A Shakespearean Glance at the People and Issues of the Day.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Julius Caesar and the War on Terror


OK, so here we have a war council attended by Brutus and Cassius, two of the conspirators who have slain Julius Caesar. The pair have assembled armies to destroy the armies raised by Mark Antony and Octavius. Antony and Octavius represent the side of the civil war that remained loyal to Caesar and his concept of a benevolent dictatorship. Brutus and Cassius represent the concept of the Republic, which Caesar had destroyed under the banner of reform.

Bru: “What do you think of marching to Phillippi presently?”

Cas: “I do not think it good.”

Bru: “Your reason?”

Cas: “’Tis better that the enemy seek us.
So shall he waste his means, weary his soldiers,
Doing himself offense, whilst we, lying still,
Are full of rest, defense, and nimbleness.”

Bru: “Good reasons must of force give way to better.
The people twixt Philippi and this ground
Do stand but in a forced affection,
For they have grudged us contribution.
The enemy, marching along by them,
By them shall make a fuller number up…”.

Cassius wants to let the enemy spend its energy in travel, while his side waits to be engaged. Brutus sees a stronger reason for marching from their camp to meet their opponents in Phillippi; to stop the people living in between from joining the enemy’s army as it approaches. Abraham Lincoln moved the union army into Virginia even before formal hostilities began for a similar reason – he knew that Virginia’s loyalties were decidedly mixed.

Osama Bin Laden’s continued existence probably owes itself to a similar phenomenon. The people of western Pakistan do stand but in a forced affection on our side of the War on Radical Islamic Terror (WRIT). Because Pakistan’s government, or at least its prime minister, is far friendlier to the U.S. than are its people, our pursuit of Bin Laden into Pakistan would undercut the prime minister’s authority, making him look like our puppet. Maintaining a friendly regime in Pakistan is far more important than killing one isolated and decreasingly potent terror master.

Brutus gives another reason for marching to Phillippi:

Bru: “…..You must note besides
That we have tried the utmost of our friends;
Our legions are brim full, our cause is ripe.
The enemy increaseth every day;
We, at the height, are ready to decline.
There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves
Or lose our ventures.”

We seem to be winning the WRIT these days. Zarqawi is dead, his (first) successor proceeded to die before we could learn his name. The Sunnis may be suing for peace. Iraq at least for the moment has a democratic, functioning government and growing military might. The prospect of the world’s first Arab democracy flowering right beside its neighboring autocracies, whose peoples will increasingly envy the Iraqi people’s freedoms, stands within our grasp. President Bush has indeed taken at the flood a tide in the affairs of men, which may yet lead us on to fortune.

But in the process we have indeed tried the utmost of our friends. Most of the rest of the world spurns American-style idealism in favor of a world-weary pessimism. Those governments who have quietly assisted us in the face of opposition from their own peoples have been embarrassed by the disclosure (by the American press, no less) of that cooperation – particularly in the joint surveillance of international banking transactions.

It remains to be seen whether this tide will carry us safely to shore. Our enemies do indeed increaseth every day. But who would have thought that one of the most dangerous of them to recently emerge would be neither the new Islamist regime in Somalia nor the rejuvenated Taleban, but the New York Times?

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