Omnipotence and the War In Iraq

"All that god-king Xerxes requires is this: a simple offering of earth and water." (from the movie 300)

"Xerxes betrays a fatal flaw: Hubris. Easy to taunt, easy to trick." - Dilios (from the movie 300)

In a recent conversation I had at talkleft regarding Iraq with a war apologist I wrote "We are not omnipotent, nor do we have to prevail in every conflict."

His response was "then it is likely you will lose.

If you do not understand that there is little I can tell you. "

What I found interesting about this was that I never thought anyone actually believed that our country was omnipotent or believed we had to prevail in every conflict.  However upon reflection I now think that this belief in our omnipotence is a disease widely shared among pro-war apologists.  We have what Mikhail Gorbachev recently described as a "winners' complex".

As the movie "300" points out, this belief in our omnipotence "betrays a fatal flaw: Hubris".  When you believe that you cannot be defeated because you possess some god-like power, you are more likely to engage in ill-advised military adventures.  As Gorbachev has pointed out, it has also has lead to a new American imperialism and the replacement of cooperation with unilateral actions.  Finally, this belief in our omnipotence prevents a nation from disengaging from their military misadventures, for withdrawal would expose and destroy this myth of its omnipotence.

We do possess the most powerful military in the world but we are not all powerful. As John F. Kennedy once said ''We must face the fact that the United States is neither omnipotent or omniscient -- that we are only 6 percent of the world's population; that we cannot impose our will upon the other 94 percent of mankind; that we cannot right every wrong or reverse each adversity; and therefore there cannot be an American solution to every world problem.''

What is so sad is that we have been down this road before.  As the late historian Arthur Schlesinger pointed out "Three decades ago, we suffered defeat in an unwinnable war against tribalism, the most fanatic of political emotions, fighting against a country about which we knew nothing and in which we had no vital interests. Vietnam was hopeless enough, but to repeat the same arrogant folly 30 years later in Iraq is unforgivable."    

Schlesinger believed that "History is the best antidote to delusions of omnipotence and omniscience."  Tragically, Iraq has proved the old adage that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.

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