Iraq Is a Mess Because Bush Ignored History

Roundup: Media's Take

Enda O'Doherty, in the Irish Times (April 12, 2004):

For former British foreign secretary Robin Cook, writing in the London Independent, President Bush's rhetoric in response to the latest violence was based above all on denial. It is difficult to believe, he concluded, that the coalition forces will find a solution until they first admit they have a problem.

Manuel Carvalho, writing in Publico of Lisbon, thought the coalition's problems were primarily due to its failure to understand history or respect its lessons. The US concept of "nation-building", he argued, was nothing other than "an extremist ideology, a dangerous combination of Messianism and voluntarism which is completely devoid of any sense of history". "In seeking to make Iraq a testing ground for this belief, Bush and his falange of radicals are demonstrating their complete failure to understand an elementary truth: you never make friends by the use of force." The "theologians" of Washington could do worse, Carvalho thought, than to read T.E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom, where they would learn of the effect British invasion of Iraq in 1916 had on encouraging the emergence of Arab nationalism.

In the Daily Telegraph British historian Niall Ferguson wrote of a meeting he had had in Washington where an official charged with reconstruction in Iraq told him she was looking principally to central Europe's post-communist economies as a model for the Iraqi process.

"Not for the first time," wrote Ferguson, "I was confronted with the disturbing reality about the way the 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." In 1917, Ferguson reminded us, a British general proclaimed in Baghdad: "Our armies do not come into your cities and lands as conquerors or enemies, but as liberators." Within a few months there was an anti-British revolt, which by 1920 had become a full-scale rebellion. The agitation began in the mosques and soon, contrary to British expectations, united Sunnis, Shias and even Kurds. After horror stories of mutilated British bodies and thousands of casualties, the rebellion was eventually put down by a campaign of aerial bombardment of tribesmen and punitive village-burning, followed by the installation of a puppet monarchy.

It seems that at the moment, Ferguson concluded, "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".

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