The American Interest

Exiting Iraq

It is sometimes necessary for a great power to keep a distant small country under military occupation—if need be, for a very long time.  The Romans could not contemplate an “exit strategy” from Palestine in the first century A.D.—or from a few other hotspots around the empire’s outer perimeter—without compromising their status as the world’s feared and respected hegemon.  The British did not enjoy keeping the northwest frontier under a precarious and costly control for over a century, but it had to be done if India was to be safe for the empire.  The Red Army had to maintain large garrisons in East Germany, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia; otherwise the “Socialist Community” would have disintegrated decades before the fall of the Wall.

Quite apart from the long-term weakness or folly of those strategic designs per se—in the end, India was a millstone around an enfeebled England’s neck, and the collapse of the Warsaw Pact heralded the disintegration of the Soviet Union itself—the presence of those powers’ troops in foreign lands made sense at the time within the terms of the political-military doctrines that guided their decision-makers.  The Pax Romana, Lord Rosebery’s “sane Imperialism,” the Brezhnev Doctrine: Those concepts did possess a degree of clarity and coherence within their own frames...

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