On the latest from Iraq

I haven't been blogging on this story because, quite frankly, everyone else has been and they're far more qualified to talk about it than some schlub of a poet with an inexplicable jones for news who's only awake because of a toothache.

But something Matthew Yglesias posted struck a note with me and reminded me of when I was watching the first Gulf War on the myriad television sets I was trying to sell when I worked at Sears Brand Central at the time.

He writes:

This account of the battle to retake Falluja is very interesting reading and speaks to the competence and bravery of our United States Marines, but one has to ask oneself -- what's the goal, exactly?

That really is the question. I remember thinking that the first President Bush had dodged a dangerous bullet in 1991 by not invading the country, not because the coalition would have fallen apart like so many pundits and historians like to mention, but because if you invade a country, you have severely limited your options. You almost either have to make the place your own--colonize it--or you have to get the hell out and let it rebuild itself.

Everyone points to Germany and Japan post-WWII as the example of how to rebuild a society and foster a democracy, but I've got to think that those two countries are the exception rather than the rule, and I think recent history would bear me out on that.

Had we invaded Iraq and deposed Saddam in 1991, Poppy Bush may well have won a second term--there was less time for the occupation to go to hell like Dubya's has and it might have served as enough of a distraction from the economic malaise for him to sneak a win over Clinton. (Note: I am not saying this would have been a good thing--far from it.) But sooner or later, Poppy would have had to deal with the same things that Dubya does right now--or doesn't, as he's apparently headed off to vacation again.

Here's one lesson I think we can learn from history--if you invade, if you are going to build an empire, you'd better be ready to be absolutely ruthless. You have to be willing to treat entire populations as subhuman and kill them without a thought. The Romans were. The British were. The U.S. was, once upon a time. We're not anymore, thank goodness.

And that's why we're bogged down in this quagmire now, just like we were in Viet Nam. We're not ruthless anymore. We've moved on from our desire to build an empire--well, most of us have, anyway. We're no longer willing to commit genocide over natural resources or over a principle or over an ideal, and considering the lethal power we still have available in the form of nuclear weapons, it's a good thing, too.

I think it's time for us to acknowledge, as a society, that we have no taste for the ruthlessness that colonization requires, so we can move on from there. Our military can still be used for defense and for humanitarian efforts, for the saving of people from murderous dictators. But we should not go in to other countries as occupiers, as colonizers, as empire-builders, ever again. The human cost is too high and we already know we are unwilling to pay it.

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