One of the most disturbing aspects of contemporary America is its absolute determination to deceive itself. As the last U.S. soldiers and Marines leave Iraq, we have heard President Obama, Senator McCain, Defense Secretary Panetta, and numerous others speak as if U.S. forces accomplished something positive in Iraq. Indeed, our service personnel have been welcomed home as “liberators” and told — ominously — that there are other peoples in the world who yearn for the sort of liberation the United States brought to Iraqis.
What to make of this species of lunacy? In recent years it has been popular to compare the United States to the ancient Romans, at least in terms of military power and the geographic reach that military power can attain. This sort of historical nuttiness sells well in the media, the academy, and the mouths of war-mongering politicians like Senators McCain, Graham, and Lieberman, but it will not stand scrutiny.
The Romans were a superb military power that brought peace and prosperity to much of Europe for 500 years or more, and they brought it mostly by waging wars that literally annihilated their enemies. The precursors to the Roman peace were complete military victories that left Rome‘s enemies with no doubt that they had been totally defeated, and believing the beginning of wisdom was to become Rome‘s friend, or at least not cross Rome a second time. Reality was the pivotal component here. Rome’s enemies always knew they were defeated, one historian has written, and the Romans were always realistic and manly enough to know when they had won and — as important — when they had loss.
The evolving aftermath of the Iraq war in the American mind proves that, at least among our bipartisan governing elite, there is not a single Roman to be found. In Iraq, the United States was defeated in every conceivable way. Not one of Washington’s clearly delineated war aims was accomplished. The Sunni-based tyranny of Saddam Hussein has been replaced by a Shia-dominated tyranny whose leader’s contempt for the United States is so strong that he did not bother to wait until the last U.S. soldier departed before starting what will be a relentless persecution of Iraq’s Sunni minority. For Obama and McCain, this sort of tyranny is acceptable because Maliki and his Shia thugs won office in a fair but meaningless election. For Obama, McCain and their ilk the important thing is just having an election, the fact that an election simply delivers a replacement tyranny is irrelevant.