Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A Rare, Rational Anti-Iraq War Article

The readers of this site know that I support the war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan, and generally hold in contempt the great majority of those who blindly oppose the US war effort out of extreme ideological opposition to "Western imperialism", or who suffer from "Bush derangement syndrome," or who are hysterically opposed to war in general. But that does not mean that I am closed-minded to rational arguments made by thoughtful liberals. I came across this well thought-out piece by H.D.S. Greenway in the Boston Globe. A rare, calm and rational critique of the war in Iraq, using history as precedence. Even though, this piece is certainly not enough to cause a shift in my overall support of our policies and objectives, unlike almost all hysterical lefty Iraq war criticism, this piece made me think. A few highlights:

Consider the British experience in Palestine and their 30-year mandate after World War I. The British entered Palestine believing that they were liberating the land from Ottoman tyranny. Britain, with its technological and military superiority . . . its entrepreneurial and missionary zeal, its largely democratic institutions, was to take the once-great peoples of the East into tutelage and direct their slow but sure progress under stable and just government. This clashed almost immediately with the reality of Palestine.

The government expected the army to impose peace between the Jews and the Arabs, as a result of which it had to fight both of them. At first the British "reflected indefatigable optimism," Segev writes, and were slow to realize that they were in the middle of a civil war in which neither side would compromise. Both sides were wedded to their national identity and committed to victory. Casualties mounted as the British tried troop surges to get on top of deteriorating security.

The British were blown up in terrorist attacks, their soldiers kidnapped and killed. When they weren't surging, they holed up in Green Zone-like enclaves called "Bevingads," after Foreign Minister Ernest Bevin.

Toward the end, Chief Secretary William Battershill wrote that the British were staying because "they just did not know how to pull out," according to Segev. Bevin admitted to David Ben-Gurion, who would become Israel's first prime minister, that "Palestine is not vital to England, but England does not want to have to admit failure."

A principle reason for staying on was fear of the chaos that would follow a retreat. But after 30 years of trying to engineer compromise, the British left with their tails between their legs when support on the home front collapsed. Once they were gone, the feared upsurge of bloodshed between Arabs and Jews was realized, and the nightmare of outside intervention from neighboring states came to pass. The ramifications are with us still.

There may be little comparison between the two national movements who fought the British and each other over Palestine and the contentious groups struggling for power in Iraq today. But the danger of a foreign power fighting a long war to force compromise on combatants who have no interest in compromise is hauntingly similar.

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