Ever hear the rally cry, “Remember the Maine!” How about “yellow journalism”? Well, they were fathered by the same men, Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, of “Citizen Kane” fame. Both were newspaper publishers, and also Democrat congressmen. Hearst even ran for president.
Their newspaper chains had been pushing for war against the Spanish Empire in the western hemisphere since the people of Cuba had risen up against Spain in 1895, citing the Monroe Doctrine as sufficient legal justification to drive the Spanish out. Hence was born “yellow journalism”. (I just thought you should know its pedigree.)
In January 1898, the battleship USS Maine, laying at anchor in Havana Harbor, blew up. A mine they rushed to say. And the jingo-cry “Remember the Maine” headlined Hearst and Pulitzer newspapers coast-to-cost and America was suddenly at war. And we quickly drove the Spanish out of the hemisphere.
And we also relieved the Spanish of their Asian possessions as well, for which the people of the Philippines are largely grateful, in part because the United States kept its word about when, how, and in what condition, we would hand the islands back over to civilian control, in just over 40 years. (A world record by imperialist standards.) Wobbly at times, the Republic of Philippines is still a functioning democracy after 70 years.
Now, the logical leap here, considering the obvious similarities between the run-up to the war in Cuba and the yellow journalism of the modern media in trying to stir public sentiment about a looming war with North Korea, would be to conclude that this is the subject of my discussion here.
It isn’t, in part because the entire North Korea war-drum beat today is a canard, only today the American media knows it while the jingo-media of 1898 didn’t, for it was another 80 years before it was determined that the Maine likely blew from accumulated coal gas in the power plants. If viewed in the cold light of day, war with North Korea isn’t looming at all, and those who aren’t glued to jingo headlines know it.
But after that war, we turned Cuba over to its own devices, while we occupied the Philippines. Now we didn’t exactly do a bang up job in the Philippines, but Cuba fared much worse going it alone, as has virtually every other Latin American democracy, almost all of which were products of either Spanish or Portuguese administrations for over 250 years.
In 2003, I sat down in the Staked Plains of the Texas Panhandle with an old Russia hand who also had had a great deal of experience in the Middle East. (I met him in the Moscow McDonalds in 1991, before the Fall.) In a long, rambling exposition he laid out his theory as to why American-style democracy could succeed in the Middle East and why no other democracy model could.
Paul Bremer was in charge in Iraq at the time, and the Iraqis were about to have their first election. And Bush and Bremer were doing it wrong, Moses Sands said.
(I abridged that long piece and republished it at RedState in 2010, and then in book form along with some other essays on the Middle East at the start of Arab Spring in 2011, at Amazon.com.)
The premise of his argument, which I’ve held to religiously ever since, is that since America was created from the bottom-up, only an American model of government can cause the people of another country to turn against their old ways, from tribalism to top-down local government models, by building new institutions from the bottom-up. Existing institutions at the tribal and local level, which Bremer tried to build on, generally work against the individual citizen from pursuing his own life and liberty with his House as the foundation.
As an occupying conqueror in Iraq we had a duty to try to change that.
Iraq never had a chance.
What Moses was suggesting for Iraq was at least a 15-year occupation. A real occupation, where key civilian areas of the economy were designed and controlled and it would take a generation for those changes to take root.
In the 1980s, while studying Asian labor-intensive manufacturing practices, I compiled a list of four proven development models for the Third World. General MacArthur’s rebuilding of Japan during the Occupation was one of them. Uniformed officers in his command actually called in owners of electronics firms from before the war, engineers, then passed out Occupation money to rebuild that sector, with nothing else, no reports, no periodic check-ins. And some did and some didn’t. This story was passed onto me by a beneficiary, a man named Masukichi Akai (yes that Akai) at a soiree for his daughter, who was about to become engaged to an aide to my commanding general. Akai was very pro-American because of this gift made to him by MacArthur in 1946, but confided that many other beneficiaries of MacArthur’s development model in his industry were not so grateful. The war was less then 30 years passed at that time. That generation has now passed.)
This was how the Japanese miracle began and encapsulates the ingredients for American-style bottom-up democratic nation-building to take place.
Though not exactly a failure, the Philippines, especially when compared to Cuba, demonstrates how much another decade of hands-on management by American occupiers might have bequeathed them a stronger footing, especially to withstand a growing authoritarian and imperialistic China in the region.
America gets beat up all the time by the Left and the Bernie crowd for being imperialistic, but in truth imperialism so goes against our nature that we are often too quick to get that hot plate out of our hands, leaving a country in the lurch. Cuba in 1898.
This was also the case in Iraq, and the fault lay directly at the feet of the Bush Administration. Just as the Left wanted America to lose the war in Iraq and Obama wanted our policy to fail, turning the region into what it is today, there was no hard policy about its development going forward that Obama had to abrogate. With Obama we can blame ignorance (sheer stupidity) as well as cynicism before we even begin to turn to political malice. Bush could have and should have committed America for a 15-year minimum occupation in which we defined, a la MacArthur, the shape the basic economy would develop in Iraq. Jobs and small business opportunities and the individual Iraqi citizen’s prospects for his family’s House, would revolve around the success of these sectors.
In Baghdad, a cosmopolitan city by Middle Eastern standards, provided anchor-markers for growth in rural Iraq in much the same way New York, Chicago and St Louis were beacons for the American rural Midwest in the 1830s, with changing cultural fashions, job opportunities, but most of all a kind of social mobility, so that if a man did not like the pace of life in his village, he could simply pick of stakes and go to another that had more prospects. Having been raised in Appalachia in the 1950s I can attest that the pace of change was not the same every where in America, yet providing a certain piquancy in language and music, for instance, that caused many to want to stay. I’m sure there are folk in Waziristan who would feel the same…if only they first had a choice, or an incentive, to move into another town down in the valley or where a new highway or factory was being built, instead of poppies.
In nature, some areas are left behind, or slower to conform. What matters is that there are roads out. Bottom-up democracy actually incentivizes those roads out.
Being of the West, while Germany may have been perceived to have been the more receptive to American-style, bottom-up democratic self-governance and economic freedom, alas, since all of postwar Europe had been smitten with a top-down fling with social democracy, Germany went no further than their benchmark, which quickly fell into out-and-out socialism and is now on life-support, as all such systems end. But Japan, who in 1945 had only been out of the medieval closet for 90 years, their people took to American-style bottom-up democracy like ducks to water. Thank MacArthur.
In any case, American official occupation was lifted and both countries re-entered the comity of nations in the early 1950s. What we provided them, in exchange, was a deep dent in their national military budget. America still maintains several military installations in Japan and Germany, (while many have also been turned over) reducing their national defense costs immeasurably. Iraq provided the same strategic advantage for the US in the Middle East as have Japan and Germany in the Pacific and Europe. Considering our cost in the region since Iraq fell, circa 2011, I’d say Occupation would have been more cost effective. And there still would be no ISIS. Obama didn’t squander that, he gave it away, probably at the behest of Iran, and in his mind, some new world order which we now know will never materialize.
What will happen in what’s left of Iraq, or Afghanistan, I can’t say. I’m inclined to say yes, we can save Iraq, and we can restore the original opportunity, before Obama, and before John McCain accidentally swapped spit with Al Qaeda and the ISIS founder, mistaking them for “moderate rebels.”
Then Iran would not be the same, Russia would not be same. Nor Syria.
But neither would America.
(One final note, how would China change if they believed we might attempt to occupy North Korea after a missile strike?)
Publications: Famous Common People I Have Known and Other Essays
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