The al-Qaeda-connected group ISIS (Islamic State Iraq and the Levant) have taken Mosul and Tikrit, Iraq’s second and third cities, and may well take the whole country in a matter of months. At the same time, the group is rushing captured Iraqi arms (all built right here in the USA) into Syria in an attempt to turn around the failing revolution in that country.
The US and the western powers are helpless to stop this. Additionally, it is a prelude of what will happen in Afghanistan next year or the year after. The truth is, unless we occupy the middle east, the entire region is likely to become a new fundamentalist Islamic caliphate, and it is quite likely, also, that the new caliphate will include large sections of Africa.
This all started with the single most foolhardy geopolitical act of modern times, and the most fooling geopolitical act ever undertaken by the United States of America: the invasion of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq on March 20, 2003. At the time, I was certain that it would destabilize the middle east, and that’s exactly what has happened. Even worse, the administration then proceeded to ignore the war we could win, which was Afghanistan. The result of this was that the Taliban were not dealt with effectively. Now, the Taliban will very probably return to power.
Looking back, one wonders how any administration could have been so stupid. But it happened, and not only that, it left us with a vast, almost unimaginable national debt that is now inexplicably blamed on Barack Obama, an earnest but hamstrung president who has been left to swirl in historical currents not of his own making, and which he is powerless to change. Worse, our divided government has left him in the sort of power vacuum that encourages aggression wherever it may appear. He has managed the Ukrainian situation as well as could be expected, but that’s a sideshow compared to Chinese aggression in the Pacific, and, above all, the Islamic fundamentalist militancy.
What can be done to retrieve this situation? Unfortunately, very little. History has moved on without us. Because we sowed the wind, we have reaped the whirlwind, and now that’s what we have to live with. Even the most dynamic, savvy and powerful president one could imagine is not going to be able to do much to divert the rising tide of fundamentalism that is sweeping the Muslim world. It is not a majority movement by any means, but it has the guns and the will, and, like the Nazis, will sweep first to political victory and then compel obedience from all over whom it holds sway.
Barack Obama will be blamed for the catastrophe that’s unfolding, but it was inevitable from the first moment an American boot touched the ground in 2002. At the time, I thought back to another such attack that had taken place in the same place in distant history.
Now, in our era very few people care about history, let alone think about it or understand its importance. The reason that it is important is that, if you do what was done in the past under similar conditions, you are going to have a similar outcome. The old adage that history repeats itself is profoundly true, and generally ignored.
But let’s go back a couple of thousand years anyway, and see what history has to tell us about the present.
In the year 113 AD, Trajan, as leader of the world’s greatest superstate and the most powerful person on earth (read George W. Bush a couple of thousand years later) embarked on a final solution to Rome’s most annoying problem: the Parthian Empire. This empire covered most of what is now Iraq and Iran, and was a constant threat to Rome’s eastern provinces, most notably the province of Syria.
Just as Bush’s troops did in 2002, Trajan’s found the going in Iraq surprisingly easy. The opposition just melted away. He then declared victory and went home to enjoy his triumph. On the way back, he began to receive distressing messages that the garrisons he had left in the cities were under siege. It soon became clear that the whole position was collapsing. He died of a heart attack before reaching Rome, and the province was lost.
The Parthian wars went on for another hundred years, gradually sapping the strength of Rome, and when the barbarians began crossing the Danube into the empire 200 years later, for this and other reasons, the empire could not defend itself.
The west will not be destroyed by militant Islam, but millions of people who fall under its sway will suffer wasted, miserable lives because of it. Like all ideologies, it is profoundly worthless and a great waste of human energy. Like Nazism, Communism and the many religious militancies that have cursed the human species for thousands of years, it is a darkness of the mind, and leads only toward greater suffering. In the end, the areas where it gains control will become filthy, lawless and utterly miserable. There will be no justice, no economic prosperity and no life worth living.
Had anybody who was involved in the decision to ruin Saddam Hussein’s Iraq known just a little history, perhaps the administration might have thought twice about what it was doing. But that did not happen, and the result was predictable. A coherent if very ugly state was replaced by something very much more dangerous: a power vacuum overseen by a leader who is himself to partisan that he cannot command the loyalty of anybody around him, let alone his generals, let alone his people.
We have wasted vast treasure on Iraq and Afghanistan. All of that will be lost, and who knows how much more. People who start wars should never forget the same lesson that Trajan, Napoleon, Kaiser Wilhelm, Hitler and so many, many others have forgotten, and that the Bush administration certainly forgot: war does not just have unintended consequences, it is about unintended consequences.