The most important component in the determination of the trends of an historical event is the element of time. It is also the most difficult to tolerate, as often the results of significant investments in blood and treasure seem without reward, without conclusive outcome, in a time span that allows satisfactory predictability for the people who have made the investment. The study of history cautions all to not make snap judgements about cause and effect, as it is often decades before the true denouement is known. Despite the recognized complexity of the bends of history, our people and leaders continue to be ignorant of the rationale of proceeding with action with historical grounding, and having the patience to recognize the context of any outcome.
President Obama delivered a speech the other night declaring the end of the United States combat participation in the historical event known as the Iraq War. He made many historical mis-interpretations, as he has been apt to do. He declared an end to the conflict he stated started with the incursion of US forces into Iraq in March of 2003, but the historical projection is obviously a much larger palette with the initial invasion of Kuwait by Iraqi forces in August, 1990, followed by the forcible expulsion of the Iraqi army from Kuwait by US and allied forces, the subsequent ceasefire, the maintenance of an aggressive no fly zone for the next 12 years, 17 UN declarations ignored by Iraq as a means to achieve permanent resolution of the armed conflict and the eventual expulsion of the dictator in 2003. That 12 year process was followed by a bloody occupation that extended until the successful “surge” of 2007, that finally achieved a relative stasis allowing for the removal of combat forces and the moment for President Obama’s declaration. The separation of events has no historical significance and therefore no ability to predict the longer term consequences.
Examples for this are weaved throughout history:
Great Britain suffered a horrific defeat at the hands of the American revolutionaries in the War of Rebellion of 1775-1783. It resulted in the loss of the American colonies and access to the majority of the massive American continent and its natural resources. The result would seem obvious; yet, by freeing the British Empire of its North American heartache, it allowed more directed focus on its eternal enemy France and with the battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815, development of the the British Commonwealth, making Great Britain the richest and most powerful nation on earth for over a hundred years.
The crushing defeats by Germany and Japan in 1945 seemed to signal the apocalypse for those countries. Ironically it freed them of the national tendencies of subservience that allowed them within 20 years to restore their position in the world to mighty economic powers that persist to this day .
The United States accepted the premise of the “domino” theory in defending against the loss of South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia to the perceived Comintern communist threat represented by North Vietnam. Historical perspective implies that this interpretation was a transient western slant on a thousand year old conflict resulting in the inevitable consequence of a single Vietnamese nation, a nation that now holds the United States as its largest trading partner and holds joint military exercises with the US against its “eternal ” enemy, China.
As painful as it is, we are going to have to show patience to understand the effects of the interactions of the last 20 years in Iraq to determine what the positive or negative consequences will be. In historical perspectives, “What Just Happened?” is a journey, not a race of understanding, and our future interventions by our country and leaders will be better served by recognizing that eternal truth.