In the recent republican debate McCain and Paul went at it over the wisdom of pulling out Iraq. McCain told Paul that he is failing to learn from history by wanting to withdraw the troops from Iraq. Adding that it was just such an isolationist position that enabled Hitler to come to power. For his part, Paul responded to McCain by stating that he (McCain) is failing to distinguish between a non-interventionist and isolationist perspective. Paul said that he is not an isolationist; rather he does not want to send troops into foreign countries in order to tell then how to live. Have a look:
The McCain/Paul exchange beg the question – Can history be helpful to an American president in the 21st century? Is there wisdom to glean from the lessons of the past?
Historian Rufus Fears seems to think so. Check out his essay The Lessons of the Roman Empire For the United States Today. In it Fears explains:
“We are on patrol today in Iraq. Men and women of the United States armed forces in armored vehicles patrol the streets of Baghdad. They pass in the way of so many who have come before them: the Egyptian charioteers of Ramses II, the Macedonian phalanx of Alexander the Great, the Roman legionnaires of Caesar and Trajan, the Crusaders of Richard the Lion-Hearted, the legionnaires of Napoleon, the Camel Corps of Lawrence of Arabia.
All of these have come through the Middle East. Many of them have come with the best of intentions, by their lights, to bring stability, even freedom to the Middle East. All have passed away. The Middle East has been the graveyard of empires.”
McCain’s insight not withstanding, if Professor Fears is right then the wisdom of history points us in the Paul direction. Every civilization that has tried to “tame” the Middle East has failed to do so. There is no reason to suppose the US is any different. That said, if there is one truth to history it is that we never pay attention to its wisdom.