Monday, February 06, 2012

Niall Ferguson, enthusiast for the Iraq war, wants another preemptive strike

Niall Ferguson is out with a 6-point brief in favor of bombing Iran's nuclear installations that James Fallows calls "the stupidest arguments for going to war with Iran." Ferguson's piece really is a paper-thin (and pathologically callous) dismissal of everything that could go wrong for the west and the world after such an attack -- flicking off the warnings of such patsies as former Mossad chief Meir Dagan with flip ripostes such as: 
The eruption of the entire Muslim world. All the crocodiles of Africa could not equal the fake tears that will be shed by the Sunni powers of the region if Iran’s nuclear ambitions are checked.
For Dagan, the "eruption" of Hamas and Hezbollah with Iran-supplied rockets is itself enough to outweigh the risk of trying other means of deterrence.  And perhaps Ferguson's noticed that  "Sunni powers" are not exactly a slam-dunk these days for containing the eruptions of their people.

For those who feel themselves swept along by such confident-sounding bluster, it's worth revisiting Ferguson's advice to Americans, freighted with his admittedly encyclopediac knowledge of European history, as the Bush administration geared up to attack Iraq in December 2002.  Purporting to adapt Clauswitz's diplomacy-by-other-means approach to war to the contemporary "war on terror", Ferguson exhorted the U.S. to follow a jolly good precedent and use war liberally:

So how will the exponents of traditional war - nation states like our own - impose their will on the exponents of the new DIY war?

Up to a point, we can respond in ways Clausewitz would have recognised. Terrorism is a global phenomenon and so, necessarily, is the war against it. However, intervention to impose the rule of law on the rogue and distant seedbeds of terror is far from an unrealistic project. That was precisely what the Victorians excelled at.

Like the US today, Britain led the world economically, technologically and militarily (or at least navally).

Moreover, we were not afraid to use power to topple what we considered rogue regimes. For example: the annihilation of the Sudanese Mahdists, Islamic fundamentalists whose killing of General Gordon at Khartoum in 1895 was a Victorian 9/11. In all, there were 72 separate British military campaigns in the course of Queen Victoria’s reign. Nearly all of these took place thousands of miles away from the British Isles. The essence of global policing was - and remains - Remote War.

Such constant interventions in faraway countries might seem to hold limited appeal for Americans. But it worked for Britain. After Napoleon, the 19th century saw fewer, shorter and smaller wars than the preceding three centuries, not to mention the one that followed. The existence of a military "hyperpower" that really means business - ie, that is able and willing to use its superior force - may in fact be better for world peace than any number of international treaties. Threaten war, and suddenly weapons inspectors are back in Iraq. Carry out the threat, and the Taliban regime is history. That is the Clausewitzian "continuation of politics" with a vengeance.
Note the sleights of hand here. Attacking Iraq as a "seedbed" of terror is an appropriate response to the threat posed by al Qaeda (subject of the paragraphs immediately preceding those cited above). Britain's constant military campaigns in the colonial periphery kept great power war in check.  "Carrying out the threat" against Saddam will be as easy as doing so against the Taliban (regarding which our Clausewitz 's judgment was a tad premature).  And of course, British imperialism in the nineteenth and early twentieth century provides the very model for American conduct in the 21st. 

As Andrew Sullivan never tires of pointing out, the neocons who beat the drum loudest for the Iraq invasion evince no doubt, no shame, no capacity for imagining the carnage and chaos they are calling for as they push for another preemptive strike on a nation triple the size of Iraq.  They should not even rate detailed rebuttal. Their past folly disqualifies them.

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