Blogs > Cliopatria > Lee P. Ruddin: Review of Michael Rose's Washington's War: From Independence to Iraq (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2007)

May 18, 2007 9:21 pm


Lee P. Ruddin: Review of Michael Rose's Washington's War: From Independence to Iraq (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2007)



Once upon a time there was a great nation… But its tranquillity was disturbed by a group of bloody-minded radicals in a remote corner of the world who resented its hegemony, denied the legitimacy of its rule, and rose in rebellion. The government believed that these trouble-makers could be easily dealt with by firm military action…

Unfortunately… the government in question ‘failed to develop a sufficiently coherent military strategy or even commit sufficient resources to winning the campaign’. Its ministers attempted, from a distance of 3,000 miles, to direct operations in a country… ‘of which they have so little knowledge as not to be able to distinguish between good and bad interested advice’.

At home in the metropolis, opposition to the war, at first silent for fear of appearing unpatriotic and unsupportive of the armies in the field, gradually became more vocal.

Yes, it is the American War of Independence… the analogy with the war that the United States has been waging in Iraq… is too close to be ignored, and this is the central theme of the book. -- Foreword by Michael Howard

Between the New Statesman and the New York Review of Books we have been force-fed a drip of historical nourishment as a course of action to combat the ills (follies) of today.

Ever since September 11, 2001 and increasingly more so post-Iraq, from Borders to the blogosphere we have experienced a tsunami-like tidal wave of historical parallels with the present: whether it be Vietnam and Iraq; history of American regime change; American post-war administration in Germany/Japan; British rule in Egypt/Iraq; British neo-conservatism; Western powers and Islamofascism; and, of a more personal level, history of presidential rhetoric.

Such is the wherewithal of analogy-thinking that Robert Kaplan has penned an article in the Atlantic Monthly entitled: Foreign Policy: Munich Versus Vietnam. At the outset, Kaplan notes that, “For decades now, two analogies have battled for supremacy in American foreign policy circles:  those of Munch and Vietnam. At the moment, Vietnam has the upper-hand. But don’t count Munich out.”

The latest historical treatment prescribed is British General Michael Rose’s Washington’s War: From Independence to Iraq.      

Seven points are worth illuminating:

1. “Both were wars of choice and both wars sprang from competing ideologies. 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” (p.13).

2. “When the American colonists were faced with extinction by the French and Indians in the middle of the eighteenth century, they were grateful for British military protection. However, when that threat disappeared in 1763… the colonists no longer wanted British troops garrisoning their towns… What had originally been a welcome army of protection quickly became an occupying force… In the same way, the people of present-day Iraq, who were so grateful to the Coalition forces for the removal of Saddam Hussein, rapidly turned against them…” (pp.14-15). 

3. “During the American War of Independence, the British were never able to properly support the loyalists. Similarly, following the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Coalition forces have never been able to provide sufficient protection… One can compare Rumsfeld’s decision to disband the Iraqi police and army with the British failure to organize the loyalist militias in North America, for both occurrences led to a critical shortage of troops… At a strategic level, the British had committed themselves to an unwinnable war––just as the Americans were to do two and a quarter centuries later” (pp.21-23).

4. George Washington “was to obtain his technical expertise in gunnery and combat engineering from the French, just as the Iraqi insurgents today obtain their technical expertise from sympathizers abroad… (p.24) Benjamin Franklin, who was Congress’s ambassador in Paris, was able to collect much useful intelligence about future British intentions from… the French government” (p.85).

5. “…the destruction of Fallujah in 2004 probably represented as great a strategic disaster for the Americans as the destruction of Fairfield and Newhaven had been for the British during the American War of Independence… In doctrinal terms, it has become aligned to the policy advocated by George III in 1777 when he advised that greater brutality by the British Army in North America would ‘bring the Americans in a temper to accept such terms as may enable the mother country to keep them in order’” (p.154).

6. “Withdrawal is not a question of defeat; it is merely recognition, as the British realized in North America in the eighteenth century, that the original objections can no longer be achieved… The decision to withdraw was a bitter pill for George III and his war cabinet to swallow… In the event, Britain quickly recovered its position, and all fears of anarchy and chaos occurring in the former colonies in North America proved groundless… In the same way, the withdrawal of the US occupation force from Iraq should be seen in the context of the war against global terror. After the battle of Yorktown in 1781, Britain recognized that a position had been reached when to continue with the war was wholly counter-productive to its wider strategic goals. The same position has now been reached… by the US in Iraq. The outcome of a withdrawal from Iraq may not necessarily be the doomsday scenario that those opposing it suggest. The gloomy predictions about what would happen in Vietnam when the Americans withdrew were similarly confounded when the so-called domino theory failed to materialize” (p.200).

7. Why is GW43 (George Walker Bush) unable to combat GW1’s (George Washington) strategy? “… unlike his forty-third successor, George Washington was able to combine his idealism with practical military experience––for when Virginia had been threatened by the French during the Seven Years War, Washington had volunteered for military duty. As a result, he had been able to see at first hand how the Indians employed guerrilla tactics against the British regular troops. He had begun to understand the essentials of insurgency warfare. If George Bush had felt the same sense of duty as his predecessor and had himself experienced military service in Vietnam, then he too might have better appreciated the sort of war that he was committing his nation to in Iraq…” (p.27).    

After reading the 200 pages-plus hardback I thought it meaningful to pop-down to London for an evening with former British Ambassador to the US, Sir Christopher Meyer (now head of the Press Complaints Commission). At the outset of his lecture delivered at the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy (CISD)––housed at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS, University of London)––Meyer hinted towards his philosophy à propos the publication of Rose-like texts: deeming it erroneous to prohibit criticism of Anglo-American strategy for fear of letting the enemy in. The Q&A session was colonized by all talk of “national interest” and “diplomacy” leading me to question whether it was both in the national interest and diplomatic for General Sir Michael Rose to have published such a pernicious pamphlet (not to mention him causing a major stink with remarks made to the BBC’s flagship programme Newsnight). Meyer’s rejoinder was rather disdainful for such an enquiry “touched a raw nerve”––unsurprisingly, for he is the current chair of the PCC––feeling the need to reaffirm that Michael Rose is a “respected and forthright individual.”


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