井底之蛙

1/15/2007

Bad History: Mongols good, US bad?

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 3:35 pm

Jack Weatherford’s piece reprinted in the latest edition of (the increasingly inaptly named) Japan Focus argues that the US occupation of Iraq is a failure, while the Mongol occupation of Persia was a success, and that — and here’s where I have start to have problems — it must mean that the US can and should learn something from the differences. It’s kind of odd, actually, to see a Japan Focus piece which argues that the US should have been killing more people, more efficiently — “the Mongols perfected the list of who to kill in a conquered land,” says Weatherford — to produce a “better” result.

Let’s face it: if the US had followed a Mongol policy, as described by Weatherford — proxy armies, mass population displacement, “selective” massacres, blanket execution of leadership, etc. — Japan Focus and every other left or “progressive” venue would be seething with justified righteous rage. Moreover, a good deal of what Weatherford describes as the redeeming qualities of Mongol rule — secular government, low taxation, redistribution of government assets, harsh enforcement of law-n-order — are entirely in line with what the US has been trying to accomplish.

Ultimately, the difference seems to come down to the Mongols ability to monopolize force, not to some kind of superiority in their post-occupation planning, and the modern revolution in small arms and explosives and transportation has made that considerably less tenable. Additionally, the Mongols were not trying to be leaders on a world stage in which moral capital mattered; they were conquerers who cultivated an aura of death, and there were no neighbors with competing interests fomenting instability in their borders. It’s true that the US has used some restraint in responding to insurgent provocations, but then the US is not trying to create a colony with a figurehead scholar-governor, nor is it content to leave in place the kind of government which existed before, with its secret police, limited religious freedoms, etc.

It has been argued, I’ve argued it myself, that the US should have gone in with considerably greater forces than they did, in order to have a better chance at social stability and political reconstruction. But that’s hardly an endorsement of the slash-and-burn methods of 750 years ago.

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