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Interesting view on Iraq problems

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  • Interesting view on Iraq problems

    I'm not usually one to start political discussion. However, I thought with all the recent discussion on Iraq, this was quite interesting; whether it is BS or not.

    This Vietnam generation of Americans has not learnt the lessons of history
    By Niall Ferguson

    (Filed: 10/04/2004)


    Around this time last year I had a conversation in Washington that summed up what was bound to go wrong for America in Iraq. I was talking to a mid-ranking official in the US Treasury about American plans for the post-war reconstruction of the Iraqi economy. She had just attended a meeting on precisely that subject. "So what kind of historical precedents have you been considering?" I asked. "The post-Communist economies of Eastern Europe," she replied. "We have quite a bit of experience we can draw on from the 1990s."

    When I suggested that the problems of privatisation in Poland might not prove relevant on the banks of the Euphrates, she seemed surprised. And when I suggested that she and her colleagues ought at least to take a look at the last Anglophone occupation of Iraq, her surprise turned to incredulity. Not for the first time since crossing the Atlantic, I was confronted with the disturbing reality about the way Americans make policy. Theory looms surprisingly large. Neoconservative theory, for instance, stated that the Americans would be welcomed as liberators, just as economic theory put privatisation on my interlocutor's agenda. The lessons of history come a poor second, and only recent history - preferably recent American history - gets considered.

    That's why there hasn't been a month since the invasion of Iraq last year without some clapped-out commentator warning that Iraq could become "another Vietnam". For many Americans - including the Democratic contender for the presidency, John Kerry - the only history relevant to American foreign policy is the history of the Vietnam War. True, the Department of Defence has commissioned some ambitious historical studies. In August 2001, Donald Rumsfeld's office produced "Strategies for Maintaining US Predominance", which compared America's bid to establish "full spectrum dominance" with the attempts of previous empires. Most of it, however, consisted of pretty superficial economics and the conclusion was that technological change has put the US in a league of its own, so more detailed comparative study would be superfluous.

    There was amazement last year when I pointed out in the journal Foreign Affairs that in 1917 a British general had occupied Baghdad and proclaimed: "Our armies do not come into your cities and lands as conquerors or enemies, but as liberators." By the same token, scarcely any American outside university history departments is aware that within just a few months of the formal British takeover of Iraq, there was a full-scale anti-British revolt.

    What happened in Iraq last week so closely resembles the events of 1920 that only a historical ignoramus could be surprised. It began in May, just after the announcement that Iraq would henceforth be a League of Nations "mandate" under British trusteeship. (Nota bene, if you think a handover to the UN would solve everything.) Anti-British demonstrations began in Baghdad mosques, spread to the Shi'ite holy centre of Karbala, swept on through Rumaytha and Samawa - where British forces were besieged - and reached as far as Kirkuk.

    Contrary to British expectations, Sunnis, Shi'ites and even Kurds acted together. Stories abounded of mutilated British bodies. By August the situation was so desperate that the British commander appealed to London for poison gas bombs or shells (though these turned out not to be available). By the time order had been restored in December - with a combination of aerial bombardment and punitive village-burning expeditions - British forces had sustained over 2,000 casualties and the financial cost of the operation was being denounced in Parliament. In the aftermath of the revolt, the British were forced to accelerate the transfer of power to a nominally independent Iraqi government, albeit one modelled on their own form of constitutional monarchy.

    I am willing to bet that not one senior military commander in Iraq today knows the slightest thing about these events. The only consolation is that maybe some younger Americans are realising that the US has lessons to learn from something other than its own supposedly exceptional history. The best discussion of the 1920 revolt that I have come across this year was presented by a young Chicago-based graduate named Daniel Barnard at a Harvard University history conference. This week at New York University it was the economics undergraduates who organised a question and answer session for three senior UN diplomats, including the current (German) president of the Security Council. Their questions - particularly about the likely consequences of a premature American withdrawal - seemed a great deal better informed about the realities of modern imperialism than the anodyne stuff routinely trotted out by the White House.

    The high quality of political debate in the American universities suggests that the delusion of American "exceptionalism" may be waning. But for the time being US policy in Iraq is in the hands of a generation who have learnt nothing from history except how to repeat other people's mistakes.
    source

  • #2
    Good stuff, limey.

    Comment


    • #3
      Good stuff, WEG.

      We are a young and impatient country...quite full of ourselves right now. As always, pride cometh before the fall...and like every empire before us, we will have to learn the hard way...tough for some of us to watch this administration, whose motto seems to be "often wrong, but never in doubt..."
      The Dude abides.

      Comment


      • #4
        tough for some of us to watch this administration, whose motto seems to be "often wrong, but never in doubt..."
        And it was tough for some of us to watch the previous one, where the concepts of right and wrong were directly proportional to the latest CNN poll.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by Reggie Cleveland@Apr 10 2004, 09:55 AM
          tough for some of us to watch this administration, whose motto seems to be "often wrong, but never in doubt..."
          And it was tough for some of us to watch the previous one, where the concepts of right and wrong were directly proportional to the latest CNN poll.
          no argument about the Clintonistas, but if you think these guys aren't reading polls and that Karl Rove doesn't have his eye squarely on "the prize," you are kidding yourself, Reg...
          The Dude abides.

          Comment


          • #6
            Of course they read the polls. They'd be insane not to. But the difference between this administration and the previous one is that this one has some ideas in mind BEFORE they look at them.

            Be you either hot or cold, or the good lord will spit you from his mouth....

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by Reggie Cleveland@Apr 10 2004, 10:02 AM
              Of course they read the polls. They'd be insane not to. But the difference between this administration and the previous one is that this one has some ideas in mind BEFORE they look at them.

              Be you either hot or cold, or the good lord will spit you from his mouth....
              And then they execute those ideas and watch the polls drop.
              Dude. Can. Fly.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by Moe_Szyslak@Apr 10 2004, 09:48 AM
                Good stuff, WEG.

                We are a young and impatient country...quite full of ourselves right now. As always, pride cometh before the fall...and like every empire before us, we will have to learn the hard way...tough for some of us to watch this administration, whose motto seems to be "often wrong, but never in doubt..."
                Relevant to your point, Moe.

                My Mgmt prof at Mizzou told a story to highlight cultural differences. He said a group of 3rd graders in America and Japan buried a time capsule with the instructions to "open in X years" ...

                What do you think they put?















                The Americans kids put 50 years.

                The Japanese kids put 5000 years.
                Dude. Can. Fly.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Reg, you mean like Clinton and NAFTA and Bush on steel tariffs???
                  The Dude abides.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Moe_Szyslak@Apr 10 2004, 10:11 AM
                    Reg, you mean like Clinton and NAFTA and Bush on steel tariffs???
                    Bush == Flip-flopper.
                    Dude. Can. Fly.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Lemme axe you guys: Let's say the economy picks up to some degree, and we're able to avoid a total clusterfuck in Iraq.

                      Can Kerry still win?

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