Commentary Magazine


Topic: Napoleon

RE: Tom Ricks’s Quote

Peter Wehner quotes Tom Ricks as writing that the liberation of Iraq was “the biggest mistake in the history of American foreign policy” and Joe Klein as writing that it was “probably the biggest foreign policy mistake in American history.”

Well, they’re journalists, not historians, but really. How about:

1) The Embargo Act of 1807 that forbade foreign trade. In order to teach the high-handed British and French a lesson, we went to war with ourselves and blockaded our own ports. New England, deeply dependent on trade and shipping (we had the second largest merchant fleet in the world after Britain at that time) was economically devastated. Smuggling over the Canadian border became so commonplace that northern New England was declared to be in a state of insurrection. The British and French just laughed at us. When Napoleon seized American ships in French ports he said he was just helping enforce the embargo act.

2) In 1811 Congress killed the Bank of the United States, the prime borrowing mechanism of the federal government. The next year it declared war on the only power on earth capable of attacking the United States, Great Britain, raised soldiers’ pay and enlistment bonuses, and adjourned without figuring out how to pay for the war. By March 1813, there was not enough money in the treasury to pay government salaries, let alone fight a war, and only when the Secretary of the Treasury went hat in hand to Stephen Girard, the richest man in the country, to beg him to take most of a bond issue, did we raise enough money to carry on. In 1814 the British occupied and burned the nation’s capital.

3) In 1861, an American naval captain seized two Confederate agents off a British-flagged vessel. It was only when Prince Albert — already dying, it was his last good deed — cooled down Lord Palmerston and provided the means for a diplomatic climb down by the U.S. (which Lincoln gratefully grasped — “one war at a time,” he explained) did we avoid a war with Great Britain when we were already fighting for the life of the Union.

4) After World War I, with Europe devastated and the United States by far the strongest economic and financial power in the world, we withdrew and refused to take on the world leadership that only we could provide. But we insisted that the European powers pay back the money they had borrowed, which they could only do by extracting reparations from an already broken Germany. The Great Depression, the rise of the Nazis, and World War II were the result.

Peter Wehner quotes Tom Ricks as writing that the liberation of Iraq was “the biggest mistake in the history of American foreign policy” and Joe Klein as writing that it was “probably the biggest foreign policy mistake in American history.”

Well, they’re journalists, not historians, but really. How about:

1) The Embargo Act of 1807 that forbade foreign trade. In order to teach the high-handed British and French a lesson, we went to war with ourselves and blockaded our own ports. New England, deeply dependent on trade and shipping (we had the second largest merchant fleet in the world after Britain at that time) was economically devastated. Smuggling over the Canadian border became so commonplace that northern New England was declared to be in a state of insurrection. The British and French just laughed at us. When Napoleon seized American ships in French ports he said he was just helping enforce the embargo act.

2) In 1811 Congress killed the Bank of the United States, the prime borrowing mechanism of the federal government. The next year it declared war on the only power on earth capable of attacking the United States, Great Britain, raised soldiers’ pay and enlistment bonuses, and adjourned without figuring out how to pay for the war. By March 1813, there was not enough money in the treasury to pay government salaries, let alone fight a war, and only when the Secretary of the Treasury went hat in hand to Stephen Girard, the richest man in the country, to beg him to take most of a bond issue, did we raise enough money to carry on. In 1814 the British occupied and burned the nation’s capital.

3) In 1861, an American naval captain seized two Confederate agents off a British-flagged vessel. It was only when Prince Albert — already dying, it was his last good deed — cooled down Lord Palmerston and provided the means for a diplomatic climb down by the U.S. (which Lincoln gratefully grasped — “one war at a time,” he explained) did we avoid a war with Great Britain when we were already fighting for the life of the Union.

4) After World War I, with Europe devastated and the United States by far the strongest economic and financial power in the world, we withdrew and refused to take on the world leadership that only we could provide. But we insisted that the European powers pay back the money they had borrowed, which they could only do by extracting reparations from an already broken Germany. The Great Depression, the rise of the Nazis, and World War II were the result.

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Rome and the Romanovs We Are Not

Niall Ferguson delivers a typically well-written and provocative essay in Foreign Affairs: “Complexity and Collapse: Empires on the Edge of Chaos.” But I remain unconvinced. His thesis is essentially threefold. First, that empires can collapse suddenly and unexpectedly without a long period of decline. “A very small trigger,” he writes, “can set off a ‘phase transition’ from a benign equilibrium to a crisis–a single grain of sand causes a whole pile to collapse, or a butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazon and brings about a hurricane in southeastern England.” Second, that “most imperial falls are associated with fiscal crises.” And third, that the United States may be ripe for a sudden collapse because of a crisis of confidence engendered by our ballooning public debt.

Start with the second claim — about the crucial role of fiscal crises in triggering imperial collapse. The list of fallen empires provided by Ferguson actually shows that military defeat (or even an overly costly victory) has far more often been the cause of disaster. Rome was overrun by Barbarian hordes in the 5th century. China was invaded by the Manchus in the 17th century. The Habsburg, Ottoman, and Romanov empires were all defeated in World War I. Britain used up all of its resources — including, most important, its stock of national will to maintain great power status — in winning two world wars. And the Soviet Union collapsed after its defeat in Afghanistan (and also the fall of the Berlin Wall). He might have mentioned, but didn’t, the collapse of the Manchu Dynasty in 1911 following China’s defeats in a long string of conflicts stretching from the Opium Wars in the mid-19th century to the Sino-Japanese War in 1895 and the Boxer Rebellion in 1900.

One can actually quarrel with his premise that all these events can even be characterized as imperial downfalls, since China, Russia, and France (he also cites the French Revolution, which he argues was triggered in part by the financial strain of subsidizing the American Revolution) all expanded after their revolutions under new regimes (Manchus, Soviets, and Napoleon). What about the role of financial insolvency? One can argue that it contributed to the fall of empires in all these cases; but with the possible exception of Britain (which experienced a severe balance-of-payments crisis after 1945), the financial problems were an example of the kind of long-term “decline” identified by Paul Kennedy and dismissed by Ferguson — they were not sudden crisises that destroyed otherwise healthy polities. Moreover, most of the empires he mentions (Britain is the sole exception) experienced debilitating political problems long before their end — most were ruled by increasingly unpopular and illegitimate regimes. The later Roman Empire was a particularly notorious case, with multiple self-proclaimed emperors competing for authority and military coups occurring with monotonous regularity. Does this really characterize America today?

Thus I am skeptical that a sudden loss of confidence in the American economy will lead us to crash and burn, á la Rome and the Romanovs. To be sure, a financial crisis can be costly, even catastrophic — conceivably worse than the events of 2008-09. Such a downturn would undoubtedly be painful, but would it lead to America’s eclipse as a great power? I doubt it, because our fundamentals are so sound: a stable political and legal system; a relatively low level of corruption; an innovative, productive economy; a growing population that is not aging as fast as our major rivals (the EU, Japan, China, Russia); an optimistic and self-confident ethos; the world’s most powerful military; and a bipartisan commitment to preserving American leadership. We are not going the way of Rome anytime soon.

Niall Ferguson delivers a typically well-written and provocative essay in Foreign Affairs: “Complexity and Collapse: Empires on the Edge of Chaos.” But I remain unconvinced. His thesis is essentially threefold. First, that empires can collapse suddenly and unexpectedly without a long period of decline. “A very small trigger,” he writes, “can set off a ‘phase transition’ from a benign equilibrium to a crisis–a single grain of sand causes a whole pile to collapse, or a butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazon and brings about a hurricane in southeastern England.” Second, that “most imperial falls are associated with fiscal crises.” And third, that the United States may be ripe for a sudden collapse because of a crisis of confidence engendered by our ballooning public debt.

Start with the second claim — about the crucial role of fiscal crises in triggering imperial collapse. The list of fallen empires provided by Ferguson actually shows that military defeat (or even an overly costly victory) has far more often been the cause of disaster. Rome was overrun by Barbarian hordes in the 5th century. China was invaded by the Manchus in the 17th century. The Habsburg, Ottoman, and Romanov empires were all defeated in World War I. Britain used up all of its resources — including, most important, its stock of national will to maintain great power status — in winning two world wars. And the Soviet Union collapsed after its defeat in Afghanistan (and also the fall of the Berlin Wall). He might have mentioned, but didn’t, the collapse of the Manchu Dynasty in 1911 following China’s defeats in a long string of conflicts stretching from the Opium Wars in the mid-19th century to the Sino-Japanese War in 1895 and the Boxer Rebellion in 1900.

One can actually quarrel with his premise that all these events can even be characterized as imperial downfalls, since China, Russia, and France (he also cites the French Revolution, which he argues was triggered in part by the financial strain of subsidizing the American Revolution) all expanded after their revolutions under new regimes (Manchus, Soviets, and Napoleon). What about the role of financial insolvency? One can argue that it contributed to the fall of empires in all these cases; but with the possible exception of Britain (which experienced a severe balance-of-payments crisis after 1945), the financial problems were an example of the kind of long-term “decline” identified by Paul Kennedy and dismissed by Ferguson — they were not sudden crisises that destroyed otherwise healthy polities. Moreover, most of the empires he mentions (Britain is the sole exception) experienced debilitating political problems long before their end — most were ruled by increasingly unpopular and illegitimate regimes. The later Roman Empire was a particularly notorious case, with multiple self-proclaimed emperors competing for authority and military coups occurring with monotonous regularity. Does this really characterize America today?

Thus I am skeptical that a sudden loss of confidence in the American economy will lead us to crash and burn, á la Rome and the Romanovs. To be sure, a financial crisis can be costly, even catastrophic — conceivably worse than the events of 2008-09. Such a downturn would undoubtedly be painful, but would it lead to America’s eclipse as a great power? I doubt it, because our fundamentals are so sound: a stable political and legal system; a relatively low level of corruption; an innovative, productive economy; a growing population that is not aging as fast as our major rivals (the EU, Japan, China, Russia); an optimistic and self-confident ethos; the world’s most powerful military; and a bipartisan commitment to preserving American leadership. We are not going the way of Rome anytime soon.

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Boosting Navy Bandwidth

I recall a few years ago visiting an Aegis cruiser, one of the most advanced warships in the world. In its Combat Information Center, sailors can track dozens of targets and coordinate an entire battle group. So it was more than a little jarring to see that the computers that run everything showed glowing green text on black screens. I didn’t realize there were any pre-Windows computers still around. Yet here they were.

Obviously the armed forces need to do a better job of keeping up with new technology—but that’s not so easy to do given loooong procurement cycles and the demands of security and reliability. Vice Admiral Mark Edwards, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Communications Networks, addresses that very challenge in the new issue of the Naval Institute’s invaluable magazine, Proceedings. He notes a shocking statistic:

The two-way communication bandwidth of a single Blackberry is three times greater than the bandwidth of the entire Arleigh Burke [-class, Aegis guided-missile] destroyer. Looked at another way, the Navy’s most modern in-service multi-mission warship has only five percent of the bandwidth we have in our home Internet connection.

The problem is that the Navy is not keeping up with Silicon Valley:

As computing capabilities continue to grow exponentially, the costs of computers, servers, storage, and software are coming down. Across the commercial industry worldwide, IT budgets are actually declining as capacity goes up. But in the Navy, the opposite is taking place . . . . Moreover, every system we field takes nearly seven years to reach the Fleet. By the time it gets to the people who need it, it is already out of date. There is no agility or flexibility in our IT.

The answer, he argues, is to switch from “closed” to “open” IT architecture. That is, to end the current practice of buying from “only a few vendors who build highly integrated systems—where the software and hardware are tightly coupled and where interoperability between two or more systems is gained only by building costly middleware.” Instead, “[w]e have to . . . separate our data, hardware, and applications. We need a network architecture that is agile and can be upgraded rapidly. It must be flexible, with the ability to accommodate the expected exponential increase in demand.”

Easier said than done. The idea of an “open” architecture based on commonly available software runs counter to a long-standing military mentality. I am glad to see that Admiral Edwards is implementing reforms in the Navy, but I suspect it will be a long, costly process that is sure to be resisted by more than a few bureaucrats.

And, of course, these problems aren’t limited to the Navy. All of the armed forces rely for the most part on highly specialized, one-of-a-kind computer systems that take far too long and cost far too much to field. Addressing this problem will be crucial for maintaining America’s military edge in the 21st century. For as the Economist put it (in a line quoted by Edwards): “If Napoleon’s armies marched on their stomachs, American ones march on bandwidth.”

I recall a few years ago visiting an Aegis cruiser, one of the most advanced warships in the world. In its Combat Information Center, sailors can track dozens of targets and coordinate an entire battle group. So it was more than a little jarring to see that the computers that run everything showed glowing green text on black screens. I didn’t realize there were any pre-Windows computers still around. Yet here they were.

Obviously the armed forces need to do a better job of keeping up with new technology—but that’s not so easy to do given loooong procurement cycles and the demands of security and reliability. Vice Admiral Mark Edwards, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Communications Networks, addresses that very challenge in the new issue of the Naval Institute’s invaluable magazine, Proceedings. He notes a shocking statistic:

The two-way communication bandwidth of a single Blackberry is three times greater than the bandwidth of the entire Arleigh Burke [-class, Aegis guided-missile] destroyer. Looked at another way, the Navy’s most modern in-service multi-mission warship has only five percent of the bandwidth we have in our home Internet connection.

The problem is that the Navy is not keeping up with Silicon Valley:

As computing capabilities continue to grow exponentially, the costs of computers, servers, storage, and software are coming down. Across the commercial industry worldwide, IT budgets are actually declining as capacity goes up. But in the Navy, the opposite is taking place . . . . Moreover, every system we field takes nearly seven years to reach the Fleet. By the time it gets to the people who need it, it is already out of date. There is no agility or flexibility in our IT.

The answer, he argues, is to switch from “closed” to “open” IT architecture. That is, to end the current practice of buying from “only a few vendors who build highly integrated systems—where the software and hardware are tightly coupled and where interoperability between two or more systems is gained only by building costly middleware.” Instead, “[w]e have to . . . separate our data, hardware, and applications. We need a network architecture that is agile and can be upgraded rapidly. It must be flexible, with the ability to accommodate the expected exponential increase in demand.”

Easier said than done. The idea of an “open” architecture based on commonly available software runs counter to a long-standing military mentality. I am glad to see that Admiral Edwards is implementing reforms in the Navy, but I suspect it will be a long, costly process that is sure to be resisted by more than a few bureaucrats.

And, of course, these problems aren’t limited to the Navy. All of the armed forces rely for the most part on highly specialized, one-of-a-kind computer systems that take far too long and cost far too much to field. Addressing this problem will be crucial for maintaining America’s military edge in the 21st century. For as the Economist put it (in a line quoted by Edwards): “If Napoleon’s armies marched on their stomachs, American ones march on bandwidth.”

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A Wonderful Essay…

…by James Wood, writing in the New Yorker about the new translation of War and Peace, which captures with gorgeous urgency the extraordinary contradictions of Tolstoy’s vision and finds the friction they generate one of the causes of the book’s unsurpassed evocation and replication of life itself in fictional prose:

The irony is that this novel about great egotists and solipsists (Pierre and Andrei are just the chief representatives), written by perhaps the greatest egotist ever to put pen to paper, is a cannon aimed directly at the egotism of Napoleon. As a result, Tolstoy the novelist, whenever he describes Napoleon dramatically, cannot help crediting the very vitality that Tolstoy the Russian patriot hates.

This is one of Wood’s finest pieces, which is saying a lot.

…by James Wood, writing in the New Yorker about the new translation of War and Peace, which captures with gorgeous urgency the extraordinary contradictions of Tolstoy’s vision and finds the friction they generate one of the causes of the book’s unsurpassed evocation and replication of life itself in fictional prose:

The irony is that this novel about great egotists and solipsists (Pierre and Andrei are just the chief representatives), written by perhaps the greatest egotist ever to put pen to paper, is a cannon aimed directly at the egotism of Napoleon. As a result, Tolstoy the novelist, whenever he describes Napoleon dramatically, cannot help crediting the very vitality that Tolstoy the Russian patriot hates.

This is one of Wood’s finest pieces, which is saying a lot.

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“The Smartest People on Earth”

Are Mainland Chinese becoming anti-Semitic?

The question arises because one of the hottest books in China is Song Hongbing’s Currency Wars. According to Song, the owners of international capital create financial crises, start wars, degrade the environment, and control the world. These financiers are responsible for the defeat of Napoleon, the deaths of half a dozen American presidents, the rise of Hitler, and the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997. All of this, Song contends, is ultimately tied back to the Rothschilds. Worrying theory, no?

“The Chinese people think that the Jews are smart and rich, so we should learn from them,” says the American-educated Song. “Even me, I think they are really smart, maybe the smartest people on earth.” That perception helps explain why there are an estimated 200,000 copies of the book, published by a commercial arm of the Chinese government, and another 400,000 pirated versions floating around the Mainland today. Worse, senior leaders in Beijing are lapping up Song’s theories.

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Are Mainland Chinese becoming anti-Semitic?

The question arises because one of the hottest books in China is Song Hongbing’s Currency Wars. According to Song, the owners of international capital create financial crises, start wars, degrade the environment, and control the world. These financiers are responsible for the defeat of Napoleon, the deaths of half a dozen American presidents, the rise of Hitler, and the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997. All of this, Song contends, is ultimately tied back to the Rothschilds. Worrying theory, no?

“The Chinese people think that the Jews are smart and rich, so we should learn from them,” says the American-educated Song. “Even me, I think they are really smart, maybe the smartest people on earth.” That perception helps explain why there are an estimated 200,000 copies of the book, published by a commercial arm of the Chinese government, and another 400,000 pirated versions floating around the Mainland today. Worse, senior leaders in Beijing are lapping up Song’s theories.

China’s Communist Party has long persecuted the few Jews in the Mainland, but that was part of a broader effort to eradicate religion. Today, Christians and the Buddhist-inspired Falun Gong bear the brunt of Beijing’s wrath. Most analysts note the lack of an anti-Semitic tradition in Chinese history and a strong admiration for Jewish culture and accomplishment, as Song’s own words reveal. Shalom Salomon Wald, author of China and the Jewish People, believes that the Chinese find common cause with the Jews, as both of them were the subject of persecution. Moreover, most sons and daughters of the Yellow Emperor admire other peoples with old cultures, and many Chinese perceive that the two oldest belong to them and the descendants of Abraham.

Even with these mitigating factors taken into account, Song’s book (which manages to be zany and offensive at the same time) is a manifestation of a worrying trend. Many Chinese at this moment perceive that others are conspiring to contain their nation’s rise. Song, after all, has written a self-help manual to deal with American efforts to force a revaluation of the renminbi, the Chinese currency. Chinese nationalism has turned especially ugly in recent years, and any conspiracy theory—even ones not grounded in malice—could be used to justify the most reprehensible conduct.

“The Chinese believe the Jews are a big people. It makes no sense to tell them we’re not,” says Wald. “It also doesn’t help to tell them this is anti-Semitic.” He may be correct, but it is perfectly logical to tell the Chinese that they shouldn’t adopt crank theories of history—and they should stop blaming other peoples, including ones they may otherwise admire.

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Stolen by Stalin

A new chapter is about to begin in the story of art looting during World War II. Up until now, attention has centered on the Nazis’ systematic, pitiless theft of art treasures from occupied countries and from Jews destined for extermination camps. The return of this art to its rightful owners is no simple matter, especially where entire families have vanished; not until last year, for example, did the Belvedere in Vienna return to Maria Altmann the five Gustav Klimt paintings that had been extorted from her uncle in 1938. (The most ravishing of these, the portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, subsequently was sold to Ronald S. Lauder, the cosmetics tycoon, for $135 million.) The critical success of the 2006 documentary The Rape of Europa, which looked both at art theft and recovery efforts, shows that public interest remains strong.

Less well-known is that, at the close of the war, Germany’s art treasures were plundered just as ruthlessly and (perhaps) just as systematically. On the part of the western allies, this consisted of individual thievery, such as the American army lieutenant who stole $200 million worth of art treasures from the cathedral of Quedlinburg. On the part of the Soviet Union, however, art plunder was conducted as a matter of state policy, and viewed as the legitimate spoils of war. Some 180,000 items were lost, chiefly to the Soviet Union, and now Germany has at last begun to ask, quietly and discreetly, for the return of that art.

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A new chapter is about to begin in the story of art looting during World War II. Up until now, attention has centered on the Nazis’ systematic, pitiless theft of art treasures from occupied countries and from Jews destined for extermination camps. The return of this art to its rightful owners is no simple matter, especially where entire families have vanished; not until last year, for example, did the Belvedere in Vienna return to Maria Altmann the five Gustav Klimt paintings that had been extorted from her uncle in 1938. (The most ravishing of these, the portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, subsequently was sold to Ronald S. Lauder, the cosmetics tycoon, for $135 million.) The critical success of the 2006 documentary The Rape of Europa, which looked both at art theft and recovery efforts, shows that public interest remains strong.

Less well-known is that, at the close of the war, Germany’s art treasures were plundered just as ruthlessly and (perhaps) just as systematically. On the part of the western allies, this consisted of individual thievery, such as the American army lieutenant who stole $200 million worth of art treasures from the cathedral of Quedlinburg. On the part of the Soviet Union, however, art plunder was conducted as a matter of state policy, and viewed as the legitimate spoils of war. Some 180,000 items were lost, chiefly to the Soviet Union, and now Germany has at last begun to ask, quietly and discreetly, for the return of that art.

The key player is the SPK, or Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation (Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz). The SPK is the steward for the art and culture for the former state of Prussia, from which the lion’s share of the missing art was taken. Since official requests for the return of the art have been fruitless, the SPK has sought to appeal to the Russian public directly. It is publishing six catalogues of the missing art, hoping to call attention to the missing work, and perhaps to prompt owners of individual items to come forward. The first catalogue is devoted to sculpture and lists 1,611 items—which, if recovered, “would represent one of the most important sculptural collections of Europe.”

It is understandable that it has taken so long for Germany to assert its claim to its lost art. Until 1990, there was no unified German state to make a claim, nor was the German Democratic Republic in a position to make demands of the Soviet Union. Moreover, there was a widespread feeling that these cultural losses were justifiable reparations for the unimaginable barbarity of the war Germany had launched. To demand the missing art would have been out of keeping with the self-abnegating sensibility of postwar Germany.

But recently, a different historical perspective has emerged. The unofficial taboo against dwelling on the sufferings of the German people during the war gradually lifted, and on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the end of the war, the German media gave extraordinary coverage to the suffering of the German refugees from the east. Such an elegiac sensibility is not all that different from that in the United States, where World War II is now receding from living memory into history. In Germany, however, this new cultural assertiveness seems a sign that the upcoming generation will not be restrained by the war guilt that has played a major role in European affairs for the past half century.

It is particularly ironic that stolen Prussian art should again incite brooding over German nationhood. Much of this same art was already looted once before, under Napoleon, who shipped it westward rather than eastward. Although Napoleon seized merely the private collection of the Prussian king, that art was transformed, by the ensuing swell of German patriotism, into national cultural patrimony. Berlin’s Altes Museum was built to house the collection, which became the basis of one of the world’s first public art museums. One can admire the scrupulous and poignant inventory of lost art treasures that the SPK has now compiled, even while recognizing that some of its distant political ramifications are unsettling, or even incendiary.

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One Step Back, Two Steps Forward

An interesting article appeared in the Sunday New York Times updating developments in Basra. Things are not going so well in this large city in southern Iraq, where various Shiite militias are battling one another for control of political power, oil, and various criminal enterprises.

The British had prided themselves for years on having a better approach than their more heavy-handed American counterparts to counterinsurgency, but, lo and behold, four years into the war, the trends seem more positive in Anbar than in Basra.

What went wrong?

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An interesting article appeared in the Sunday New York Times updating developments in Basra. Things are not going so well in this large city in southern Iraq, where various Shiite militias are battling one another for control of political power, oil, and various criminal enterprises.

The British had prided themselves for years on having a better approach than their more heavy-handed American counterparts to counterinsurgency, but, lo and behold, four years into the war, the trends seem more positive in Anbar than in Basra.

What went wrong?

A recent military visitor from Iraq posited that the British tried a mild peacekeeping approach in an environment that instead called for a tough counterinsurgency strategy. As the Times’s Stephen Ferrell notes, “the British-led coalition forces have adopted a far less aggressive and interventionist stance than American troops have farther north.” That approach seemed to work initially because there wasn’t much violence, but it came at a cost. As Farrell writes, “critics accuse the British of simply allowing the Shiite militias free rein to carry out their intolerant Islamist agenda, which involved killing merchants who sell alcohol, driving out Christians and infiltrating state institutions and the security forces.”

Now the militias are feeling their oats and the British are feeling under siege. The palace in Basra that serves as their headquarters has become one of the most-mortared positions in all of Iraq—according to the Times, the troopers call it the “worst palace in the world.”

The British difficulties have been exacerbated by their well-publicized decision to reduce their troop levels in Iraq, and to pull back from the center of Basra to a compound located outside of town. Far from placating the armed gangs, the British decision has only emboldened them. Everyone, it seems, is determined to get a last lick in—no doubt trying to establish “anti-colonial” bona fides in the coming struggle for power.

There is a lesson to be learned here by advocates of an American troop drawdown. Even if the drawdown were to be only partial, it could easily get out of hand by creating the perception that we’re on the way out and can be attacked with impunity. As Napoleon said, “In war, moral considerations account for three-quarters, the actual balance of forces only for the other quarter.” If we set a withdrawal timetable, the moral balance will tip against us even faster than the actual balance of forces—with deadly consequences.

We can avoid that problem by sticking with the “surge,” which, as another Times article notes, is working. This one is an op-ed written by Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution, who have just returned from Iraq with a glowing report on all the progress that General David Petraeus and his soldiers are making. Pollack and O’Hanlon echo the sense of cautious optimism that I have been feeling for the past several months. That’s pretty significant coming from two Democratic analysts who, as they note, “have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq.”

A White House official has labeled their article “significant, and possibly climate-changing.” Let’s hope that’s the case.

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Short Takes

Back during the cold war, there was a joke about the New York Times that I believe antedated the coining of the term “political correctness.” A U.S.-Soviet exchange of nuclear missiles occurs and the next morning’s Times headline reads:

“Third World War Breaks Out: Minorities and Women to Suffer Most.”

As if determined not to allow parody to outdo self-parody, the Times on Sunday (April 1, appropriately) ran this headline: “Poorest Nations Will Bear Brunt as World Warms.” For my part, I would settle for being able to rely on the accuracy of the paper’s version of yesterday’s events, never mind tomorrow’s.

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Back during the cold war, there was a joke about the New York Times that I believe antedated the coining of the term “political correctness.” A U.S.-Soviet exchange of nuclear missiles occurs and the next morning’s Times headline reads:

“Third World War Breaks Out: Minorities and Women to Suffer Most.”

As if determined not to allow parody to outdo self-parody, the Times on Sunday (April 1, appropriately) ran this headline: “Poorest Nations Will Bear Brunt as World Warms.” For my part, I would settle for being able to rely on the accuracy of the paper’s version of yesterday’s events, never mind tomorrow’s.

* * *

Besides, isn’t warmth good for poor people whose utility bills are often onerous and who, in less developed countries, burn a lot of stuff for heat, producing smoke that creates, ah, global warming? Apparently, I have this all wrong, because on Monday, the Washington Post ran this headline: “Russia Sees Ill Effects of ‘General Winter’s’ Retreat.” That’s right. Russia will be worse off if it gets warmer. After all, if Napoleon tries to occupy the country again, there will be nothing to stop him (except that French troops seem to have lost some of their fearsomeness since his day). Plus, there will be no more excuse for vodka with breakfast (except, perhaps, that your president is Putin).

* * *

I am in receipt of an invitation from the president of the famous Oxford Union, asking if I would come to that apex of British scholarship to debate the motion: “This house regrets the founding of the United States of America.” Well, duh! We won that war. You lost. Of course you regret it.

* * *

Also in Monday’s Washington Post Robert Novak touts the presidential candidacy of Fred Thompson. Novak writes: “Sophisticated social conservative activists tell me . . . their appreciation of him stems not from his eight years as a U.S. senator from Tennessee but from his role as Manhattan district attorney on the TV series ‘Law and Order.’” Who are the unsophisticated activists supporting—Barney?

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