What James Webb Doesn’t Know About Iraqi (and Japanese) History
Democratic senator James Webb of Virginia pursued an undeniably distinguished military career. But a fine record of service in arms doesn’t preclude becoming a demagogue as a politician.
Last Thursday, Webb assailed Republican Sen. John McCain for comments on the Today Show, namely, McCain’s declaration that “What’s important is the casualties in Iraq. . . . Americans are in South Korea, Americans are in Japan, American troops are in Germany. That’s all fine.”
Webb told the Washington Post, “It’s pretty clear their intentions are that we put in a basing system in Iraq that parallels the Korea-Japan history. . . . The difference is, Iraq is not Korea or Japan. . . . The history of every single outside occupation of Iraq over the last thousand years argues against that logic.”
To suggest that a foreign presence in Iraq is more difficult to establish than such a presence in Japan shows breathtaking historical illiteracy. Baghdad was ruled by Persians and by the Seljuq Turks beginning in the 10th century, then fell to the Mongols in 1258–the latter is considered the most traumatic event in Arab history and was believed by Muslims of the time to be the end of the world. The soon-to-be-Islamized Mongols, who undermined the authority of narrow sharia, ruled until an invasion by the Persianized Central Asian conqueror Tamerlane, at the beginning of the 15th century. This was followed by the domination in Baghdad of more Mongols, then two sets of Turkic tribes (of which the Turkmens in Iraq today are a remnant), and once more by Iranians. The Ottomans took over in the middle of the 16th century and ruled until the first World War. Iraq did not gain anything resembling independence until the end of the post-WW1 British mandate in 1932.
Indeed, for almost the entire past 1,000 years the only proponents of Iraqi independence have been the 20th century British and Americans, even as Nazi and Communist agents latterly and unsuccessfully attempted to impose their influence in the country. And so it is today as the U.S.-led Coalition defends a new Iraq from Wahhabi and Iranian terrorists. Perhaps Sen. Webb thinks the lesson of “outside occupation of Iraq over the last thousand years” is that we should encourage an Iranian reconquest?
Webb’s pseudo-history is especially ridiculous in that he intimates that Iraqis have a long tradition of resistance to foreign domination, lacking in Japan, and that this explains the success of the American occupation of Japan. Japan, unlike Iraq, was never invaded or conquered by foreigners of any kind until 1945. The lessons of the past 1,000 years of Iraqi and Japanese history support U.S. intervention, not abdication. The primary rule of historical analysis, as well as of politics and even war is to make distinctions, not confuse them. Loose lips sink reputations.
To which I’d add one more caveat: is Webb deploring the occupation of Japan? That sounds odd to me.