I had the day off of work yesterday in memory of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King. I'd intended to post about my memories of the first time this day was celebrated in Illinois, in 1983, but I couldn't find the picture I wanted to use. I'll save it for another time.
What I did come across was a copy of The Atlantic Monthly that I'd saved. It was from November of 2002. I'd picked it up because it had some articles that looked interesting by authors whom I'd read-- Robert Kaplan and Mark Bowden. There was also an article by James Fallows entitled "The Fifty-First State?: The Inevitable Aftermath of Victory in Iraq."
It's available online at:
The article is amazing. It opens with:
Going to war with Iraq would mean shouldering all the responsibilites of an occupying power the moment victory was achieved. These would include running the economy, keeping domestic peace, and protecting Iraq's borders-- and doing it all for years, or perhaps decades. Are we ready for this long-term relationship?
It's like he had a friggin' crystal ball.
He points out that history is rarely linear-- that it always has consequences we rarely foresee. He quotes a book I've mentioned before, David Fromkin's "A Peace to End All Peace," which was about how the settlement of World War I and the carving up of the Ottoman Empire directly caused a lot of the problems of the mideast today.
Fallows discusses a lot of the considerations before going in and then points out:
Regardless of these diffences, the day after a war ended, Iraq would become America's problem, for practical and political reasons. Because we would have destroyed the political order and done physical damage in the process, the claims on American resources and attention would be comparable to those of any U.S. state.
Wow. What has this war cost? Nearly $350 billion? Has even California, the most populous state in the union gotten that much from the federal government since March of 2003?
The invasion was based on a whole host of fallacies: that Iraq would quickly become self-governing; that the conquered Iraqis would view the coalition troops as liberators; that Iraq's economy would quickly recover and pay for the war; that Iraq could quickly develop democracy; that an Iraqi democracy would stand as a shining example of democracy in the region.
Yesterday there was the quiet news that Condy Rice is soft-pedalling democracy in Egypt in favor of stability. Expect to hear the same about Iraq eventually.
Fallows states that providing a force of even 25,000 occupiers would strain the U.S. Military's resources. We have more than six times that amount.
Rereading this article got me to thinking back to the first day of the war, back on March 20 of 2003. I was in my first year of a four year stint of teaching sixth grade in Cicero, Illinois.
That day, the students wanted to talk about the war and it's history. Most of them were from poor latino families, and many had brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles in the military or reserves, so I obliged them.
As the US invaded Iraq, I told them to remember this day, for it was the day that the United States overtly became an empire.
Later that day, as I started my new social studies unit, I had a wry chuckle of irony. That day we started a unit on an empire that took over other countries, ignoring the needs of its citizens, and choking and collapsing itself on the costs of their expansion. That day, I began teaching, for the first time in my teaching career, about the Roman Empire.