pragueBlog

2003-11-13  

And now, for today's political post: Max Hastings delivers a right old spanking to the US. We're just big ingrates, too proud to know when we're being offered good advice by one of the few allies we have that deserves the name. And he is so, so right.
The British government and military are with difficulty containing a huge rage against Bush’s people. First, jotting down the tally of all British dealings with the US over, say, the last 18 months, they find the score to be: requests and proposals made, about Iraq and a wide range of bilateral issues — countless; matters on which Washington has given London satisfaction — zero.

He's pissed off. I would be, too. I am. This I don't like. It's evidence of the worst side of the American character, and it's as old as the Anglo-American relationship. I won't go as far as saying I can second guess those in positions like Bremer's, Rumsfeld's or Bush's. That's just stupid. The pressures are enormous and you're playing make believe if you think you understand them. But criminy, you still think, why continue to bull your way forward, ignoring warnings and plain good suggestions when you're being offered not only face-saving alternatives, but alternatives that are likely actually to work? And furthermore, the source of the advice is the one country, the one ally, that gets the Hossanah treatment and palm fronds along the streets in welcome when one of their worthies visits.

The argument goes like this: America on the warpath is pretty effective at warring. The concentration of power and fury the US can bring to bear knows no equal. This is good. When you need to make war you need to make it count. Britain at the height of its power never had that kind of military dominance, a few years or so of total sea-power perhaps to the contrary.

What Britain does have, however, is a different approach to foreign engagement. You can see it in Basra. The troops are much more effective at engaging the population. The military authorities know how to use and work with the local powerbrokers to achieve stability. They get along better with the Iraqis, simply. Ironic, is it not? Iraq's former colonial overseer is better liked than its modern day liberator.

You might argue that this is the result of Britain's long colonial experience, its imperial past. (I said a bad word, didn't I?) I don't argue that. I argue that Britain had the success it did during its imperial age because of the peculiar national character it brings to such situations. Chicken, meet Egg. Its three hundred year-long colonial experience wasn't the result of a lucky guess as to how tiny groups of pale-faced folk might manage enormous countries on the other side of the planet. There was something more instinctual - an instinct to engage for the long term.

So here we have an interesting situation. Britain is gnashing its teeth over Washington's failure to take some good advice. "Oh for God's sakes, George, not like that, like this! Here let me show you!" Washington frets about the slow pace of progress. It's going to be a long, hard slog, says le Donald. And yes, we all know that the last thing Bush wants is to be waking up to headlines in the paper (alright, his daily press digest) like those of the past week or two when the election is just around the corner.

Max Hastings:

I have always argued that the Americans will not make headway in Iraq, any more than they did in Vietnam, until they commit people who possess a real interest in its welfare. It is no good sending Beltway types who perceive their sole responsibility in Baghdad as serving the national interest of the United States.

Hear, hear. Speaking as one who spent six and a half harrowing years living inside that Beltway, there is a special horror for me to the phrase "Beltway types." In Iraq, Paul Bremer dresses like he's at work in downtown D.C. What better way to send a cheerful "fuck you" message to the Iraqis he deals with than to show up at work every day in Saddam's former palace wearing your best Washington power tie and seersucker grey?

Do we have the sort of people he mentions? The British certainly do. What if we invite them to take an even greater role than at present? You could convince the British public if they perceived it to be the inevitable bowing to superior British skills in sticky foreign places. Greater emphasis should be made of the two countries' respective strengths: the British in civil administration and on peacekeeping, and the Americans in pursuing Baathists and foreign jihadists even more actively than now. There's still a war on. A bigger role for Britain makes more sense than token forces of a few thousand Japanese or Pakistani soldiers here and there. And the process of handing control back to Iraqis would go faster as a result.

Steve | 19:29 |
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