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The Lessons of History

By Ryan Ringer

The Iraq War, regardless of how it inevitably works itself out, has at this point become a quagmire. Like Vietnam, there is no way that Iraq could possibly work out in favour of the Americans or their allies. This includes the current Iraqi government, which is possibly analogous to the South Vietnamese government.

I recognize that this does represent a departure from my previous support of the war. Indeed, I do support the principle of war in defence of others, as I support the principle of defence of others in general. But it has become painfully obvious that the war in Iraq is not, and never was about protecting Iraqis, who are now dying by the thousands.

In any case, once the war is over, the comparisons of Iraq to Vietnam are going to be vindicated as being apt, not because Iraq is exactly like Vietnam, but because their consequences will be the same.

The United States has crippled itself militarily for decades to come, as it did in the 1970s. While it remained a superpower, America lost confidence in itself. Public opinion after Vietnam swung so heavily against the use of American force abroad that America, until the 1990s, limited itself to waging wars against countries like Panama and Grenada, or simply assissting South American and Middle Eastern guerillas (the latter turned out to be a very bad call, in hindsight) in their fights against democratically elected socialist governments in the case of the former, and the USSR in the case of the latter.

Irony is perhaps the cruelest mistress of all, as shooting oneself in the foot is both painful and embarassing. The great irony of the Iraq war is that the neo-conservatives - the ones who wanted the war more than anyone - have essentially ensured that no other wars like it can happen for at least a generation. No American administration is going to be electorally suicidal enough to engage any country in unprovoked war, and without unprovoked war, the neo-conservative dream of total American dominance of the world is ended, as most dreams are, by cold hard reality.

The war with Iran that the neo-cons want so badly? Forget about it. Not only will the American public never support such an action now, it is becoming more and more implausible every day. Iran is ascendant in the Middle East, poised to become the dominant country there, a state of affairs which has America's so-called ally Saudi Arabia fretting, and rightly so. The rise of sectarian ideological Shiism, dormant for centuries, has been provoked by the American invasion of Iraq. Iran and Iraq are the only Middle Eastern countries with majority Shiite populations, but Iraq's has been kept under control for some time. Far from draining the swamp, the metaphor the administration preferred to describe their adventures in the middle east, attacking Iraq was tantamount to hitting a hornet's nest. The violence occurring in Iraq is between militant religious sects, and the Shiites are clearly winning, and are clearly eager to wrest control of their country from the Sunnis who have dominated them for centuries.

Once this occurs, a Shiite axis is set to form, with Iran at the centre. Iran's two greatest foes, Afghanistan and Iraq, have both been thoroughly dealt with by outside forces; Iran did not have to lift a finger to remove the threatening Baathist (secular/Sunni) and Taliban (Sunni) regimes. There are significant Shiite populations in Lebanon, Pakistan, northeastern Saudi Arabia, and of course Iraq. (As for Syria, it has had an alliance with Iran going back 25 years.) If Iran is successful in convincing them that Pan-Shiism, not Pan-Arabism (of which Iran is obviously not a fan, being that they are Persians) is the way to go, then we could be looking at a threat far greater than Saddam Hussein and the Ayatollahs. We could be looking at a Shiite Crescent dominating the Middle East, with its capital in Tehran. All thanks to jingoistic short-sightedness and neo-conservative delusions of grandeur.

The saddest part of all of this is that it didn't have to be this way. History is an open book, inviting us to read it, to learn from it, so as to avoid situations like this. Studying the history of the Middle East, one learns that things just aren't as simple as they are often portrayed in the west by our irresponsible leaders and our lazy media. It's not just a bunch of crazy Muslims who want to blow themselves up; ideological Islamism is not a fixture of Middle Eastern history - it is rather a very recent phenomenon that is tied very directly to the interference of the west in Middle Eastern affairs. The lesson to be learned is this - the more the west meddles with what it doesn't understand, the worse it will get, and the more hostile, militarized and violent the region will become. The United States is not capable of policing the Middle East, short of bombing it into a glass parking lot, the only way (short of simply evacuating, of course) to fascilitate an end to the violence occurring in Iraq on a daily basis.

There is one more lesson of history - empire is a fool's endeavour. The neo-conservatives and their political lapdogs deny it, but it is painfully obvious to any historian what their goal is, as it has been repeated time and again throughout history. They want to rule the world. They want their civilization, their values, their culture, their customs, their mores, to spread throughout the known world, take hold, and last for all time. History is littered with examples of such dreams being shattered, but there is not one - not one - example of these dreams ever coming true. Rome may have left us her legacy, but she fell just the same - and spectacularly so! - under the weight of her own empire. Why the neo-cons think that they can deny historical inevitability is what is at the heart of this matter. The reason they think that they can deny history is the reason that every imperial jingoist has cited for their unflinching belief in their civilization's teleological superiority - hubris. Raw, naked, unabashed hubris.

Hubris is why war was declared on Iraq. Hubris is why George Bush refuses to adjust to facts on the ground. Hubris is what will lose the war. And hubris is what will cause the American empire, like all empires, to fall.