29.9.06

THE SECOND DRAFT OF HISTORY? I'm more familiar with John Keegan's work on naval warfare and the European wars of the early twentieth century, where he's producing the nth draft for n large. Mr Keegan is defence editor of The Daily Telegraph and in The Iraq War he makes extensive use of his colleague's first drafts as well as his own files on the travails of Mesopotamia. For Book Review No. 33 let me note that a work released early in 2004, and relying heavily on a July interview with U.S. General Tommy Franks is one that will likely be overtaken by events as the third and fourth drafts of history take shape in the War Colleges and history departments over the next few years. The parts that deal with the history of Mesopotamia as something called Iraq took shape, and the emergence of Saddam Hussein as Maximum Leader are instructive, as is the analysis of the major combat operations, where the adjective "mysterious" is often apt.

The concluding paragraphs are likely to occupy policy analysts for some time. The final event before the book went to press is the suicide of British scientist David Kelly, whose comments on possible weapons of mass destruction might have involved statements about material he was not cleared for. That episode was the harbinger of the second-guessing and recriminations to follow. Mr Keegan suggests we might have much worse to look forward to.
Thus the certainties that had inaugurated the brief and brilliant campaign to overthrow the tyranny of Saddam Hussein petered out in recrimination. Objectively the world was undoubtedly a safer place as the result of his downfall, besides being morally purged of one of the most wicked dictators of modern times. Subjectively it was even more divided than it had been when the 'war on terror' was undertaken after the atrocity of 11 September 2001. The Muslim world in general, the Arab world in particular was confirmed in its grievances, particularly that the West was prepared to use its overwhelming military superiority to keep Muslims subordinate. 'Europe', the Europe of the Franco-German plan to create a federal union strong enough to stand on terms of equality with the United States as a world power, had been humiliated by the failure of its efforts to avert the war. Liberal opinion, dominant throughout the European media and academia, strong also in their American equivalents, was outraged by the spectacle of raw military force supplanting reason and legality as the means by which relations between states are ordered.

Reality is an uncomfortable companion, particularly to people of good will. George H. W. Bush's proclamation of a new world order had persuaded too many in the West that the world's future could be managed within a legal framework, by discussion and conciliation. The warnings uttered by his son that the United States was determined to bring other enemies of nuclear and regional stability to book -- Iran, North Korea -- was found by his political opponents profoundly unsettling. The reality of the Iraq campaign of March-April 2003 is, however, a better guide to what needs to be done to secure the safety of our world than any amount of law-making or treaty-writing can offer.
Alas, a second draft of history may not be indicative of future developments.

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