Mark Twain said that “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” Mark Steyn is fairly adept at spotting the rhymes, and today, as Iraq disintegrates, he eyed another one.
After the U.S. government withdrew its support for Cambodia, it offered Prince Sisowath Sirik Matak an escape route from the communists. Prince Matak then penned an open letter to United States Ambassador John Gunther Dean:
“I thank you very sincerely for your letter and for your offer to transport me towards freedom. I cannot, alas, leave in such a cowardly fashion. As for you and in particular for your great country, I never believed for a moment that you would have this sentiment of abandoning a people which has chosen liberty. You have refused us your protection and we can do nothing about it. You leave us and it is my wish that you and your country will find happiness under the sky. But mark it well that, if I shall die here on the spot and in my country that I love, it is too bad because we are all born and must die one day. I have only committed the mistake of believing in you, the Americans.”
Prince Matak remained behind. Eventually the Khmer Rouge slaughtered him and 1.7 million other Cambodians. Now, Iraq’s “free” government is on the verge of collapse as ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) gains ground while the U.S.-trained and -equipped Iraqi army flees.
I have to confess that I supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. I believed that removing Hussein’s regime was the right thing to do, and I had a foolish confidence in our ability to build a free Iraq. Yes, I was one of those political hacks who said the same government that cannot run a postal service could somehow build a stable nation on the other side of the planet.
In the years following the 2003 invasion, I came to see clearly that it was a tactical mistake, a strategic blunder, and above all a moral error. We made nothing but a mess. Still, it was our mess, and we had a responsibility to do whatever was necessary to clean it up. Instead, after spending more than a trillion dollars and losing several thousand troops, we withdrew. Now the nation that George W. Bush and Barack Obama touted as “stable” is collapsing under a resurgent Al Qaeda that, as Steyn points out, is seizing both the cash and state-of-the-art weaponry we poured into the country during the “nation building” process.
The rhyme of history is unmistakable here as one ponders Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Vietnam debacle (which included Cambodia). We threw in personnel and resources to remove, build, and/or prop up regimes. Our soldiers bled and died. Then we left and watched as the enemies of what we built systematically destroyed it all and took power.
I suspect the rhymes will continue, in verses yet unwritten.
In the words of Cardinal Altamirano in The Mission, “thus have we made the world.”
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