Yesterday The Other Charlotte took grim note of the U.S. decision to withdraw our Marines from Fallujah–to the the tune of resounding cheers from the Baathist/Sunni butchers who run this Iraqi city. (See Recessional, May 2.)TOC called the Fallujah withdrawal a resounding defeat for the United States. She’s right. It was appalling. We are Spain: Al Qaeda blows up a trainful of Spanish citizens, and Spain gets the hell out of Iraq. Fallujans murder and mutilate the corpses of four American civilians, and we get the hell out of Fallujah.

As National Review Online’s Mackubin Thomas Owens writes, in a column titled “Delenda Est Fallujah,” the main messages that the withdrawal sent the Arab world is that Americans are soft–unwilling to risk lives to pacify the Sunni Triangle and that violence works. Owens writes:

“The fighters in Fallujah do not seek peace. They want to drive the Americans out of Iraq. They are like venomous snakes: They will kill us or our Iraqi allies if we do not kill them first. There is no negotiating with them. They see such negotiations as a sign of weakness; indeed, the fact that the powerful United States is negotiating with them permits the insurgents to claim that they have prevailed over the most powerful military in the world.”

Our main problem is that we Americans don’t understand exactly why we are in Iraq. We are under the idealistic impression that the Islamic world yearns for American-style constitutional democracy and a tolerant civil society of a kind that took centuries to develop in the Anglo-American world. This is not the case. There are no democracies in Islamic societies (well, maybe in Turkey, sort of and some of the time). There has not been a tolerant Islamic culture since the last gang of rabid Muslims from Northern Africa destroyed the Umayyid regime in southern Spain a good 900 years ago. Our job in Iraq is not to nudge the Iraqis gently toward Western-style democracy. It is to occupy the country and insist by whatever force it takes that certain kinds of violent and terroristic activities are unacceptable. In Fallujah that means (or, more likely, meant) killing a large number of  people–before they kill us and our allies, as Owens points out. Either we impose our culture on the Iraqis by as much force as it takes, or we never should have been there in the first place.

That’s what it means to be an imperial power. It’s what Alexander the Great did when he marched his army through Mesopotamia in the late fourth century B.C. Alexander didn’t bother with cultural diversity; he set up Greek city-states colonized and run by his own soldiers wherever he marched. The Romans did the same thing. As Virgil wrote in the Aeneid, it was the Romans’ job to rule, period:

“tu regere imperio populos, Romane, memento;
hae tibi erunt artes, pacique imponere morem,
parcere subiectis, et debellare superbos.”

(Remember, Roman, that these are your arts: to rule the peoples of the earth by your power, to impose law on top of the peace that ensues, to spare those who subject themselves to you, and to wage ceaseless war upon the proud.)

The Romans conquered the world because they had a vision of their own mission to the world, which was to make it safe for trade, the rule of law, and the flourishing of classical civilization. This was a vision that the Romans knew had to be imposed by force, which the Romans knew how to use–and weren’t afraid to use–because they had the best army in the ancient world. They punished violations of the Pax Romana ruthlessly. Touch so much as a hair on the head of a Roman citizen, and you got yourself and your pals promptly crucified and your town razed to the ground. The Romans had limitless self-confidence because they believed that they had a mission to civilize. Same went for the Spaniards when they set up their New World empire 1,500 years later. Same for the French and the British during the 19th century.

We Americans, sad to say, seem to believe that we can somehow create a world free of terroristic threats to our citizens and our allies and still be nice. That we can rule the world by persuasion, by talking people into wanting to be just like us. This is a mistake. This is the Fallujah mistake. And over time, if we keep it up, we, like the Romans in their last years in the West making concession after concession to the barbarians, will pay for that mistake with dear coin.

By the way, I believe that any American military personnel who have tortured Iraqi prisoners of war deserve to be severely punished–and they will be.