September 13, 2006


Controversial Historian In McCain's Orbit: Niall Ferguson Compares America to British Empire (TOM LANE, Sept. 4, 2006, ABC News)

A recent New York Times article about John McCain's growing "kitchen cabinet," contained a piece of information that might have been meaningless to many American readers, but resonated strongly with most British ones.

According to a McCain aide, the article said, one of the senator's unofficial advisors as he ponders a possible run for the White House is the British-born Harvard historian Niall Ferguson.

Though relatively unknown in the United States, Ferguson is a controversial figure in the United Kingdom, where he continues to spend much of his time. Ferguson has been besieged by critics and admirers in Britain ever since the publication of his 2003 book "Empire" and its companion TV series.

For some time, much of Britain has regarded its imperial history with a mixture of shame and embarrassment. Indeed, the prominent think-tank, Demos, once suggested that Queen Elizabeth II ought to be forced on "a world tour to apologize for the past sins of Empire."

Ferguson stepped into this environment of national hand-wringing and self-hatred with a shocking proposition -- that the British Empire should be regarded, like any empire, in a broad historical context. To even greater uproar, he suggested that it might actually have been of some global merit in that it helped spread democratic values around the world.

Central to the notion that "we needed more boots on the ground" is the notion that we should govern places like Iraq because the wogs can't. The imperialist nature of that argument should be an issue when Senator McCain is the candidate in '08, but Democrats have sort of trapped themselves by seizing upon the exact same criticism of W and Rumsfeld without ever understanding it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 13, 2006 9:25 AM

Thus, they can't handle the truth, but they acknowledge it nonetheless.

Let us reflect on the curse of Boxer racism, whereby the benefits of ordered liberty are rejected because white men devised them.

Iraq is a superb example of the truth. The rest of the world may chose despotism, chaos or assimilation. Live as slaves, live as savages, or become the United States.

Posted by: Lou Gots at September 13, 2006 10:24 AM

At least Ferguson goes the Kagan/Kristol imperialists one better, by arguing that the spread of Western values justifies Western imperialism. The Kagan/Kristol justification just seems to be... do so because we are strong, and it's important to show we're strong to remain strong.

Posted by: kevin whited at September 13, 2006 10:24 AM

Neocons don't believe in our values. They're secular.

Posted by: oj at September 13, 2006 10:33 AM

Central to the "we needed more boots on the ground" was the belief that the war needed to be won before a new government could be formed. Not everyone is a racist just because they don't agree with you.

Posted by: Brandon at September 13, 2006 11:54 AM

We won the war. Occupation was a mistake driven by contempt for Saddam's victims and fueled the insurgency. The very idea of occupying a people you claim to have liberated makes no sense.

Posted by: oj at September 13, 2006 12:11 PM

Occupation was driven by the belief that our army could impose a just order better than Saddam's army.

Posted by: Brandon at September 13, 2006 12:29 PM

What army?

Posted by: oj at September 13, 2006 12:45 PM

We are hard put to frame a reply to such childish inanity.

Responsibilty to establish government grew out of our conquest of Iraq. Legal responsibility by international law, moral responsibility for those who insist on anthropomorphizing states. Iraq, the Phillipines, the FORMER CONFEDERATE STATES OF AMERICA: when you break something you have to fix it.

Had we not liberated the German and Japanese people from their oppressors and then occupied them for years to perfect their reformations?

Just to inject a note of "monstrous" realism, let us observe that we have destroyed what is likely to become THE FORMER IRAQ as surely as if we had changed it to a sea of glass, with much, much less collateral damage.

Posted by: Lou Gots at September 13, 2006 2:05 PM

No, we defeated Germany and Japan. We liberated France. Didn't occupy it, did we?

Posted by: oj at September 13, 2006 2:34 PM

The more Ferguson goes down this road, the less I find him convincing. Nevertheless, as a basic concept, the idea that Britain owes something to the former empire, rather than the other way around, is just laughable.

Posted by: Kirk Parker at September 13, 2006 3:05 PM

So what was Gulf War Two and the roll on Baghdad, chopped liver?

There they go again: we battle Iraq across their entire country, the Marines and the Army converge on their capital like Koniev and Zuhkov closing in on Berlin, but we didn't conquer Iraq.

What happened to Iraq is called "defeat." We liberated the Iraqi people after we crushed the Iraqi regime, just as we liberated the German and Japanesepeoples after crushing those regimes.

Posted by: Lou Gots at September 13, 2006 6:45 PM

It was a cakewalk. The Iraqi military offered little or no resistance because they weren't Saddamist. The comparison to WWII is hilarious, not serious.

No, we liberated Africa, Europe, the Phillipines, China, etc. We defeated Germany and Japan. How long did our occupation of Norway & Denmark last?

Posted by: oj at September 13, 2006 8:08 PM

It was a mistake to allow the State Dept free reign in the aftermath of the war.

We lost a good six months to a year, and allowed the Iraqis to think we were indeed occupying them.

The Iraqification plan that started in force after the 2004 election should've happened a year or more earlier.

By the same token, however Lou has a point:

If we'd walked away in May 2003, as oj seems to wish, the Baathists would've slaughtered his beloved Shia, just as they did when the feckless Powell and Bush I called it quits in 91.

Indeed, as oj admits, the Iraqi army was useless, but the Baathists were still armed to the teeth, and the regular army was never what they used to assert their domination over the hapless Shia.

The Kurds would've had a fighting chance, the Shia would've been lambs to the slaughter, and once again their blood would've been on our hands.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at September 13, 2006 9:17 PM

The mistake was staying 6 months. Chalabi running a transitional regime with Sistani's ok should have been in effect by the end of the Summer of '03.

Posted by: oj at September 13, 2006 9:30 PM