TALM: Twain is credited with saying that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it sometimes rhymes. What’s the best historical parallel for America’s efforts in Iraq?
VDH: In terms of sheer military efficacy? People wonder how Rome could conquer all of northwest Europe with nothing more than four or five legions. The answer is the Romans had a very similar policy to our own: They looked at the most retrograde, bloodthirsty, nationalist leaders—the bin Ladens of the ancient world — and took them out, but with precision and with a lesson. They then offered Roman citizenship and technology to those who sided with them —everything from the benefits of habeas corpus to aqueducts.
The idea of Roman citizenship was not predicated on race or national origin, but inclusive, in the same manner the U.S. military does not represent a particular race or religion, but an idea, a notion of Western inclusiveness and egalitarianism, that can encompass everything from free markets and voting to equality under the law and free speech.
What America has done, then, is take out and discredit these bad guys and then offer Western opportunity and inspiration that can foster popular culture — an internship at Harvard, a web-log in Iraq, a call-in radio show. In other words, people can become “Westerners in spirit” without losing their own pride of religion and nationality. Institutionalized freedom is not predicated on race or nationality. It’s an inclusive notion predicated on ideas, and the Arab world is beginning to see that it can remain Muslim and Arab and yet free and prosperous.