who would think that UN resolutions and diplomatic initiatives would be enough to salve our consciences if not to stop the slaughter.

But many of us surely would think we should do something about it – as we did in the Balkans more than a decade ago – and as, infamously, we failed to do in Africa at the same time. And we would know that, for all our high ideals and our soaring rhetoric, there would be only one country with the historical commitment to make massive sacrifices in the defence of the lives and liberty of others, the leadership to mobilise efforts to relieve the suffering and, above all, the economic and military wherewithal to make it happen.

That’s the only really workable analogy between the US and Rome. When Rome fell, the world went dark for the best part of a millennium. America may not be an empire. But whatever it is, for the sake of humanity, pray it lasts at least as long as Rome.

Posts follow giving more context and will, as always, reveal my present thinking from the choices of articles I post.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That is the most stuiped argument I have ever heard. If the US never went to Iraq secterian violence would have never started in Iraq, saying other wise is like saying that any other country in the Middle East is on the brink of secrerian violence and we better go there and remove the regime and started since it will start anyway. How clever.