The Curtain Falls
Six weeks later, on May 1st, 2003, Bush flew onto a U.S. aircraft carrier off the coast of California and proclaimed that “major combat” in Iraq had ended. Not coincidentally, on the same day, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made an identical declaration with reference to Afghanistan. No one seemed to remark about the fact that U.S. forces had been on the offensive in Afghanistan for nearly 19 months – since October 7th, 2001 – against a less organized, ill-disciplined, and less well-armed “army” – and a regime arguably just as hated as Saddam’s.
It probably was a simple oversight – one of Rumsfeld’s “things” that just happen in “messy” democracies.
In light of all the double-talk, denials, corrections, corruption, waste – to which must be added the administration’s self-serving misuse of intelligence, its resultant and inevitable strategic gullibility and repetitive abilitye tactiisjudgments – one can only stand in awe (or perhaps be “shocked and awed”) by the resiliency of the Republic and its ability to survive the predations of politicians and still stand in any recognizable form.
March 15th, four days ago (as noted elsewhere), I attended a one-day symposium at the National Defense University in Washington on the subject of Rethinking and Resourcing the “Long War.” Ryan Henry, Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, presented the Pentagon’s and the administration’s viewpoint. Henry seemed to characterize 20th century wars as “limited” in that discreet periods of active combat – together with 45 years of strong military preparedness – defeated attempts to impose political and economic tyranny. In the 21st century, the United States will be involved in a multi-generational struggle of variable intensity that will require new and ever-adaptable tools to defeat “cultural totalitarianism.” As in the last century, so in this one, the U.S. has no option but to fight.
The ironies associated with this occasion are many. Three in particular stand out.
There is the irony of the calendar: March 15, made infamous in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is the Ides of March, the date in 44 BCE when a cabal of Roman senators attacked and killed Caesar to “save the republic” from Caesar’s alleged ambition.
Similarly, “saving the U.S. homeland and public” from Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, even though no verifiable images of these weapons had ever been provided, served as the original primary justification for George Bush’s assault on Iraq 2,047 years and four days after Caesar’s death (ignoring the changes of the Julian and Gregorian calendars).
There is the irony of “preventive violence.” In February 44 BCE, Marc Antony three times publicly offered Caesar the imperial crown. Three times Caesar declined – however insincerely – the crown. That the Senators proceeded with the assassination clearly identifies the execution as a preventive act justified as necessary to end the drift to dictatorship and the end of the 465 year old republic. Yet among the many factors contributing to the decline of the republic, the Senate itself stood second only to the power of the field legions.
In the 21st century, the Charter of the United Nations stands as the definitive legal basis for what is and is not a preventive war. Every one of the sequence of justifications for war that emerged from the White House between 2003-2005 were illegal (preventive ).
The third irony is Secretary Ryan Henry’s characterization of 21st century U.S. wars as struggles against “cultural totalitarianism.” It is exactly the same justification used by those who fight the U.S. The difference lies in the expanded meaning of culture and its “exercise.” Washington proclaims the struggle as one to preserve the rights of each individual to choose among various behavioral patterns and preferences as long as these do not unduly infringe on the choices available to others. Those labeled “cultural totalitarians” see such laissez faire notions as undermining their “right” to be free of the cacophony of temptations that threaten their sense of identity and place within the universal order – even if this channels human freedom into constricted channels.
In the 17 years after Caesar’s assassination, the remaining vestiges of the Roman republic continued to erode as first the assassins died and then the victors (notably Marc Antony and Octavius Caesar) fought each other. By 31 BCE Octavius was the power center in Rome; four years more and the republic effectively was no more. What a group of Senators thought to prevent in 44 BCE had come to pass. Octavius became Emperor Augustus Caesar, ruling until his death in 14 CE.
In 2001, George Bush declared the “global war on terror” and vowed to do whatever was necessary to preserve the republic and the American way of life. To this end, he launched an attack on Afghanistan and then on Iraq. And as Octavius had undermined the Roman republic by consolidating power within the “imperium,” Bush systematically set about undermining the U.S. Constitution’s balance of power by with his theory of the wartime “unitary presidency” as “commander-in-chief.”
Caesar ruled for 41 years.
Be thankful for term limits.
The Numbers at the start of Year 5:
U.S. Dead: 3,217 – more than 2 dead each day on average
UK Dead: 134
Other Coalition Fatalities: 124
Iraqi Security since January 2005: 4,994
Iraqi civilians since January 2005: 26,283
U.S. Wounded: 23,417
U.S. missing: 2