Angry Bear 2004: All kinds of catastrophe says Hadrian (prescient!)
Our own original Angry Bear speaking to the Middle East in 2004:
Webb’s claims in the first two paragraphs quoted in the previous post remind me of this quote, provided by commenter Megamike:
“Beyond the Euphrates began for us the land of mirage and danger, the sands where one helplessly sank, and the roads which ended in nothing. The slightest reversal would have resulted in a jolt to our prestige giving rise to all kinds of catastrophe; the problem was not only to conquer but to conquer again and again, perpetually; our forces would be drained off in the attempt.”
The quote is from Hadrian, one of the last rulers before the beginning of the end of the Roman Empire, sometime between 117-138 A.D. Yet it evokes the now-faded Powell Doctrine of the late 20th century.
(Note our new masthead)
A crocodile and a scorpion meet on the banks of the Tigris River. The scorpion says, “Crocodile, I want go to the other side where the food is more plentiful. Let me crawl on you back and then you can swim me across.”
The crocodile responds, “No! If I let you on my back you will sting me and I will die!”
The scorpion tries reason, and answers, “If I were to sting you, then I would drown. You are safe with my promise, and I will forever be in your debt.”
The crocodile thinks this over and agrees. The scorpion climbs on and the two proceed across the river. In the middle, the scorpion stings the crocodile, who dies quickly. With its last breath it ask, “Scorpion, why have you done this? Now we will both die!”
The scorpion, drowning, cries back, “This is the Middle East. Nothing has ever made sense here”
The Hadrian quote is actually very important. Hadrian’s predecessor Trajan had conquered what is now Iraq. In the long wars between the Romans and the Parthians, Trajan was the most successful emperor.
However, as noted by Hadrian, so much of the Roman army was off in Parthia (now Southern Iraq and Iran) that the rest couldn’t defend the borders. Hadrian decided to leave Iraq and Iran. This was the first time the borders of the Roman empire contracted. It is also roughly the only time that Romans left an area by choice — because it wasn’t worth occupying — rather than after a defeat (that would be in Germany under Augustus and then much later when the empire collapsed).
The evidence that Hadrian made the right decision is very strong. The other Roman efforts to conquer Parthia (under Crasus under the Republic and Julian) ended in catastrophe.
The quoted passage explains a decision which was almost unique in Roman history.
Basically after the death of Hannibal and before the death of Valens, the Romans did fine except when they fought Germans in the mud or invaded Parthia/Persia and then walked around in the desert near Carhae while Parthians rode around on horses shooting arrows at them.
Well I was pretty sure ‘Webb’ wasn’t me. And it wasn’t. Here is the relevant post text and quote from Senator Jim Webb:
Not Mincing Words
In today’s USA Today, James Webb (“Secretary of the Navy during the Reagan administration, and a Marine platoon and company commander in Vietnam”) leads with some harsh criticism of Kerry, paticularly Kerry’s involvement with Vietnam Veterans Against the War (Conason summarizes and casts doubt upon the attacks against Kerry.)
But Webb’s greatest ire is reserved for President Bush:
Bush arguably has committed the greatest strategic blunder in modern memory. To put it bluntly, he attacked the wrong target. While he boasts of removing Saddam Hussein from power, he did far more than that. He decapitated the government of a country that was not directly threatening the United States and, in so doing, bogged down a huge percentage of our military in a region that never has known peace. Our military is being forced to trade away its maneuverability in the wider war against terrorism while being placed on the defensive in a single country that never will fully accept its presence.
There is no historical precedent for taking such action when our country was not being directly threatened. The reckless course that Bush and his advisers have set will affect the economic and military energy of our nation for decades. It is only the tactical competence of our military that, to this point, has protected him from the harsh judgment that he deserves.
– See more at: http://angrybearblog.strategydemo.com/2004/page/105#sthash.3aoW5xys.dpuf