[VIEWPOINT]Mongols and American invadersWhen Saddam Hussein rejected U.S. President George W. Bush’s ultimatum and vowed to fight to the end, U.S.-led attacks on Iraq became inevitable. Nobody ventures to predict that Iraq could fight off large-scale air and ground barrages. Now Saddam Hussein cannot avoid a collapse, and the downfall of Baghdad is a matter of time.
Baghdad was once a small village by the Tigris river, but it emerged as the center of Islam after it was designated as the capital of an Islamic dynasty in 762. Though Baghdad has witnessed many rulers in its history, it was only once conquered by non-Muslims, by Mongolian cavalry in 1258. Seven hundred years after that conquest, Baghdad is doomed to be trampled down by other non-Muslims.
The U.S.-led campaign in Iraq resembles very closely the war staged by the Mongolians. The direct trigger of the two wars was related to terrorism. In the U.S. war, there are Al Quaida, believed to be behind the Sept. 11 terror, and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan that protected Al Qaeda. Before the Mongolian conquest, a group of assassins, a notorious radical Islamic sect, indiscriminately assassinated notables in Middle East. After receiving tips that the sect was preparing to kill the Mongolian king, the Mongolians decided to invade western Asia. At that time, there was one additional threat for the Mongolians to eliminate. That was the Abassid Dynasty (758-1258) in Baghdad. The dynasty had ruled for more than 500 years, during which its kings had lost most of their power but were still the symbolic leaders of Islam. The king at the time of the Mongol invasion proclaimed the solidarity of the Islamic world against them. Leaving the king on his throne, the Mongols believed, could endanger their plans for west Asia and for world dominance. Mongolian horsemen surrounded the king’s Baghdad castle and rained down stones and fire using formidable catapults, state-of-the-art arms at the time. The defenders of the castle were helpless against the attack, and the city fell into the hands of the Mongols. King Kalif, captured and rolled up in a carpet, was trampled to death by Mongol ponies, and the Abassid Dynasty of Baghdad was gone from the world stage.
The collapse of Baghdad brought the commencement of a new era. The “Pax Mongolica” era of a gigantic empire stretching over the Eurasian continent and embracing Eastern and Western cultures, emerged and endured more than a century.
So will the looming collapse of Baghdad mean the continuation of a “Pax Americana” era, which has already held sway over the world after the crumbling of the Soviet Union?
Though it is too impetuous to make a prediction, the prospects of the United States do not look bright, judging from the current situation. The Mongols started their campaign with fewer than 100,000 soldiers in the initial stages. But they mustered Islamic forces from all over the Middle East while marching toward Baghdad, and the army numbered more than 400,000 men when it conquered the city. The United States, however, confronts contrary public opinion at home as well as in France and Germany, its long-time allies. The opposition was the result of U.S.-only causes that respected only U.S. values and the lives of U.S. citizens; the Bush administration ignored the interests of other countries and would not embrace different cultures. If the United States stages a causeless war not approved by the United Nations because it could not present persuasive grounds, no one will welcome the “Pax Americana” era.
* The writer is a professor of Oriental history at Seoul National University.
by Kim Ho-dong