‘Pax Romana’? Looking Back at a Terrible Error in Modern U.S. History

21st Century Wire says… Many a retrospective has been written on the 10th Anniversary of the Iraq invasion by the US and its ‘coalition forces’, and the article below is just one aspect worth discussing. Either way you cut, any action based solely on a lie, cannot end well for either side. Like Rome, the Anglo-American Empire’s activities in far-off lands has led to the implosion of its society back home…

David Ignatious

Daily Star

Ten years ago this week, I was covering the U.S. military as it began its assault on Iraq. As I read back over my clips, I see a few sensible warnings about the difficulties ahead. But I owe readers an apology for being wrong on the overriding question of whether the war made sense.

Invading Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein a decade ago was one of the biggest strategic errors in modern American history. We’ll never know whether the story might have been different if better planning had been done for “the day after,” or the Iraqi army hadn’t been disbanded, or several other “ifs.” But the abiding truth is that America shouldn’t have rolled the dice this way on a war of choice.

As I think back to the crucible of 2003, two remarks made by Arab friends stand out particularly. One was from a prominent Lebanese Shiite publisher who supported the war, but on the condition that America was resolute enough to finish what it was starting. “If Rome is strong, the provinces are ready,” my friend said.

But Rome wasn’t strong enough to prevail. America’s military power, awesome as it was, turned out not to be sufficient to impose a settlement in Iraq; and in a grinding war of occupation, all America’s might could not turn on the electricity in Baghdad or frighten Sunnis and Shiites into cooperating with each other. Rome was also weak at home, politically: The U.S. didn’t have the stomach for a protracted war that President George W. Bush couldn’t explain and the public didn’t understand.

The second comment was from a Syrian friend who opposed the war. In 2002, when we first discussed the coming battle, he was reading “The March of Folly,” historian Barbara Tuchman’s account of epochal policy blunders through history. America was about to make another mistake of historic dimensions, my friend warned.

This person took me aside after the fighting had been raging for several months. I am still haunted by what he said: “I am sorry for America. You are stuck. You have become a country of the Middle East. America will never change Iraq, but Iraq will change America.”

What other lessons should America learn from Iraq? An obvious one is the danger of creating a political vacuum by overthrowing a dictator. The U.S. dreamed that it would modernize Iraq by toppling Saddam Hussein. But when it disbanded the nonsectarian army and most of the secular government, Iraqis had nowhere to turn but their most basic ethnic and tribal identities as Sunnis or Shiites, Kurds or Arabs.

Many in the CIA understood the need to keep the Iraqi army and civil service together. That’s part of why they clashed so sharply with Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon and his Iraqi champion, Ahmad Chalabi, who wanted to dismantle the Baath Party, root and branch. I watched a tiny part of that battle play out one day in April 2003 in a bitter argument on the lawn of Chalabi’s headquarters at the Mansour Hunting Club in suburban Baghdad. The headline on that one was “Bush’s confusion, Baghdad’s mess.”

In the political vacuum the U.S. created, Iraq tumbled into the past – pulling a lot of the Arab world with it. That’s part of why President Barack Obama has been so careful recently in dealing with Syria: He doesn’t want America to make the same mistake twice. But history is cruel: You can try so hard to avoid an outcome that in your very passivity, you make it more likely.

Another lesson is the importance of dignity in the Arab world. Most Iraqis despised Saddam Hussein because, in addition to torturing their sons and daughters, he had taken their dignity. But many came to loath America as well, because for all our talk of democracy, Americans damaged their sense of honor and independence. As the Arab world proves over and over, from Palestine to Benghazi, people who are penniless in terms of material possessions would rather die than lose their sense of honor to outsiders.

A final lesson is the benefit of persistence. Bush made a disastrous mistake invading Iraq in 2003. But having busted up the country, he tried his best to clean up the mess. By checking the spiraling sectarian killing, the surge of U.S. troops led by Bush and Gen. David Petraeus saved thousands of Iraqi lives. It’s one thing that Americans did right in this painful story.

David Ignatius is published twice weekly by THE DAILY STAR.



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  • Larry

    What a load of mistaken drivel. The war was justified on a lie that Dr kelly paid for with his life. The lie that David Ignatious swallowed whole. I am sorry that such intelligent people can still see their nation as led by anything other other then a gang of criminals and psychopaths: certainly that is exactly how I see the government of UK and its military arm, NATO. A far wiser person then myself once said, “never mind your nationality, never mind your prejudices, never mind your culture, they are created to distract you.” Forget your love of country and try loving the truth.

  • websuspect

    Are we heading towards the great Pax Americanus? Pax Romanus has become synonymous with a out break of a specific type of plague in historical Times But Pax is Latin For Peace and in Hispaniola, spanish Paz. During this plague of Roman times occupied territorial citizens were disarmed of their swords. In the well Known city of Israel, Israeli citizens ran to their desert fortress Mossadda and then the Roman army built a siege ramp to the desert fortress. Scared for their lives the citizens of Israel killed their women and children and than them selves in an attempt to save them selves from the barbarism of the roman Empire. The modern Day ISraely Army Mossad vowed, never again. Is the American Empire headed for just such a siege in modern times as the government scrambles to more stringent gun control laws?? As the US government builds a global New World Army control grid full of Apocolypse helicopters, tanks, Aircraft Carriers and submarines has it uttered the words global peace. It has in time uttered the words global economy and world government. But at what cost? Is the cost of world government global peace under the threat of a silvered angel bearing a modern day sword with a panel of modern day super weapons?

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