Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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October 24, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

EMPIRE....Niall Ferguson reprises his argument today about why the United States is unable to win in Iraq or anywhere else:

Less than a century ago, before World War I, the population of Britain was 46 million, barely 2.5% of humanity. And yet the British were able to govern a vast empire that encompassed an additional 375 million people, more than a fifth of the world's population. Why can't 300 million Americans control fewer than 30 million Iraqis?

Three years ago, as the United States swept into Iraq, I wrote a book titled "Colossus," which offered a somber prediction, summed up in its subtitle, "The Rise and Fall of the American Empire." My argument was that the United States was unlikely to be as successful or as enduring an imperial power as its British predecessor for three reasons: its financial deficit, its attention deficit and, perhaps most surprisingly, its manpower deficit. Rather cruelly, I compared the American empire to a "strategic couch-potato ... consuming on credit, reluctant to go to the front line [and] inclined to lose interest in protracted undertakings."

This is an absurd argument. It's not so much that it's wrong, but that it leaves out by far the most important reason for American failure: today's colonials fight back. Britain occupied India with a tiny force because the Indians mostly let them, and on the rare occasions when they rebelled the British (like all the other European colonial powers) felt free to crush them in the most brutal manner imaginable.

None of that is true today. The people of Iraq are flatly unwilling to be ruled by outsiders, they have the weaponry to fight back effectively, and the West is no longer willing to spill rivers of blood simply to show them who's boss. If those things had been true a century ago, Britain never would have had an empire in the first place, let alone been able to keep it.

Kevin Drum 12:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (126)

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The problem with Iraq is that we (and by "we", I mean Rummy and Bush) ran the war like a Business. (complete with circle-jerk war profiteering contracts for Cheney's Halliburton - etc.).

America voted for the "CEO President". This is what happens when you let MBA's make decisions. Too bad that America didn't learn from that lesson in 2001 (Enron) and 2004 (re-selection).

Posted by: Osama_Been_Forgotten on October 24, 2006 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

One might ask Why they fight back? Possibly it is because the power that one person can inflict and it's portability and availability (weapons, explosives, etc.)has multiplied. Also the means to coordinate via the technology of the enemy--cell phones, internet, etc.

Posted by: LJ on October 24, 2006 at 12:19 PM | PERMALINK

on the rare occasions when they rebelled the British (like all the other European colonial powers) felt free to crush them in the most brutal manner imaginable.

It that is true, shouldn't America be given a free hand to crush any terrorists in Iraq just as the British were free to crush the terrorists in India? Look at what happened to India. After the British left India, India became a free and democratic state. In the same way, if American troops are given the power to crush the terrorists in any way they want, Iraq would also become free and democratic just as India is.

Posted by: Al on October 24, 2006 at 12:20 PM | PERMALINK

I thought his other, almost throwaway, argument we more interesting - that the original colonial powers exported people to the colonies.

America is by far a net importer of people - so where's the motivation to go out and colonize other lands? It's just not there. I mean, do they even have malls in Iraq? If not, I'm sure not living there, no matter how flat the taxes.

Posted by: craigie on October 24, 2006 at 12:21 PM | PERMALINK

"Whatever happens we have got
The Maxim gun, and they have not" as Belloc said. Well, now they've got the Maxim gun, too.

Posted by: Keith on October 24, 2006 at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK


What a strange argument, Kevin.

You almost seem wistful that we haven't been more brutal in our occupation of Iraq. I guess 600,000 dead Iraqis isn't enough?

Posted by: Jaymay on October 24, 2006 at 12:23 PM | PERMALINK

Ferguson is a complete tool. He's great for the classroom, however, as an object lesson in bad analysis. I'm sure whichever institution awarded him a doctorate has asked more than once that it be given back.

Posted by: JeffII on October 24, 2006 at 12:24 PM | PERMALINK

[W]e (and by "we", I mean Rummy and Bush) ran the war like a Business. (complete with circle-jerk war profiteering contracts for Cheney's Halliburton - etc.).

I believe the MBAs call these things "synergies."

Posted by: dj moonbat on October 24, 2006 at 12:26 PM | PERMALINK

Strongly disagree, Kevin--

The Indians fought back. What made a difference was sea power, and the ability of the Brits to bring ships and men to the shores of a distant country and stick it out. The British spent decades trying to get their far flung empire under control and relied upon their navy to do so. Remember--there were regular army troops AND troops from the British East India Company operating in India, at least until the late 1850s. I mean, are you talking about the entire history, one part of it, or what?

The difference is, the military was a route to economic and social power in Colonial Britain; today, in America, forget it--no one joins the military. The colleges are full of eligible young men and women and thousands of officer billets go unfilled in the military.

If you wanted to be politically viable in 19th Century Britain, you could buy a commission and make a name for yourself, either in the Army or the Navy.

And today, with our current situation? There's no comparison. We still have the last vestiges of the "join up for college money" mentality in the military. These are the people who are still stuck in uniform, either through involuntary recall or enlistment obligation. They're the ones that are getting out with their skills. (Were it not for the $60,000 re-up bonuses, there'd be no one left.)

Posted by: Pale Rider on October 24, 2006 at 12:29 PM | PERMALINK

You're quite right, Kevin, but I have to agree with Jaymay, as well. How is 600,000 dead NOT "rivers of blood"? What exactly does "showing them who's boss" entail, if not killing over half a million Iraqis?

Posted by: GiantDuck on October 24, 2006 at 12:29 PM | PERMALINK

I actually think Ferguson latches on to something interesting. Yes, the Iraqis fight back harder than they might have in prior centuries, but we might have the ability and resources to manage this (I stress MIGHT).

The problem is that we have not been ASKED to do so. No great push for more soldiers, no push for more money to rebuild. NOTHING. But lord forbid we give up our tax cuts. This is what drives me nuts about Sullivan and many others who complain about the recent uptick in spending. If this little bit of money for Iraq (which accounts for much of the increase) causes such heartburn then why drum up a war. Wars have the potential to be expensive in lives and money. Americans (and conservatives in particular) are FAR more interested in a tax cut than in supporting the war that they wanted so badly. BOTTOM LINE - YOU CANNOT HAVE BOTH.

By accident or on purpose - Ferguson at least teased that out.

Posted by: Don B on October 24, 2006 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

The issue that really dismantled the British Empire was representative government. When the British first moved into India, it made little difference to the average Indian whether their statelet was run by the Raj or by the local princeling; in fact, the average Indian was a good deal better off under the British than he was under whatever hereditary despot had ruled in their place before.

Thus after the ruling elites were either crushed or bought off, there was no substantial popular resistance to colonial rule.

However, the idea of government of and by the people, as evinced in America and a whole swath of European revolutions, spread to the colonies as well, and got the average Indian thinking "why am I being ruled by anyone at all, much less these arrogant foreigners?"

An attitude which was then used by a new breed of local elites, educated by the colonial power and with the same understanding of the world as anyone from the "mother country", to stir the masses into becoming simply too costly to rule over.

In short, early British colonial subjects didn't think the way later ones did.

The Maxim gun was a great advantage, mind you. As were the gunboats on the Yangtze. But the reason for the success and failure of the colonial empires was the simple economics of how costly it is to rule a complacent people versus how costly to rule a rebellious people.

Posted by: S Ra on October 24, 2006 at 12:35 PM | PERMALINK

I'd like to see a remake of the Battle of Rorke's Drift where the Zulus have RPGs.

Actually, I wouldn't. I don't like seeing our guys get killed in Iraq, either.

Posted by: kid bitzer on October 24, 2006 at 12:35 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, your third item: "the West is no longer willing to spill rivers of blood simply to show them who's boss" is the same as some of the argument Fergusen is making, so he's not really "absurd" in your eyes, only 2/3 absurd.
.

Posted by: zoot on October 24, 2006 at 12:36 PM | PERMALINK

Why do they fight back? Because we let them.

I saw this coming early in the invasion. I saw reports on TV, interviews with Iraqis who complained that just before the war started, Saddam distributed huge stockpiles of weapons all over the country, in residential areas, in schools, homes, etc. I remember one Iraqi complaining that the house next door to his was stockpiled with RPGs, artillery shells, and explosives, and he tried to report it to US forces so they'd haul it away and remove the hazard. But he just could not get their attention, so the weapons just sat there, and anyone could loot the stockpiles and haul away as many weapons as they could carry.
Of course it wasn't long before I started hearing reports that almost everyone in Iraq had AK-47s and RPGs stashed in their homes, for "protection."

This was the start of the resistance, and US forces let it happen. They thought that nobody would want to fight, they'd shower us with roses. Saddam planned it this way when he distributed weapons across the country. Saddam was a genius, he lost the war, but he'll win the resistance. We could have stopped it. If it was obvious to me, watching TV reports, why wasn't it obvious to forces on the ground, and their commanders?

Posted by: charlie don't surf on October 24, 2006 at 12:38 PM | PERMALINK

some validity in your objections - but you ignore fact that America is not engaged in a typical colonial war which would be all about occupation and subjugation - and that in fact IS the reason we're getting screwed in Iraq - and so there is some legitimacy to Ferguson's claim. It's not about 'rivers of blood to show who's boss' but it is all the same about being the boss if ya wanna engage is wars of empire [like WW2] - and I think that's Ferguson's point. I mean all the 'security' complaints re not enough troops is just a euphemism for we lack the resources to effectively subjugate.

Posted by: saintsimon on October 24, 2006 at 12:38 PM | PERMALINK

So, you're advocating being ore ruthless? We have been too soft on Iraqi terrorists, I agree. I'm glad to see you're coming around.

Posted by: American Hawk on October 24, 2006 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK

Suppose Bush made Al's case with some honesty and planned to decimate the Iraqi population (i.e. kill three million people). There would be no Republican party after that, we would be lucky if the US were still a viable nation.

Posted by: tib on October 24, 2006 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, your third item: "the West is no longer willing to spill rivers of blood simply to show them who's boss" is the same as some of the argument Fergusen is making, so he's not really "absurd" in your eyes, only 2/3 absurd.

Right. Kevin views the modern West's current unwillingness to go into "river of blood" mode as a given. Ferguson is exhorting us to get past that kind of foolish, blinkered thinking, and get back to being a serious Empire, willing to spill whatever brown people's blood we need to spill.

Posted by: dj moonbat on October 24, 2006 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

After the British left India, India became a free and democratic state.

And it only took 190 years.

As for Ferguson, I'm reminded of the "Old Ballplayers Never Die" feature that Bill James salted throughout his Historical Baseball Abstract: quotations stretching back more than a century from retired players condemning "today's" players for not being tough enough, not knowing the fundamentals, only being in it for the money, on and on ad nauseum . . .

Posted by: penalcolony on October 24, 2006 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

I hate British Carpetbaggers, looking for a new raj.

How about the American Moral Surplus. We dont want an empire. We dont need an empire. And we certianly aren't willing to sacrice ourselves for an empire.

Ferguson is a prick

Posted by: jimmy on October 24, 2006 at 12:45 PM | PERMALINK

Fascinating stuff by Ferguson. I wonder what would've happened if those splendid British chaps had tried to conquer Iraq? Wait a minute, they did? And it was a bloody quagmire? No shit?

And gosh, has anything changed in the world since halcyon days of the British Empire. Abundant small arms and explosives... 24/7 TV networks and the internet to spread a message... countless successful insurgencies to study and use as models... the rise of radical Islam... nothing is really coming to mind.

Niall Ferguson is a silly twat. The print media need better trolls.

Posted by: ajl on October 24, 2006 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

Re: they fight back. The British did not fare well colonizing nations that fought back. Afghanistan ate the Brits. I would like to see the Iraqis eat Mr. Ferguson, after boiling him in oil.

Posted by: Hostile on October 24, 2006 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

Britain could do what it did because little to nothing it did was reported on locally and there was no truly representative government, as another poster has noted. This has the effect of supporting Ferguson's argument: regardless of WHY the Brits felt they could shed oceans of blood, they did in fact shed it -- and we cannot unless it is in secret.

In fact, the Lancet study has the effect of "showing" us how much blood has dried in the sands now, even if we did not directly shed a substantial portion of it. It's the exposure of these "secrets" -- Abu Ghraib and so on -- that slows down our success at bloodshed and therefore the kind of repression required to be successful in Ferguson's terms.

I think Ferguson, who in many ways is not even offensive but simply useless, is right that we lack the killer ethos. Bully to us. Ever really read about Kenya?

Posted by: ralph on October 24, 2006 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

America's greatest contribution to the world appears to have been the concept of self-determination.

With this idea and the example of our successful revolution - Latin America threw out the Spanish, France threw out their king, and eventually, Europe lost most of their empires.

The strength of the idea of self determination is remarkable. And now that American elites want an empire - well, they probably wish the idea had never been put out there.

Posted by: Wapiti on October 24, 2006 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

Our modern, culturally diverse polity and free trde economy also makes empire more difficult.

There are significant voting blocs who are likely to get seriously pissed as we go mucking around in their homeland; and since we really ought not blow up trading partners, just who the hell can we subjegate for empire? Iceland?

Posted by: Keith G on October 24, 2006 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

Frankly, I find it fascinating that great American patriots like Al, Hawk, and so many others are publicly standing up for everything that America symbolizes:

Killing vast numbers of innocent people

Torturing people

Subjugating and enslaving entire populations

Truly, with such moral superiority going for us, we would be remiss if we did not issue our brave fighting men and women special belt buckles bearing the inscription "Gott Mit Uns."

Sieg Heil!

Posted by: Derelict on October 24, 2006 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

This was the start of the resistance, and US forces let it happen. They thought that nobody would want to fight, they'd shower us with roses. Saddam planned it this way when he distributed weapons across the country. Saddam was a genius, he lost the war, but he'll win the resistance. We could have stopped it. If it was obvious to me, watching TV reports, why wasn't it obvious to forces on the ground, and their commanders?

Posted by: charlie don't surf on October 24, 2006 at 12:38 PM

The cynic would say that Bushco knew there would be an insurgency so that the war in Iraq and the 'war on terror' would last for decades. More money for the profiteers.

Posted by: slanted tom on October 24, 2006 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK

American incompetence at its best.

And it IS true.

The People of everywhere the British took over were unwilling to be ruled by outsiders either. Difference is, they were supplying arms to them with one hand and fighting them with the other


Americans need to grow up and get a clue.

Posted by: getaclue on October 24, 2006 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

Ferguson is apparently unaware that the age of colonialism is over. We can't do what the British did a century ago because the world won't stand for it. It is simply not possible for this country, no matter how rich we were or with how much popular support, to act like the imperial powers did 100 years ago. Has he ever heard of the concept of "nationalism"? And universities are actually competing for this guy?

Posted by: bibliographic specialist on October 24, 2006 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

Craigie - it's true Ferguson connects empire building to the export of the motherland's citizens. But he's misguided. I know, big surprise.

The first British Empire did happily export its surplus population to the western colonies, until it needed them to industrialize. Then they tried to impose serious restrictions. But after the French and Indian War with its major land wins, and the subsequent American Revolution, Britain discovered that empire-building was far more efficient if you simply went where the people already were. Indeed, it succeeded in de-industrializing India in the process.

Cheers,

Posted by: Klio on October 24, 2006 at 1:08 PM | PERMALINK

I though you accept a death toll of ~200k Iraqis as a result of the American occupation. Are you saying that this numbers demonstrates reluctance to shed Iraqi blood? What would the number have to be to successfully quail insurgency?
The problems are not unwillingness to kill your enemy; it is that killing one of them produces 10 new ones. The Israelis have been fighting the same war for 40 years with no success.
Your other point is that insurgents have the tools and power to succeed is also no based on evidence. The US is still occupying their country that would hardly be classified as success. Note also that the same is true for the Israeli straggle.

Posted by: bob on October 24, 2006 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

As the philosopher Vizzini said:

"Never fight a land war in Asia."

Posted by: Matt on October 24, 2006 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK

BTW: When is a timetable not bad for US interests in Iraq?

When...


U.S.and Iraq Agrees To Timetable Iraqi leaders have agreed to develop a timeline by the end of the year for progress in stabilizing Iraq, U.S. officials said. Also, the top U.S. commander in Iraq said Iraqi forces should be able to take full control of security in 12-18 months.

From CBS News

Posted by: Keith G on October 24, 2006 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

The main difference is a leveling in the weapons available at the low end. When the British ruled its empire, the battle was largely between rifles and sticks. Today, insurgents can acquire sophisticated firearms and explosives, that are the equal of frontline infantry, from any number of vendors. Where the weapons are truly unequal, at the high end, the difference in firepower is fairly useless unless you are absolutely ruthless, which Americans, thankfully, are not.

Posted by: Yancey Ward on October 24, 2006 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

I don't think these are exclusive arguments; certainly the couch potato and lack of attention span theories have something to recommend them. Along with the complete unwillingness to learn languages.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on October 24, 2006 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

Colonization is doing just fine: it's just reversed, for the former colonies are colonizing the 19th century bad guys now. Look at the present demographics in Europe -- and its future. Look at South American drug criminals at work in North America making slaves out of US citizens, not to mention millions of illegal immigrants. I don't see immigrants who want to become Europeans or Americans in those lots. I see colonizers.

If tens of thousands of Europeans went to a Middle Eastern country, even Turkey, and wanted their "rights", what do you think they would get? If tens of thousands of Americans went to a Mexican city and wanted English in the schools and all sorts of public services, what do you think they would get in reply?

Etc. Etc. Iraq was never, ever about imperialism or colonialism. It was a misguided anti-terrorist operation. Colonialism is something entirely different, and it is not even close to being a policy in the US.

Written by a Canadian. We are the canary in the mine, so to speak, and we are not about to keel over, for there is no poison gas of imperialism emanating from the US. Don't be hoodwinked.

Posted by: Bob M on October 24, 2006 at 1:23 PM | PERMALINK

The main argument againt the column should be that it's not in the least desirable for any country to have an empire. So it's moot whether the Americans have the stomach for it or the capability to manage one.

Posted by: gregor on October 24, 2006 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

Amusing...One of Ferguson's columns on the sidebar is titled The Myopia of Hindsight...which is what I think of when I read his analysis of current events through his 'conservative' filter of history.

Interesting choice in comparing the British Empire's colonizing practice to the US invasion and occupation of Iraq...Perhaps because building Imperial America was the intent all along?...Iraq as the 51st state, or, more likely, an economic colony? Bet that would go over big with middle America...War for fun and profit...

The lack of condemnation of empire-building coming from Ferguson..or Kev..is disturbing. Y'all are debating whether the methods used to carry out a decision were faulty and unrealistic rather than whether or not the decision itself was sound.

Posted by: grape_crush on October 24, 2006 at 1:39 PM | PERMALINK

on the rare occasions when they rebelled the British (like all the other European colonial powers) felt free to crush them in the most brutal manner imaginable.

Ummm...you mean like the indigenous peoples of North Anerica for example? And that, by and large and after the late 1790's, wasn't 'the British', folks.

The way we amassed our domestic empire - Manifest Destiny' - was a pretty bloody and brutal undertaking.

And American behavior abroad hasn't exactly been benign.

Posted by: CFShep on October 24, 2006 at 1:47 PM | PERMALINK

Colonials also fight back because they know that western nations will never start butchering the populations. After we butchered our OWN populations in the World Wars we realized that kind of thing was a very bad idea.

Posted by: MNPundit on October 24, 2006 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

It's not so much that it's wrong, but that it leaves out by far the most important reason for American failure: today's colonials fight back. Britain occupied India with a tiny force because the Indians mostly let them, and on the rare occasions when they rebelled the British (like all the other European colonial powers) felt free to crush them in the most brutal manner imaginable.

No, no, no. Flatly wrong. Yesterday's colonials fought back as well. (It would take me paragraphs and paragraphs to list the many wars and uprisings the British had to fight to conquer and keep their empire). The reason the British were able to do so in the past, and we are not in the present, is due to the lessening of the technology and industrialization gap.

In the 19th century, the British, armed with the most up to date weaponry of the day, and with the tremendous advantages in logistics, supply, communications, medicine, etc. that a modern industrial economy could supply, were quite simply able to overpower their African, Asian and Australiasian opponents, many of whom were armed with only spear and shield. Remember the popular music-hall ditty when Kitchener went to war against the Mahdist forces in Sudan in the 1890s: "whatever happens/ we have got/ the Maxim gun/ and they have not."

In the present day, however, we face opponents who while no match for us on the open battlefield, where we still maintain the edge with our airpower and tanks, have access to sophisticated explosives and small arms, which, especially in crowded urban environments, can even the odds considerably.

A 19th century Pathan armed with dagger and jezail could do nothing against a British warship. A 21st century Pashtun armed with a speedboat crammed with C4 can sink an American destroyer. There's the difference in a nutshell.

Posted by: Stefan on October 24, 2006 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

I see Keith beat me to the Maxim gun line. Sorry, Keith.

Posted by: Stefan on October 24, 2006 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

... it leaves out by far the most important reason for American failure: today's colonials fight back.

Sometimes the colonials fought back against the Brits: the 1839 opium war, the boxer rebellion, the Afghanistan war. Sometimes it was other colonials fighting back, as in the Boer war. Britain used the Powell doctine, which sometimes worked.

Remember Kipling:
When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains,
And go to your Gawd like a soldier.

Or from the war in Sudan
So eres to you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, at your ome in the Soudan;
Youre a pore benighted eathen but a first-class fightin man;
An eres to you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, with your ayrick ead of air
You big black boundin beggarfor you broke a British square!

Posted by: anandine on October 24, 2006 at 1:56 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin writes: This is an absurd argument. It's not so much that it's wrong, but that it leaves out by far the most important reason for American failure: today's colonials fight back.

It is indeed an absurd argument, but not because of the reason cited by Kevin (yesterday's colonials fought back, too, they just didn't win very often.). The main reason is: unlike imperial Britain, the USA does not engage in wholesale slaughther. If America acted in the same manner as its imperial predecessor, places like Sadr City and Ramadi would be smoldering ruins, and large concentration camps would be home to tens of thousands of Iraqis.

We're not able or willing to act in this manner, and that's why we should refrain from active empire management.

Posted by: Jasper on October 24, 2006 at 1:58 PM | PERMALINK

The main reason is: unlike imperial Britain, the USA does not engage in wholesale slaughther.

Er, the American Indians, the Filipinos, the inhabitants of Berlin, Hamburg, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the Vietnamese might disagree with you about our propensity for wholesale slaughter.

If America acted in the same manner as its imperial predecessor, places like Sadr City and Ramadi would be smoldering ruins,

What the fuck? Fallujah was a smoldering ruin. The city was almost completely wiped and depopulated out after our attack on it in November 2004. According to Mike Marqusee of Iraq Occupation Focus writing in the Guardian, "Fallujah's compensation commissioner has reported that 36,000 of the city's 50,000 homes were destroyed, along with 60 schools and 65 mosques and shrines," and only 30% of the inhabitants who lived the pre-attack have returned.

Posted by: Stefan on October 24, 2006 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

We could rule Iraq if we wanted to, but I don't think that was one of the administration's ambitions.

The war was due to a perfect storm of Bush wanting to get Saddam, Jewish neocons pressing for regime change across the Arab world for the sake of Israel, a couple of hardass non-Jewish neocons (Cheney and Rumfeld) in sync with the program, political correctness (an affirmative action Nat. Sec. Advisor--compare to how Brent Scowcroft kept Bush I from making the same mistake. A PC belief that the Iraqi people "are just like us" and craved democracy and feminism), listening to intelligence the administration wanted to hear, etc.

Wishful thinking allowed the administration to believe they could achieve their goals without having to rule Iraq subsequently. 30-90 day occupation, install Chalabi, and on to Syria.

Might have been a successful occupation if we had used the Iraqi army as Jay Garner wanted to.

Posted by: Myron on October 24, 2006 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

"Crushing terrorists." What an evocative phrase. Could we use tanks? Pile drivers? Large dump trucks? Industrial food mixers? And, how do we get them to sit still while we crush them? And, what do we do with them after we've crushed them. Make compost? What a strange notion this "crushing terrorists" thing is.

Posted by: CT on October 24, 2006 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

"What made a difference was sea power, and the ability of the Brits to bring ships and men to the shores of a distant country and stick it out."

"... America is not engaged in a typical colonial war which would be all about occupation and subjugation"

"We dont want an empire. We dont need an empire. And we certianly aren't willing to sacrice ourselves for an empire."

These three comments are on to something. Americans would not support "taking over" another country indefinitely, which was the British goal.

It is so foreign to our self-image that the "best and brightest" of the Republican't Party didn't even plan for being the government of Iraq. They just assumed, I guess, that a government would bloom in the desert like a million flowers, or something.

The British set up efficient governments along military superiority. And the governments they set up often succeeded, albeit with some changes, after the British themselves were forced out.

Posted by: Cal Gal on October 24, 2006 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

Yancey Ward: The main difference is a leveling in the weapons available at the low end.

Stefan: The reason the British were able to do so in the past, and we are not in the present, is due to the lessening of the technology and industrialization gap.

That's only part of it. Prior to the mid-19th century, "modern" land weapons just weren't very effective. Much fighting was still done with bayonets. Between the Napoleanic Wars and the American Civil War there were great improvements in firearms (percussion caps, more accurately machined parts, "minnie" ball, early metallic cartridges and repeating firearms). Much of the slaughter during the Civil War occured because commanders were still using Napoleanic era tactics (charging in formation, frontal assaults).

However, much of the British conquest of India occured before these technological changes. It started in earnest in the mid-18th century, with Robert Clive. This despite the fact that they'd been in India since the 17th century. The key factor was disunity amongst the Indian states after the breakup of the Mughal Empire.

The navy certainly played an important logistical role, but its firepower was mostly for use against other European powers. Inland the navy played little role (something about needing water).

Divide and conquer was a key British tactic. They also were generally smart enough not to attack until a weakened potential adversary presented an easy opportunity.

Furthermore, they were happier to buy influence in a client state than fight a war. Even in its heyday about 1/3 of the British Raj was actually client states. Rajas are cheaper than bullets.

Posted by: alex on October 24, 2006 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

The people of Iraq are flatly unwilling to be ruled by outsiders, they have the weaponry to fight back effectively,

Bingo. They have the weaponry their ancestors didn't. That's the difference right there.

and the West is no longer willing to spill rivers of blood simply to show them who's boss.

We're not willing to spill rivers of blood merely to show whose boss? Then where'd those 600,000 Iraqis go?

No, the truth is we're still more than willing to spill the blood -- we're just not willing to admit to ourselves that that's what we're actually doing, or to show it on the news. But if it's out of sight, then it's out of mind, and we're not going to worry our beautiful minds with it....

Posted by: Stefan on October 24, 2006 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

Does this mean we aren't going to invade the rest of the Middle East?!?

Posted by: William Kristol on October 24, 2006 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

That's only part of it. Prior to the mid-19th century, "modern" land weapons just weren't very effective. Much fighting was still done with bayonets.

It wasn't just the weaponry, it was several other factors which made the weaponry effective, including:

(1) Organization -- the ability to field a modern professional army, organized along regimental lines, well-supplied with uniforms, food, medicine, etc.

(2) Transport -- having a navy which could bring reinforcements of men and material around the globe.

(3) Communication -- being able to communicate with London through the telegraph and, before that, through the navy.

Posted by: Stefan on October 24, 2006 at 2:22 PM | PERMALINK

These three comments are on to something. Americans would not support "taking over" another country indefinitely, which was the British goal.

the Wraith of the High Plains is quite often very succinct and to the point. And a sharp point it is.

Posted by: Global Citizen on October 24, 2006 at 2:23 PM | PERMALINK

The goose of empire has traditionally been cooked in the furnace of current events. The Revolution in North America inspired the Bolivarean revolutions of South America. WW I convinced third-world elites that European civilization wasn't that great, and WW II showed that "oriental" troops could beat white troops.

Now, thanks to the inspiring leadership of George Bush, it becomes evident that would-be imperialists can be defeated even by occupied populations. This lesson, I'm sure, will not be lost on other people, in the region, and in the world.

Posted by: serial catowner on October 24, 2006 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

Ferguson needs to be locked in a room and made to copy out in longhand "Shooting an Elephant" until the notion of the romance and duty of empire is driven out of his brain.

Posted by: Steve Paradis on October 24, 2006 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK

And you beat me with your point, Stefan.

Even though the technological disparity between the colonizers and colonized was greater in the 19th and early-20th centuries, resistence still had an impact in terms of lives, the Indian Mutiny, Afghanistan Campaigns, Mahdi Rebellion in Sudan, and the original Iraq occupation, just to name a few, were all highly costly in for the British in terms of lives (and for the "subjects" as well). And if you want to throw in the Easter Uprising and the Boer Wars there are tens of thousands more dead British. All of this is on a scale that we haven't seen in Iraq in terms of American deaths (thankfully).

Also, I think the point about Britain halting immigration at some point early on is wrong and misplaced. Emigration from the British Isles to the US, Canada and Australia was high up through the latter half of the 19th century, well after Industrialization took place. But anyway, Ferguson doesn't mean colonization like that, he means the colonial apparatus. Britain sent huge amounts of administrators and military around the globe to manage their empire. These were mostly low and middle-income Scots who saw serving the empire as a chance for advancement.

Posted by: James on October 24, 2006 at 2:39 PM | PERMALINK

the West is no longer willing to spill rivers of blood simply to show them who's boss

Incredibly, some see this as a step backwards. Yes, I'm looking at you, Dr. Krauthammer.

Posted by: Quaker in a Basement on October 24, 2006 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

Stefan: the inhabitants of Berlin, Hamburg, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki

None of which were done in the pursuit of empire (though some of your other examples hold up). Wholesale slaughter is more acceptable to most Americans, including me, when you're fighting an enemy that quite literally wants, and very well may, conquer the world.

That aside, area bombing is just not very effective. It kills lots of people but doesn't do that much to disrupt production and transport.

That's why the USAAF concentrated more on industrial/military/transport targets in Europe. Much more effective, as attested to by Albert Speer. The British concentrated on area bombing, as they restricted their less heavily armed planes to night operations. Of course that changed towards the end, when we ran out of industrial targets (the really choice ones having literally gone underground). Dresden was a joint Anglo-American operation.

Japan was a different matter. The atomic bombings were an effective way to end the war. They certainly saved American lives, and probably Japanese ones as well.

Prior to that though LeMay concentrated on area bombing cities. It killed many more people than the atomic bombings, and I question how effective it was. If the atomic bombings hadn't occured, there were plans to switch to attacking transport.

Posted by: alex on October 24, 2006 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

Stefan: Organization ... Transport ... Communication

All are important in warfare, and always have been (they were key Roman advantages too). However, transport and communication (by ship) just nullify some of the home court advantage enjoyed by the country being invaded. Organization was very effective in many British allies. See, for example, the Anglo-Mysore or the Anglo-Zulu wars.

But if the Mughal Empire hadn't broken up, there never would have been a British Raj (at least up north). Similarly, without China's internal problems there would have been no Opium Wars.

Posted by: alex on October 24, 2006 at 2:59 PM | PERMALINK

These three comments are on to something. Americans would not support "taking over" another country indefinitely, which was the British goal.

Oh really?

Posted by: The Kingdom of Hawaii on October 24, 2006 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

Apologize if someone mentioned this already, but one big difference is instant, or near instant, communication. Back in the days of Britishempire, images were not caught on camera and were in places deemed pretty remote where they could be easily covered up. This helped in beating down of the ruled to keep themunder control. Considering there is now not just TeeVee but telephone, telephone cameras, IM, internets, the Google, it makes it hard for the empire to callously beat down the ruled without being caught, and despised.

Posted by: bubba on October 24, 2006 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

The Kingdom of Hawaii: Oh really?

Hawaii was one of the last. Taking over whole countries started here on the East Coast. However, sensibilities have changed somewhat.

Posted by: alex on October 24, 2006 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

It also does not count the technological advantages the Brits had over the people they were colonizing. Once that advantage disappeared,
the natives inevitably rebelled and wanted to control their own destiny. There is a line in the movie Becket where Thomas Becket says to Henry II that an occupying power that lasts should never conquer the natives it must corrupt them. Clearly, no one planning the invasion saw the movie.

Posted by: aline on October 24, 2006 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK

But they figured out corruption pretty well all by themselves, Aline - there is $800 Million of $1.2 Billion missing from Iraqi coffers.

Posted by: Global Citizen on October 24, 2006 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

Ferguson's book was actually a fairly good one for a drooling type, and his reasons for the decline of the American Empire were pretty good. As in his point about the manpower deficit. England and Rome had strict primogeniture. That meant an abundance of younger sons who had to go elsewhere -- India, Burma Kenya, Iraq, etc -- to earn a living. The class of Americans who should be off helping to foment Democracy and representative government are going instead to Wall St., K-Street, Exxon, etc. We've snarked at length about the number (3) of Arabists in the State Department, but there's not simply few Arabists, there's few anything. The tighty-righties -- the guys who allegedly really believe in American Centuries -- haven't simply avoided service in the military. They haven't left the country at all.

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on October 24, 2006 at 3:46 PM | PERMALINK

Oh really?

You said it!

Posted by: The Philippines on October 24, 2006 at 3:56 PM | PERMALINK

"America is by far a net importer of people - so where's the motivation to go out and colonize other lands? It's just not there. I mean, do they even have malls in Iraq? If not, I'm sure not living there, no matter how flat the taxes."
__________________

craigie's hit it. Despite all the hyperventilating about an American Empire, the truth is that there is little interest and no incentive in having an empire. TV advertising works just as well and costs less.

Posted by: Trashhauler on October 24, 2006 at 4:37 PM | PERMALINK

Wapiti at 12:50: America's greatest contribution to the world appears to have been the concept of self-determination.

Jasper at 1:55: The main reason is: unlike imperial Britain, the USA does not engage in wholesale slaughter.

Even at the height of the British Empire's strength, the British were more enlightened and respectful of human rights than the United States was at the time.

That's why Sitting Bull led his people into Canada from the US in 1877. He knew that whatever else the Sioux might face in the British Empire, they would at least be better off there under the aegis of "the Great Mother", Queen Victoria, than they would be in the land of the genocidal maniacs to the south.

And there was the underground railroad, another example of people fleeing from the US into the British Empire in search of freedom and a better life.

In fact, one reason the British won so many imperial contests was because they were more likely to have alliances with the natives. They typically had more native allies in North America than the Dutch, French or Americans did, and they had these allies because, while they don't seem that nice by today's standards, they were usually better than the alternatives of the day.

The US used to play the overseas empire game too. What changed is that everybody, the British included, figured out that it's a lot cheaper to outsource imperial control by installing friendly governments in places like Iran or Kuwait, governments that would continue to offer stable, relatively easy access to that country's resources, than it is to run an old-fashioned empire.

Posted by: otherpaul on October 24, 2006 at 4:41 PM | PERMALINK

anandine wrote:

... it leaves out by far the most important reason for American failure: today's colonials fight back.

Sometimes the colonials fought back against the Brits: the 1839 opium war, the boxer rebellion, the Afghanistan war. Sometimes it was other colonials fighting back, as in the Boer war.
__________________

Truth. The resistance to British colonialism was often very fierce. The British absorbed numerous bloody defeats, usually fought outnumbered, and were often ill-supported. The difference was that the British were willing to take such losses as simply the cost of doing business. Their response to defeat was to send a larger, better equipped army. And another one after that, if need be.

Posted by: Trashhauler on October 24, 2006 at 4:49 PM | PERMALINK

Camel Thongs Dont Cut the Mustard
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Today is Sacred. All praise our ancestors.
Praise your arse. Ill be back tomorrow. Were not going away, you know that.
Tomorrow is a sacred day.
Up your sacred days.
Everyday is a sacred day, kneel and bow to the East.
Bullshit on your every day is a sacred day horse pucky. You can stick Mother Bear you know where. Theres something you guys want and Im gonna find out what.
Everyday is a sacred day. However.....
Yes, yes sacred, totally sacred, but however what? You son of a sacred snake, however what? What is it youre considering?
Well, remember that line of fissionable material you showed me.... maybe just one more little peek.
Tex, help, we done got us a problem. Were gonna be here til the cows come home and listen to me for once, jeans and camel thongs are not cuttin the mustard.
"Bubba, shut your trap with the mustard bullshit. These fucks don't have hot dogs. Even I know that."

"Camel Thongs Don"t Cut the Mustard"

Posted by: cognitorex on October 24, 2006 at 5:06 PM | PERMALINK

The difference was that the British were willing to take such losses as simply the cost of doing business. Their response to defeat was to send a larger, better equipped army. And another one after that, if need be.

Thats a very interesting statement. Its an accurate description of British response to the American Revolutionary War, but it didnt work out for them, did it? But its always interesting what someone chooses to highlight.

What I choose to highlight is the point about spilling rivers of blood. I think that it is unarguably true that it is today more difficult to get away with slaughtering scores of people, especially when the war is not about national survival.

The many thousands lost in Iraq are atrocious and I think that some of the above commenters misinterpret Kevins statement. But by the standards of past centuries, 10, 20, 30 times (just name a huge number) that number of Iraqis may have been slaughtered with impunity.

Today, its much harder to hide the number, much harder to throw out some bullshit justification, just much harder to do it with impunity. And boy is that a good thing.

It also strikes me how much farther we need to go down the road toward establishing humane societies. Look at the resistance to information like the Lancet study. Why? It seeks to answer a hugely important question. Why not do as some have suggested and spend a little money on follow-up studies. Why this fear of information?

Posted by: little ole jim from red country on October 24, 2006 at 5:46 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin

1. Many people in the comments have cited your first historical mistake: the technological advantage Europeans enjoyed over the native inhabitants was huge.

*however* in the case of India this is not so clear. The likes of Tipoo Sahib had modern, European trained armies. He pioneered the modern use of tactical rockets-- the British actually copied from him.

In guerilla type situations (first and second Afghan wars, the Ghurka wars) this technological advantage was nonexistent, and the British lost (or made peace). *this* is very similar to the modern situation -- irregular warfare erodes the advantage of technology. Hence our experience in Palestine in 1949, when the Israelis drove us out, and our not particularly successful struggle with the IRA.

2. A greater advantage we had was superior organisational force. European armies were, by and larger, more disciplined and better organised and led.

(this advantage hasn't changed: the US Army is a far more elite force than any in the modern Middle East in a conventional fight. Even the Jordanians wouldn't be able to stop it. And the Israelis are arguably a western army operating in the Middle East).

3. the third, and key, factor in the British Empire you have completely overlooked.

It was an *Empire* with mercenary armies-- Irish, Scots, Ghurkas to name but 3. The Indian Army was the largest Army in the Empire, larger than the motherland's, and fought in almost every colonial war.

Before there was an Indian Army, there were the sepoys. Even during the Great Mutiny, there were a large number of Indians fighting with the British against their countrymen.

And there were other mercenary and colonial forces. The Ghurkas, the Irish (utterly key to every British military campaign from 1700 onwards), the Scots (ditto), later on the Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders (all key in the Boer War, and both world wars), the Kings African Rifles, the Carribean Regiment.

Something like 100,000 Indians died on the Western Front in WWI. Not to mention all the ones who died invading Iraq in 1915!

In the American Revolution, we had Hessians.

Posted by: Valuethinker on October 24, 2006 at 6:47 PM | PERMALINK

Are we in Iraq for colonialism? I thought we were there for democracy.

What did the Brits tell their soldiers about the mission of occupying the colonies?

Posted by: Carl Nyberg on October 24, 2006 at 6:55 PM | PERMALINK

Well, it's Tommy this and Tommy that, and step outside you brute,
but it's Tommy bleedin' 'ero when the guns begin to shoot...

Posted by: serial catowner on October 24, 2006 at 7:01 PM | PERMALINK

Ferguson is just disappointed in the U.S.A. for not wanting to wallow in the glorious excesses that comes with being a power worthy of Empire. That the American people do not yearn to rule the world and make it over in its own image is a let down for Niall; we are just not living up to his expectations.

Posted by: DavidLA on October 24, 2006 at 7:18 PM | PERMALINK

While it's true that colonials many times fought back against the British, they didn't have AK-47s. I'd say Kalashnikov did more than any man to put third world forces on a stronger position in relation to first world armies. That, and mortars and personal anti-tank cannons and 4th generation warfare and all that.

Posted by: rafael on October 24, 2006 at 7:45 PM | PERMALINK

"other mercenary and colonial forces. The Ghurkas, the Irish (utterly key to every British military campaign from 1700 onwards), the Scots (ditto),"

Doubt that the scots or irish soldiers would have regarded themselves as mercenaries.

"Even during the Great Mutiny, there were a large number of Indians fighting with the British against their countrymen"

Except of course in 1856 the loyal 'indians' would
certainly not have regarded the mutineers as being 'countrymen'. They would have different languages, religions etc.

"Something like 100,000 Indians died on the Western Front in WWI."

Nah, less than half that died in the whole war and then mostly in the middle east.Very few indian troops served on the western front.

Posted by: kb on October 24, 2006 at 7:48 PM | PERMALINK

So Kevin now views Iraqi and Al Qaeda terrorists killing innocents as "colonials." What makes Kevin and other liberals so irrational on Iraq and military issues?

Posted by: brian on October 24, 2006 at 8:35 PM | PERMALINK

brian wrote: "What makes Kevin and other liberals so irrational on Iraq and military issues?"

Dear heart, since your post made absolutely no sense whatsoever and did not even remotely describe the views of Kevin or any other "liberal," forgive us if we ask you instead just what it is that makes you so irrational?

Posted by: PaulB on October 24, 2006 at 9:00 PM | PERMALINK

To get us moving toward an empire, neocons promised an empire on the cheap -- i.e. using low manpower and low expenditures -- but they would be just as happy with an empire built through massive manpower/firepower and debt. Whether or not we could build an empire, as you seem to think we can't because of resistance and Ferguson believes we can't because of strategic and practical defects, is beside the point of whether we should be in that business at all.

Posted by: secularhuman on October 24, 2006 at 9:17 PM | PERMALINK

Ferguson and some of the commenters above (eg Pale Rider) have got good points. The US has not committed enough manpower to Iraq and does not have the political will to do so - its not a loss of 'native' life that abhors the US, it is the loss of their own.

The question of the US's financial deficit seems to have short shrift also in the comments. Britain got a huge profit out of Empire as the sole industrial nation in the world for a brief period - that phenomenal growth built their empire. (Note: this is after losing the US, it may be useful to consider British Empire v1 which includes the American colonies and v2 which was the more successful industrialised empire).

Even in the 1850s, Marx was predicting empires would be difficult to maintain in the future as more nations became industrialised and democratic. It would appear that was a good call. The margins have been squeezed on imperialism!

I cannot accept that attention deficiency has a part to play, however. The Internets mean more members of the public are informed and commenting upon these matters than any citizen of any former empire ever has.

Two major features of the British Empire are also getting little mention here. 'Divide and rule' - creating a bureuacracy and government from cliques of mixed-blood or minority groups who could not side with the 'natives' as the majority would never accept them (eg. Burghers of Sri Lanka). Also the British thoroughly believed they were exporting 'civilisation' and set up schools and infrastructure. Like the Python sketch about 'what did the Romans ever do for us?' - empires cannot sustain if they only serve the imperial city - there has to be a WIIFM quotient for the oppressed.

Posted by: Wombling Free on October 24, 2006 at 9:19 PM | PERMALINK

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Posted by: mmf铃声 on October 24, 2006 at 9:23 PM | PERMALINK

brian - are you here? I permalinked the conversation we were having the other night that you ran away from. I even blogged the whole thing here. I'm still waiting for my "eureka' moment that will allow me to see clearly and accept all this shit and stop fretting about things like constitational abrogatin and illegal war. Please, by all means, enlighten me. I need a good nights sleep. So make me understand why everything that is happening is a-o-kay.


Posted by: Global Citizen on October 24, 2006 at 9:26 PM | PERMALINK

brian? I'm still waiting. Why, exactly do the terrorists want the Dems to win? Hmmm? that was your position and you failed to state your case. The whole thing is here. I await your answers. You made a claim. Please back it up. Ex-liberal sucked it up and rendered a consession. I will do the same if you can prove that terrorists prefer a Democratic congress to the Republicans who have hounded them to the ends of the earth for five years - why they even went looking for them where there weren't any, they were so effective!

C'mon. State your case. I'm going to bring this up every time I see you show your name, so you may as well address me now.

Posted by: Global Citizen on October 24, 2006 at 9:32 PM | PERMALINK

So Kevin now views Iraqi and Al Qaeda terrorists killing innocents as "colonials." What makes Kevin and other liberals so irrational on Iraq and military issues?

This sounds like one of those red herrings that pops up every once in a while.

Substitute the word 'irrational' for the word 'realistic' and I think you'll be able to understand this a little better. Speaking only for myself, and certainly not for anyone else, there are people who study the use of force and the use of power, and when we arrive at trying to understand why we're in the situation that we're in with regards to Iraq, about the only logical conclusion you can arrive at is that we have fucked up, big time.

Now, this is why you lose wars, and pay attention: you lose wars when you don't understand your opponent.

Here's Paul Wolfowitz, circa 2003:

Wolfowitzs strategy for the invasion of Iraq which envisaged the use of air support and the occupation of southern Iraq with ground troops, to install a new government run by Ahmed Chalabis Iraqi National Congress. Wolfowitz believed the operation would require minimal troop deployment because, as Hersh clarifies, any show of force would immediately trigger a revolt against Saddam within Iraq, and that it would quickly expand. The financial expenditure would be kept low because, as Kampfner explains, under the plan American troops would seize the oil fields around Basra, in the South, and sell the oil to finance the opposition. During Wolfowitz's pre-war testimony before Congress, he dismissed General Eric K. Shinseki's estimates of the size of the post war occupation force as incorrect and estimated that fewer than 100,000 troops would be necessary in the war, however the US alone was estimated to have over 140,000 troops in Iraq by the time of Wolfowitzs visit in October 2003.

Everything this man said turned out to not even be remotely true. We did not see a general uprising against Saddam--instead, we saw looting and chaos. We did not get anything substantive from the oil because we could never secure it--right now, Iraq is importing gasoline because it cannot produce enough of its own. The estimates for the numbers of troops needed--this is the real disaster because of the fact that we have had to have 135,000 to 150,000 troops in country, year round, for over three years. Mathematically, this is guaranteed to break a volunteer Army.

So, if we look at the facts--what Wolfowitz said before the war was DoD policy--and what happened, how can anyone conclude that liberals like myself are "irrational?"

"Irrational" would be the kind of thinking that has paralyzed us--the Republicans fear accountability, so they cannot withdraw our troops, change the Secretary of Defense, change their policy or commit to a political solution in lieu of a military solution. "Irrational" is thinking that 135,000 American troops can fight 20,000 Iraqi insurgents for three years to a bloody stalemate that has achieved nothing. "Irrational" is thinking you can continue to sink billions into an effort that won't improve until a military solution is replaced by a political solution.

"Irrational" is a code word used by Republicans to deflect the debate away from their own culpability in this mess. Yeah, it was bad enough that Congressional Democrats voted to give Bush authorization to use force in Iraq, but it is way, way, way worse to be a Republican who supported the war despite the facts. To be a Republican is to be a cheerleader for a team that can't score, can't put on the right uniform, can't play, can't even remember to bring the ball or show up in the right stadium.

An inescapable truth gets to hang around Bush's neck forever--he's the second American President to lose a war. Unlike Johnson, Bush gets this one all to himself. Johnson can share with Nixon, with Kennedy and Eisenhower, nominally, of course.

Iraq? You guys broke it, and now you get to own it. Forever.

Posted by: Pale Rider on October 24, 2006 at 9:41 PM | PERMALINK

The Wraith of the High Plains rides in. Now small-brain brian will never come finish our conversation. Of course, he will never concede either.

Posted by: Global Citizen on October 24, 2006 at 9:43 PM | PERMALINK

Sun Tzu said some things a couple years back that these guys should have taken to heart. Truisms like:

The more you read and learn, the less your adversary will know.

What is essential in war is victory, not prolonged operations.

The best victory is when the opponent surrenders of its own accord before there are any actual hostilities...It is best to win without fighting.

For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.

He who is prudent and lies in wait for an enemy who is not, will be victorious

Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.

Posted by: Global Citizen on October 24, 2006 at 9:51 PM | PERMALINK

PaulB,

I read Kevin's post as considering Iraqi and Al Qaeda terrorists to be colonials [and for that matter, the US and Britain to be colinists]. I think that terriby mischaracterizes the true nature of the terrorists and the Iraq situation, and reflects a mind that is so focused on anti-Bush feelings that it makes irrational statements. If you think the terrorists are accurately considered colinials, fine, but I disagree.

Global,

I find you comments smart, but not very revealing. I made my case for what seems like the logical conclusion that Al Qaeda and other terrorists whom Bush has warred with for years would enjoy a defeat of Bush. It is not a matter of them judging the anti terrorist abilities of republicans versus democrats [something we stuggle to do]. It is that they would relish a rejection of Bush and his policies.

Any "defeat" of America is good to them, and Bush is the face of America. Honestly, I don't see how reasonable people could see it differently, even if you think Bush has done an awful job and that democrats would do a better job in the war on terror.

For example, I think you cited the alleged Taliban resurgence as a reason why terrorists would like to see Bush succeed politically. That does not make any sense to me. Bush is the single person most responsible for the Taliban loss of power. Even if you accept as true their comeback, why would that make them hope Bush succeeds politically. Don't they have to view electoral success by Bush as support of his campaign against them.

The notion that Al Qaeda and other terrorists wish Bush election success just stikes me as totally illogiccal, regardless of how effective or ineffective you might think Bush has been.

Posted by: brian on October 24, 2006 at 9:54 PM | PERMALINK

you absolutely did not make your case.

Posted by: Global Citizen on October 24, 2006 at 10:02 PM | PERMALINK

global,

I also re-read your comments from the other day where you cited the 1953 coup in Iran. I realize that coup is heavily criticized today, but I always thought it was a close question as to whether it was a good move. It "bought" 25 years of "stability" in Iran, which helped to keep the Soviet Union at bay and, at least during those 25 years, helped our interests in the middle east.

Iran definitely became a problem with the fall of the Shah, but is it fair to attach responsibility for that to the 1953 coup? Isn't there a reasonable argument that Carter mistakenly allowed the Shah and his supporters to fall and Khomeni [pardon the spelling] to assume power? I am not certain what Carter should have done, but it is pretty clear that the transition from the Shah to Khomeni has been terrible for America's interests and, I think, for the world.

Posted by: brian on October 24, 2006 at 10:05 PM | PERMALINK

Here is the permalink to what I had to say between when you left and when I did.

Posted by: Global Citizen on October 24, 2006 at 10:08 PM | PERMALINK

Global,

You're great. You just dismiss the other side's argument without explanation. It must be nice to consider yourself king.

So I'll try it. To the extent you have any case, you absolutely have not made it.

Posted by: brian on October 24, 2006 at 10:09 PM | PERMALINK

How did Carter allow the Shah to get cancer?

I'm sorry brian, but you are just, well, ignorant of the middle east.

Posted by: Global Citizen on October 24, 2006 at 10:09 PM | PERMALINK

It was incumbent upon you to make a case, not me. You are the one who offered assertions, I didn't. So how is it incumbent upon me to make a case?

Typical neo-con goal-post moving and blame shifting.

Posted by: Global Citizen on October 24, 2006 at 10:11 PM | PERMALINK

Honestly, I don't see how reasonable people could see it differently

Now see, don't bring that weak shit. This is not evidence, this is not even anecdotal. This is your opinion.

I think you cited the alleged Taliban resurgence as a reason why terrorists would like to see Bush succeed politically

Alleged? It was the cover story of the NYTimes magazine this week. The name of the article was The Undefeated. I imagine they want him in his present form, seeing as how he has been an utter joke as an adversary. "I fail to see how reasonable people could see otherwise."

Iran definitely became a problem with the fall of the Shah, but is it fair to attach responsibility for that to the 1953 coup?

Yes.

Posted by: Global Citizen on October 24, 2006 at 10:20 PM | PERMALINK

It "bought" 25 years of "stability" in Iran

It bought a bitter enemy. Twenty-six years of the Shah's secret police, a two-class society, terror, grinding poverty - all at the hands of a bloodthirsty feckless thug, a CIA puppet installed to assure the west the best deal at the pumps. Yeah, we can blame the coup in 53.

Posted by: Global Citizen on October 24, 2006 at 10:23 PM | PERMALINK

Carter mistakenly allowed the Shah and his supporters to fall and Khomeni [pardon the spelling] to assume power?

Khomeini was the Iranian / Islamic version of the Dalai Llama. He led his flock from Paris.

There was never a successor to the Shah. He was always a finger in the dyke, nothing more and nothing less.

Not having a successor to him was a precursor to todays failure to plan for the post-war period. Short sighted, ignorant, and flat-out fucking stupid.

Yeah, we can blame the CIA and Eisenhowers SoS John Foster Dulles.

Posted by: Global Citizen on October 24, 2006 at 10:46 PM | PERMALINK

Whoa, kids, whoa.

Let's parse what brian is saying a little better, because what lies in here is more of an indictment of Bush than even he realizes.

Any "defeat" of America is good to them, and Bush is the face of America. Honestly, I don't see how reasonable people could see it differently, even if you think Bush has done an awful job and that democrats would do a better job in the war on terror.

There is a grain of truth in this--no American should ever want to see their President humiliated. This is why you had Charlie Rangel taking on Hugo Chavez. Despite the overwhelming animosity we see towards, Bush--guess what? He is the Commander in Chief. I cringed when they went after Clinton because it was wrong; progressives need to articulate why Bush is wrong and quit with the nuclear attacks on the man's character, or lack thereof. There are plenty of things wrong with the policy and with the choices and the decisions. Attack those aspects and no one can question your intentions or your patriotism. Democrats can certainly do a better job in the war against the people who use the tactic of terror--we know what the fuck it really is. Bush the man is now irrelevant to the discussion because he has no political constituency anymore.

For example, I think you cited the alleged Taliban resurgence as a reason why terrorists would like to see Bush succeed politically. That does not make any sense to me. Bush is the single person most responsible for the Taliban loss of power. Even if you accept as true their comeback, why would that make them hope Bush succeeds politically. Don't they have to view electoral success by Bush as support of his campaign against them.

This is something that plays to a Democrat or liberal bias--the Bush administration is so badly positioned to fight our enemies who use terror that they want him to stay in power. It lets Democrats say, ah-ha! Bush is incompetent and we need to get him out of office to save the world. Well, duh, but the reality is, he's incompetent because the way he's chosen to fight--too much force, too much violence and too much killing has made us many more enemies than it has killed. The fact is, the terrorists don't care who the POTUS is, who's in power, because they hate our institutions. They hate the fact that we can have a peaceful change of administration and that we can settle our differences politically; all they know is corruption and assasination and intrigue.

In 1980, the Iranians wanted to get rid of the students and get rid of the hostages. Did they actually care whether Reagan or Carter won? Of course not. They hated America.

The notion that Al Qaeda and other terrorists wish Bush election success just stikes me as totally illogiccal, regardless of how effective or ineffective you might think Bush has been.

Again, that's a true statement--it plays to a false bias that says that Bush is good for the terrorists and Americans are stupid for letting him run the country. Well, short of impeachment, that's the institution we have, and they hate the institution of a democratic government MORE than they hate the man. Bush sent B-52s and cruise missiles into Afghanistan (Clinton just did the missiles) and both of them visited a degree of ass kicking on the Taliban. Bush had the political go-ahead to use troops and Clinton didn't--that's a fact. Clinton couldn't use troops anywhere without a rebellious Congress, i.e., in the Balkans. THAT was the most egregious example of a political party attacking a Commander in Chief during a conflict or crisis and that left us vulnerable. So if you're a Democrat, you remember than and you make sure the Commander in Chief gets to be the Commander in Chief and do what he or she needs to actually protect this country. Let the Republicans act like kids. We do the grownup thing better.

Do you really think that if Kerry had won, that all would now be wine and roses? No, if Kerry had won, we'd have an adult in charge, and that would mean a radical realignment of the tactics they would use to undermine our freedoms. It looks the way it does because we've only got the incompetent Bush administration to go by, but the reality is, they don't care who runs our country. They're pissed we have a good country and we don't have all of their shitty problems and their shitty history.

brian is just wrong in thinking there is a way to salvage Bush's legacy--sorry, kiddo--it's gone! It's gone and no amount of rehabilitation is going to bring it back. Brian's general points are basic and correct, in my reading of them.

Posted by: Pale Rider on October 24, 2006 at 10:49 PM | PERMALINK

There. I offered an explanation. Come back and state your case.

Posted by: Global Citizen on October 24, 2006 at 10:49 PM | PERMALINK

Late to the party on this thread, but the British had to quit their occupation of Iraq after WWI, for many of the same reasons that we are going to have to leave. It is ungovernable under Western conventions of centralized democratic rule. There was a terrific article about this in Foreign Affairs magazine about a year ago. Read it and learn some history. You too, Kevin.

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on October 24, 2006 at 10:55 PM | PERMALINK

TCD - I saw that. There was a good series on the ed-pages of the NYTimes about tht same time.

The Brits fought in Iraq with a colonial army, only the officers were white Britons.

I need to reread it, now that you got me thinking about it.

Posted by: Global Citizen on October 24, 2006 at 10:58 PM | PERMALINK

"Our armies do not come into your cities and lands as conquerors or enemies but as liberators"
- British Major General Sir Stanley Maude upon reaching Baghdad on March 11, 1917

'We Will, In Fact, Be Greeted As Liberators' - Dick Cheney, Meet the Press, March 16 2003

Both were full of shit.

The thing everyone forgets is, it took the Brits forty fucking years to extricate themselves from Iraq.


Posted by: Global Citizen on October 24, 2006 at 11:04 PM | PERMALINK

In the interim between 1918 and 1958, when the Brits finally got out, the occupation of Iraq bled the British treasury and killed thousands.

Posted by: Global Citizen on October 24, 2006 at 11:24 PM | PERMALINK

His conclusions may be open to debate, but Ferguson is certainly right about the financial deficit and the attention deficit.

Posted by: billy on October 24, 2006 at 11:57 PM | PERMALINK

This is an absurd argument. It's not so much that it's wrong, but that it leaves out by far the most important reason for American failure:

Um, would that be the fact that maybe we're not good at empire because we have a strong tradition--alas not a predominant one, but a strong one--of not wanting to actually BE an empire? Because our constitution was kinda, y'know, rooted in separating ourselves from one? The particular one Niall Flugelhorn is referring to, matter of fact?

Or to put it another way--as a plurality of the posters seem to be saying one way or another--wtf are you doing buying into his basic premise, that having a great ol' empire is actually a good thing to aspire to, in the first place Kevin? Sheesh. Let's try a little harder not to buy the frame m'kay?

Posted by: DrBB on October 24, 2006 at 11:57 PM | PERMALINK

America was supposed to be the antidote to empire, not the nation that aspired to become one.

Basic fucking history, people--why do you think everyone in Europe who could leave came here in the first place? We had this agonizing debate in the early 1900s, and I thought the issue was settled. Oh, that's right--we forgot our history and look what we repeated.

Posted by: Pale Rider on October 25, 2006 at 12:04 AM | PERMALINK

Global,
I tire of our modest debate. You are the "just say no" of argument. You have offered no explanation of your view that Al Qaeda and other terrorists want Bush and republicans to have election success.

By the way, I said "Carter allowed the Shah and his SUPPORTERS to fall," which you mischaracterize into an assertion that Carter allowed the Shah get cancer. Pretty lame. Good night.

PS: Pale Rider provided a much more interesting response.

Posted by: brian on October 25, 2006 at 12:06 AM | PERMALINK

"The fact is, the terrorists don't care who the POTUS is, who's in power, because they hate our institutions. They hate the fact that we can have a peaceful change of administration and that we can settle our differences politically; all they know is corruption and assasination and intrigue."
Pale Rider.

Absolute and unmitigated hogwash. You really need to get over yourself. Yes, they don't care about POTUS, but they don't care about all the other crap either. They just don't want you in their country. Economically or militarily. This suggestion that people outside the U.S. sit there studying your "peaceful change of administration" (Election 2000, anyone?) and working themselves into a lather about how much they can't stand it is just an indication of how absurdly self-absorbed you are. You need to spend more time considering how your OWN government is busy proving how much IT hates your freedoms, and how hard it's working to undermine them from within.

Posted by: billy on October 25, 2006 at 12:09 AM | PERMALINK

Other paul is right. One of the undeclared reasons for the Declaration Of Independence was British refusal to allow the colonists to migrate west of the Appalachians.

Posted by: lee on October 25, 2006 at 12:24 AM | PERMALINK

You have offered no explanation of your view that Al Qaeda and other terrorists want Bush and republicans to have election success.

You made assertions. I did not. therefore it is up to you to defend your position. The ball ios in your court.

Posted by: Global Citizen on October 25, 2006 at 12:27 AM | PERMALINK

I am not going to waste my time trying to educate the uneducable on a topic so complex and nuanced as missle east relations.

Nice try attempting to shift the burden of proof, there, brian.

You stated your opinion, nothing more and nothing less. And that is fine. But label it as so, not that "reasonable people have to see it this way."

Can you back up the assertions you made four days ago, or not?

Posted by: Global Citizen on October 25, 2006 at 12:31 AM | PERMALINK

Absolute and unmitigated hogwash. You really need to get over yourself. Yes, they don't care about POTUS, but they don't care about all the other crap either.

So which is it then? Which angle are you trying to come down on? Because I choose to get off the fence and commit to a thesis while you won't. Pardon me for, you know, taking a stand. The one thing everyone seems to agree on is that undermining the freedom that we have in the US is what they're trying to do--either through the tactic of terror or by getting us to divide up and fight amongst ourselves. Why attack America in the first place? Or did you forget to go back to the beginning? See, they attacked us because we are the country that:

1. Supports the existence of Israel
2. Buys a good chunk of the oil that props up the Saudis and the Kuwaitis
3. Secures the Persian Gulf for world trade and commerce

And that is what drives the fundamentalist element of Islamic radicals crazy--they want to take over themselves and cash in (or just destroy it and live like nomads) and we are the thing that props up the regimes in the Gulf, whether it is with our money or our military power. So they have to attack us, they have to attack our way of life to legitimize their efforts and they have to get the people who give them nominal support to see that they want to destroy us.

You do remember that Islamic fundamentalists attacked us, right? See, they attacked us when Clinton was President and when Bush was President because, well, they hate America and don't care who's the POTUS. That's my story, and I think the facts pretty much speak for themselves.

They just don't want you in their country. Economically or militarily.

No, they don't want us to prop up the regimes that are keeping them from having a slice of the pie. See above.

This suggestion that people outside the U.S. sit there studying your "peaceful change of administration" (Election 2000, anyone?) and working themselves into a lather about how much they can't stand it is just an indication of how absurdly self-absorbed you are.

Guess again. First of all, the 2000 election WAS a peaceful change of administration, despite the court case, because I don't recall seeing the National Guard have to crush any armed insurrection in January 2000. Second, there's a damned fine man called Jimmy Carter who spends a good deal of his time helping people overseas practice this thing called "peaceful elections" and "peaceful change of administration" and we need to give credit where credit is due--Carter is doing more to bring Democracy to the world than anyone named Bush ever thought of doing. Third, if you've ever lived in a country where people just don't give a shit or try anymore because they know they don't have the money to buy themselves into prosperity because the system is rigged against them, you'll gain a different understanding of having legitimate institutions and a decent shot at having a good life. In my time overseas, I've seen a lot of fatalism, primarily because people just don't have a chance.

As far as whether they work themselves into a lather--well, let's look at the facts: this country has actual, deadly enemies and we're stuck with a woefully incompetent President right now. Do you really think that there aren't bad people in the world who want to take advantage of American weakness? Do you somehow have the special capability to forget several thousand years of recorded human history at the drop of a hat?

Weakness invites attack, and we're way past debating whether or not there are people who are ready to come after us. Hello, we have the holes in the ground to prove it.

But if you think being naieve and taking a shit on America is going to get you anything other than a delightful smelling stool to sit in, you should probably revisit your grasp of the obvious.

You need to spend more time considering how your OWN government is busy proving how much IT hates your freedoms, and how hard it's working to undermine them from within.

Yeah, that's why I'm going to vote for Democrats. Duh.

Posted by: Pale Rider on October 25, 2006 at 12:32 AM | PERMALINK

Pale Rider makes up a new word:

"Naieve" should be "naive"

Posted by: Pale Rider on October 25, 2006 at 12:36 AM | PERMALINK

Er, the American Indians, the Filipinos, the inhabitants of Berlin, Hamburg, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the Vietnamese might disagree with you about our propensity for wholesale slaughter.

Er, no one is denying that the USA, like other imperial powers of a bygone era, used to engage in wholesale slaughter. But this discussion was about, you know, the country currently at war in Iraq -- the United States circa 2006. The USA of 1876 armed with the weapons of 2006 would crush all opposition in Iraq. But it would need to kill many millions to do so. Thankfully, that's just not the done thing these days.

Posted by: Jasper on October 25, 2006 at 12:36 AM | PERMALINK

Just so no one misunderstands me here:

I am a Democrat opposed to Bush. But tearing down America ain't the answer. We need to take back America, restore it to the way it should be (that is, follow the rule of law, and all that good stuff) and we need to take care of our own.

We have tens of thousands of Veterans out there that aren't being taken care of. Right now. And we're spending billions to prop up an Iraqi regime that can't control its urge to torture and kill its own people?

No, sorry. We need to bring our troops home and take care of them.

When all is said and done, Democrats are going to have to get off the backbenches and actually govern this country again, and we're going to have to undo a lot of damage. Buying into this idea that we have to destroy everything and everyone to try to bring down one man--Bush--is not exactly the best way to go. Sorry, Bush is irrelevant at this point.

Let's ignore him and start fixing the damage now. Let's ignore him and support Democrats who want to put shit right. Let's put our efforts into that, rather than bitching and kvetching about something we can't do anything about anyway.

Posted by: Pale Rider on October 25, 2006 at 12:44 AM | PERMALINK

The US has not committed enough manpower to Iraq and does not have the political will to do so - its not a loss of 'native' life that abhors the US, it is the loss of their own.

Don't be absurd. America's advantage over any forces in Iraq easily dwarf the advantages Britain held over the various colonial peoples it successfully subjugated. The United States, after all, possesses nuclear weapons. America could literally destroy the, say, five largest Iraqi population centers (or, numbers 8-13 if it wanted to preserve economic potential), kill millions of people in a single hour's worth of "fighting", and end all resistance. All with minimal to no loss in American lives. That it chooses not to do so, nor engage in massive conventional bombing to the same effect, has absolutely nothing to do with avoidance of losing its "own".

Imperialism in the classical sense -- circa 1900 -- simply isn't feasible given contemporary western psychological sensibilities.

Posted by: Jasper on October 25, 2006 at 12:56 AM | PERMALINK

We have tens of thousands of Veterans out there that aren't being taken care of. Right now. And we're spending billions to prop up an Iraqi regime that can't control its urge to torture and kill its own people?

$20 million in a fund for a victory party bash, and we cut funding for research and rehab for severe brain trauma. Vet centers are underfunded. Clients who should receive individualized therapy are in group therapy because that is what is awailable. 25% are facing staff cuts. 20% have no resources for families of the returnees.

People in uniform are an asset to the Republican party when they are serving - but once they are discharged, and in need of help, they are just another liberal social program and Americans hate entitlements, right?

Posted by: Global Citizen on October 25, 2006 at 1:09 AM | PERMALINK

I forgot the most important little stat - one in four returning troops need some sort of mental health services and readjustment assistance. And a million troops have rotated through the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

So we have a quarter million people needing assistance that is underfunded and being strained even further.

Posted by: Global Citizen on October 25, 2006 at 1:24 AM | PERMALINK

Ferguson is not a historian of empire. He is a German-economic historian who sees that there's money and influence in writing secondary history on empire.

Posted by: ahem on October 25, 2006 at 3:03 AM | PERMALINK

ahem, I agree. I actually studied the history of the Empire, and frankly there just isn't any Ferguson you need to read. It's only since late 2001 that he discovered the Americans were hiring useful idiots. And so he packed up his dunce cap and went West. The traditional Imperial solution to dangerous maniacs, IMHO, ship 'em out to the frontier.

On various points above: there is a major theme in the historiography about whether Britain really benefited from the empire and especially the colonial empire. Gallagher and Robinson pointed out that our biggest trading partners outside Europe weren't in the empire, with some exceptions, and that Africa (outside South Africa) was economically insignificant - there just wasn't enough trade or investment to make the Marxist understanding credible.

Another hugely important point about the empire's development was the independence of its subunits - there was for example no clear legal process under which London could order, say, Cape Town or Sydney about. The central government could fire the governor, but in a lot of places there was a local parliament competing for all the power it could get, and anyway it took months for the ship to arrive with the new guy. Before 1857, the East India Company didn't actually answer to the government at all.

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Posted by: tramadol on October 25, 2006 at 10:03 AM | PERMALINK

Oh really?

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Posted by: The Philippine

And 'self-determination'?

Oh, really?

Posted by: Louisiana Purchase on October 25, 2006 at 11:39 AM | PERMALINK

Ummm....but weren't the Italians, Germans and Japanese the ones seeking expansion of empire by brute force and mass murder?

Scarcely a roll-call of innocent 'victims' of American aggression.

At the onset of our entrance into WWII it was accepted that we would not be a party to the post-war reentry of colonial powers into their colonies, a laudable position, but one which was immediately betrayed by our support of the French in Indo-China and the British in Africa.

Posted by: CFShep on October 25, 2006 at 11:48 AM | PERMALINK

Ferguson is just disappointed in the U.S.A. for not wanting to wallow in the glorious excesses that comes with being a power worthy of Empire. That the American people do not yearn to rule the world and make it over in its own image is a let down for Niall; we are just not living up to his expectations.

Ferguson rightly laughs at this notion. Americans don't want to rule the world? Then what about those hundreds of military bases on foreign soil? the defense budget that eclipses the rest of the world combined? Americans don't like to admit that they want to rule the world, and they mostly want someone else to go to those outposts, but they do want those outposts.

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on October 25, 2006 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

I think the point made above about the British "divide and conquer" strategy was not given enough attention. As many others have pointed out, there were TONS of native rebellions against the British. It's comfortable for the West to remember colonialism as an era in which the world simply consented to be ruled, but this was simply not the case.

Ruling through division was the method by which Britain was able to work its way into existing societies. In most cases, there was a major ethnic or religious conflict that was exploited by British proxies (usually business interests) that later justified military involvement. This bears very little resemblance to our strategies in Iraq and Afghanistan, in which we've seized the nation-state before developing our internal alliances. We have expected a whole new civil society to arise from nothing. A real "British-style" occupation would have meant playing the Sunni, Shi'a, and Kurds against each other until each agreed that only a US presence could administer the nation. Instead, we seem to have angered each group on its own.

This is not to say that the British system was particularly worthy in the long term. Indeed, in most cases the outcome of decolonization in British colonies has been intense violence between the internal ethnic groups. Many of the world's hot spots are a direct result of this strategy -- with India/Pakistan and Israel/Palestine being some of the most famous. Still, if we're going to look at American occupation in terms of what we're doing "wrong", our failure to exploit and manipulate the internal inequalities of Iraqi society would have to be a major part of the analysis.

Posted by: ChicagoDem on October 25, 2006 at 4:34 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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