As I think upon the wars and conflicts of recent times (Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Syria), and the reasons for their occurrence, I’m reminded of Romania’s past, and its conquest by a newly elected Roman emperor by the name of Trajan.
If the picture isn’t clear to you by already, let’s connect the dots.
Back then, the region now known as Romania was known as Dacia. It was a sparsely populated but very rich country: the soil was fertile, and I’m not just talking about agriculture. Dacia had incredibly large (and easy to get to) deposits of gold, silver and other important metals. The Dacian kings had so much wealth they didn’t know what to do with it.
The Roman empire lay to the south of Dacia, and it took plenty of money to run it. They started to feel the bottoms of the coffers as they dug in for more aureus and denarius. The kings of Dacia weren’t exactly bright when it came to not advertising their wealth. They advertised it, alright — so much so, that the Romans, who were allies with the Dacians, knew exactly where to look when their money was no longer sufficient.
What did the Romans do? Exactly what the Americans did when it came to Iraq. They invented a reason for going to war with the Dacians. They manufactured a dispute over the border between the Roman Empire and Dacia and once the pretext was in place, they invaded. They were pushed back the first time, but Trajan was persistent. After all, he didn’t have a choice. It was either Dacia’s money or he’d have to run Rome on a budget, and we all know how budget disputes work (hint: just have a look at current-day Washington, DC).
Before long, he’d succeeded in invading Dacia. He didn’t stop there though. He murdered virtually all of Dacia’s nobility, tore down all its cities and temples, erased any sign of Dacia’s culture, and began a decades-long exploitation of Dacia’s mineral reserves, pouring all of it into Rome’s hungry coffers. It’s estimated that he stole over 3,000 tons of gold and over 5,000 tons of silver, all in all. And he didn’t stop there, either. No, he colonized Dacia with Romans. He took all sorts of people from all corners of the Roman empire, people who were more than happy to rape and pillage their way across Dacia, and he let them pick their favorite spot and settle down with their loot. But that wasn’t enough for him, no. He had to build a monument, Trajan’s Column, to commemorate his murderous deeds. It still stands in Rome to this day, a monument to his legacy.
The Bush administration tried to do the same sort of thing in Iraq. They wanted to get at the oil reserves, they needed a pretext, they made it up and went in. But you see, things are a lot murkier in modern times. These days you can’t massacre people and suspend human rights like you used to be able to do it in ancient Rome. So getting at the oil proved to be a lot trickier than the Americans thought. They had to tack on a bunch of other goals to their mission, like “installing a democratic regime in Iraq”, “restoring peace and order to the country”, “training Iraq’s police and army”, “restoring Iraq’s infrastructure”, etc. How many years has it been since they went in? I lost count. They’re still not out of there, and I don’t know how much oil they’ve actually managed to get out of the whole ordeal. And how much money did they spend so far? I don’t want to think about it, because as an American taxpayer, I have to foot part of the bill for it…
I have no idea why the Americans went into Afghanistan. I think they had to do it in order to pump new life into the pretext for attacking Iraq, which was WMDs and Osama bin Laden. They went in there to get him but over time they found they had to tack on a bunch of other goals to their agenda, like in Iraq… And we’re still not out of there, nor will we be out of there any time soon…
The Americans tried a different approach with Egypt and Syria. They encouraged revolts (the CIA’s good at that sort of stuff, they’ve done it plenty before) and let their chosen “rebels” topple those governments. They also co-opted NATO, so they could share the costs and (unfortunately) the loot. The idea was to install people who favored them and hopefully that would make it easier to get at the oil reserves. Things were hit and miss for a while, but so far, so good, sort of… Again, things are a lot murkier these days, you just don’t get the same bang for your buck that you used to get back in the day. Things are on track for the oil contracts, but who knows… these rebel governments often turn on you, as they’ve done in the past and history speaks for itself there. We’ll see.
Let’s end this little trip through memory lane, shall we? I hope I’ve connected enough dots for you to see the whole picture, right? Emperor Trajan was the mythical “real American”. He was a go-getter. His empire had a problem and he went in there and solved it within a few years. Became a hero. The Romans revered him.
It didn’t go the same way for Dubya, although he wanted it so badly. The guy even went on a battleship, flew a fighter jet and said the war was over… about a decade before it even started to end, but hey, maybe history will be gentler on him, who knows.
Back to Romania (or Dacia). Whichever. It’s all the same, even now. Romania still has some gold left, because Trajan didn’t steal all of it. The technology of his time didn’t allow it, or he would have. And this time, the Americans (or is it Canadians) want it. Actually, they want the money, not necessarily the gold. In the end, it boils down to yet another exploitation of Romania. Except these days things are a lot murkier (I keep saying that). And the company that wants to
steal abscond take buy Romania’s gold has found that they too have to tack on a few extra goals to their agenda in order to sell it. So they’ve promised to set up a village museum, to make sure they don’t pollute (they will actually poison the whole area with cyanide), to do a bunch of other pointless things, etc, but in the end it still boils down to 96% of the gold for them and 4% of it for the puppet Romanian government. What a steal!
The moral of the story is this: it sucks to be Romania. Actually, it sucks to be a country with any important natural reserves, because unless you’re the bully on the block, you will be invaded, raped, pillaged, colonized, stolen and partitioned — and this will happen to you over and over and over and over, throughout history, until you will no longer have anything worth stealing, in which case you will then have to become a bully and start doing unto others as they’ve done onto you.