What Would Caesar Do?

It’s the kind of speculation that maybe only a history nerd (like me) would love, but the Los Angeles Times published it, anyway — four historians discuss what Julius Caesar, George Washington, Genghis Khan, and Abraham Lincoln might say about Iraq. Excerpts —

Adrian Goldsworthy speaks for Julius Caesar:

When Caesar led his legions into Gaul — basically present-day France and Belgium — in 58 BC, many of the tribes there greeted him as a liberator. Six years later, almost all of them rebelled against him in a war fought with appalling savagery. Through skill and luck, Caesar won. He then spent the better part of two years in painstaking diplomacy. As one of his own officers put it: “Caesar had one main aim, keeping the tribes friendly and giving them neither the opportunity nor cause for war.” It worked, and Gaul remained at peace when he left in 49 BC.

Joseph Ellis channels George Washington:

Until the winter of 1777-78 at Valley Forge, Washington thought of the war against Britain as a contest between two armies. When the British army presented itself for battle, as it did on Long Island in the summer of 1776, Washington felt honor-bound to fight — a decision that proved calamitous on that occasion and nearly lost the war at the very start. That’s because the British had a force of 32,000 men against his 12,000. If Washington had not changed his thinking, the American Revolution almost surely would have failed because the Continental Army was no match for the British leviathan.

But at Valley Forge, Washington began to grasp an elemental idea: Namely, he did not have to win the war. Time and space were on his side. And no matter how many battles the British army won, it could not sustain control over the countryside unless it was enlarged tenfold, at a cost that British voters would never support. Eventually the British would recognize that they faced an impossibly open-ended mission and would decide to abandon their North American empire. Which is exactly what happened.

Jack Weatherford represents Genghis Khan, who conquered Mesopotamia in 1258:

Genghis Khan recognized that victory came by conquering people, not land or cities. In contrast to the Americans in 2003, who sought to take the largest cities first in a campaign of shock and awe, the Mongols in 1258 took the smallest settlements first, gradually working toward the capital. Both the Mongols and the Americans used heavy bombardment to topple Baghdad, but whereas the Americans rushed into the capital in a triumphant victory celebration, the Mongols wisely decided not to enter the defeated — but still dangerous — city. They ordered the residents to evacuate, and then they sent in Christian and Muslim allies, who seethed with a variety of resentments against the caliph, to expunge any pockets of resistance and secure the capital. The Americans ended up as occupiers; the Mongols pulled strings, watching from camps in the countryside. …

… Fundamentalist Muslims look back at Mongol secularism as a scourge. But, although U.S. rule in Iraq has produced a constant flow of refugees, particularly religious minorities, out of the country, under Mongol rule Christian, Muslim, Jewish and even Buddhist immigrants poured into the newly conquered Iraq to live under the Great Law of Genghis Khan. It was said that during this time a virgin could cross the length of the Mongol Empire with a pot of gold on her head and never be molested.

Harold Holzer discusses Abraham Lincoln:

So what might Lincoln do today?

First, focus on the real enemy: terrorists. When advisors suggested he start a war with England merely to woo patriotic Southerners back into the Union, Lincoln replied: “One war at a time.” He also rejected adventurism against French-controlled Mexico. Today Lincoln would fight only the war that needs fighting.

Second, embrace flexibility. Seek the right generals, strategies, troop levels and weaponry, and be willing to change course and personnel swiftly.

Third, communicate objectives with frequency, passion and precision. No one can match Lincoln’s eloquence, but no president should abandon Lincoln’s commitment to engage the public.

Fourth, spend more time at the front. Lincoln visited the troops often, absorbing their pain and boosting their morale. Maybe his case was better, but his manner of symbolizing it was best.

Finally, abandon the notion of divine will to justify war. Even the pious Lincoln came to realize it was fruitless, even sacrilegious, to invoke God as his ally. “In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God,” he lamented. “Both may be, and one must be, wrong.” As Lincoln understood: “The Almighty has his own purposes.”

It should be noted that Caesar and Genghis Khan achieved their goals in ways that are frowned upon in civilized circles today. But although tactics might have to be modified, it doesn’t hurt to look at their strategies.

Don’t Mind Me

I’m experimenting to see if I can publish podcasts without technical assistance. WordPress support tells me to publish a post with a link to the podcast file and it will automatically be picked up by the RSS feed. So I’m going to see if I can make this work. The podcast is me free-associating about Gerald Ford. I may have to experiment for a while to get the URL right.

Gerald Ford

[Update: I’ve been invited to participate in a group discussion about Gerald Ford on today’s “World Have Your Say” BBC radio program. The program begins at 1:00 pm EST, but the Ford segment probably won’t begin until about 1:45 EST and should last only about 15 minutes.

Update update: Well, I only got to say about three words. Such is show biz.]

The official maha Gerald Ford obituary is posted at Crooks and Liars. What I didn’t write at Crooks and Liars was the first question that popped into my head after I learned Mr. Ford had died: Will Ford get as good a funeral as Reagan?

It’s true that Ford was never hero-worshipped as Reagan was, but in my mind that makes him the better man.

For better or worse — well, OK, worse — you could argue that Ford played as big a role in shaping the current Republican Party as Reagan. One, Ford pardoned Nixon, thus avoiding further investigations into Watergate. Two, Gerald Ford appointed George H.W. Bush to be Director of the FBI CIA, Donald Rumsfeld to be Secretary of Defense, and Dick Cheney as his Chief of Staff.

I’m actually sad for him that he lived long enough to see how those last two appointees turned out. My impression of Ford was that he was a decent guy who was doing the best he could. Although there are plenty of knowledgeable folks who disagree with me on that point.

Other points I left out of the obit: I didn’t mention that as a senator congressman, Ford had led the attempt to impeach William O. Douglas. Also, I had no sooner posted the C&L obit than commenters brought up the bleeping Warren Report. Siteowner (I assume that was John Amato) deleted these comments. But how big a conspiracy nerd does one have to be to still give a bleep about the bleeping Warren Report? Puh-leeze.

As I suggested in the obit, this might be a good time to re-evaluate the long-term effects of the Nixon pardon, since the pardoning of a former president and vice president may become issues for the next president. Comment away.

Update: This also might be a good time to reflect on how extreme the Republican Party has become. Ford’s Wikipedia biography says, “Ford described his philosophy as ‘a moderate in domestic affairs, an internationalist in foreign affairs, and a conservative in fiscal policy.'” Pretty much the opposite of The Creature in the Oval Office now. See Taegan Goddard for more.