When presidential candidates run on a campaign of “change,” historians typically roll their eyes. After all, Western political systems haven’t changed in 2,000 years — so it’s highly doubtful that an egalitarian society will emerge any time soon. In Ancient Rome, senators of the elite schemed, bribed and above all else, plotted military operations to expand the Empire, which is an abbreviated way of saying that they conquered foreign lands to enrich their own wealth and power.
In S.P.Q.R.: A History of Ancient Rome, a fascinating read, Mary Beard, professor of classics at Cambridge University and award-winning author of several books on antiquity, draws important parallels in her new book between Ancient Rome 63 BCE, leading up to Caesar’s assassination, and US politics, specifically after 9/11. “After 2,000 years,” concludes Beard, “Rome continues to underpin Western culture and politics, what we write and how we see the world, and our place in it.”
When I read the next line in Beard’s book, I thought about the number of democratically elected leaders in the last 30 years that the US government covertly or overtly, (how should I put this delicately) — disposed of — in one way or another.
“The assassination of Julius Caesar,” Beard explains, “on what Romans called the Ides of March 44 BCE has provided the template, and the sometimes awkward justification, for the killing of tyrants ever since.” Today, the president need only call said leader a “tyrant,” or in G.W. Bush’s words, “an evil dictator” and voila! send in the troops. Vietnam, Latin America and presently the Middle East are all examples of Mary Beard’s assessment on Julius Caesar’s assassination, wrapped in the same rhetoric that Roman statesmen used for removing a leader: He’s an evil doer!
There’s only one small problem concerning the elimination of sovereign leaders on the basis of “name-calling”: “Regime change,” as it is now commonly called, violates constitutional and international laws. (Forcible regime change is prohibited by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The targeting of civilians constitutes a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions, which is prosecutable as a war crime.) When the US government illegally intervenes in the affairs of a sovereign state by plotting the removal of its leader, it’s often because the leader is improving conditions for the poor. For example, if a democratically elected socialist leader uses the profits from their nation’s oil to pay for free health care, food, schools and rebuilding eroding infrastructure for the people, then said leader will immediately be seen as a threat to US corporate control over foreign resources, such as oil, which has benefited multibillionaires at an appalling cost to ecological communities and entire populations. Such “regime change” violations of national and international laws are impeachable offenses. So one would think, right? Wrong. As noted in our recent history, if a president lies about a silly sex affair, then and only then will he or she face impeachment charges.