Thomas Spencer: More bogus Iraq analogies

Roundup: Historians' Take

... Now as we’ve seen in the past the administration loves to mangle history and twist it way past the breaking point if it will serve their ends — remember the hilarious comment by Rumsfeld about how the Iraq situation was like Shays’ Rebellion or the “werewolves” thing?

So now the meme going around in conservative circles is that the current situation in Iraq is analogous to the American Revolution. That those that question the Iraq War are like Tom Paine’s “sunshine Patriots” of 1776. Bush made an indirect reference to this in a speech just the other day, trying to contend that Iraq is in a similar stage of development as America right after the Revolution.

Put simply, this analogy doesn’t work. It’s simply too big of a stretch. However, I do think you could use the American Revolution as an analogy but, unfortunately for our conservative friends, you have to flip the analogy. The British invaded the American colonies to rid them of a government that they viewed as a threat to the future of the British Empire and as a “rogue state.” Eerily, British policymakers, like their counterparts more than two centuries later, contended that the viewpoint expressed by the small and elite wealthy ruling class in the American colonies (which had not been selected by what we would consider democratic elections) did not reflect the views of Americans as a whole, so a “regime change” was needed for the good of the colonists.

In order to institute this “regime change,” the British invaded the American colonies to replace the government. And what we’ve done in Iraq since 2003 is just like what the British had planned after the American Revolution. We overthrew the existing Iraqi government and then installed a regime friendly to ours — just as the British planned to do in the American colonies if they had won that conflict.

In fact, the situation in Baghdad is also quite analogous to that in Boston during the American Revolution. What the Patriots were doing to British soldiers in Boston looked an awful lot like what the insurgents are doing to our soldiers in Baghdad. If the Patriots in Boston could’ve made effective IEDs to use against the British soldiers, they would have.

As this situation continued, Americans — even those who weren’t that committed to the Revolution — eventually began to view the British as foreign occupiers and wanted them out of the country. According to many recent opinion polls of Iraqis, that “flipping point” has already passed in Iraq. Like most Americans by 1778 or 1779, most Iraqis just wish we’d get out and leave them alone. Although it’s painful to admit it, this analogy is a more accurate one than the others involving the Revolution being floated around Washington these days.

However, if you’re looking for a great historical analogy to draw, I’ve got one for you. It involves this little thing called the Philippine Insurrection, a conflict that took place after the Spanish-American War. This war exposed the hypocrisy of foreign policymakers in the United States. In 1898, the U.S. government had argued that the Spanish-American War had been about freeing the Filipinos from their oppressive government. Ultimately, as the Philippine Insurrection progressed in 1899, we ending up behaving just as the Spanish colonizers had, even going so far as to institute torture and concentration camps in the Philippines. Just like in Iraq today, we became what we despised.

The Philippine Insurrection has been generally considered a disaster in all sorts of ways for the United States. The war began a ten-year occupation of the Philippines by nearly 130,000 American soldiers. Like in Iraq, this conflict was also “declared” over prematurely by the president — in this case Teddy Roosevelt. The war raged on for many years after TR’s “mission accomplished” speech of 1902. Many scholars now say the Philippine Insurrection didn’t really end until 1913. During the first three years of the conflict (1899-1902), 4,324 American soldiers died in the Philippine Insurrection and 2,818 were wounded. Not surprisingly, the death toll for Filipino civilians was much higher, some historians believe it was as high as 1 million.

Like the Iraq War, the Philippine Insurrection of a century ago tarnished our reputation worldwide and exposed the hypocrisy of American foreign policymakers. It was an embarrassing episode that most Americans — including most historians who know anything about it — would prefer to forget.

Since most Americans already feel this way about the Iraq War now, I think this is a much more apt analogy than the rather forced-sounding analogies involving the American Revolution.

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