In his Peloponnesian War, Thucydides has the Greek leader Pericles defend his policy of imperial expansion against Athenians who have grown weary of the death, destruction, and disease it has brought to their community and their world. Says Pericles, “Your empire is now like a tyranny: it may have been wrong to take it; it is certainly dangerous to let it go.”
I was reminded of this line when I woke up this morning to find this headline in the International Edition of the New York Times: “Obama’s Blueprint for Fighting Terrorism Collides With Reality in Iraq.” Yes, since the Bush’s deceitful, failed intervention in Iraq, we have created a hornet’s nest from which it is almost impossible to extract ourselves without getting stung. But just as Pericles got it wrong in the Fifth Century BCE, so Mark Landler, Michael R. Gordon, and Mark Mazzetti get it wrong in the New York Times piece. Yes, it was wrong to take it. But the solution is not to persist in the same failed policies that got us into this mess in the first place. The solution is to develop strategies to make imperial intervention unnecessary and undesirable. Whether Obama’s back-end blueprint fits this criteria is open to question. But to suggest that an ongoing insurgency created by the Bush’s wrongful and disastrous intervention is proof that we should continue that policy displays a remarkable lack of insight bordering on idiocy.
Yes, it was wrong to take it. And, yes, it is certainly dangerous to let it go. But it does not follow that an alternative, softer, back-end policy is off-base. Had the Bush’s pursued the Obama blueprint back in the 1980s and 2000s, we would never have been in this mess in the first place.