The Lessons of Iraq We Refuse to Learn





Mr. Polk taught at Harvard from 1955 to 1961 when he was appointed a member of the Policy Planning Council of the US State Department. In 1965 he became professor of history at the University of Chicago and founded its Middle Eastern Studies Center. Subsequently, he also became president of the Adlai Stevenson Institute of International Affairs. Among his books are The United States and the Arab World, The Elusive Peace: The Middle East in the Twentieth Century, Neighbors and Strangers: the Fundamentals of Foreign Affairs and the just-published Understanding Iraq.

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Are there any lessons to be learned by the American venture into Iraq? The great German philosopher of history Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel doubted our capacity to find out. “Peoples and governments,” he wrote, “never have learned anything from history or acted on principles deduced from it.” Writing about the Vietnam war, the neo-conservative American political scientist Samuel P. Huntington suggested that it would be best if policy makers “simply blot out of their mind any recollection of this one.”* It seems to me that they did. So, in at least some ways, the Iraq war has been proof of George Santayana’s admonition that, having done so, we were doomed to repeat it. The urgent question today is, will the Iraq war itself be similarly blotted out and similarly repeated? The odds are with Professor Hegel.

Mr. Huntington’s argument was based on the notion that Vietnam was unique since, as he saw it, imperialism and colonialism have “just about disappeared from world politics.” That is, they were fading memories of a now irrelevant past. But is this true? Foreign domination has faded from our memory but not from the memories of many of the peoples of Asia and Africa.

Focus on Iraq

Iraq became “independent” by treaty with Britain in 1922. Then it became “independent” by recognition of the League of Nations in 1932. But few Iraqis believe that it became really independent by either of these acts. Britain controlled the economy and maintained a military presence while it continued to rule Iraq behind a façade of governments it had appointed. It then reoccupied the country during World War II. After the war it ruled through a proxy until he was overthrown in 1958. So was 1958 the date of independence? On the surface yes, but below the surface American and British intelligence manipulated internal forces and neighboring states to influence or dominate governments; they helped to overthrow the revolutionary government of Abdul Karim Qasim and to install the Baath party which brought Saddam Husain to power. Knowing what they had done and fearing that they would do so again shaped much of the policy even of Saddam Husain.

By giving or withholding money, arms and vital battlefield intelligence, Britain and America influenced what Saddam thought he could do. So worried was he about his American connection that, before he decided to invade Kuwait, he called in the U.S. ambassador to ask, in effect, if the invasion was ok with Washington. Only when he was assured in 1990 that the U.S. had no policy on the frontiers with Kuwait by official testimony before Congress, government press releases and a face-to-face meeting with our ambassador in Baghdad did he act. Either he misread the omens or we changed them. Our ambassador later said, incredibly, that we had not anticipated that he would take all of Kuwait. When he did, we invaded, destroyed much of his army and the Iraqi economy and imposed upon the country UN-authorized sanctions and unauthorized “no-fly” zones. Finally, in 2003 we invaded again, occupied the country and imposed upon it a government of our choice. Whatever the justification for any or all of these actions, they do not add up to independence. So even Iraqis who hated and feared Saddam always felt that they were living under a form of Western control. The simple fact is that the “memories” had not faded because they were based on current reality.

There are many things to be said about the American invasion and occupation of Iraq. I have written about most of them in my book, Understanding Iraq, which HarperCollins is publishing this month. But one thing stands out above all to me as a historian: we were (and I believe still are) ignorant of Iraqi history and culture. More pointedly, we had (and still have) no sense of how Iraqis saw their own past and their relationships with us. This ignorance has caused us, often inadvertently, to take actions that many or perhaps most Iraqis have read as imperialist. This has been true even of actions that we felt were generous, far-sighted and constructive.

Constitutions

Take the provision of a constitution as an example. Constitutions are surely “good.” We treasure ours even when we do not always abide by it. We believe that other countries should have them because they are the bedrock of democracy. That sentiment was so widely held at the end of the First World War that the British made giving the Iraqis one a high priority. Experts were called in, phrases were debated, studies were made of the best then in operation, and finally, in 1924, a wonderful document emerged. It was greeted with great satisfaction but mainly by those who had given it, the British. Iraqis paid it little heed because it was not grounded in the realities of Iraqi society, practices or even hopes. Time after time, governments came into power that overturned or simply neglected every paragraph it contained.

So what did the American occupation government do? Was it aware of this history? Apparently not. It set about writing a new constitution. The emphasis was, of course, on “it.” The occupation authorities wrote the constitution without any Iraqi input and just handed it to their appointed interim government. That, to my mind, amounted to astonishing insensitivity. What was even more astonishing was that it somehow never occurred to the American lawyers who wrote it that it would become worthless, that is, illegal, when the interim administration was replaced by even a quasi-independent government. It was surely the shortest-lived constitution ever written.

Elections

If constitutions are necessary for democracies, elections are even more so. So, naturally, they too are good things. Iraq had to have one. Organizing and controlling it turned out to be a difficult task given what many Iraqis interpreted “our” election to mean: not to express a national consensus on democracy but to solidify our control over the country. Because at least some Iraqis were determined to get us out of their country, using guerrilla warfare tactics and terrorism against us and those Iraqis who supported us, we had to use our military forces to set parameters on the issues, the personnel and the form of this expression of freedom. As Jean-Jacques Rousseau long ago advocated, we decided to force men to be free. The fact that, however unfree they were, the elections were held was hailed as a great victory for democracy. I remain unconvinced. I suspect that two fatal flaws will soon become evident: a heightening of the divisive tendencies already inherent in Iraqi society and a devaluation of the very concept of representative government.

Our policies on security are similarly subject to different interpretation. Where we have done most of what we have done in the name of security, our critics in Iraq have sought sovereignty. We believed that security had to come first. A close reading of history leads me to believe that the order is usually the reverse. When foreigners get out, insurgencies stop; they do not stop, no matter how massive the force used against them or how costly in blood and treasure the cost of fighting is, until the foreigners leave. This surely is the lesson of Ireland, Çeçneya, Algeria, and even of our own Revolution. I predict it will be of Iraq too.

Believing that security comes first has led our government to concentrate on rebuilding an Iraqi army since doing so appeared to offer security at a bargain price. But, Iraqis remember the terrible costs to their society of the creation of armies. The one the British created, time after time, subverted or overthrew civil governments. A new army, absent balancing civic institutions, which can grow only slowly and by internal developments, will surely again pave the way for a military dictatorship.

Other Lessons

Related to, but to some extent external to, Iraq are other “lessons” we should ponder. What happened to Iraq showed other governments that they live at the sufferance of the United States. Iraq could not defend itself; nor can most other states. Those that can are those that have the ultimate weapon. Acquisition of even a few nuclear weapons provides “security” because the cost of attacking a power armed with them is too costly. I am told that at least some African, Asian and even European observers believe that if Saddam Husain had waited until he had a nuclear weapon before attacking Kuwait, we would not have gone to war. North Korea today reinforces this assessment. There, we react with anger, economic sanctions and propaganda but not with military force.

However, the process of acquiring nuclear weapons is a time of deadly danger. So governments that decide to acquire them naturally try to move with the utmost secrecy and speed. They also usually seek to avoid provocations that might bring down upon them the wrath of the existing nuclear powers. That too is a lesson of Iraq: had Saddam not provided a provocation, we would probably have done nothing. Indeed, we were supplying him with the components and equipment to make weapons of mass destruction right up to the time of our intervention. Surely, this “lesson” is in the minds of the Persians today as it was in the minds of the Russians, Chinese, Indians, Pakistanis and Israelis. The only alternative to this highly dangerous and ruinously costly drift in international affairs is mutual disarmament, but current American policies are rushing us, and the world, in exactly the opposite direction.

Finally, there is a grab-bag of other lessons again laid before us by Iraq: the first is that war is always unpredictable no matter how powerful the advantages one side seems to have at the beginning; the second is that they are always horrible. Not only are people killed or severely harmed, but whole societies, even of the victors, are brutalized . This was true of the British in Kenya, the French in Algeria, the Americans in the Philippines, the Russians in Central Asia, and the Chinese in Tibet. Finally, guerrilla wars are, at best, unwinnable – lasting as in Ireland for centuries and in Algeria for a century and a half. Çeçneya suffered massacre, deportation, rape and massive destruction for nearly four centuries and still is not “pacified.” No one wins a guerrilla war; both sides lose. The only sensible policy is one that aims to stop them not to win them. Hegel and Santayana may be right, we may not learn, but certainly, Huntington is wrong in urging that we “blot” the lessons out of our minds.

*"Military Intervention, Political Involvement, and the Unlessons of Vietnam," (Chicago: The Adlai Stevenson Institute of International Affairs, 1968)

© William R. Polk, March 26, 2005


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Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007


Prof. Polk's cataloguing of the US and UK governments' many decades long stupidities on Iraq is broad yet incisive. Would that he had uttered such words more audibly in 2002 before it was too late.

There are, however, major omissions in this piece which I doubt can be ascribed to poor editing. The most glaring untouched question is: what should people do once they "learn" Polk's unlearned lessons ?

Somewhere along the line, this historian of the Mideast probably read some U.S. history. And probably forgot the chapter covering 1861-65 when writing "when foreigners get out, insurgencies stop". "Foreigners" were of only very marginal relevance to probably the bloodiest "insurgency" of the 19th century.

Adressing this paramount and unadressed issue (What to do now) leads promptly to some obvious reasons for the "refusal" to learn the "lessons of Iraq". If it were widely and publically admitted that W's Iraq adventure was basically a long string of asinine blunders from the start, there would be a strong clamour in the US for pulling out all military forces quickly. The chances of the Sunnis and Shia peacefully settling things in the resulting power vaccum would be low to nil, and American voters would then not take long to figure out which of their politicians to blame for the disastrous bloodbath. THAT is the reason Daddy Bush was willing to shaft the Shias, by not intervening further in the spring and summer of 1991, and it is also the reason why Junior Birdman Bush does not want to be the one to cut and run today. Hence strong preferences for engaging in semantic debates about "empire" or "freedom" and/or for unfurling long-since decrepit banners of pacifism or the Rambo Legend.


Patrick M Ebbitt - 9/25/2006

Mubde' ABSI,

Well stated...

N. Friedman,

"noting the information that the Bush administration had available to it."

The Bushies had ample intelligence. They just manipulated it to justify the war and power grab of Iraq. If the congressional committee investigating the prelude to war bases findings on what "CURVEBALL" fed the administration then the American people really are rubes.


Allan Witt - 4/29/2005

"By Tom Bowman
[Baltimore] Sun National Staff
Originally published April 27, 2005
WASHINGTON - The number of insurgent attacks, which dropped after the Iraqi elections in January, has crept back to the levels of a year ago, senior Pentagon officials said yesterday.

Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at the Pentagon that insurgent attacks - including roadside bombs, suicide missions and shootings - number 50 or 60 a day, up from 40 a day in the weeks after the elections."

It seems official US estimates are at odds with the assertion that the insurgecy is decreasing. I also remind readers of the outgoing CIA station chief's comments about the direction of the insurgency, though over a year old, quite prescient. Further, US global terrorism is up three-fold since the war on terrorism began, again US government estimates. There simply is no evidence in the case at hand, although larger historical generalizations are more mixed than Polk is suggesting.


Arnold Shcherban - 4/15/2005

Thank you for recognising at least that.
I guess with this knowledge you reached the paramount of your perception of history.


Edward Siegler - 4/15/2005

You're funny when you're mad, Arnie. Stay that way.


Arnold Shcherban - 4/14/2005

Mr Siegler,

You self-indulged moronity and frozen in generations
national narcicism makes you absolutely trashy material
for learning something a bit useful for any historian:
the truth.
I lived in one of the Central Asian Soviet Republics (Kazahkstan) for decades, and what I saw and experienced there practically sharply contradicts to your anecdotal
knowledge.
I can bet all my money with any one of you zoological haters that I can prove you quantitavely and qualitatively
that your real or alleged notions about the life there
under the Soviets, at least in the 20 year period, from 60s to 80s are practically all wrong and the quality of life, on average, in those republics was much higher than the corresponding quality of life in the most CAPITALIST countries of the region!
But I can also bet that noone of you cowards will accept my challenge.
Then... shut up and listen what I, as the greatest and most objective of the praticipants on these boards, have to say, you bunch of crooked, ignorant, religious idiots!


Edward Siegler - 4/14/2005

, China did intervene in the Korean-American war

It was a Korean civil war into which the U.N. intervened, not a "Korean-American war."

to
somehow help North Koreans,

The Chinese wanted to prevent "capitalism" from getting too close to their borders. They didn't give a rat's ass about the North Korean people then or now.

experiencing American airiel GENOCIDE.

That would be the same sort of "airiel GENOCIDE" that the evil Americans inflicted on the innocent people of France during their invasion of Europe during 1944. It was all done to exterminate civilians. Preach on, brother.

Of course, as usual, Mr Siegler's figure, i.e. 800,000 Chinese dead is more than exaggeration, but they did try to help.

Thanks for giving me credit for original research but I didn't come up with this figure. It's from a book by Max Hastings called The Korean War. Max Hastings is an Englishman, not a member of that mongerel American race. This should make his conclusions more acceptable to you. The Chinese died from massive suicidal human wave attacks against American positions. Chinese troops were sent into North Korea without food, which resulted in many deaths from starvation.

They "did try to help" - that's a classic.


And if you say - Left propaganda - I can remind you the words of the prominent US general who bragged that the US Air Force bombed into the ground every more or less significant North Korean city: obvious war crime (if commited by any of the designated enemies).

Wrong again - the Nuremburg war crimes trials established that strategic and tactical bombing campaigns are not war crimes. The Nazis were not tried for their bombing campaigns either.


And don't you guys just love Mr. Siegler's usage of "unilaterally" in regard to China's intervention into Korean war. Isn't 'unilateral' is used when noone else (foreign) is involved, or instead 'one-sided'?

Look, I'll try not to get on your case too much about this if English isn't your native language but your just not making any sense here.


So, the US had the divine right not only fight to "defend" South Korea, but to kill hundreds of thousands of North Korean citizens bombing North Korean
territory.

Again you're forgetting the U.N. involvement here, which was a response to an unprovoked North Korean invasion (unless you'd like to try and rewrite that little historical fact). Yes, it was a defense of South Korea. What gave the North the right to invade? Take a look at how North Koreans are treated by their own government to this day before you judge whether the attempt to take the North was an attempted liberation or merely and attempt to spread capitalism, as the Chinese believed. There's a job waiting for you in Pyongyang, by the way. Kim Jong Ill wants to hire you as his press agent.

China, that entered the war only after the
US mentioned actions and did not attack the US territory,

Hitler didn't attack US territory either.

had no rights to so whatsoever (except usual usurped by communists "right" to "unilateral" agression(?)).
Brilliant piece of logic that would make honor to Mr. Goebells himself!

Go ahead and corrupt our language by talking about genocide and nazis in such an ignorant manner. It's all the rage these days. But the only thing you accomplish is to rob yourself of the words to describe real genocide and nazi-like activity when it's actually happening.

As far as Vietnam goes, the U.S. never wanted a war there. It helped South Vietnam prevent a communist takeover until the effort became too costly. It was a dirty war in support of a brutal and corrupt regime and for that it should be condemned. However if the U.S. had honored its commitments and contined to provide financial aid to South Vietnam during and after 1975 this country would likely have survived and evolved towards something resembling South Korea today.



I also would like to point out again to stubborn slows and allegedly blind ideologues, that the crimes of the communists countries committed against their indigenous
populations were long ago admitted and condemned by the very communists themselves all over the world,

Is this why 1.2 billion Chinese are still struggling for basic human rights?


whereas
the crimes of the US imperialism are still either qualified as the triumphs of democracy and freedom, or at best/worst, as "mistakes" or "miscalculations" by the traditional American intellectual culture, including your seves jentelemen... of fortune.

The genocide against the Indians, the Mexican-American War, the atrocities in Vietnam and other events have been condemned by America. However saving Korea from conquest by the North and "interveining" in Europe during World War II, among other epidsodes, were in fact triumphs of democracy and freedom. Your ideological distortions say something about you and less than nothing about these events.


Arnold Shcherban - 4/14/2005

Mr. Heisler,

I would recommend you to learn, at least, the basics of formal logic, though it would not hurt you to employ common sense logic as well.

Let me repeat the essense of the argument, this time specifically for the slooooow ones.

<As far as the geography goes Tibet was a part, if not Chinese territory, but the territory that always bordered the Chinese territory, so it cannot be located even hundreds of miles away from the Chinese territory, and the latter condition was put forward by me as one of the most significant ones, remember?>

And you answer was: <I can postulate that the United States can invade and subjugate Mexico, Canada, and Cuba without an objection from you!> ?
That's one of the best illustration of the ideology eclipsing any sense of logic.
Amen!

Further, China did intervene in the Korean-American war to
somehow help North Koreans, experiencing American airiel GENOCIDE. Of course, as usual, Mr Siegler's figure, i.e. 800,000 Chinese dead is more than exaggeration, but they did try to help.
And if you say - Left propaganda - I can remind you the words of the prominent US general who bragged that the US Air Force bombed into the ground every more or less significant North Korean city: obvious war crime (if commited by any of the designated enemies).
And don't you guys just love Mr. Siegler's usage of "unilaterally" in regard to China's intervention into Korean war. Isn't 'unilateral' is used when noone else (foreign) is involved, or instead 'one-sided'?
So, the US had the divine right not only fight to "defend" South Korea, but to kill hundreds of thousands of North Korean citizens bombing North Korean
territory. China, that entered the war only after the
US mentioned actions and did not attack the US territory, had no rights to so whatsoever (except usual usurped by communists "right" to "unilateral" agression(?)).
Brilliant piece of logic that would make honor to Mr. Goebells himself!

The USA involvement in the Vietnam war by the conclusive
resume of the most even American (not already mentioning foreign) historians dwarfed the COMBINED involvement of the USSR and China in every aspect of the matter and had a significant, though far from the decisive, effect ONLY in the anti-aerial defense of the North Vietnamese territory. And it definitely was DEFENSIVE, since neither
USSR nor Chinese did not directly participate in the offensive operations of Veitkong or North Vietnamese military units, in sharp difference with the overwhelming
respective "participation" of the US.
The conservative ideologists traditionally "forgetting"
that if for China and other countries of South-East Asia the US agression in South-East Asia was
a LOCAL matter, i.e. the issue of "immediate and imminent
danger" (in direct and obvious to the whole world violation of Geneva conventions signed by the US), for
the US located thousands of miles away, it was definitely
not.

I also would like to point out again to stubborn slows and allegedly blind ideologues, that the crimes of the communists countries committed against their indigenous
populations were long ago admitted and condemned by the very communists themselves all over the world, whereas
the crimes of the US imperialism are still either qualified as the triumphs of democracy and freedom, or at best/worst, as "mistakes" or "miscalculations" by the traditional American intellectual culture, including your seves jentelemen... of fortune.


Charles Edward Heisler - 4/13/2005

Don't tell Arnold that, it would destroy his world view and strange sense of history. Guess we don't even want to talk about the slaughter of literally millions of indigent populations in the various Communist countries he so admires.
I guess it is alright in Arnold's World to kill folks so long as they are within your borders.


Edward Siegler - 4/12/2005

I would add, Mr. Heisler, that the USSR conquered and incorporated many nations into its empire, including the Baltic republics and the many nations of central Asia and Eastern Europe. It attempted to do the same to Finland and Afghanistan, and Mongolia was only nominally independent through much of the Soviet era.

China "unilaterally" interveined in the Korean War and lost approximately 800,000 soldiers while doing so. We owe the continued existence of North Korea, with its near genocidal treatment of its own people, directly to this intervention.

China and the USSR's involvement in the Vietnam War and many other conflicts was hardly a matter of defence either.


Edward Siegler - 4/12/2005

Try explaining that communism was nothing but an "ideological threat" to the peoples of Eastern Europe, the Baltic republics, the nations of central Asia, Korea, Cambodia and countless others nations. They will either show you the mass graves that resulted from communist rule or laugh in your face.

Chomsky is an embarrassment. His ridiculous ahistorical conspiracy theories are not made any more accurate by virtue of their current popularity.




Charles Edward Heisler - 4/12/2005

As far as the geography goes Tibet was a part, if not Chinese territory, but the territory that always bordered the Chinese territory, so it cannot be located even hundreds of miles away from the Chinese territory, and the latter condition was put forward by me as one of the most significant ones, remember?
"Moreover, there was never sovereign 'Tibet' country, which communist China could commit an act of agression against according to the international, i.e. UN definition of agression.
So your purpoted irony is out of place, out of geographical maps, as we know them,... unless you use
the ideological ones."

Well then Arnold since we must use your reasoning of geographical maps, "as we know them" and not ideological.
I can postulate that the United States can invade and subjugate Mexico, Canada, and Cuba without an objection from you! Any other fine line corners you wish to paint yourself into by way of making your "America the Awful"
anthem????


Arnold Shcherban - 4/12/2005

Mr. Heisler,

As far as the geography goes Tibet was a part, if not Chinese territory, but the territory that always bordered the Chinese territory, so it cannot be located even hundreds of miles away from the Chinese territory, and the latter condition was put forward by me as one of the most significant ones, remember?
Moreover, there was never sovereign 'Tibet' country, which communist China could commit an act of agression against according to the international, i.e. UN definition of agression.
So your purpoted irony is out of place, out of geographical maps, as we know them,... unless you use
the ideological ones.

I also take this opportunity to very briefly answer some
points made by Mr. Siegler, who obviously flatters himself to be hilariously ironic.
Nazi Germany threat was real, just on the reason that Nazi's offically declared and (what is crucial) PRACTICALLY implemented NATIONAL goal was world hegemony through the War of Agression.
Theoretically, Communism's, Marxism's goal was also
world domination (again - up to the end of 60s - beginning of 70s), but theoretically, by its very definition Marxism was/is INTERNATIONAL phenomenon, not national one and therefore, if implemented, would have represented the rule of MAJORITY, what is traditionally called DEMOCRACY! Practically, the Communism's only and most "evil" empire - the USSR, has never attacked or had plans to attack (unless - in defense) no major capitalist country, being itself attacked by them twice in the course of its short history with just 20 years interval:
first time - in 1918, second - in 1941 (not counting
the miriad of military provocations and terrorist attacks.)
Moreover, it is basically admitted nowadays (after the issue lost its propagandistic meaning) by many prominent sovietologists/communologists that Communism was in greatest measure an IDEOLOGICAL threat, the threat by example, not military or strategical one.

Thus, crooked liars like you have to stop using ideological double standards, making excuses for everything American and pro-American as being at the worst - a "mistake", while portraying the opposite, as being at the best - a "treachery".

And you, sir, can only dream of writing anything remotely as solidly grounded in history, convincing, logically impeccable, and read all over the world, as any book written by the genuis of Noam Chomsky.


Edward Siegler - 4/11/2005

You know full well, Mr. Heisler, that Arnie will never sink so low as to say that America is not the worst country on earth. However, in his defence allow me to make a few relevant points that he missed.

First of all, it's true that Hawaii was American territory in 1941, however it was NOT a state, and therefore not really a part of America, only one of its "colonies." A colony who's inhabitants were forced to give up their native religious practice of human sacrifice by American Imperialism. Now what gave us the right to do that?! And as Arnie points out, the attack on Pearl Harbor was directed at a military base, which makes it okay, as opposed to 9-11, which was directed at civilians and not carried out by a foreign government, which means that it wasn't really an attack at all and in any case is no excuse to start any kind of war with anyone.

Arnie's most insightful point is that World War II was really an attempt to extend American hegemony around the world. I'm looking forward to a book-length treatment of this theme at some point in the near future, perhaps written by Noam Chomsky. After pointing out that the Soviet Union bore the brunt of the Nazi attack, Arnie forgot to mention that Hitler was in no real position to attack the U.S., meaning that Roosevelt's attack on Germany was a case of the U.S. waging aggressive war, and not really a defensive move at all.

In the end, "crooked liars" like you have to admit that all these so-called "threats", from Nazism to Communism to terrorism, have been cooked up by the U.S. in order to justify wars of expansion.


Charles Edward Heisler - 4/11/2005

"On the other token, name a single foreign country situated even hundreds of miles, not mentioning thousands, from Chinese borders that China attacked in the course of the last hundred years, you crooked liar!"

Why Arnold, this "crooked liar" would say Tibet! Does this mean that we win the argument and America isn't the worst country on earth???


Arnold Shcherban - 4/10/2005

It is so characteristic of all you quasi-historians to
jump on a single inaccuracy, that never makes any significant principal point, just to discard the major bulk of undeniable arguments of the other party.
I guess you won't put your mouth where your mouth is...
So, ultimately, I don't need any other argument.

I adress your Hawaiian point, though.
You are right, sirree: Hawaii was the US territory in 1941, and therefore, TECHNICALLY the US territory was attacked.
However, PRINCIPALLY Japanese attacked the
naval military base in Pearl Harbor, and I repeat again, for half-brained - MILITARY - not civilain TERRITORY, and military people, not civilians!
Your timely reference of Hawaii, reminded me another
very relevant issue, which is actually the major cause of practically all American wars: thirst for world expansion and hegemony.
What would the US do, if say China, (that, by the way, I'm still waiting for the answer to my factual objection about) by some hook or some crook, possessed an island, as big as Hawaii, not far away from the continental US? Oh, we all know very well what, don't we?
In fact, this country did not let China return its
own bloody island - Taiwan for more than half a century years by now!
In another fact, the US loyal leutenant - former itself imperialist empire - UK has only recently
returned Chinese native territory - Hong Kong, and only
on the conditions(!) set up by their British lordshood, effectively leaving the door open for the future forceful
takeover.

A bit about the role of proximity, that in your burdened by double-standards mind allegedly does not count in the matters of national security (of course, only when YOU don't need it be counted).
Tell this raving nonsense to the US strategists on Cuba,
and on entire Central America, the region they traditionally and unambigously consider tremendously important for the US national security, specifically
on the reason that it was the so-called American "back-yard" and, therefore, everything they did in this region, whether it was the direct "invasion" (certainly not an agression in your Orwellian speak), direct terrorism or terrorism by proxy was traditionally justified by the "misdeeds" of the eventual victims, considered by them especially "threatening" on the reason of being committed in the proximity to the US territory.


Dylan Sherlock - 4/10/2005

"Your American democracy is nothing but that of the rich ruling the rest." That's how the poor have managed to legislate trillions of dollars of programs invested in themselves that come right our of the pockets of the rich. Because democracy has the rich ruling the rest. Sure thing buddy.


E. Simon - 4/9/2005

It might behoove the doubly-conjugating master of the run-on sentence to learn that Hawaii, in 1941, actually was U.S. territory. It had been for 43 years. Proximity doesn't absolve one of a charge of aggression. Once again, there are dictionaries for these sorts of things. There are also encyclopedias.


Arnold Shcherban - 4/9/2005

<Unfortunately, it's a world dominated by the government aggression of the former Soviet Union, China...>

You really have the nerve to call an ugly a supermodel, and vice versa.

On official account, the US attacked more than two dozens countries, the majority of which sutiated thousands of miles away from its borders, in the course of the last 70 years, being attacked only ONCE (actually, its territory wasn't attacked, just its naval forces)- by Japan in 1941 (but not even with the remotely close effect, as experienced by the Soviet Union over the Germany's attack) effectively making it the most agressive country in the world!
The same is the opinion of the world majority.
These are cold facts and no crooked historian can avoid
them.

On the other token, name a single foreign country situated even hundreds of miles, not mentioning thousands, from Chinese borders that China attacked in the course of the last hundred years, you crooked liar!

Would you put your money where your lying mouth is?

The Soviet Union did participated, but in much less wars
than the US during the same period, while being attacked with the most devastating effect comparing to all other agressions of the last 70 years in 40s, which, certainly
should not have created any post-dramatic stress, according the reasoning of such ideological gansters, as you are, because... it might drive the "naive" folks to "wrong" conclusions.


Hagbard Celine - 4/8/2005

"Can you imagine a world free of US government aggression in the name of democracy"

Sure!

Unfortunately, it's a world dominated by the government aggression of the former Soviet Union, China and Muslim Theocracies.

Choose carefully, then pick your poison!


N. Friedman - 4/8/2005

Patrick,

You clearly did not understand what I wrote. I was not speaking about the WMD.


N. Friedman - 4/7/2005

Mubde' ABSI,

You write: Can you imagine an Arab world without Israel, the US puppet who for 50 years have rejected to apply UN resolutions in favour of the 5 million Palestinian refugees who are living under the terrible occupation of Israel and its US master.

One can like or dislike Israel, want to preserve the control or want to destroy Israel. No matter what you may believe, however, the refugee and their offspring are a creation of Arab policy to destroy Israel. That, frankly, makes the problem into a morally offensive demand by the Arab side.

Consider that during the very same time period, 100 million people were made refugees. Almost none of them were returned to their homes. That includes 12.5 Sudetens, 14 million Indians/Pakistanis, among others. The norm for that period was for refugees to be settled where they found refuge.

By contrast, the Arabs, in their effort to destroy Israel - the same effort which led to Palestinians and other Arabs becoming refugees in the first place -, decided to allow people to rot permanently in camps.

By further contrast, Germany resettled all 12.5 million Sudetens in Germany - even though such people were native to the countries that surrounded Germany -. The surrounding countries, to this day, have not allowed (and will not likely ever allow) the Sudetens and their offspring to return to their original homelands. India settled all of the Hindu refugees from Pakistan and Pakistan settled all of the Muslim refugees from India. Neither side has allowed the refugees or their offspring to return to their original homes.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe decided in June of 2003 not to support a claim for a right of return for Palestinians. See http://assembly.coe.int/Documents/AdoptedText/TA03/EREC1612.htm

The reason that the Council of Europe did not follow the demands made by Palestinian Arabss is that such would mean that all of the world's other refugees (and their offspring) from that period (or any other period) would have the same claim as Palestinians which, in turn, would be a world-wide political disaster, particularly in Europe with reference to the Sudetens. In this instance, the Palestinians, while they certainly have a right to be settled where they now live, are way out of line to insist on being settled in Israel. Such demand is inconsistent with the treatment of nearly all other refugees in the world.


N. Friedman - 4/7/2005

Mubde'ABSI,

I was not advocating anything. I was noting the information that the Bush administration had available to it.

As to your allegation about American democracy, on its worst day, it is more responsive to the people than any government on Earth.


Edward Siegler - 4/7/2005

The arguments presented here, backed by impeccable logic and facts, have forced me to concede the truth. Democracy in the formerly fascist countries of Europe would have come about without any interference by the U.S. during the 1940s because democratic institutions were already there. The Arab world without Israel in its midst would be far better off because the dictatorships and other problems in this region were created by Israel and "its US master." Impoverished Arab regimes like that of Saudi Arabia can't afford to send any aid to the Palestinians, and Palestinian attacks on Israel are really self-defense that never would be taking place if only Israel would have the decency to stop existing. Arabs don't have the ability to live in democracy which is a "phony" institution that can only destroy the Arab heritage of truly responsible government. If only the U.S. would stop pouring hundreds of billions of dollars in foreign aid into the Middle East and mind its own business the region would become "peacfull." Thanks, guys.


Mubde' ABSI - 4/7/2005

I agree with Arnold.
Can you imagine a world free of US government aggression in the name of democracy. Agression that is destroying heritage and killing thousands of innocent people who are in need of food and medicine and not hypocracy and phony democracy.
Can you imagine an Arab world without Israel, the US puppet who for 50 years have rejected to apply UN resolutions in favour of the 5 million Palestinian refugees who are living under the terrible occupation of Israel and its US master.
Imagine a world with the US minding its business and it will a peacfull world.


Mubde' ABSI - 4/7/2005

You have menioned advancing democracy to the Arab regions. What kind of democracy you are talking about, your American democracy.
Your American democracy is nothing but that of the rich ruling the rest. Please a look at your democracy before thinking of exporting it to others who rather have terrible monarchs ruling them than your elected presidents who put your interest upfront after destroying other's civilization and heritage.


Arnold Shcherban - 4/6/2005

It should be news to any historian that Germany and Italy received their first lessons of democracy from their
American collegues?! Their democracies, in many respects are not phony, and they certainly came as the result of
the collapse of the most vicious and agressive totalitarian regime in history, but those democratic traditions were definitely domestic, not imported from across Atlantic Ocean.
However, that happened long after the restoration of pro-fascist regime in Italy by Americans just to counter huge popularity of the left parties, especially communists.
It seems to me that somehow does not fall within the realms of democracy and political self-determination, even in their broadest definitions.
South Korea was ruled by military juntas for decades, where was not much more democracy in social life than in Pinochet Chili, though admittedly those juntas did a good job in protecting foreign investments, private capital and education, skillfully navigating through the wild
waters of the capitalist markets. In its foreign policy
South Korea became more independent (from the US) only recently after the peaceful youth revolution.
So what remains is only Japanese democracy (though not
independence), ... but who said that exceptions, in any particular sense, don't occur?
It is exactly one of those that, as they say, confirms the rule.

No country should mind its own business.
The world would have been much better off, however, if
powerful ones would not impose their will and "national interests" on others.


Edward Siegler - 4/5/2005

You forgot to mention Germany, Italy, Japan and South Korea in your list of phoney democratic "successes." There were not only hundreds of thousands, but even millions of "natives" exterminated in those imperialist ventures. You're right -the U.S. should just mind its own business.


Arnold Shcherban - 4/5/2005

That's right: no lessons should be learned when it is not too costly to exterminate hundreds of thousands of natives and totally wreck their fledging economy to give the best lesson in real democracy to the majority of the populus for their future generations to
remember, ... as for example, it has been "successfully" accomplished in Phillipines, Nicaragua, El-Salvador, and elsewhere.
And may we naive folks asked who has given the historic right to do just that to the US alone (with it occasionally relegating the right ot its close allies, such as GB and Israel) and not to the rest of the world.
To ask? Who do I kidding?
The answer is so clear from the Mr Siegler's obvious Pan-Amerikana philosophy. We've usurped that right, plainly against the will of the world's majority...


N. Friedman - 4/5/2005

Peter,

While Polk has a made few good points, your memory of American history punches a rather unforgiving hole in his theory. Very good.

I might add: the main problem with the Iraq war is not insufficient understanding of the Middle East. On the contrary, the administration had substantial advice from the best and brightest minds including, most particularly, Bernard Lewis (as well as from his numerous disciples who work for Bush including Wolfowitz) who saw the Iraq war as an opportunity to do two things he thought important: (1) send a message to the Arab regions that the US would defend US interests and (2) advance the date that democracy will reach the Arab regions.

Perhaps we shall live long enought to determine whether Lewis's theories were correct or another folly.


Edward Siegler - 4/4/2005

With the impressive QV listed at the top of this article, I would have expected that Polk would have had more to say about this important subject. What a dissapointment.

There are some glaring inacurracies here. Polk calls the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL)written for Iraq by coalition authorities a "constitution" and compares it that written by the British. The TAL is not a constitution, it's exactly what it purports to be - a temporary structure meant to be replaced by a constitution written by Iraqis. If Polk had bothered to refer to the document by name this would have been clear. Perhaps he doesn't know it's name. The TAL has proven its worth many times over, and leading Iraqis have recognized this. Its provision that the constitution -after being WRITTEN BY IRAQIS - must be approved by 3/4 majority in each province, has given Sunnis a real voice the process in spite of their lack of participation in the first round of elections in January.

Polk says that guerilla wars cannot be won. This is plain wrong. The Philippines insurection that Polk refers to was in fact won by America. The Malay insurection of the early 1950's, never mentioned in this ariticle, was also won by the British. The lesson here, clearly articulated by Mao Tse Tung but ignored by Polk, is that when the people do not support an insurgency it will likely fail.

The insurgency in Iraq today is failing. The number of attacks is dropping and even Sunni clerics are beginning to speak out against it. At the same time Iraq's own military is gaining strength. This coincides with a political evolution towards democracy that is almost universally recognized by Iraqis as a legitimate one.

Polk's recommendation that U.S. forces withdraw immediately is a relic of last year's politically charged debates. January's elections have changed the climate immensely, resulting in large numbers of Iraqis voluteering to join the military despite the direct threat to their lives. Neither the election, in which thousands risked thier lives in order to vote, or the growth of the Iraqi military is being "forced" on the Iraqi people. These things are taking place as a result of Iraqi's own free choice. As a result we are now seeing the beginning of plans for phased withdrawals of U.S. troops - not the immediate panicked retreat that Polk calls for.

If only the solution to what ails the world is for America to pull out of Iraq without waiting for Iraqis to handle their own security, and then disarm. The cost savings in this pacifist's fantatsy world would pay for quite a lot of things. Unfortunately it would lay the groundword for much worse problems in the future.

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