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Aug 29, 2007 4:27 pm

Winston Churchill Warned of Iraq Quagmire

Did NeoCon icon Winston Church advocate that the Brits" cut-and-run" from Iraq? Decide for yourself:

"Winston S. Churchill to David Lloyd George (Churchill papers: 17/27) 1 September 1922 I am deeply concerned about Iraq. The task you have given me is becoming really impossible. Our forces are reduced now to very slender proportions. The Turkish menace has got worse; Feisal is playing the fool, if not the knave; his incompetent Arab officials are disturbing some of the provinces and failing to collect the revenue; we overpaid £200,000 on last year's account which it is almost certain Iraq will not be able to pay this year, thus entailing a Supplementary Estimate in regard to a matter never sanctioned by Parliament; a further deficit, in spite of large economies, is nearly certain this year on the civil expenses owing to the drop in the revenue. I have had to maintain British troops at Mosul all through the year in consequence of the Angora quarrel: this has upset the programme of reliefs and will certainly lead to further expenditure beyond the provision I cannot at this moment withdraw these troops without practically inviting the Turks to come in. The small column which is operating in the Rania district inside our border against the Turkish raiders and Kurdish sympathisers is a source of constant anxiety to me.

I do not see what political strength there is to face a disaster of any kind, and certainly I cannot believe that in any circumstances any large reinforcements would be sent from here or from India. There is scarcely a single newspaper - Tory, Liberal or Labour - which is not consistently hostile to our remaining in this country. The enormous reductions which have been effected have brought no goodwill, and any alternative Government that might be formed here - Labour, Die-hard or Wee Free - would gain popularity by ordering instant evacuation. Moreover in my own heart I do not see what we are getting out of it. Owing to the difficulties with America, no progress has been made in developing the oil. Altogether I am getting to the end of my resources.

I think we should now put definitely, not only to Feisal but to the Constituent Assembly, the position that unless they beg us to stay and to stay on our own terms in regard to efficient control, we shall actually evacuate before the close of the financial year. I would put this issue in the most brutal way, and if they are not prepared to urge us to stay and to co-operate in every manner I would actually clear out. That at any rate would be a solution. Whether we should clear out of the country altogether or hold on to a portion of the Basra vilayet is a minor issue requiring a special study. It is quite possible, however, that face to face with this ultimatum the King, and still more the Constituent Assembly, will implore us to remain. If they do, shall we not be obliged to remain? If we remain, shall we not be answerable for defending their frontier? How are we to do this if the Turk comes in? We have no force whatever that can resist any serious inroad. The War Office, of course, have played for safety throughout and are ready to say 'I told you so' at the first misfortune.

Surveying all the above, I think I must ask you for definite guidance at this stage as to what you wish and what you are prepared to do. The victories of the Turks will increase our difficulties throughout the Mohammedan world. At present we are paying eight millions a year for the privilege of living on an ungrateful volcano out of which we are in no circumstances to get anything worth having."

From Martin Gilbert, WINSTON S. CHURCHILL IV, Companion Volume Part 3, London: Heinemann, 1977, pp. 1973-74.

Hat tip, Juan Cole

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Robert Higgs - 8/29/2007


Your points are well taken. I believe, however, that serious observers of the U.S. empire concede that it differs in many ways from the Roman, British, and other empires that stand out in history. Nevertheless, it is difficult to exclude the notion of empire from one's mind while considering the multitude of ways in which the U.S. government, especially since the 1940s, has undertaken to influence, bribe, intimidate, coerce, exercise specific veto powers over, or otherwise control to some extent the government of nearly every country on the planet. Its military bases span the globe; its naval ships cruise all the oceans; its military aircraft and satellites frequent all the skies. Apart from its vast military power, it exerts tremendous influence via such ostensibly international agencies as the World Bank, the IMF, and countless others that it more or less controls--not to speak of the financial, commercial, and industrial corporations that operate internationally in close (often conspiratorially intimate)cooperation with the government itself.

Yes, this complex is not like the British Empire or the Roman. Yes, the Americans rarely speak the local language (or give a damn about the local culture, customs, and history). Yes, the U.S. government's diplomats and military officers are usually inept and often silly in their attempts to deal with people abroad. And yes, a thousand times yes, they are bullies time and again. Yet, in the end, this ill-designed, bungling, mismanaged monstrosity has something to show for its efforts--something that might be distilled into the countless billions of dollars that end up in the possession of its movers, shakers, and hangers-on. Maybe empire is not the best term for it, but "hegemon" seems somehow much too tame and bland to express the nature of this multifaceted, rapacious, and episodically violent enterprise. And although it is not at this time of centuries-long duration, it shows no signs of withering away soon.

Sudha Shenoy - 8/29/2007

The Americans have never had an empire. Never. They have always been bullies & _nothing else_. The shortest of short-term military adventures is their only esperience. Even in the Philippines they had only a few decades & no administrators on the ground, only a couple of US officials at the top.

The Roman Empire ran for over four centuries. That period left behind Roman law, the Romance languages, a road system, practically all the major cities & most of the minor towns of Western Europe, trhe foundations of a civilisation.

The British Empire likewise ran for centuries in many areas. There were administrators on the ground, who spent their entire career in the countries they ruled, who _had_ to learn the languages as a condition of promotion, etc. During the period, there was a major -- peaceful -- transformation: economic, social, religious. The English language was left behind, also English common law, roads, railways, modern hospitals, newspapers, schools, universities, modern cities, etc.

The Americans have _never_ known this. Never. Why should historians be tied to American history only?

Mark Brady - 8/29/2007

"True" imperialists can also be bullies, a proposition illustrated time and again by the bloody record of British imperialists, not least of whom was Winston S. Churchill.

Sudha Shenoy - 8/28/2007

Only true imperialists can be realistic. Wannabes (lovely American word) like the American neocons can only be bullies; today, Iraq, tomorrow Iran.