Evil Empire? Of ISIS, America, Rome, and the Pax Americana


Geraldo Rivera has given the best reason for direct US military intervention in ISIS: “Revenge.”

Speaking on Fox News’ The Five on June 9, he clarified: “For taking the heads of Americans.”

Such candor may repel a lot of people. But if we widen the lens focus to analyze the emerging new global reality of our position in the region... and beyond, Geraldo’s argument emerges as the correct one to make.

Allow me to explain why Geraldo’s seemingly crude, reckless notion bears merit.

The counter-arguments go like this.

  • This is our fault for invading Iraq in 2003 under a pretext.

  • We committed numerous wartime atrocities during the Iraq War, culminating with a civilian casualty count recently measured as 150,000 out of a grand total of 500,000 Iraqi deaths.

  • The Islamic uprising is one of epic nationalism and religious fervor justified by a people that have suffered under the yoke of western dominance since WWI. Starting with the colonialist arbitrary dissections of the Middle East after the collapse of the Ottoman empire, the region has endured repeated interventions, political, economic, as well as military, by the United States. Such as overthrowing governments by CIA skullduggery (installing the Shah of Iran after overthrowing an elected government) or just flagrant “regime change” by brute force as we did in the Iraq War.

And then there’s always the forced dislocation of the Palestinians to make way for the creation of the state of Israel following WWII.

Indeed, there is no shortage of reasons to justify the Al-Qaeda-cum-ISIS-cum-Caliphate “blowback” that has jolted not just us, but the entire civilized world.

So how then can we argue—morally? —for a military response, justified by a need for... revenge?

There are plenty of arguments to be made by our enemies that we, indeed, are the “Evil Empire.”

Good luck trying to deny it to the man tortured at Abu Ghraib by the decadent US Army forces, particularly the sexual humiliation at the hands of female soldiers.

So, are we the “Evil Empire?”

No, we are not. Despite the atrocities. No more than ancient Rome was an “evil empire.”

Like ancient Rome, we are the superpower of our day. Like Rome, we are hated by many people outside of our borders—both in enemy nations in the Middle East and within many of our ally nations... in fact, by many American citizens right here at home.

We are constantly reminded of this thanks to the generosity of our First Amendment rights of free speech.

American America-haters. Reverend Wright, Ward Churchill, Noam Chomsky. Hollywood. Chances are, your college humanities or social science professor. Michelle Obama even (“For the first time in my adult lifetime I am proud of my country.”). Our President, Barack Obama, many claim, is another anti-American. (A truly scary thought...)

People hate us for many reasons. One: they are not us. They do not enjoy the wealth, freedom and privileges we have, especially when it comes to some extent at the expense of the exploitation of non-Americans. This, in a word, is jealousy. Everyone hates the boss.

Two: they have direct experience of harm resulting from our actions. You cannot fault someone for hating us if their child was killed, unintentionally or not, by a drone attack at a wedding celebration.

We can all agree that it should be the norm, not the exception, that bad players acting on our behalf are held accountable when they commit... evil acts. (Let’s call them what they are...) One of our strengths is that occasionally when something like that happens the guilty parties are held accountable. If so, it’s a result of one of the many things that make us not an evil empire, but a greatempire. We are a nation of laws.

Nations, cultures, civilizations are measured not just by their monuments, but also by their ideals ...their cultural mythologies. What a people believe about themselves can be more revealing than their tangible accomplishments. Our mythology is of a nation founded on principles of personal freedom, liberty and self-governance. We have high ideals. Opportunity. Responsibility. Charity. Inclusion. The “melting pot.” We have had high aspirations; and we have tremendous achievements to our credit.

Back to the United States / Rome analogy.

In the centuries of Rome’s dominion of over much of their known world, they committed atrocities to create and hold their empire. Rest assured, the conquest of Gaul by the great Julius Caesar was not accomplished without ruthless massacres and war crimes, despite the wonderful whitewashing in his canonical Latin text, the Gallic Wars.

But we have the hindsight of history to judge Rome. Two thousand-plus years of it, in fact. If Rome was an “evil empire,” would civilization as we know it been better off if it had never existed?

Of course not. The Roman Empire contributed so much to the advancement of the human potential and civilization that we cannot imagine the world as we know it without it. Perhaps first and foremost, it midwifed the glorious culture of ancient Greece for posterity.

The analogies between Rome and the U.S. are well excavated by historians. Like the Romans, we brought forward the great civilization that preceded us: Europe. Like the Romans, we in a sense perfected and capitalized on it. Thanks to the genius of the Founding Fathers who were well-schooled in their history, we codified the best system of government ever. And largely as a result of our Constitution, gave rise to the greatest machine for scientific, technological and economic achievement the world has ever known. The Roman Republic/Empire had endured for half a millennium before the Pax Romana established a period of peace and prosperity for the Romans and all those who wisely chose to accept their terms: “Be our friend, friend to our friends, and enemy of our enemies.”

Other than it took us less than half the time, are we much different from the Romans?

There is one last comparison between us and our ancient role-model. And this one is just as important.

As we look to this new “Caliphate” that has to date conquered half of Syria and Iraq and is growing daily by the influx of volunteer converts flock there from around the world like hippies to San Francisco in the Summer of Love, we are struck dumbfounded as we witness their atrocities in the name of their religion.

Islam is the very definition of intolerance. Try asking a Muslim scholar if it is true that his religion prescribes the death penalty for someone choosing to leave it. One thing I will tell you: you will not get a one-word answer, as in “Yes, “ or “no.”

How do we compare with the Romans in terms of religious tolerance? Speaking of pre-Christian Rome, we are in an important respect quite similar.

The Romans were politically astute. They recognized, for instance, that to preserve their empire it was sometimes necessary to have nations at their borders quarreling with one another. Instability between neighbors at the periphery served to keep them too busy to cause trouble. Those pragmatic Romans...

Similarly with their religious policies. They recognized that religion was something that humans do. It is clearly a necessity for human beings to have some explanation for what lies beyond... in Hamlet’s “undiscovered country.”

The Romans knew that when attempting to absorb a people into their “sphere of influence,” obliterating their customs, traditions, or especially their religion, would not make things easier. The Romans assimilated. They assimilated the religious beliefs, and gods, of these aliens into their own pantheon. The Romans may have been obsessively superstitious, but they were pragmatic...

And this is how the Christian world, after surviving its own era of intolerance, persecution—and let’s be honest, atrocities—evolved in the west to tolerate other belief systems. No, Christianity did not directly assimilate foreign religious beliefs into its catechism (though it is not a coincidence that Christmas falls on the date of the Roman holiday Saturnalia, not on the supposed historical birthdate of Jesus Christ), but it bent to welcome non-believers and not treat them as infidels. Over the centuries it eventually grew to accept science where it conflicted with scripture, albeit grudgingly. Religious pluralism, including atheism; that is the present-day religious climate of the nations of the west that once used Christianity as a foundational pillar.

When scummy, decadent, NEA-recipient “artists” decide to mock Christianity by making “Piss Christ” or the cow-dung rendered “The Holy Virgin Mary,” no one is killed. There are no death threats, despite the outrage from offended Christians. In fact, the “artists” probably won’t even lose their tax-supported NEA funding! There is no Christian-equivalent fatwa. The worst thing that can happen is excommunication. I doubt the “artists” were worried about that...

The real “religious” intolerance in the west today comes from the anti-religious zealots. Case in point: the recent contrived outrage expressed by secular “progressives” upon discovering a restaurant that merely admitted it would decline a request to cater a gay marriage if asked to do so! The national outrage, stoked by the media, reached such a fever pitch that the state legislative body was compelled to enact emergency legislation to “correct” the law that would permit a private business to act in such a way.

Such media-driven crusades resemble Islamic intolerance far more than any supposed religious bigotry of the shop owners. No wonder “progressives” now avoid the label “liberal.” They are the very antithesis of liberal.

When the U.S. curries favor with other nations, it doesn’t seek to impose our first religion upon them. It wants you to be our friend. Be friend to our friends. And give, at the very least, moral support when we oppose our enemies, such as voting with us in the U.N.

Sure, there’s a whole lot more to it than that. Most importantly, we want you to open your markets to our businesses. We want to encourage trade and investment. Investment in your country and your people that, on the balance, will raise the standard of living eventually in both of ours. No, your religion is fine—as long as it does not mandate death for non-believers.

And that takes us full circle. Why “revenge” is the justifiable reason to take whatever steps are necessary to squash ISIS and the “Caliphate” before it gains weapons of mass destruction and enters the growing pack of nations that we are now too scared to antagonize (North Korea, China, Russia, ...Iran?).

In ancient Rome’s heyday, any foreign state choosing to willfully abuse the person of a Roman citizen abroad knew what to expect: Shock and awe. Power is meaningless if it is not enforced. This is the realpolitik of it. If you are the strongest, but the recalcitrant adversary sees no real risk in defying you with impunity, you lose the power to impose your will when it matters.

It is growing increasingly clear that America has crossed this border into a state of what could graciously be described as "diminishing capacity."

“Leading from behind = Lack of will to lead.”

After the century of turmoil and civil war that led to the eventual demise of the Roman Republic, the foundation of the Empire laid by Augustus led directly to the Pax Romana, a (relative) peace that lasted for two centuries. Your definition of our Pax Americana may begin after WWII or may exclude the nuclear tinderbox that existed until the fall of the USSR in 1991, but it is now fraying at the seams.

ISIS is at war with us! Whether we like it or not. And ISIS is—by the way, Mr. President—Islamic. It’s in their name, for chrissakes; it’s the “I” in ISIS, IS, or ISIL, whichever you prefer.

ISIS is beheading, crucifying, and immolating “infidels,” including Americans. The honor of every American who has died in wars past and present demands that these atrocities not go unpunished, regardless of what happened in Iraq.

We are the new Rome.

Revenge, and revenge alone, is sufficient cause for us to respond militarily to destroy ISIS. The heck with “degrade.” And the real benefit: reestablishment of genuine fear in the minds of any enemies—or competitors—considering resisting our honorable and legitimate interests.

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