If the historian Barbara Tuchman were alive, she would be compelled by our
misadventure in Iraq to update "The March of Folly: Troy to Vietnam," her searing
account of national blunders and missed opportunities through history.
1984 book, Tuchman carefully outlined four historic miscalculations and the consequences
of failing to explore alternatives to military and ideological conflict.
the two-time Pulitzer-winning historian made clear, it was arrogance that led
to the siege of semi-mythical Troy, a nation-state with uncomfortable parallels
in our own imperial moment. The Renaissance popes also knew a thing or two about
folly. Their corruption and taste for political intrigue led to the Protestant
secession and the full flowering of the Reformation.
Tuchman's analysis of
George III's bungled war for the hearts and minds of the colonists is worth the
price of the book alone. Fortunately, the monarch's stupidity and vanity paved
the way for American independence, dashing Britain's schemes for imperial expansion
in the New World.
But the wages of arrogance were never clearer than in the
moral and military disaster that was our incursion into Vietnam. Tuchman used
the American debacle in Indochina to illustrate her central thesis that even "democratic"
governments willfully pursue policies contrary to their national interests.
doesn't seem to matter that less costly alternatives are available if the nation's
ruling elite have decided on a particular course of war and retribution. Wanton
stupidity is, apparently, an intrinsic part of the decision-making process in
Washington these days.
One wonders what Tuchman would've made of a story reported
in yesterday's New York Times that a month before the war, Saddam Hussein used
back channels to try to cut a last-minute deal with the United States to avert
a cataclysm he knew would lay waste to his regime and much of Iraq.
to the Times, representatives of the Iraqi regime offered to allow an unrestricted
search of the country by American troops for WMDs it insisted didn't exist. They
added that "2,000 FBI agents" could scour the country to their hearts' content
Iraq also offered to hand over a man accused of participating
in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. The suspect was cooling his heels in a
Baghdad prison, but the regime promised to hand him over to Washington as a goodwill
gesture. The regime was also willing to hold elections and become a dependable
ally of the United States in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Because it suspected
America was primarily interested in its oil wealth, Iraq offered generous oil
concessions. The only thing the Iraqi regime insisted was nonnegotiable was Saddam's
Richard Perle, a high-ranking Pentagon adviser and an architect
of the administration's hawkish policy toward Iraq, was initially interested in
examining the Iraqi regime's overtures for signs of sincerity. He was told by
the CIA that the agency had opened its own back channels. Perle backed off. He
was skeptical of the promised concessions anyway. Because the war was weeks away,
there was precious little patience for talk of peace.
Was the CIA's rebuff
of the Iraqi regime's clandestine offers an astute analysis of a wily foe's trickery?
Or was it yet another example of a monumental intelligence failure that seem to
be part of the background static of this war?
There are at least 376 dead American
soldiers who wouldn't mind turning back the hands of time if they could. Exploring
Saddam's sincerity doesn't seem too high a price to pay to avoid so many funerals.
There are thousands of dead and wounded Iraqis who wish an alternative to war
had been pursued. Now an occupied and humiliated population must live with jittery
American soldiers who can't differentiate friend from foe as a guerrilla war by
Saddam loyalists and migrating terrorist cells heats up.
Thousands of lives
will be lost as Iraq continues its downward spiral into anarchy. There is no precedent
for peaceful reconstruction of an occupied nation under these circumstances. To
believe so is a folly worthy of George III.
PG Publishing Co