Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The Phillipines (1898) Iraq (2003)

I was going to write something about the similarities between the Spanish American War and our current struggles in Iraq and in the process found this Parallels Between Spanish American War and Iraq
which does a much better job than I could have. It's from the Washington Times of all places, though it appeared there as an outside viewpoint.

It's often said that Karl Rove, despite the fact that he never finished college, is a keen student of political history. A lot of historians look at Mark Hanna/William McKinley as one of the lower points in American political history. It is embarrassing, for instance, to learn that American naval commanders actively planned naval battles in the Phillipines with Spain well in advance of the war actually breaking out. Also, Mckinley's claim that he got down on his knees and prayed to God for guidance about taking sovereignty from the Phililipines, after a war premised on ensuring soverignty for Cuba, has not generally been interpreted as an exemplar of either American greatness or proof of divine intervention. It wasn't until I came across an article by Morton Kondracke Kondracke Article, on a conservative site that argues that the supression of the Phillipine insurrection at the turn of the last century might possibly be the road map for Iraq, that it occured to me that Karl Rove has both studied the Spanish American War and is using it as a model for how to conduct both modern American foreign policy and to keep his party in power.

It can be argued that 1900 was the height of Republican power in American History. It is the apex of the merger between unregulated big business, congresss, the supreme court, the presidency, and fledgling big media. At the time, for example, the 14th amendment had been successfully invoked to protect corporations, but had not yet been used to prevent racial segregation (Plessy v. Ferguson 1896). Anti-trust was just a gleam in the vice-president, Theodore Roosevelt's eye. From Karl Rove's perspective, the Spanish American war and the aftermath of the Gilded Age might really have been the good old days.

The Kondracke article makes the point that the Phillipines only cost 4,200 American lives and took a mere three years beyond the end of the Spanish American war. By those standards, we might be well ahead of schedule in Iraq. Kondracke somehow fails to mention that anywhere from 250,000 to 600,000 Fillipinos also died in the process of fighting for their right to self-determination. It was, after all, an odd way to teach our " poor brown brothers" the virtues of democracy, just ask Mark Twain and the Anti-Imperialist Leauge. Also, America lost some credibility for beating the insurrection by using tactics that included torture and burning entire villages that might be resisting the American way. It's also hard to find a serious historian who believes America was sincere about its "Noble" motives for keeping the Phillipines. Most agree that it never was about Christianity or democracy, it was simply about keeping international market share. In other words, one can claimn that the Spanish American war and its aftermath succeeded in terms of Empire and enhancing American power. At the same time, it put the lie to American claims that it was a kinder, gentler kind of Imperialist power. No actual compassionate conservatives there, I guess.

It should be mentioned that some 40 years later, Phillipino soldiers helped fight the Japanese in World War 2. Some of them were rewarded with US citizenship, which I have to say is pretty darned ironic. So maybe Morton Kondracke et. al. are right, the annexation of the Phillipines might be a positive model for our Iraq adventure from a purely American perspective. (If the purpose of the UN is to defend American interests, the president has identified the right ambassador.) If the purpose of US military intervention is not really to spread democracy, we've picked the right war and the right way to wage it.

I do wonder if the average Iraqi looks at places like Cuba, the Phillipines, or Puerto Rico and thinks,"Gee, I hope the US occupation will let us be like one of those countries some day. Each is such a reassuring example of 100 years of self-determination and the application of democratic principles."

It is fascinating to me that Karl Rove chose Hanna/Mckinley as his model. I do want to mention that Rove especially admires Hanna, though in the interest of historical accuracy I've since learned that Hanna himself actually opposed the Spanish American War, quite likely because he thought it was ultimately bad for business. Perhaps Rove is copying the strategy for the war rather than just Hanna's strategy. Unlike Rove as well, Hanna had served in the Civil War and was according to some sources (wikipedia) awarded Congressional Medal of Honor some 30 years after the fact (I think this may be an example of trusting the internet too much though. There appears to be a lighthouse keeper in Maine in 1885 who was also named Marcus Hanna who was awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor and I'm starting to believe that this is a much repeated mistake) (I'll post something about this in a coming article on the nature of the internet). I know Rove uses Lincoln, the republican president even Democrats approve of, but only the Ex Parte Milligan Lincoln and instead of using the Muscular Christianity peice of Theodore Roosevelt, he's lifted the jingoistic side of the Republican president who sought to rein in the excesses of the gilded age through anti-trust, conservation, etc. I suspect Rove believes that TR's split with Taft led to a Republican decline until the party rallied against the League of Nations. It's even more fascinating that what worked with the early mass consumption newspapers of Hearst and Pulitzer, still works with the Intenet. In the information age, we have such powerful tools to keep people well "informed" about what their leaders are really doing. Instead, it seems like some have more successfully harnessed mass communication technology to disinform and divert.

A hundred years ago, Remember the Maine was a rallying cry for war. A hundred years later no one has any idea who actually blew up the Maine, other than a likely boiler failure. Today no one in the administration seems to seriously care about catching Osama, the man who helped mastermind the World Trade Center killings. A hundred years ago, the party of commerce used war to advance markets. A hundred years later, most Americans have forgotten the story. That is, most everyone except Karl Rove who is successfully using it as a model for America's future.
Like Mark Hanna, I suspect history will judge him to have been a great political strategist, but not necessarily a great American, that is unless Fox News winds up writing all the histories.


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