PAUL DUNN: Bush, Obama Could Learn From Napoleon
For eight long years, America endured a president who read little, exercised a lot, got to bed early and took endless vacations (499 days), mostly at his Crawford ranch or Camp David.
Such a regimen might have been appropriate in the age of Coolidge or Harding, but it didn't serve the country well at the beginning of the 21st century.
Obtuse, intellectually lazy and lacking a keen understanding of world affairs, it's no surprise that after 9/11 Bush would almost instinctively push for a war against an ancient Muslim society. The irony is that the 9/11 Commission concluded that the nation George Bush attacked (Iraq) had no direct connection to 9/11.
The resultant tragic war has lasted longer than World War II, with no end in sight. Every second spent in former Mesopotamia costs more than $50,000. President Barack Obama, by keeping in place the previous administration's defense secretary and top military and naval leadership, risks digging the U.S. deeper into an Afghan-style Vietnam.
Were there lessons of history that might have helped avoid the mess America's now in? A reading of "Napoleon in Egypt" (by Paul Strathern, philosopher and mathematician from Trinity College, Dublin) suggests there were.
Any knowledgeable student of Napoleonic France, Egypt and the Ottoman Empire serving in the State or Defense departments should have been able to warn that if a modern-day and mostly Christian Crusade was launched pre-emptively against Iraq, it would enrage Muslims worldwide
Enraging the Muslim world of his day was precisely what happened when Napoleon invaded Egypt and later Syria (from Catholic France). Cadets at West Point are regularly taught Napoleon's Egyptian campaign, but perhaps Bush's senior military advisers never took the course -- or worse yet, failed it. If dire warnings from the military were given to presidential advisers Powell, Rice and Rumsfeld, they were clearly discounted or ignored.
In 1798, Napoleon, a 28-year old general, launched a daring campaign to conquer Egypt, then part of the Ottoman Empire. He sailed from France with 335 ships and 40,000 soldiers. Napoleon was accompanied by a collection of savants -- scholars, artists, scientists, inventors and printers -- who were to study ancient artifacts and protect the heritage of the country.
His orders to the soldiers: "Make friends and respect the mosques."
Their discovery of the famed Rosetta Stone led to the translation of Egyptian hieroglyphics and modern-day understanding of ancient Egyptian history. In stark contrast, Bush, Rumsfeld and an undersized army allowed the museums of Iraq to be looted, with priceless artifacts stolen and destroyed.
Napoleon studied the Koran before sailing to Egypt and expected to be welcomed as the "liberator" of the Egyptian people from the excesses of Mameluke overlords. A secular Corsican, he did not object to his men adopting the Muslim faith or marrying Muslim women. But he totally misunderstood the culture and found himself in endless battles with tribal leaders and Bedouin tribesmen.
Napoleon's army never received the troop replacements or equipment it needed. The French, like the Americans 200 years later, resorted to torture, abuse and murder of prisoners and destruction of the civilian homes and property.
Casualty figures are very similar. Napoleon in Egypt and Syria lost about the same number of soldiers as America has lost in Iraq. Strathern estimates Napoleon's Army of the Orient's death toll at 6,000, but writes "Others put the figure at 10,000 to 15,000 Frenchmen probably killed or died of disease during the occupation of Egypt."
He concludes, "It was a vain attempt to impose European civilization upon a backward people whose religion encouraged them to regard all change and all foreigners with the deepest suspicion." Sound familiar?
Knowing this bitter history and that of the medieval crusades as well, modern-day France refused to support Bush's Iraq war. It demanded proof that Saddam had the weapons of mass destruction that Bush, Cheney, Rice, Wolfowitz and Powell attested to.
France, having given its sons to the soil of the Middle East before, knew too well the risks of war waged there. After 9/11, many Americans mocked our first and traditional ally, France, for not automatically joining America's "Shock and Awe" campaign. Many American servicemen and women would be alive today if France had been listened to.
Napoleon deserted his Egyptian army, returned to Paris celebrated as a hero and soon become emperor (mission accomplished). George Bush was never impeached and will give talks for high fees. Dick Cheney will get a big "thank you" from Halliburton. Condi Rice will write her book, and American heroes badly wounded will wonder for the rest of their difficult lives, why?
One hopes that Barack Obama will heed history's lessons and rely more on diplomacy and less on the sword in this deadly part of the world. The aphorism of philosopher George Santayana comes to mind: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
Paul R. Dunn, author of "Touching Raw Nerves," may be reached at: email@example.com. com.
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