Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Don't Say We Didn't Tell You...

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.


kim said...

See, don't you love it when you clean out your newspaper bin...look at all the goodies you find!

Johnny Yen said...

Hate to tell you, but it was on the headboard of the bed.

Palette said...

You know, I was just thinking of how the totalitarianism of our current state was beginning to mimic the fall of the Roman empire. I fell asleep thinking about that- no kidding. Excess, gluttony and lack of focus. That is us in a nutshell.

Bubs said...

Great post.

Danny Tagalog said...

Yeah - really great post. Just heard a song called "From A to I" from Pulp's ex lead singer, Jarvis, taking in tales of an empire's decline and fall, with the odd couplet:

"It's the end, why don't you admit it/it's the same from Auschwitz to Ipswich."

??!! Ipswich is a town in eastern England.

Unsure what to make of that - but worth listening to

Erik Donald France said...

Great great post. James Fallows is an insightful guy. I remember reading some of his work back in college for PWAD (Peace War and Defense) at UNC. The Roman Empire rears its head one more time for the back seats!

Ever come across Paul Kennedy? I think one of his pertinent books is called something like The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers and dovetails nicely with your well-considered points.
Imperial overreach.

Tenacious S said...

The word that circles around in the back of my brain, whimpering in pain and disbelief is, "Why?" I watch what is happening and I am so overwhelmed with shock, sadness, anger, and sadness that I want to grab people on the street and ask them why they don't understand what we are ALLOWING to happen. Between this war and global warming..........

vikkitikkitavi said...

I admire you for approaching the war with a fresh perspective in this post, it's a thing that I am finding increasingly hard to do.

I know I am hijacking your point, but as a resident of California, I feel compelled to point out that we receive back only 79 cents for every dollar that we send to the feds. Given that, and the fact that the rest of the country treats us like their ugly child-molesting drug-dealing step-half-uncle (although to paraphrase Woody Allen, I think of us that way sometimes and I LIVE here) I think the only thing stopping us from a serious secession movement is the governator's presidential aspirations.

Johnny Yen said...

It's a shame people don't study more history in this country. They think that the United States will be a superpower forever. They have no idea that Greece, Persia and a bunch of other countries thought of as backwaters were once world powers.

Thanks! Been missing your posts! You must be busy lately.

I suspect wordplay was a factor in word choices.

I've seen the name, and my late friend Mark talked about Kennedy some. I'll check out that book.

Sometimes I think we should have a draft just to shake people up. I sometimes wonder how long the Vietnam War would have gone on if there hadn't been a draft.

You're not hijacking it, you're adding to it. California always does seem to be the ugly stepsister, doesn't it?

For my part, I love California, at least the north. I try to make it to Oakland as often as I can.

The Gubanator's going to have some Constitutional problems with his presidential aspirations. Article 2, Section 1-- the President must be:

35 years old or older
Must be a native-born U.S. citizen
Must have lived in the United States for fourteen years

He's made some noise about having that part amended. I don't think even he has that much juice. And why not go the better and easier route and elect Nancy Pelosi for President?

Alasdair said...

Hmm. I thought the Robert Kaplan piece on bulletproof vests might come true earlier than Fallows', at least in the sense of being news you can use. I'm relieved that's not so. :)

vikkitikkitavi said...

Ah, but Arnold has people to make noise for him, most notably (for me, at least) the LA Times, which under its old editor penned an expose on Arnold's past history of sexual assault, but under it's new, more conservative editor, finds Arnold more presidential material. Nikki Finke's column in the LA Weekly had a great piece on the story if you want to know more: