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Kuni-Takahashi-Baghdad-03-LightboxMark Twain said that “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” Mark Steyn is fairly adept at spotting the rhymes, and today, as Iraq disintegrates, he eyed another one.

After the U.S. government withdrew its support for Cambodia, it offered Prince Sisowath Sirik Matak an escape route from the communists. Prince Matak then penned an open letter to United States Ambassador John Gunther Dean:

“I thank you very sincerely for your letter and for your offer to transport me towards freedom. I cannot, alas, leave in such a cowardly fashion. As for you and in particular for your great country, I never believed for a moment that you would have this sentiment of abandoning a people which has chosen liberty. You have refused us your protection and we can do nothing about it. You leave us and it is my wish that you and your country will find happiness under the sky. But mark it well that, if I shall die here on the spot and in my country that I love, it is too bad because we are all born and must die one day. I have only committed the mistake of believing in you, the Americans.”

Prince Matak remained behind. Eventually the Khmer Rouge slaughtered him and 1.7 million other Cambodians. Now, Iraq’s “free” government is on the verge of collapse as ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) gains ground while the U.S.-trained and -equipped Iraqi army flees.

I have to confess that I supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. I believed that removing Hussein’s regime was the right thing to do, and I had a foolish confidence in our ability to build a free Iraq. Yes, I was one of those political hacks who said the same government that cannot run a postal service could somehow build a stable nation on the other side of the planet.

In the years following the 2003 invasion, I came to see clearly that it was a tactical mistake, a strategic blunder, and above all a moral error. We made nothing but a mess. Still, it was our mess, and we had a responsibility to do whatever was necessary to clean it up. Instead, after spending more than a trillion dollars and losing several thousand troops, we withdrew. Now the nation that George W. Bush and Barack Obama touted as “stable” is collapsing under a resurgent Al Qaeda that, as Steyn points out, is seizing both the cash and state-of-the-art weaponry we poured into the country during the “nation building” process.

The rhyme of history is unmistakable here as one ponders Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Vietnam debacle (which included Cambodia). We threw in personnel and resources to remove, build, and/or prop up regimes. Our soldiers bled and died. Then we left and watched as the enemies of what we built systematically destroyed it all and took power.

I suspect the rhymes will continue, in verses yet unwritten.

In the words of Cardinal Altamirano in The Mission, “thus have we made the world.”

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8 replies to this post
  1. Short, but to the point. Historical hindsight being 20/20, it turns out, I believe that what Iraq needs is a strong, authoritarian leader, (though I am not saying he was a ‘good’ guy) Saddam Hussein. We created a mess, like you said, and now, we’re in a “damned if we do, damned if we don’t do” scenario.

  2. Why do Americans recall only how much cash it cost America, and how many Americans died, and ignore what it cost the victims, how many Iraqis died, how many were driven from their homes, etc? In so doing this author points to his nation’s lasting evil.

  3. For true conservatives the tragedy in Iraq is not misplaced trust in American Exceptionalists or even the hubris of every single American administration since World War II. It is, rather, our direct complicity in the destruction of Christianity in its very cradle, and still we have to research pretty hard amongst the media to find even a mention of it. The only one of our “allies” that has the proper attitude toward us is Israel, which spends a very large part of its spying budget watching–guess who? If we are going to lament what we have done and not done in the middle east, let’s do it for the right reasons, and not for being only half-assed imperialists.

  4. Mr. Masty: I assure you that the omission you so rightly highlighted was a product of haste, not intention. Add your points to the cost of our follies, and it bolsters my point that we have made a mess of things. A horrible, bloody, costly mess for everyone.

  5. John: Mark Shea has said that the destruction of Christianity seems to be an enduring feature of American foreign policy. I suspect he’s right, as are you.

  6. Whether or not one believes in the events of the last decade, there is this reality: Congress did not declare war. President Bush settled for some sort of oatmeal permission which was not Constitutional. We have war, but no declaration of war, and that is uncivilized (I say that without fashionable irony).

  7. Mr Thomas, evil need not be moustache-twirling and intentional. It can be as evil in an oversight such as you explain. Similarly maybe two dozen percent of Americans have ever wondered if they were lied into war, and only then fewer pondered the effect on Iraqis: about two-thirds of Britons have worried for a decade. Americans are exceptional, but not exceptionally good.

  8. The problem with our intervention in Iraq is that it came 45 years too late. In 1958, Iraq was part of the Arab Federation, with Jordan. When a coup by disgruntled officers killed King Faisal II and the Crown Prince, King Hussein of Jordan succeeded his murdered cousin as head of the Federation, and immediately asked for aid from the Western Powers to quelch the rebellion. None was forthcoming, although we did send troops to Jordan itself (British) and to Lebanon (U. S.). It would have been quite easy to overcome the rebels at that time, and there would never have been a Saddam Hussein or a debacle of Christianity in Iraq.

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