"The March of Folly" in Iraq
About 25 years ago, the eminent historian Barbara W. Tuchman wrote a best-selling book entitled "The March of Folly--from Troy to Vietnam." Tuchman, who died in 1989, noted that one of the great paradoxes of history is that governments often mindlessly pursue policies that actually clash with their own national interests.
She cited, for example, how Britain's King George III repeatedly alienated his American colonies with excessive taxation, made rebels where there had been none, disregarded rising discontent, and forfeited control of the North American continent.
Similarly, Tuchman explored our nation's 35-year involvement in Vietnam, beginning with President Roosevelt's endorsement of French colonial rule. She argued that the Cold War-inspired domino theory raised the stakes, and described President Lyndon Johnson's insistence on military victory as "benighted." The result, she wrote, was a "final uneasy escape" and the loss of essential trust in government.
If Tuchman were alive today, she could have added the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 as the latest episode of governmental folly. The justification for the war has changed so many times that it's hard to keep up. There were no weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein did not pose an imminent threat to the U.S. Nor did the invasion bolster the essential war on terrorism or make the U.S. more secure.
Instead, it has turned Iraq into a breeding ground and training center for Islamic terrorism, accentuated international hatred of the U.S., and inspired a new generation of jihadis eager and willing to fight us. And yet the war's advocates dare charge that those who objected to the Iraq invasion are opposing the war on terrorism.
Proponents of the war now excitedly claim that democracy is being introduced into Iraq, as demonstrated by the big turnout of voters in the recent parliamentary election. The problem is that you don't export democracy. You export machine tools and airplanes and soy beans and corn.
It is premature to boast about the democratization of Iraq. The sectarian and ethnic barriers are formidable, and the odds are not favorable for genuine success. Moreover, to contend that the U.S. would necessarily benefit by the spread of democracy in Iraq to the rest of the Middle East is ludicrous. If there were free and open elections in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, two autocratic countries friendly to the U.S., the victors in both would undoubtedly be radical Islamists violently opposed to our presence in the Middle East.
The post-World War II democratic successes in Germany and Japan are not analagous to the situation in Iraq, as the Bush Administration likes to argue. Germany and Japan had homogeneous populations, were more advanced industrially, and had formally surrended after harsh military defeats.
But the basic issue is this: In the unlikely event that our objectives are realized in Iraq and that the country is turned into a stable working democracy, was it worth the many thousands of American troops killed and maimed and the expenditure of an estimated trillion dollars or more?
I think not.