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May 2, 2004 - A minor history lesson from an unlikely source ...

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A minor history lesson from an unlikely source…  Clemenceau jokes around with Woodrow Wilson?


Alternate Title: In Praise of Warren G. Harding



The unlikely source for this particular minor history lesson would be Pat Buchanan in this case.  In the May 10, 2004 issue of The American Conservative, you will find this - Fallujah: High Tide of Empire? - where Buchanan opens with a story... 


At Versailles, 1919, Lloyd George, having seized oil-rich Iraq for the empire, offered Woodrow Wilson mandates over Armenia and Constantinople.  “When you cease to be President we will make you Grand Turk,” laughed Clemenceau. 

As there were “no oil fields there,” writes historian Thomas Bailey, “it was assumed that rich Uncle Sam would play the role of Good Samaritan.” Though unamused, Wilson accepted the mandates. 

Fortunately, Harding won in 1920 and reneged on the deal.  Lloyd George and Churchill were left to face the Turks all by their imperial selves.  Had we accepted Constantinople, Americans would have ended up fighting Ataturk’s armies to hold today’s Istanbul. 


So, of course, thank goodness for Warren G. Harding.  And yes, I never imagined I’d say that. 

But why does Pat Buchanan bring up this odd old anecdote?  He thinks we’ve stepped in it this time.  We inadvertently bought what Clemenceau was trying to sell us in 1919 – since the attacks of September 11, 2001 the neoconservatives who have transformed our way of dealing with the world – these guys Buchanan says have been “prattling on” about global hegemony and a crusade for democracy since the end of the Cold War and now finally have their day in the sun to put into operation their historically atypical views – have sold President Bush on what Buchanan calls "their imperial scheme: a MacArthur Regency in Baghdad."

Buchanan sees this as a crossroads.  He considers the ongoing Fallujah and the Shi’ite uprisings as says they are telling us this:


… if we mean to make Iraq a pro-Western democracy, the price in blood and treasure has gone up.  Shall we pay it is the question of the hour.  For there are signs Americans today are no more willing to sacrifice for empire than was Harding to send his nation’s sons off to police and run provinces carved out of the Ottoman Empire.


Yes, that payment question has occurred to many, but not precisely put this way.  Do we commit a generation, or more, of our people to rule (the word he doesn’t use) bits and pieces of the old Ottoman Empire? 

The Ottoman Empire?  Old business.  Does that really apply?  Winston Churchill was indeed one of the fellows drawing lines on maps way back when, deconstructing the Ottoman as it were, creating what are now the nation-states of the Middle East.  And yes, George Bush loves comparing himself to Winston Churchill, even though in Bush’s case a born-again evangelical Winston Churchill, one who certainly doesn’t live on cognac and single-malt scotch.  Bush is the dry, pious Methodist Winston Churchill.  But there is a parallel – the war morphed from being about removing a fellow with real and dangerous weapons of mass destruction (none found), or about hitting a fellow who had something to do with the attacks of September 11, 2001 (no evidence ever found for that) to being about transforming the Middle East.  The latest version of what this is about centers on transforming the Middle East by plopping down a secular, free-market private-capital-based representative democracy right in the middle of all the other nations there – to show them that how things have been run over in that part of the world since the beginning of recorded history was, obviously, the wrong way of going about living life in groups.  Much like Winston Churchill drawing lines on maps way back when, we’re redefining the political world there. 

Well, given the history in that part of the world – a history of tribes and tyrants and theocracies, not to mention fervent prophets of this truth or that - this is a hard sell.  Obviously force was necessary – invasion, occupation, lots of death from the sky – and subsequent work at winning the hearts and minds of the locals and teaching them the joys of the American way. 

Perhaps this is a good idea.  Perhaps not.  But what sort of government do you want running a country – even if it is a country that was shuffled together by Churchill and others with leaky fountain pens and bad maps – that sits on the second largest oil reserves in the world, and has in the past been run by some pretty nasty guys who were fond of mass murder and the use of chemical and biologic weapons?  The status quo wasn’t terribly appealing. 

Perhaps a preemptive, preventative, prophylactic war sold on premises that were, we now see, quite false, followed by an occupation that is quite a mess, wasn’t the best alternative.  But there was a kind of urgency to do something.  Others had ideas on what the “alternative something” might be.  We’re didn’t want to hear it.  So we bought the tar baby. 

But it was more than Iraq.  Listen to the current rhetoric from the administration.  We want the world, all of it, to be democratic and free in the sense we understand those words.  It’s our mission.  And as Bush often says, it is God’s calling – almost as if God reached down to America and said, “Tag!  You’re it!  It's our job.  God says so.

Pat Buchanan suggests that in bringing the Bush-neoconservative "world democratic revolution" to Iraq, we suffer today from four deficiencies: men, money, will, and stamina.  And he discusses these. 

His comments on manpower are distressing:


First, we do not have the troops in country to pacify Iraq.  Some 70 percent of our combat units are committed in Afghanistan, Iraq, and South Korea already.  If we are going to put more men into Iraq, U.S. military forces must expand. 

Those who speak of democratizing Iraq as we did Germany tend to forget: in 1945, we had 12 million men under arms and four million soldiers in Europe.  German resistance disappeared in 1945 with the death of Hitler.  There was no guerrilla war against us.  Today, our army is only 480,000 strong and scattered across 100 countries.  And we have 129,000 troops in an Iraq that is as large as California and an escalating war against urban guerrillas. 


Not good.  If we’re going to go about this holy mission, we need many more warm bodies, or is that boots on the ground?  Whatever.  Anyway, it could get drafty, as in conscription and moving beyond a volunteer (professional) army.  Of course there is outsourcing – as with Blackwater Security and Dyncorp – but that’s expensive and these hired guns can do embarrassing things and be hard to control. 

And yes, a pause here for a disclaimer - the columnist Ann Coulter and the former Bush speechwriter David Frum (who came up with the “Axis of Evil” words for Bush) both have said that we did indeed face years of guerrilla warfare in the late forties in Europe and in the Pacific.  They say people like Buchanan simply do not know their history – because thousands of our troops were killed by German and Japanese guerrilla soldiers who didn’t like how WWII turned out.  This went on for years, wel into the fifties.  These events are in no history books anyone has come across, and there are no accounts of this in any records, but it has been said.  So there is this claim.  One should note that. 

Anyway, Buchanan runs the numbers on the money problems, but enough has been said about out federal deficit and massive trade deficit, and the falling dollar over the last three years.  The economic pressure of empire is more than obvious.

Then there is what Buchanan calls “the deficit in imperial will.”  He says the American public has not exactly bought into the idea that we must democratize the Islamic world or we are unsafe in our own country.  And the polls are turning - nearly half the nation believes we should start coming home.  Maybe if Bush jumped up and down and said we have to see this through in Iraq to prevent gay marriage from becoming legal in Boston and San Francisco – and in Haiti – he’d do better.  As it is, Bush is selling.  Folks aren’t buying. 

Then there is the matter of stamina – and this is curious:


Empire requires an unshakeable belief in the superiority of one’s own race, religion, and civilization and an iron resolve to fight to impose that faith and civilization upon other peoples. 

We are not that kind of people.  Never have been.  Americans, who preach the equality of all races, creeds, and cultures, are, de facto, poor imperialists.  When we attempt an imperial role as in the Philippines or Iraq, we invariably fall into squabbling over whether a republic should be imposing its ideology on another nation.  A crusade for democracy is a contradiction in terms. 

While it would be nice if Brazil, Bangladesh, and Burundi all embraced democracy, why should we fight them if they don’t, and why should our soldiers die to restore democracy should they lose it?  Why is that our problem, if they are not threatening us? 

… If attacked, Americans fight ferociously.  Unwise nations discover that.  Threatened, as in the Cold War, we will persevere.  But if our vital interests are not threatened, or our honor is not impugned, most of us are for staying out of wars. 

That is our history and oldest tradition.  It may be ridiculed as selfish old American isolationism, but that is who we are and that is how we came to be the last world power left standing on the bloodstained world stage after the horrific 20th century. 


Buchanan is of course, being defensive here as he is so often dismissed as a dim-witted, stubborn isolationist – and, of course often called a racist, anti-Semite right-wing overly religious nut case. 

Yeah, but in this one case he could be right.  Well, almost four years ago we elected a leader who really does have an unshakeable belief in the superiority of his race, religion, and civilization - and who certainly does have an iron resolve to fight to impose that faith and civilization upon other peoples.  Bus is no Canadian live-and-let-live sort. 


Shall we tag along for the ride, or not? 


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
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