Saturday, February 25, 2006

Crossfire Backup Hosts Standing By

JJV and I engaged in correspondence yesterday about this op-ed by Charles Krauthammer, one of the many people who either ought to know better or, worse, do know better but still carry on regardless. I am posting the slightly edited exchange as I think it is fairly reflective of where JJV and I are coming from (hint: not the same place).

JJV leads off:
I have long felt the FDR/Truman/Eisenhower strategy of dismantling the British Empire, abetted by the Labor Party within Britain was short sighted. Pulling the rug out from Britain, France and Israel to aid Nasser at Suez was perhaps the worst American foreign policy blunder between the War and Americanizing the Vietnam war in 1965. Here's my favorite columnist remembering when the Empire "shipp'd em somewhere East o' Suez where the best is like the worst and there ain't no ten commandments and a man can raise a thirst"
To which I responded:
I have little time to respond to this now but I may post this with a longer rebuttal. Short version: Krauthammer is an idiot. As for you, if the Empire had not been dismantled it would have fallen apart on its own with arguably worse results. WWI finished the Brits as an effective imperial power.

You are not referring to the War as an American foreign policy blunder, are you? I suspect not but your writing is dangerously unclear. Of course it was one of those Democrat wars so I can understand your position.
JJV fired back:
Of course not, I just took WWII as a start date. Once again, I reject the "inevitability" arguments of history which I regard as Hegelian and counter to observable fact. The question is not the movement of certain portions of the Empire to Dominion status and a loosening of bonds, it is how much cohesion was to be allowed and whether dictators such as Nasser would benefit from its weakening. I think it's true that the British people had turned from the burdens of Empire and embraced socialism, but the pace of dissolution picked up after Suez. Had it not, parts of the Empire, particularly in the Middle East and Africa, might have held on until the 70's or 80's as Belize did here and Hong Kong did until 1999, and so avoid some of the disasters that have befallen the rest of it. Secondly, a confident, unapologetic assertion of its advantages would have allowed indigenous pro-Britain factions more strength. None of this Macmillan/Pollyanna "winds of change" nonsense.
Confused by the allusions to Hegel and Pollyanna, I responded:
OK, it's just that your upper bracket was something that, in context, you referred to as a mistake.

I make no such argument of inevitability. I base it more on economics and, to a lesser extent, moral exhaustion or something like that. WWI drained England's treasury and, far more tragically, a large number of its male population. It was in no real position to enforce Dominion membership or anything like that. Those who wanted to stay, stayed.

I know too little of the history but it seems to be that the long-term process was in motion and that Suez did not necessarily accelerate it. Also, I cannot imagine that more rigorous support from London would have done anything but further reduce pro-British factions' strength versus nationalist groups.

My ignorance of this period of history is nearly perfect but that doesn't stop anyone else from getting published.
Which, as it turns out, is a pretty good way to close this out (until the comments, anyway).

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