Niall Ferguson: When did he change his mind about Iraq?

Historians in the News

Fergie, 9 February 2005
That is why the president is more right than he knows to reject calls for an arbitrary departure date. The price of liberty in Iraq will be, if not eternal vigilance on the part of the United States, then certainly 10 years' vigilance.

Fergie, 21 May 2007:
[T]he decision to overthrow Hussein was one of history's great non sequiturs.

Most Americans didn't know who Niall Ferguson was in Spring 2003, so -- unlike those emanating from the Great Singular Orifice of respectable liberal punditry -- his views were doing nothing to drive American public opinion toward supporting this moronic war. So on that count, at least, I don't suppose Ferguson has much for which to atone. And he's not speaking in Friedman Units, so there's something.

Nonetheless, from the publication of Empire onward, Ferguson has relentlessly advocated that the United States bear the White Man's Burden in Iraq and elsewhere, and he can't be let off the hook for that. Smart people bought his book and repeated his elegant phrases, and -- whether he's directly at fault or not -- here we are, still feeding the pig. Fergie's had his misgivings, of course, and has been claiming for nearly three years that the US has been doing a poor job of it -- but his complaints, as best I can tell, have always centered on the unwillingness of the US to commit the time and resources to the war in Iraq. Now, at preceisely the moment that one presumes Ferguson would be castigating the war's opponents for not bearing their imperial responsibilities like real Englishmen Americans, he at last declares the war a "tragedy" and a "nonsequitur," denouncing Bush along the way for wreaking "havoc" with his doctrine of preemptive war.

It says a lot, though, that Ferguson still conceives of Bush as the victim in this drama. (It is, after all, the "Tragedy of King George" rather than "The Folly of Empire.") Sure, Ferguson makes passing reference to the "tens, if not the hundreds, of thousands" of bodies coughed up by this "tragedy," but the real story for Ferguson resides in the "corpses" of Wolfowitz or Tony Blair and in fragile lives of Bush, Olmert, Musharraf and Prince Bandar -- "the only principals left standing." Not to be too obtuse, but all the other "principals" appear to be standing quite fine on their own. Wolfowitz lost his job at the Defense Department and then the World Bank, but he's looking pretty healthy to me. He'll probably even find new love by month's end. Same for Tony Blair, who (aside from a little arm cramping after five years of trans-Atlantic reacharounds) seems positively radiant by comparison with the hundreds of thousands of people condemned to die by his and King George's war -- a war, Ferguson would rather not highlight, that he also thought was "winnable" until quite recently.

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

Gary W. Daily - 5/30/2007

Two years and six months have passed since Thomas Friedman wrote (“Postcards From Iraq,” November 21, 2004) “. . . pay attention to the grunts. They'll tell us if it's time to go or stay.” Now is the time to pay attention. The grunts have spoken (“As Allies Turn Foe, Disillusion Rises in Some G.I.’s,” May 28, 2007). Sergeant Salstrom of the First Batallion, 325th Airborne Division, is on his third tour in Iraq. Here’s his message to us all: “If we stayed here for 5, even 10 or more years, the day we leave here these guys will go crazy.”