Tags: Look | Back | Empire | Building

A Look Back at Empire Building

Tuesday, 05 June 2007 12:00 AM

It may not be the quagmire the media wants us to believe is the status quo in Iraq, but it's damned close to it. In addition to this mess, the slumbering bear that is Russia has reawakened, and it is bearing its teeth and growling nastily at the U.S.

Pat Buchanan, who unlike our fellow journalistic pundits understands the old warning that those who ignore history are bound to repeat it, is a fervent student of the past and can easily apply its lessons to the present, sees with a clear eye the reason why the Cold War is being reborn.

For some years he has been warning against the perils of empire building and we are today seeing those perils facing us in the matter of Russia's new aggressiveness.

Back on Aug. 14, 2002, shortly before we invaded Iraq, I wrote a column dealing with the dangers of America taking on the role of the new empire and the histories of past attempts to establish Pax Whatever.

In view of the current impasse with Russia over the placement of anti-missile defenses in Eastern Europe, I thought it might be worthwhile taking a look back at my column "To Whack or Not Whack Iraq" because it's theme — the history of empire building — remains very relevant.

To Whack or Not to Whack Iraq

Washington, and the media that infest that accursed capital like Asian termites, are in a roiling turmoil over the question of when, how, or even if the United States of America should whack Iraq.

Before weighing in on the question, I think we ought to step back and take a larger view. And if we do that, we're going to have to go a long way back in world history and take a look at empires, because — as Pat Buchanan is saying — waging war against Saddam Hussein as a preventive measure is a symptom of imperialism aborning.

There have been only a handful of genuine empires — regimes that have spanned huge chunks of the globe. Rome is probably the best example of a truly imperial power, embracing much of the then-known world. And its behavior more or less set the standard for future pretenders to world hegemony.

Under the guise of imposing Pax Romana on as much of the world as it could get its hands on, Rome set out to civilize whole regions of Europe, Africa and that small sliver of Asia it was able to control, 'civilizing' meaning making captive populations behave as the Romans thought they should behave — like Romans. Without, of course, the benefits of being citizens of Rome.

Most did behave; it was hard not to, with fearsome Roman legions occupying their territory, Roman procurators overseeing their local authorities, and Roman tax collectors keeping a close eye on the local economy to be sure that the citizens of Rome got their share of the booty.

That proved increasingly necessary, keeping the folks at home in a compliant mood with a lot of bread and circuses was not cheap. It was nice to be able to make the people of, say, Palestine pay the price for keeping the people of the Imperial City dependent upon the generosity of the emperors, the way congressional Democrats try to keep Americans dependent on the bread and circus programs they create and finance with the voters' tax dollars.

In the name of Pax Romana, the legions spread far and wide, reaching even Great Britain in the west, Egypt and North Africa to the south, and parts of Parthia and what is now Turkey to the east. It was necessary to keep conquering new territories because the costs of keeping the Imperial City prosperous kept going up. As a result, for most of its existence, Rome was at war.

When members of the legions retired after their 20 years of service and five years' retention in the legions as civilians (it later became 25 years and five years of retention), they were often rewarded with land wrested from the local populations of the conquered areas.

The conquered territories supplied more than taxes, Egypt, for example, became the granary of the Empire.

They managed to keep a good thing going for a long time, but in the end, with the citizens of the city of Rome reduced to a state of corruption and indolence, and the legions filled with conquered barbarians because the Roman people could no longer be bothered with the rigors of military life and preferred to have somebody else do the fighting for them, the imperium came to a screeching halt and the glorious city itself became a mass of ruins visible to this day.

The Holy Roman Empire of the Middle Ages isn't worth mentioning because, as has been said, it was neither holy nor Roman nor an empire.

What became the Ottoman Empire made a stab at conquering Europe under the banner of Islam. They got as far as Vienna and held a good part of Spain before they got their ears pinned back by Don Juan of Austria at the Battle of Lepanto. They weren't aiming at a Pax Arabia, they simply wanted to convert the world to Islam with the sword of Islam.

Then came the British Empire and Pax Britannia. Setting out to civilize all those barbarian wogs who, in London's enlightened view, were badly in need of lessons on how to behave like a proper English commoner — meaning being subservient to Britain's upper class — England conquered much of the world and proceeded to loot its conquered subjects for a few centuries before it fell victim to guerrilla warfare, what we now call terrorism.

The buggers simply refused to behave.

But while it lasted, England lived high on the hog, or the British upper and mercantile classes did. It didn't work out that well for the rest of the British population. Ireland is a good case in point.

The Brits kept sending their people to Ireland and granting them estates gouged from land owned by the Irish peasantry, one of the benefits of imperialism. And they taxed the Irish just as the Romans had done before them with their occupied territories. The problem was that after a generation or so, these transplanted Brits became more Irish than the Irish. Most of the revolts against British rule were led by Protestants living on land grants provided by the British.

The lessons learned here are that the great empires got off the ground by setting out to impose their version of Pax Whatever. And once they got there, they stayed, overseeing the governance of the conquered area and looting them of their natural resources and the products of their labor, all in the name of spreading civilization as they considered it to be.

And once they set out on this road, there was no turning back. Expanding and maintaining their hold resulted in perpetual warfare. And the economic strains caused by that warfare eventually brought their empires crashing down.

What has all this got to do with whacking Iraq? Well, let's say the O word — oil is one of the keys to the puzzle. Along with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the rest of the Persian Gulf states, Iraq has a lot of it.

With the U.S.' heavy dependence upon Middle Eastern oil supplies and the increasing volatility of the region, a tad of forced civilizing is called for if the flow of oil to the West is to remain uninterrupted. Which is why the U.S. is interested in applying a bit of Pax Americana to the region, starting with Saddam's Iraq, which simply refuses to behave the way we want them to behave, like Americans.

Sure, Saddam may well be stockpiling all kinds of fearsome weapons of mass destruction that someday might be unleashed upon his neighbors or even the U.S., but let's admit it, it's oil that is creating the need to take out Saddam and occupy Iraq. Getting rid of a heavily armed tyrant is secondary and damned convenient as a righteous justification for whacking him.

If you haven't noticed, the whole area is floating on a vast sea of oil. The Caspian Sea is said to hold enormous quantities of the stuff, as do Kazakstan and all those other "stans" that were formerly part of the Soviet Union. It's not by accident that the U.S., using the war on terrorism as a legitimate excuse, is building military bases all over the area.

That's why the Russians and the Chinese, both of which have imperial dreams of their own, are railing against a "unipolar" world dominated by the world's only superpower, which is stationing troops all over the area.

And there's the rub – we are the world's only superpower and we can use our incredible power to do whatever the hell we want to do. And when you can do that, you will. History teaches us that. Besides, we're such good and civilized people it's only right that we should make available the benefits of the American way to the rest of the world, whether they want it or not.

Get ready for Pax Americana. It's on the way.

Should we whack Iraq? Who the hell knows?


Phil Brennan is a veteran journalist who writes for NewsMax.com. He is editor and publisher of Wednesday on the Web (http://www.pvbr.com) and was Washington columnist for National Review magazine in the 1960s.

He also served as a staff aide for the House Republican Policy Committee and helped handle the Washington public relations operation for the Alaska Statehood Committee which won statehood for Alaska. He is also a trustee of the Lincoln Heritage Institute and a member of the Association For Intelligence Officers.

He can be reached at pvb@pvbr.com.


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It may not be the quagmire the media wants us to believe is the status quo in Iraq, but it's damned close to it. In addition to this mess, the slumbering bear that is Russia has reawakened, and it is bearing its teeth and growling nastily at the U.S. Pat Buchanan, who...
Tuesday, 05 June 2007 12:00 AM
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