What To Do with an Empire

This was published in 2003, back when I was a charter member of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy. I joined because I was looking for a serious anti-Iraq War group, not a collection of self-obsessed recreational radicals and screamers. What I found with CRFP was, in some ways, worse. It’s often said that what we need in America is more rational debate. In truth, that’s the last thing politicians want. The more ludicrous and hyperbolic the dissent, the easier it is to dismiss it. CFRP was ludicrous in another way. It became apparent to me that their opposition, however sincere, served mainly to provide exercises in intellectual emoting. I reached this conclusion reluctantly. After returning from Iraq, I had lunch with the Director and his PR/media person. All we talked about was who had published what op-ed; who was being quoted where; and who might be going on TV. The observations of someone who had been there were clearly unimportant.

Outside View: What to do with an empire

By Erin Solaro

WASHINGTON, Oct. 28 (UPI) — The Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy held a press conference at Washington DC’s National Press Club last Oct. 16, decrying America’s gradual expansion into an empire. That is the sort of Washington, DC “Inside the Beltway” event that makes people outside the Beltway wonder if those inside it are crazy. Empire, they ask? Americans don’t do empires. We revolted from an empire.

Point out that we are now presuming to control Afghanistan and Iraq through native proxies, they ask, quoting only the most prominent adherent of this theory, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, haven’t we liberated Iraq from Saddam Hussein, just like we liberated Germany from Adolf Hitler? Wasn’t Saddam another Hitler? Can’t we repeat our successful post-World War II reconstruction of Germany and Japan in Iraq?

In March and April, we did indeed genuinely liberate Iraq. Many Iraqis appear to genuinely hope we will stay for a while to help them develop a civilized society. They don’t want any more mass graves. And it appears that more Iraqis are willing to fight us with Saddam Hussein out of power than in.

However, we did not liberate Germany and Japan, even from their own tyranny. We invaded, defeated and conquered them, and then we occupied them. The human costs were enormous: according to one estimate, 3.5 million German soldiers and 780,000 civilians; 1.3 million Japanese soldiers and 672,000 civilians. The prewar German population was 80.6 million; that of Japan in 1940: 73,114,000. U.S. losses alone were 292,000 battle deaths, with a further 115,000 fatal non-battle casualties.

Germany was ground like grain between the two great armies of the Western allies attacking from the West and the Soviet Red Army from the East that fought through its cities street by street, and sometimes house by house.

Japanese wood and paper cities were bombed with incendiaries to cause fire storms because, to quote U.S. Army Air Force Lt. Gen. Ira C. Eaker, it made a lot of sense to kill skilled workers. The Allies insisted on unconditional surrender by the legitimate German and Japanese authorities because failure to do so after World War I had allowed the Germans to delude themselves that the results of that were not only open to interpretation, but reversible.

The stab-in-the-back-legend over Imperial Germany’s defeat in World War I at its heart had produced Hitler; no one wanted to risk what a stab-in-the-back legend with either Hitler or Hirohito at its heart would produce. The demand for unconditional surrender forced all who thought Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan were worth defending to fight, and often die, for their beliefs.

In contrast, the Iraqi government did not surrender formally to the United States in April but, like its army, simply crumbled. Unfortunately, the U.S. military is not tracking Iraqi civilian casualties. But out of a pre-war Iraqi population of 24.6 million, an Oct. 21 Human Rights Watch report estimated that U.S. troops had killed 94 civilians since President George W. Bush declared the end of major combat on 1 May. By contrast, Iraqi insurgents, who dress as civilians and hide amongst them, had killed 104 U.S. troops in the same period of time.

The dramatically lower loss of life and physical destruction compared with the defeat of Germany and Japan in 1945 mean that continued Iraqi resistance by those who resist our imposition of liberty upon Iraq makes sense to those carrying out the resistance. Our colonization, however benign, of Iraq is a fact not to be submitted to because there is no choice, but a belief to be contested, and attrition need not look like Verdun, or even Vietnam, to be effective in the eyes of those inflicting it.

Iraqis and GIs alike know Iraq is home to Iraqis, not Americans. It is now a matter of sheer will between us and the Iraqis who for whatever reasons, wish us to leave, right now.

The resistance terrorist and guerrilla forces know they can’t match U.S. infantry for trained, disciplined firepower, even delivered by nothing heavier than an assault rifle, so they are targeting rear-services troops, who are not trained to close with and destroy the enemy. To defeat body armor, they use mines and RPGs to produce horrific, often crippling, wounds.

Iraqis who for whatever reason are willing to cooperate with us are known to the resistance and are intensely vulnerable. Unlike Americans, they can’t go home.

Regardless of the wisdom, we broke Iraq, and now we own Iraq for as long as it takes to rebuild it under our aegis, whether reconstruction money is a gift or, as it should be, so that Iraqis own the results, a loan. It will take a long time for Iraqis to accept strength with justice, and learn to administer justice with strength: for too long, barbarism and strength have been synonymous. But winter is coming on, and now is the time for us to seriously consider what we have done in Iraq, and whether we should export this experiment in nation-building to Syria and Iran.

Had we merely wanted oil, we could have permitted Saddam to sell Iraqi oil on the open market. Had we wanted to defend ourselves from him, we could have explained the concept of nuclear deterrence to him, pointing out that there would be nothing mutual about his assured destruction. Instead, we liberated Iraq, and we have the moral obligation to ensure that it is for the better. We should think long and hard before we attempt to similarly liberate Iran and Syria, for no matter how benign, people resent and resist dominance, as we Americans know from our colonial past and are learning anew in Iraq.


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