by CHRISTOPHER MONTGOMERY

   
 

April 9, 2003

The Anglo-American Way of War

Winners & Losers

It's a good thing that this war is coming to an end soon as otherwise I don't think the TV companies could have afforded to continue covering it. Already several of the US networks have shipped home some of their more expensive human resources, and just think where we would be if this ratings-killer kept squatting on the airwaves for another month. The flatulence of most of the broadcast media was best caught by that absurd fuss over what the Anglo-American military brass expected would happen. Or rather, what they hoped would happen. Of the war, British and American generals obviously hoped that Iraq would fold even quicker than it in fact did, with still less loss of life on both sides, and preferably shunted in this direction by immediate, popular uprisings. Things didn't pan out like that, but what so much of the press weren't capable of coping with was that essential distinction between what the Western military ideally hoped would happen, and what they realistically were prepared to cope with. In very large part and this, of course, will never be faced up to the media lashed out at the military for 'their' [sic] faulty predictions because, in truth, they were shamed-faced at their own predictive failings. Never mind the vatic utterances of a Richard Perle, it was British and American TV that truly expected a 'cakewalk', and gosh was there some displacement when they didn't get one.

Now that we're on the way to our glorious victory over a third world country, we'll just have to smile and keep quiet about how bogus our claimed justification for this war was: that Iraq somehow composed a clear and present danger to the national interest of both Britain and America. If the progress of the war proves nothing else, it demonstrates beyond contradiction that the only thing Saddam's regime threatened was the people of Iraq. So we went to war for them then? Well, there's one crude way to go about proving that retrospective claim, and it's this: we should count up how many of them we've killed. It shouldn't be too difficult an exercise, now that we're running the place. No agreed guestimate ever came out of the last Gulf War, or out of the assorted NATO interventions on the Balkans, or out of the Anglo-American demarche against the fearsome Afghani horde. We could, to the nearest thousand, compute, over the next however many months it takes, the number of military and civilian causalities incurred by Iraq during its, ahem, liberation. I've no doubt that we've done our Christian best to keep this as low as possible, but it would be interesting, for informed, democratic debate, when next our electorates have to sanction war, to have these numbers in the public square. Yet you and I both know it's not going to happen.

It's unneeded knowledge because our governments both correctly appreciate how much world-policing their publics are willing to bear, the calculus being very simple there are only so many heathens without the law we're willing to kill. Keep the figure down and we'll fight, wade us out too deep in gore and we won't. It's a measure of the demerits of democracy that this question 'just how many did we kill in order to win?' will assuredly go on being unasked. But then that's hardly a novel development: democracies can't superintend foreign policy the way they nominally mandate domestic policy because the ship of state needs micro-management of the sort that not even opinion polls, still less elections, can give. That said, when you consider the guff being spouted by the clever, clever people running the biggest boat of all, you do have to worry. And as ever, we're back with the lies, inanities and delusions the rhetoricians of the American right parade as the basis of a sane foreign policy.

But Before We Get to Them

If you follow this war outside the United States you'll have found the matter of Basra, Iraq's second city, million plus population, blah, blah, to have been of at least passing interest. The British claimed in the first few days of the war that it was about to fall and it didn't which led to the inevitable orgy of media moaning. The failing of the military this time being that, oh, they'd been 'over-optimistic', or, worse still, 'dishonest', when, naturally, what they'd been doing, and what any fool even only marginally less pompous than a Western hack could have seen they were doing, was attempting to make a self-fulfilling prophecy. In other words, if they claimed that Basra was about to rise against Saddam, then it might very well do that. It, understandably, didn't. So the British employed classic counter-insurgency techniques to slowly envelop the city, and were mightily bummed by our own press for doing so. When, inevitably, what we were doing was practising the techniques of restraint and indirection any force of limited attacking power has to do out of second-best necessity. Still, we did it very well, and just in the nick of time, Basra fell. The urgency? Very simply that the nightmare scenario for the British high command was that the Americans might take Baghdad whilst Basra remained in the regime's hands, and if one outcome couldn't be allowed to happen, that was it.

As I say, that was all news in the unAmerican world. Our ever-helpful friend Google News reminds us that it didn't make much of an impact inside the US, but there you go. This, for what it's worth, never tells me anything much about the American people, save to remind one that to watch or listen or read it is to know that the United States has the most inadequate, shallow press of any functioning democracy. Call me a sap, but I really don't believe that the people anywhere get the media they deserve. Seriously I'm not much of an humanitarian, but the whole dead brown babies, etc, etc stuff always seems marginally more morally pressing to me than journalistic near-misses, or attacks on the Palestine hotel, but again, why at this point expect any better from the press than self-obsession?

Why do I mention this disparity between what the two principal aggressors have been seen to be up to? Well, always having subscribed to the argument that 'I was only following orders' is a defence of sorts, Britain was. She didn't start this fire. She didn't try to fight it, but patsy not puppet-master is our status in this whole affair. There is, though, the additional fact that Britain simply hasn't been allowed to get up to all that much badness. Never mind the fact that we've been cut out of the reconstruction work thus far (it is American money, albeit soon, no doubt, to be subsidised by the forthcoming government of 'Free Iraq'), there's the more traditional stuff. You'll note that we've been dealing with Basra. We were left that because we plain old weren't allowed to join in the race to Baghdad. The institutional needs for prestige of the US army and marine corps overrode even a modicum of basic alliance diplomacy, and any British participation in this cherry. That was the most galling insult we took like the obedient prison bitch we are, but almost as bad was our eschewal of any role in running the place we helped conquer. Jay Garner's gang isn't slated to include any Britons at all. You'd have to wonder other than an invisible glow quite what glittering prizes we're going to get out of the killing and the shooting and the fussing and the cursing.

Not only Britain not have any particular interest in taking part in a war that self-evidently hasn't needed to happen, but now that we have, we're not going to get anything out of above and beyond what all those couch-potato nations are going to end up with anyway. It's wearisome beyond belief to keep reiterating what an unnecessary war this was from Britain's point of view, but the thing, the people who mattered where it matters to matter, the teenage girlie pundits screaming at mop-topped Dick and Rick and Paul and Jay couldn't keep their line for killing straight if they tried. As Gerry Templer said to Dickie Mountbatten, seemingly every sincere fan-in-advance of the war is also, 'so crooked that if you swallowed a nail you'd shit a corkscrew'. This, as we can plainly see is every time demonstrated by the lies they tell about the past to justify their coming mistakes.

Appeasement Was Right

You'll be familiar with appeasement, which was the second most wicked thing ever. It's poster boy Neville Chamberlain will naturally be to you the figure of hate and contempt all eternity will surely know him as. He's the villain so bad that even our beloved friend, fellow democrat and all round good guy in the war against terror, 'General' Sharon was adjudged to have gone too far when he briefly compared Neville to Dubya last year. This, to be precise, is the orthodoxy if you've wanted us to get into this war. Scoot off to National Review or The Weekly Standard, or read that troupe of historians who reach their risible low-point with Victor David Hanson and you'll see why the appeasement of the 1930s is living history in other words, it's the very thing that teaches us why we have to act as we've acted these last few weeks. Appeasement is wrong, it must never happen. Bad, bad things will happen if you appease, or seem to appease, or lay yourself open to the charge of appeasing.

Most of the criticism of Neville Chamberlain is painfully illiterate: with especial scorn I remember a Chamberlain adduced by Rich Lowry to buttress some sophomoric argument about current foreign policy. This fantastical figure had apparently been convinced by all sorts of contemporary progressives and radicals that utopian peace was possible only by appeasement, and he had put all questions of realism in the conduct of statecraft far behind him. Actually Chamberlain was close to being the most hard-headed politician on the go before World War II, and more than any other, he was a sceptic about what use the United States would be when it came to dealing with fascist revanche. This truth cuts at the core of the Hansonite bluster that stresses unique American virtue, justifying her present diplomatic executions. For far from the United States having earned pre-emptive rights from her World War II role, as if such a status could be earned, the story is exactly the opposite to what the historians of wars to come insist on preaching.

With every insult to the dead in France, whether by the French, or by those in France who hate her and everything she stands for, the Hansonites add their grisly, uncouth chorus. They damn French failure to wage and win war because they ignore that unlike the United States, the French had fought and died in their millions long before the United States took to the field. With the fall of France in 1940, her corpses dwarfed those the United States brought with her from the Great War. And by May 1940 none had been added because the United States, far from rushing to fight fascism, was busy preparing to re-elect her president on the basis that he wouldn't. The estimable Tom Fleming details all this perfectly clearly inside The New Dealer's War: FDR and the War Within World War II. In January 1941 74% of Americans were against war with Germany; weeks later, after the Placentia Bay summit and the Atlantic charter, the figure was still 74%. Contrary to every insulting, ahistorical, dumb French lie of the last year from cretinous sections of the modern American 'right', the American people didn't want to 'do their bit for freedom', and indeed their government promised them that it wouldn't make them.

The United States didn't go to war for any of the nonsensical, teleological grounds claimed for it by the third rate hacks National Review wheels round behind the bugle today. The only reason why the United States ended up involved in the Second World War was because she was dragged there kicking and screaming by the Japanese.

And how do you know that when you're the grown-up world power having to deal with global responsibilities (rather than blub about them, and complain how unpopular you are, as would appear to be the neocon motif)? Just this: you appease too. America stands now where Britain stood before the Second World War, and just like Neville Chamberlain, George Bush wisely cuts his cloth. As purely one hugely pertinent example think on China. Sure the US flew a spyplane within 200 miles of the PRC's coast (a zone which if another country attempted to do the same by the US, she'd shoot the plane out of the sky) and mewled that this was an entirely legitimate thing to do. And absolutely this aircraft rammed a buzzing Chinese fighter out of the sky, killing its pilot, then landed, damaged, on of all things a Chinese military airfield. And indeed, certain American right wing pundits became outraged that the Chinese became just a touch miffed by all of this. But what did the practical men and women who make up the US government do? They ever so humbly kow-towed, they truckled out an apology, and they didn't push their luck. That's not to say that the long term policy of the United States toward China (to somehow deny her even regional pre-eminence) isn't essentially lunatic what it is, unquestionably, is unavoidably appeasing in the short and medium term. States appease when they have to, and they're right so to do.

There is no special moral claim to right that enables the US to wage war as Washington Times editorialists see fit. Much, much more importantly, even after the aberration of 9/11, there is no credible state of international relations that exists which will allow any sensible American government to start fighting countries that could fight back. Despite everything, the grim lesson of the screeching people off-stage is this: America could be much worse led than she is.

– Christopher Montgomery

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Christopher Montgomery is an historian who is currently writing a book on the historiography of the Suez crisis, and is publisher of ERO. He recently took some time out to run the Iain Duncan Smith campaign office, and for a while was working in the private office of the Leader of the Opposition. A young representative of the diehard tradition, he believes that Enoch Powell was right on everything apart from immigration. His column appears here on Wednesdays.

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