Friday, June 04, 2004


I've recently begun reading Intelligence in War: Knowledge of the Enemy from Napoleon to Al-Qaeda by John Keegan, noted English military historian, author and former Senior Lecturer at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst (Great Britain's "West Point".) The man is brilliant.

Here he calmly reminds us to ignore the media hysteria because things are progressing as they nearly always have in history.
The media's message is clear: Iraq is a mess that should never have been allowed to happen. Yet media people are precisely the sort who know perfectly well that wars usually end in a mess.

Many of them, by training, are history boys or history girls. Moreover, they have been trained to perceive reasons why some wars end neatly and others do not...

The aftermath of the First World War was worse. On Armistice night, Lloyd George, leaving the House of Commons with Winston Churchill, remarked: "The war of the giants is over. The war of the pygmies is about to begin." The pygmies, in civil wars in Germany, Hungary, Poland, the Baltic states, Finland and above all Russia, went on fighting for years, killing or starving to death millions. A full-blown war of conquest by Greece against Turkey ended in a Greek humiliation but also 300,000 deaths...

History boys can explain easily - and convincingly - why some wars, as that against Germany in 1945, end in unopposed occupation of enemy territory and why others, as in Iraq in 1920 and 2004, do not. In the first case, the defeated nation has exhausted itself in the struggle and is dependent on the victor both for necessities and for protection against further disaster - social revolution or aggression by another enemy. In the second case, the war has not done much harm but has broken the power of the state and encouraged the dispossessed and the irresponsible to grab what they can before order is fully restored.

What monopolises the headlines and prime time television at the moment is news from Iraq on the activity of small, localised minorities struggling to entrench themselves before full peace is imposed and an effective state structure is restored. The news is, in fact, very repetitive: disorder in Najaf and Fallujah, misbehaviour by a tiny handful of US Army reservists - not properly trained regular soldiers - in one prison. There is nothing from Iraq's other 8,000 towns and villages, nothing from Kurdistan, where complete peace prevails, very little from Basra, where British forces are on good terms with the residents.
Charles Krauthammer picked up on this article by Keegan, and continues it:
The fact that transition from the coalition conquest to whatever new Iraq emerges will be difficult and bloody and contentious is the historical norm, argues Keegan, and yet it has been used by critics to discredit the war and Bush and Blair for having undertaken it.

The panicmongers have been telling us that the June 30 date for the handover of power was approaching with nothing but violence and no one to hand the reins to. But we have an interim government, remarkably balanced in terms of ethnicity, region and tribe. Such encouraging developments, however, are apparently not to be permitted to puncture the current defeatism.

A moderate Shiite is appointed prime minister, and the headlines prominently mention that he was supported by the CIA, thus implicitly encouraging the notion that the man is illegitimate. But where was an Iraqi exile, hunted by Saddam Hussein, to get help, if not from the CIA and MI6?...

Then it is said that this new government consists of just the old, discredited interim Iraqi Governing Council reappointing itself. In fact, of the 36 new ministers, just four are from the Governing Council.

Then comes my favorite: The new government has no legitimacy because it is composed of so many exiles. What kind of leadership does one expect in a country that endured three decades of tyranny in which any expression of opposition met with torture and death? Who better than these exiles - some rather heroic, many of whom created and sustained organized political opposition for decades - to run a transitional government?

Yes, Iraq is a mess. Postwar settlements almost invariably are. Particularly in a country where the removal of a totalitarian dictator leaves a total political vacuum. Of course there are difficulties and dangers ahead, and no guarantee of success. But the transition to Iraqi rule is under way. The first critical step has just been taken.

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