Andrew Roberts: His advice to Bush

Historians in the News

Anyone who thinks President George W. Bush is spending sleepless nights worrying about the machinations of the Democratic Congress, or figuring out how a lame duck president can limp from the political battlefield with honor intact, had better think again. And anyone who likes to regale his friends with references to that illiterate cowboy in the White House is due for some considerable embarrassment when the nonpartisan studies of the Bush years begin to hit the bookshops.

Those are two of the conclusions I reached watching the president in action at a luncheon--more accurately, a seminar--he convened last week to discuss the most recent of the many histories he has read, Andrew Roberts's splendid History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900, a tome that picks up where Winston Churchill's four volumes on the subject left off. Among those joining the president and Roberts at last week's White House lunch were the distinguished Victorian historian Gertrude Himmelfarb, neocon intellectual Norman Podhoretz, Paul Gigot, editor of the Wall Street Journal's influential editorial page, theologian Michael Novak, and a smattering of journalists....

[Roberts's advice to President Bush?] First: Do not set a deadline for withdrawal. That led to the slaughter of 700,000 to 1 million people in India, with the killing beginning one minute after the midnight deadline. Bush wondered if there are examples of occupying forces remaining for long periods of time, other than in Korea. Malaysia, said Roberts, where it took nine years to defeat the Communists, after which the occupying troops remained for several years. And Algeria, added Bush, citing Alistair Horne's A Savage War of Peace for the proposition that more Algerians were killed after the French withdrawal than during the French occupation.

Second lesson: Will trumps wealth. The Romans, the tsars, and other rich world powers fell to poorer ones because they lacked the will to fight and survive. Whereas World War II was almost over before Americans saw the first picture of a dead soldier, today the steady drumbeat of media pessimism and television coverage are sapping the West's will.

Third lesson: Don't hesitate to intern our enemies for long, indefinite periods of time. That policy worked in Ireland and during World War II. Release should only follow victory.

Lesson four: Cling to the alliance of the English-speaking peoples. Although many nations have joined the coalition in Iraq and Afghanistan, troops from Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand are doing the heavy lifting. U.S. policy supporting the European constitution, and closer involvement of Britain in the E.U., should be reversed. Had there been a European constitution, Britain "would have been unable to help you in Iraq."

Fifth lesson: We are fighting an enemy that cannot be appeased; were that possible, the French would already have done it--a Roberts quip that elicited a loud chuckle from the president.

The closing note was a more serious one. Roberts said that history would judge the president on whether he had prevented the nuclearization of the Middle East. If Iran gets the bomb, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and other countries will follow. "That is why I am so pleased to be sitting here rather than in your chair, Mr. President." There was no response, other than a serious frown and a nod....
Read entire article at Irwin Stelzer in the Weekly Standard

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