The world’s finest military launches a highly coordinated shock-and-awe attack that shows enormous initial progress. There’s talk of the victorious troops being home for Christmas. But the war unexpectedly drags on. As fighting persists into a third, and then a fourth year, voices are heard calling for negotiations, even “peace without victory.” Dismissing such peaceniks and critics as defeatists, a conservative and expansionist regime — led by a figurehead who often resorts to simplistic slogans and his Machiavellian sidekick who is considered the brains behind the throne — calls for one last surge to victory. Unbeknownst to the people on the home front, however, this duo has already prepared a seductive and self-exculpatory myth in case the surge fails.
The United States in 2007? No, Wilhelmine Germany in 1917 and 1918, as its military dictators, Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg and his loyal second, General Erich Ludendorff, pushed Germany toward defeat and revolution in a relentless pursuit of victory in World War I. Having failed with their surge strategy on the Western Front in 1918, they nevertheless succeeded in deploying a stab-in-the-back myth, or Dolchstoßlegende, that shifted blame for defeat from themselves and Rightist politicians to Social Democrats and others allegedly responsible for losing the war by their failure to support the troops at home.
The German Army knew it was militarily defeated in 1918. But this was an inconvenient truth for Hindenburg and the Right, so they crafted a new “truth”: that the troops were “unvanquished in the field.” So powerful did these words become that they would be engraved in stone on many a German war memorial. [complete article]
Last month’s announcement of substantial withdrawals of British troops from southern Iraq is a useful vantage point from which to review Britain’s part in the occupation. The role of the United States has been the more important, and is far better documented and understood. But Britain’s role has not been insignificant, especially for the people of southern Iraq.
In 2003, Britain promised a post-Saddam Iraq that would be “a stable, united and law-abiding state providing effective representative government to its own people.” That those ambitions have not been realised is now widely acknowledged even within the political establishment. A recent report by Michael Knights and Ed Williams described Iraq’s deep south, the area for which Britain is responsible, as “a kleptocracy” where “well armed political-criminal mafiosi have locked both the central government and the people out of power”.
Britain’s official goals have now been significantly downgraded to keeping violence at a manageable level, and leaving local administrators and security services to deal with the situation. Even this is far from being achieved, and Britain faces these problems in near isolation from the international community. British policymakers and analysts will be asking themselves what went wrong for many years to come. [complete article]