Heeding British ghosts

Boston Globe
by H.D.S. Greenway

06/06/06

When President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair met recently to discuss what looks increasingly like a losing war in Iraq, there were ghosts at the table -- ghosts of Britain's previous efforts to tame that untamable land. Americans are notorious for ignoring historical precedents because they believe in American exceptionalism to such a degree that what befell other countries in the past can have no relevance to the present or the future. I once asked an American general in Vietnam if he had read anything about the French experience in Indochina, and he said there was no point because the French had lost and, therefore, had nothing to teach us. But the fate of the British in Iraq after the First World War, when they cobbled together three provinces from the old Ottoman Empire, has ironies piled upon ironies for both Britons and Americans. ... As it was with the Americans more than 80 years later, the British never seemed to get their act together...

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