Wednesday, June 10, 2009

"Washington's War" by Michael Rose [4]


The rest of this book is nothing more than a polemic against the Iraq War, with a faint whiff of anti-Muslim bigotry which never really comes out from the shadows to show its' true face. That should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Rose's earlier writings on his time in Bosnia; nor should anyone be shocked that he is against vigorous military action against terrorism and the regimes which support it. Because Rose has written more directly about Bosnia, I will not go any further with my review of this book, other than a brief consideration of the Introduction.

This book is almost painful to read, because Rose is determined to find parallels between the American War of Independence and the current Iraq War regardless of how poorly the facts of history and todays' headlines fit his preconceived interpretation. Rose gets a lot of very basic things wrong over and over again, which makes it all the easier to uncover his motives for writing this book.

His assertion that the government of King George III failed to fully exploit divisions within colonial society early in the conflict because he and his advisers were too arrogant might have some limited validity (even if Rose ignores the hierarchical nature of 18th Century society--the paternalism of King George III was a feature, not a bug) but I do not find his comparison to the sectarian divisions in Iraq at all convincing. However, I do give Rose credit for his observation that the Americans failed by recognizing and dealing with three groups (Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds), a decision which forced Iraqis to chose an "ethnic" identity and which empowered sectarian leaders. However, I strongly reject his assertion that the proper response would have been to divide Iraq along multiple tribal, social, ethnic, and religious lines.

Like many Balkan revisionists, Rose seems to be a moral relativist who believes that there are no universal human rights. Furthermore, for all his pretensions to a sophisticated analysis of Iraq social and cultural divisions, he seems to regard the "Muslim world" as uniform and monolithic. He also enjoys attacking strawmen:

"In the same way that George III thought civilized society was only possible under royal protection, today President Bush and Prime Minister Blair believe that civilized society can only properly flourish where conditions of democracy and freedom exist."

This is simply not true--I cannot imagine Tony Blair being daft enough to believe that "civilization" is only a product of Western-style liberal democracy. Nor do I believe that he or Bush have ever declared that Iraq was not a civilized country. It is true that both men professed a belief in the universal worth of democracy and freedom, and that they believed that a more democratic world would ultimately be a more peaceful world; but again, this is different than the words Rose is in effect putting in their mouths.

Here is what Rose claims "Muslims" (he does not differentiate between any of the more than 1 billion Muslims on the planet in this argument) believe is necessary for "civilization":

"They do not believe that Western liberal-style democracy is necessary to their personal fulfilment or to good governance--since these can best be obtained through adherence to their religion, family and tribe, and obedience to their hereditary ruler."

And so on. Rose briefly states that Iraqis would not tolerate a lengthy occupation of their country because "Iraq contains some of the most holy Islamic sites after Mecca and Medina," yet he fails to consider that most people in most countries would chafe at an occupation by a foreign power; he also fails to note that some of those holy Islamic sites have been damaged by terror attacks by other Muslims. Blaming America for Al Qaeda attacks on Shiite holy sites seems more than merely oversimplifying, to be kind.

Rose argues that the American failure to mobilize local support in Iraq (how this would be possible since all Muslims automatically reject our alien Western notions of freedom is not clear) to the British failure to mobilize loyalist militias in the colonies, an assertion that conveniently ignores how pitiful the performance of patriot militias was. Why Rose feels that hypothetical Tory militias would have been more successful when they didn't even have the advantages that patriot militias mostly failed to utilize very successfully is not clear.

And so it goes. This is a dreary book full of bad history and simple-minded, disingenuous analysis. And subsequent events seem to have passed Rose by--Iraq has not descended into full-scale civil war, the Iraqis have largely rejected Islamic extremism, and the state--although fragile--seems to have a future. There is no need to surrender in Iraq, no matter how much Rose seems to want it. Rose's attempts to compare the American Revolution to the thuggish reign of terror imposed on Iraq by a motley collection of sectarian militias and terrorist groups seeking to take advantage of the collapse of a corrupt state and the initial failure of the occupiers to account for that power vacuum are clumsy, informed by suspect motives, and happily seems to be sliding into irrelevance.


shaina said...

Off topic from the direct subject (sorry about that)

don't know if there is an english translation available, but looks at least interesting to at least it give in a try?

Anonymous said...

This comparison and Rose's analogy-drawing sound rather superficial. Sometimes Kirk I have this image of you doing a Supersize Me on our behalf, ingesting junk books on our behalf as a sort of health warning!

Daniel said...

Most human beings are controlled by their own emotions and they tend to generalize. What distinguishes smart individual from a complete fool is the ability not to jump into conclussions. In this regard, Michael Rose is a complete failure.

There cannot be comparison between King George III's 18 century and Iraq's 21 century. This simply does not make any sense.

Rose reminds me of religious fanatics who compare the period of Muhammad (who started Islam) some 1500 years ago, with our modern time (21 century). We simply cannot apply our 21 century standards with the standards practiced by tribes who married young girls some 1500, or 2000, or 5000 years ago. Does that make any sense?

General Michael Rose... he is simply not a smart person. He wrote that book for fun, he had nothing better to do.

For a change, I wish people like Kirk and Owen would write a book. I learned a LOT from this blog and, I have to admit, I learned a lot from all of you.

PS: Kirk, you should trully consider writing a book (on any subject that you like). You're smart, you are intelligent, and your book would be a valuable contribution to humanity. Think about it.

Katja R. said...

Gen Rose is not a good person and he did a bad job.