JERUSALEM, Feb. 27 (UPI) -- Does the distant history of the Holy Land throw any revealing light on the destiny of the modern Middle East and the United States? Yes, indeed.
The Ludwig Mayer Bookstore sits on Shlomzion Hamalka Street in Jerusalem, right behind the Main Post Office Building. This area, downtown Jerusalem, was ground zero for suicide bombings last year; a tour guide can tick off bloody spot after bloody spot.
These days, most of the restaurants here have guards at the front door. Indeed, a fellow American visitor on my trip watched a moment of typical daily drama after an unidentified package was observed on nearby Ben Yehuda Street. The cops were summoned, bringing with them a robot, which delicately picked the parcel apart where it lay. Happily, it was harmless.
But Ludwig Mayer, which opened its doors in 1908, seems somehow apart from the contemporary welter of events. It is a quiet place; any bomb that went off here would blow up mostly musty books. That, of course, would be a tragedy of its own kind, since the lessons from the past can be vital guides to life in the future.
Indeed, that oft-used quote from George Santayana -- "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" -- came back to me as I stood amid the tranquil stacks, staring at the pages of a particular book, "The Crusaders' Kingdoms: European Colonialism in the Middle Ages," published in 1972 and written by Joshua Prawer, a professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Those hoary words of Santayana are clichéd, but some clichés are true, even profound. And so it is with the idea that the ignorant of one era fall into the same traps of history as their ignorant predecessors. After all, to use an even older clichéd profundity, there's nothing new under the sun.
What was it in the Prawer book that led to these madeleine-like musings? Prawer's tome described the Crusaders of nine centuries ago, using words that sound a lot like contemporary newspaper accounts of American plans -- or non-plans -- for Iraq:
The great masses of Christian Europe went to the Muslim East in the name of an idea, to liberate the Holy Sepulchre from the Infidels. Born amid eschatological fervor, this idea created a single-mindedness that left no room for any conscious political or economic plan. The abundant contemporary sources mention no scheme as to the future of the liberated Holy Sepulchre.
Santayana would be smiling grimly, if he could follow the latest news about America's plans for Iraq. Recent reports indicate that the United States has lost confidence in Ahmed Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress. In other words, years of plotting and aiding have gone down the drain before the first liberating shots are fired; the London-based "Free Iraqis" will play only an advisory role in a post-Saddam Baghdad.
Instead, the real power, for years to come, will be held by American military and civilian viceroys.
And now come reports that an "Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance" has come into being inside the Pentagon. In other words, on the eve of a likely attack -- and almost a year after it became clear that America was committed to "regime change" in Baghdad -- the U.S. government is finally getting around to structuring an actual plan for Iraq's future governance.
Given that the United States is trying out its new strategic doctrine --the Bush Doctrine of pre-emption -- one might have hoped that more forethought would have been given to the Day After. But here we are; like the Crusaders so long ago, we are ready for war, but not ready for peace.
Indeed, rather than a single well-routed road map, Americans have an abundance of something else the Crusaders had lots of -- all-purpose moral clarity.
In fact, as Prawer details, the Crusaders had too much moral clarity, so much that their pristine visions clashed with each other. Here is what happened after the Europeans "liberated" Jerusalem in 1099: "A confrontation between radically opposed ideas was inevitable, and it took place just before and immediately after the capture of Jerusalem."
One important faction, Prawer continues, opposed the establishment of any kind of government. Was it nihilism? he asks. Hardly so, he answers. "Theirs was the expectation of the Kingdom of Heaven destined to descend on Mount Zion and its social concomitant, the inauguration of a new world order. (emphasis added)"
A "new world order"? There's a phrase that chimes to this day, 31 years after Prawer chronicled it, 13 years after President George H.W. Bush said it.
Yet if one is so "inebriated" -- to use Peggy Noonan's redolent phrase describing the Bushian mind-set, from a September 2002 column -- with the mission of eradicating evil, then one can hardly be expected to worry about grubby details of governing and bureaucratizing.
After all, if God smiles on one's undertakings, won't we be liberated from the tiresome burdens of past precedent? Won't He make sure that everything works out for the best?
As an American, pondering the future of the American venture into Iraq, I shudder for my country at the thought of so many of my countrymen wandering through the Baghdadi bazaar, armed with super weapons and moral clarity. History has a way of mocking those who rely on technology and ideology, neglecting the even more necessary elements of haute-diplomacy and street-savvy.
But it is not just Americans who might learn something from the Prawer book. The lessons it offers to the present can be applied to Israel, too.
(Next: Crusader lessons for Israel)
(James P. Pinkerton is a columnist for Newsday, a contributor to the Fox News Channel and a fellow of the New America Foundation.)