My impression of the Iraq war is that it’s a forced-assimilation program. We establish a military presence and force the locals to run things our way, in a secular capitalistic democracy, until they do so willingly.
Hellenistic Greece, under Alexander the Great, ran a similar program successfully. So did Imperial Rome, various tribes under Charlemagne, and the Mongols under Genghis Khan. Until recently, Great Britain was out assimilating half the world. The countries it assimilated, although no longer affiliated with Great Britain, generally have systems of law and government patterned on those of Great Britain. The United States has accomplished the same in all its territorial possessions, and arguably in some Westernized portions of Asia.
My question is, why won’t it work with Iraq? Our military presence in Iraq vastly exceeds the presence of resistance forces. This was not always the case, for the assimilators listed above, but they managed to accomplish their goals. What’s different now?
I think, for better or for worse, we lack the patience and the callousness to carry out a forced assimilation. We forget that assimilation has historically taken a generation or more, during which time violent uprisings are frequent. We turn against a war because we’ve lost three thousand troops, and ignore the fact that in ancient Rome, a nation with less than a tenth of our population, losses of three thousand in a military occupation would have been considered minor. We stage protests over the treatment of enemy combatants and civilians, where once entire cities were razed and executed for military purposes. It may have been morally abominable, but it worked.
This, I believe, is the proper context in which to understand Iraq. We’re trying to assimilate a nation, in a fraction of the time that’s usually necessary, while rejecting all the ruthless methods that would make such assimilation easier, purely by an overwhelming military presence. Think of a bar that needs bouncers. Get an ordinary guy with a gun and give him a license to kill, and he’ll keep the place in order. But since the bar can’t do that, instead it hires a few huge guys who are just so big that they can peaceably subdue anyone who misbehaves. That’s what we’re trying to do in Iraq. Send in hundreds of thousands of world-class soldiers to – what? – stand around, look tough, and frighten the enemy into submission. Subdue some miscreants here and there. If we were ruthless, we’d level all the “problem areas” of Iraq in a week and say to what’s left, “Don’t make yourself a problem area.”
That may be what forced-assimilation requires. I don’t condone it, but it certainly explains why these situations become “quagmires” nowadays.