President Barack Obama has notified Congress that he will send up to 275 troops to Iraq to provide support and security for U.S. personnel and the American Embassy in Baghdad.
Meanwhile, the insurgent army known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is clearly on the military ascendency. Its blitzkreig has thrown the American-trained Iraqi Army into a panic, with soldiers dropping their rifles and running for their lives.
And it has steamrolled virtually unopposed from northern Iraq to towns only about 50 miles from Baghdad.
As a result, this situation recalls two scenes from the 2004 Disney remake of The Alamo.
The first scene comes with the arrival of the Mexican army–about 2,000 strong–in San Antonio de Bexar.
There are about 200 men in the Alamo, and they are awestruck at the seemingly endless columns of men who threaten to overwhelm them. One of the defenders is David Crockett (played by Billy Bob Thornton).
Suddenly, the full weight of his decision to enter the doomed old mission strikes him. He turns to William B. Travis (Patrick Wilson) the fort’s commander, and says: “We’re gonna need a lot more men.”
It’s the understatement of the movie.
David Crockett (Billy Bob Thornton) and William B. Travis (Patrick Wilson)
The second relevant scene from The Alamo takes place in the headquarters of Mexican dictator, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna.
He’s beseiged the Alamo for almost two weeks, and he’s impatient. Not to attack–but for the arrival of large numbers of Texan reinforcements.
Santa Anna knows the Alamo is a death-trap. He hopes to lure Sam Houston–the commander of the Texan army–to “come and be a big American hero” by reinforcing the garrison.
That way, Santa Anna has to fight only one battle–one that will become a massacre of his enemies.
But Houston also knows the Alamo is a death-trap. And as much as we, the movie viewers, want him to ride to the rescue of the trapped garrison, we know that he won’t.
He will save his army to fight another day, on ground of his–not Santa Anna’s–choosing.
Finally, Santa Anna launches an all-out assault on the Alamo in the pre-dawn hours of March 6, 1836. All of its defenders are slaughtered.
Poster for The Alamo (2004)
But the movie isn’t over. Instead, it quickly lays out the military strategy Sam Houston used to win Texas its freedom as a republic.
He orders a retreat before Santa Anna, burning abandoned towns in his wake. He’s waiting for his enemy to make a mistake.
And, in time, Santa Anna makes it. He sets up camp in a densely-wooded area, knowing Houston’s army is close by. And then he and most of his army settle down for a siesta!
Screaming “Remember the Alamo!” the Texans charge into the camp. In 18 minutes, they kill about 650 Mexicans and capture the rest.
The next day, Santa Anna, who had tried to escape in the uniform of a private, is captured. Threatened with death, he is forced to sign a treaty guaranteeing Texan independence from Mexico.
Now, fast forward to present-day Iraq.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s army, like Santa Anna’s, is clearly on the offensive. And just as Texas seemed about to be overrun by his army, Iraq appears on the brink of becoming an Islamic terror-state.
And just as a handful of stubborn Texans decided to stand, at the Alamo, against a far larger force, President Obama appears ready to order such a last-ditch stand at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
But there the similarities end.
First, the Texans had to defeat only one Mexican dictator.
In Iraq, countless numbers of Jihadists are constantly scheming and murdering to become the Islamic version of Numero Uno.
Second, American settlers in Texas passionately embraced the republican form of government for which their fathers and grandfathers had fought.
That was, in fact, a principle gripe of the Mexican government: “They all go about with their [U.S.] Constitution in their pocket, demanding their rights.”
There is no tradition of individual freedom in Iraq–or in any other part of the Islamic world Thus, there is no incentive for Iraqis to retain it.
Third, Texas won its independence from Mexico in one battle–at San jacinto.
Iraq is filled with religious fanatics who are determined to enforce their version of Islam on others in a never-ending jihad.
* * * * *
The United States tried, for 10 years, to impose democracy–or at least order–on Iraq.
That experiment has failed dismally. Democracy can’t be forced onto people whose lives have been warped by centuries of repression.
And a modern state cannot be forged out of a pseudo-nation that’s essentially three feuding tribes–Sunni Arabs, Shia Arabs and Kurds.
Stationing 187,900 American soldiers in Iraq in 2008 failed to create a stable country. So sending 275 soldiers to defend the American Embassy will prove equally futile.
If the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad becomes a second Alamo, it will prove a heroic sacrifice to a worthless cause.