Sunday, January 25, 2004
The Iraqi Campaign and the Boer War: Some Comparisons

Andrew Gilmour in the Spectator draws parallels between the current campaign by the United States and its partners in occupied Iraq and the Boer War conducted by the British in the nineteenth century. Both involved the major powers of the day undertaking wars that opened them to accusations of undermining international law and creating opposition in many parts of the world.

Sir Brian Urquhart has written how the occupation of Iraq, a vast increase in US military spending, Washington?s rejection of important international treaties and its unconcealed contempt for international organisations and conventions have created uproar and foreboding in many parts of the world. The future South African Prime Minister JC Smuts described Britain?s violation of every international law as ?very characteristic of the nation which always plays the role of chosen judge over the actions and behaviour of all other nations?. And there was almost universal moral revulsion over Britain?s internment camps for Boer families, which has continued in some quarters to this day.

The comparison has limited explanatory power as the Boer War was an imperialist campaign by a single country, designed to seize valuable raw materials, and accompanied by the rise of a mass support organised by the new tabloids of the Harmsworth press. The United States has invaded Iraq in the context of the 'war on terror', organising an insubstantial coalition and pursuing energy security in the middle east by removing a potential threat. However, blogs do not count as the "Daily Mail" and there is little evidence that the United States was seized by patriotic jingoism in the earlier part of this year.

The most striking lesson of the Boer War was that the short-term criticisms and diplomatic fall-out from this campaign did not last. The cost of the war propelled Britain to search for understandings and alliances that would shore up the imperial system, namely the entente cordiale and the Anglo-Japanese Alliance of 1902. The United States is also facing the harsh gap between ambitions and resources although they do not face the strategic pincers that squeezed Britain at the end of the nineteenth century.

If Britain could ally with France only six years after the potential clash at Fashoda, is it too radical to suggest that we may yet see a rapprochement between France and the United States, if they perceive that they have more interests that unite rather than divide them.

(22.49, 25th January 2004)


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