I have been thinking a fair amount, over the last few weeks, about the parallels between Russia’s invasion of Ukraine this Spring and the US invasion of Iraq back at the start of this Tohu Bohu in 2003. It’s not a terribly helpful comparison—they are more different than they are the same, and the parallels that I’ve been thinking about are no greater than the parallels between any two instances of one nation invading another. Still, I’ve been thinking about it.
First and most obviously, there are the lies about Iraq and Ukraine being somehow existential threats to the US and Russia. Baseless allegations of weapons of mass destruction being stockpiled, and of course the depiction of the country’s leader as willing to use them.
Speaking of the leaders, the invading countries appeared to think that the domestic unpopularity of Hussein and Zelenskiy would result in popularity for the invading nation. Why would that happen? Has it ever happened? Anyway, it didn’t happen. Obviously, Hussein didn’t become more popular and Zelenskiy did, but in both cases the locals failed, somehow, to feel gratitude toward the people who were bombing them.
Also: the PR depiction of the invaded (or soon-to-be invaded) nations as being uniquely artificial political constructs, encompassing different ethnic and religious factions. While, of course, both Iraq and Ukraine are indeed such constructs, that didn’t make them at all unusual. There’s also an odd parallel of the invading nations being a huge part of the creations of the invaded nations and setting their current borders. I don’t know if that part means anything, but it’s there.
And, of course, there’s the invading nation being appallingly superior in technology, materiel and training to the nation being invaded, and having that be insufficient for full military success. The discovery after the initial invasion that the troops lacked certain basic supplies. The surprising success of improvised devices against armored vehicles. The comparative ease of bombing buildings to holding territory.
Perhaps more important than that is the sense that a former superpower tried to display its awesome power and instead looked weak.
Around the time of the Iraq invasion, Jimmy Carter made the point that by the mid-1970s, it was clear that Moscow’s leaders had no friends or allies—they had servants, and they had slaves. There were countries they could pay to comply, and countries they could force to comply, but nobody wanted them to succeed for any other reason. That meant that when the Soviet Union had trouble, there was no-one who would support them. On the whole, despite the world’s ambivalence (for good reasons) there are certainly plenty of nations who don’t want to see the US government toppled. I don’t know that there are many around the world who would be sad to see Putin’s government go, even if that meant a period of significant instability or even an oil shortage for a little while. I think we’re getting to the point where people figure that Russia is unlikely to be governed in a way that’s worse for the world than what Putin’s doing—Fortunately, I don’t think the US is anywhere near that point right now.
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,