By Douglas Macgregor
America celebrates its independence at a point in history when its armed forces are trying to secure Iraq's independence through a dramatic transformation of Iraqi society. But the use of military power to transform society is more problematic than Americans may realize. The United States and Europe spent most of the 20th century coping with the forces of nationalism unleashed by the French Revolution and Karl Marx's mock-scientific theory of history as the systematic unfolding of a predictable, dialectical process. The Bolsheviks, later called communists, united the two and tried to perfect human society through force of arms at home and abroad.
They and their offshoots in
Asia, Africa and Latin America turned much of the 20th century world into a
battlefield. Today's world is littered with the wreckage of their failed utopian
projects. The irony was that in using military power to re-create human society
as it should be, scientific socialism effectively destroyed cultures and
societies that were the products of hundreds, even thousands of years of human
These utopian projects failed
because they threatened culture, religion and race, the enduring foundations of
human identity. By century's end, the world's multi-national empires were
replaced by smaller, ethnically and culturally homogenous states. Only criminals
like Saddam Hussein were left to govern culturally and ethnically diverse states
in the shadows of that revolutionary violence.
Since 1991, a succession of American presidents, confirmed in the rightness of free market economics and democratic governance, have been sorting through the wreckage of the past, pursuing policies shaped by an idealistic longing to re- make the world in America's image. Firm in their belief that the chief cause of victory in the Cold War was unstoppable American military power, all three presidents since 1991 concluded that the great task for the U.S. military in the 21st century was to create conditions fostering the emergence of new, healthy cultures and economies from the wreckage of the last century. This conviction is not only evident in the $5 billion to $6 billion a month that vanish into the black hole that is Iraq. This belief is also demonstrated by the presence of U.S. forces all over the world, from Uzbekistan to Kosovo, from Colombia to Pakistan.
Now, Americans are
reconsidering these actions because the problem in Iraq today is not the
military intervention that could be justified on many grounds but the decision
to dismantle the Iraqi state's national institutions and to occupy the country
with U.S., British and other allied troops. Americans are delighted to have Army and Marine ground forces provide a shield behind which new, prosperous and democratic societies can eventually rise. But Americans are learning that soldiers and Marines cannot and should not administer other people's societies.
When Americans conduct
house-to-house searches in Arab towns and cities, when Americans incarcerate or
kill thousands of Muslim Arabs, American soldiers and Marines are cast in the
unwelcome role of occupying policemen and nation builders in the xenophobic
Muslim Arab World. They confront the truly unstoppable forces of
culture, religion, race and ethnicity.
Frankly, the whole notion of
forcibly incorporating countries like Iraq into an imaginary globalized world
must be discarded lest we, like the Europeans of the 20th century, precipitate
the very opposite of what we want to achieve. It is vital that we understand
that the evolution of the Islamic world into new prosperous societies that will
join Tom Friedman's Tofflerian "electronic herd"µ will take decades
and that the evolution will be shaped and driven by the people who live in the
Islamic world, not us.
In 1950, when Seoul had been retaken from the North Korean Communists, Gen. Douglas MacArthur reinstated South Korea's pre-war dictator, Sigman Rhee. The State Department, which disliked Mr. Rhee' authoritarian politics, vehemently objected. The State Department wanted South Korea to become a modern, democratic society on the English-speaking model.
General MacArthur resisted.
He argued, "Asians must govern Asians." His experience in Japan taught
him that the least intrusive U.S. military presence was the optimal solution, a
lesson we ignored after the fall of Baghdad. Because of General MacArthur's
opposition to bad policy, South Korea is now everything the State Department
wanted, but only after a systematic 50-year program to build a middle class, a
flourishing economy and a multi-party system.
If there is a
lesson for the United States, it is to heed the words of the late Sen. Robert
Taft, Republican of Ohio. He warned in the aftermath of World War II that it
would be tempting for Americans "to slip into an attitude of imperialism
and to entertain the idea that we know what is good for other people better than
they know themselves. From there it is an easy step to the point where war
becomes an instrument of public policy rather than the last resort to maintain
our own liberty."
Macgregor, a former Army colonel and a decorated Persian Gulf war combat
veteran, is the author of Transformation under Fire:Revolutionizing the Way
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